Everyone’s favourite Olympic medal-winning diver returns to our screens. WELCOME BACK LEON, WE MISSED YOU.
At the end of the first series, I wrote a blog post where I discussed one of Splash!‘s biggest surprises: its willingness to recognise that it was a work-in-progress rather than a finished product, to recognise the parts of the format that weren’t quite working and adjust them week by week until the whole thing was at least the very best version of itself that it could be, even if it was never going to win any Bafta awards. So last night I tuned in with slightly raised expectations, hoping that with a full series under their belts and almost a year to think about things, the production team might have come up with even more ways to improve the show, only to be disappointed to see it falling back into some bad habits.
The one thing that needs attention as a matter of urgency is the way that the results are announced. One of the inherent obstacles within the format is that it’s conducted as a series of heats – unlike The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing where people sign up for an entire series and compete every week, so you can simply announce who is safe for this week and who is in danger – so with five people taking part per week, each elimination ceremony requires one person to be declared completely safe, two people to be instantly eliminated, and two to remain in diving limbo to perform again in The Splash-Off. Unfortunately, the show still hasn’t quite found a way of doing this so that everyone’s clear about what’s going on. The first batch of contestants – Michaela Strachan, Ricky “Garry from EastEnders” Groves, Gemma “Carmel from Hollyoaks” Merna, Perri Kiely (the wee one from Diversity with the big hair) and TOWIE‘s Gemma Collins – were lined up waiting to learn their fate, and frontrunner/obvious ringer Perri was declared safe, while Gemma M was sent home and Michaela was informed she would be proceeding through to The Splash-Off. So far, so reasonably straightforward. Here, however, is where it all got a bit muddled – with just two contestants left, both of whom probably had a fair amount of water in their ears and were some distance away in a sports centre with presumably poor acoustics, Vernon had to announce which of them would be joining Michaela in The Splash-Off. This got off to a poor start when he couldn’t even remember which two contestants were left (he originally said Michaela and Gemma before realising Michaela had already been dealt with), and then he called out Gemma’s name – only for Gemma not to understand what that meant, and to shout something that looked like “does that mean I get to go home?” Luckily Ricky understood, and explained in the simplest way possible – by waving goodbye and leaping into the pool. Gemma, who had clearly not particularly enjoyed the experience, went from looking genuