TEN METRE BOARD!
It’s probably no great surprise that the arrival of a new reality show is a matter of some excitement to me. As Chris put it on Twitter last night, “you and I would both literally watch ANYTHING with celebrities and a public vote, and don’t even try to deny it.” I was more intrigued about ITV’s new diving show Splash! than normal, though, partly because of the way it arrived. The time from the series being officially announced to the scheduling of the first episode was surprisingly short, and the names of celebrities taking part in the series hadn’t even been confirmed at the point listings magazines were going to press with their articles on the first episode. So was this a sign that the show was trying to build an air of suspense and secrecy, or was it because it had all been put together in a bit of a hurry?
After having watched the first episode, I definitely think that it probably could’ve done with a bit more time to percolate. While the very first shot of the show was a sign that the production is pretty clued-in regarding its target demographic (a long, lingering shot of Tom Daley in his Speedos), the points where it actually had to behave like a reality show suggested that the logistics hadn’t been fully thought-through. Which is odd, considering that this is based on a format that’s already been successful in the Netherlands, so that part of it should have basically come pre-assembled.
For starters, the show’s efforts to build up the mythology of diving as a sport and a science were a bit overbaked. Considering that most people are aware of how difficult it is to leap from upwards of three metres and land in a pool without breaking your neck, I’d imagine most viewers came to the show with a pre-established admiration for the art of diving, but all the same, we were treated to insights from Tom Daley such as “when I step out poolside, I can smell the chlorine.” Well, yes. Speak to anyone who’s ever been to a swimming pool, and they’ll tell you much the same thing. At least there was some fun to be had from this, though: the mere sight or mention of Tom Daley caused the teenage girls in the audience to scream uncontrollably – and you could pretty much see the tension in Gabby Logan’s face every time that happened and she had to shout just to make herself heard.
Speaking of the hosts, Vernon Kay and Gabby Logan were an odd combination. Gabby’s a host of considerable experience who probably didn’t get as much credit for her work during the Olympics as, say, Clare Balding did, but she’s generally someone you can rely upon to do a professional job, but she looked incredibly uncomfortable right from the very first link here. Vernon didn’t seem to share Gabby’s concerns, but then this is a man who said yes to Skating With The Stars, so I suspect his critical faculties are a little underdeveloped. Also, let’s talk shorts: I appreciate you probably can’t have someone hosting a TV show from a swimming pool wearing a suit, but I kept finding the fact that Vernon was wearing shorts really distracting. Every time the camera cut to him I was just thinking “PUT YOUR KNEES AND CALVES AWAY.” Furthermore on the subject of the host’s outfits, another potential problem with the format emerged after the first contestant (Sugababe Jade Ewen) emerged from the pool to get her scores, and it became apparent that the usual stance of the host putting their arm around the contestant and the contestant putting their hand on the small of the host’s back was going to leave…residue. I hope they had a runner handy with a selection of towels for Gabby and Vernon.
One final thought on the subject of clothing: aside from the opening dive and the VTs, Tom Daley was fully-clothed throughout. You could almost hear the sound of millions of women and gays clicking their remotes to see what else was on.
So, let’s consider the contestants. First of all, nearly all of them seemed to be treating the show as some sort of rehab for aquaphobia and/or acrophobia. Jade Ewen barely even knew how to swim, while Helen Lederer could barely even hop off the side into the pool without having a panic attack. And of course, there was the attempt at Dancing On Ice-style injury porn where it was revealed that Benidorm star Jake Canuso scraped the bridge of his nose on the bottom of the pool during training and was RUSHED TO HOSPITAL, where he was given a butterfly stitch and told that if he attempted more than one dive over the next week, the plaster might come off. No, seriously, we went into one dive with the jeopardy factor registering at “his plaster might come off”. It might have helped things if there’d been some consistency over how the contestants were approaching the show: Jake Canuso and Jenni Falconer were clearly taking it all very seriously (with Jenni even telling us before diving that she was taking a risk by going for technique instead of height, as if that was something that anyone watching was going to care about), Helen was treating it as a bit of a laugh (albeit a fairly terrifying one), Omid Djalili taking it moderately more seriously than Helen but less seriously than Jake or Jenni, and Jade Ewen was basically just there waving frantically in the background going “the Sugababes are still a thing!”
While Omid Djalili’s swan dive from the TEN METRE BOARD (the show actually had a bombastic X Factor-style intro to the TEN METRE BOARD midway through, in a rare moment of high camp that I would liked to have seen a bit more of) was the big scorer of the night, the most compelling dive came from Helen Lederer, whose training had been going so poorly that she basically had to lie on a mat while Tom Daley tipped her into the pool. She was diving from the THREE METRE BOARD (that doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?), which was the lowest height the contestants were permitted to dive from on the live show, and was so panicked about it that her pre-dive interview with Vernon was just one peculiar non-sequitur after another. Then she proceeded to turn around and head AWAY from the pool, towards the wall, which Vernon assured us was her “pre-dive ritual” (though while she took an age to prepare, he couldn’t quite resist a brief Jim Halpert-esque look into the camera), but looked more like she was preparing for a running bomb. I was seriously hoping she was going to yell “CANNONBALL!” as she charged past. Ultimately, she headed to the end of the board, and just sort of flopped off, so that was a bit of an anticlimax, but at least she didn’t die, and since Tom Daley promised her in training that whatever happened, she DEFINITELY WOULDN’T DIE, he gets to retain his position as a man of his word.
As for the judges: well, Andy Banks (Tom Daley’s coach) was there in a sort of Karen Barber-esque “I care about technicalities but I also want to be encouraging” position, which meant that ultimately no one really paid much attention to anything he said. Jo Brand’s presence was probably a bit of an oddity to anyone who didn’t watch Jo Brand’s Big Splash on Dave a couple of years ago, but did at least sort of make sense to me, while Leon Taylor was there to be the one who was there to be hilariously po-faced about everything, taking it all SUPER-SERIOUSLY, and telling Jo that she shouldn’t be giving people points just for being nice and trying hard. Needless to say, pretty much everything he did was unintentionally hilarious, especially when he had the casting vote in the Splash-Off (oh yes, the endgame was called The Splash-Off) and was all “OH NOES I HAVE SUCH A DIFFICULT DECISION TO MAKE.” Dude, it’s a celebrity diving show on ITV1, you’re not at the United Nations.
As I mentioned earlier, the show’s biggest struggle was in behaving like a reality show. The judges all scored the contestants and arranged a leaderboard of sorts, and once all five contestants had dived, we were encouraged to phone in and vote for our favourites. Considering that the results as announced at the end of the show put the contestants in the exact same order as they had been before, it’s tempting to wonder if anyone bothered. While people were voting, we had a James Bond-themed performance from a DIVING TROUPE, featuring some of the worst camerawork I’ve seen on live television (at one point, the cameras actually cut away from an elaborate diving set-piece to show us the face of a man in the audience reacting to it. Just imagine if they’d done that at the Olympics) and everyone on Twitter complaining that the whole piece was horribly sexist because the women seemed to be there to be rescued by the daring men and not to actually do any diving themselves, so as filler goes, this was…not hugely successful. However, the truly baffling thing was the way the results were announced: seemingly taking its cue from Britain’s Got The Pop Factor And Possibly A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice (minus anyone screaming “FUCKING SHUT UP!!!” at the audience, sadly), the pauses were many and Pinteresque and the order truly incomprehensible: one contestant (Jake) was told that he was in the Splash-Off, Jade was told that she had been eliminated, Omid was told that he was definitely through to the semi-final, then Gabby and Vernon had a little chat with Omid to congratulate him while Helen and Jenni stood there awkwardly, then Gabby announced that one of “Jenni and Jade” was in the Splash-Off while the other was going home, which was technically true, but it did leave Helen looking rather confused since this didn’t actually cover what was happening to her. Ultimately, Jenni was through and Helen was not, then Helen and Jake both did their dives again, pretty much the same way they’d done them the first time, and the judges decided to send Jake through to the semi-final with a 2:1 majority. Considering the Wikipedia page currently lists Jake and Jenni as having been in the “bottom two”, I think they might want to make this process a little more transparent in future episodes.
Ultimately, I tuned in hoping for someone to get winded doing a spectacular bellyflop, and that didn’t happen – by far the more awkward moments were those in between the dives, such as the aforementioned Helen Lederer incident, or the time when the audience was so busy cheering at Jake Canuso hugging Tom Daley that nobody heard Gabby throwing to Vernon and we got about five seconds of dead air in which Gabby, Tom and Jake all looked at the camera nervously, or the point when the result of the Splash-Off was being decided when Vernon was trying to explain how it was all going to work while Gabby was busy trying to direct Jenni and Jake to their marks and as a result they both ended up talking over each other, or the moment near the end where Gabby said “go and get your nose fixed” and no one was entirely sure if she was talking to Jake or just being casually mean to Jenni. And yet, despite the amateurishness of the whole thing (which, as my friend pointed out on Twitter, had 14 PRODUCERS), I couldn’t help finding it all strangely endearing. There was an earnestness to it that appealed to me, and even though it was about five minutes’ worth of actual content stretched out to fill an hour and a half, I was never really bored – even when it wasn’t being particularly entertaining, it was being surreal enough to still hold my attention, and I’m still planning to watch next week. And I don’t even fancy Tom Daley. So somewhere along the line, it must have done something right.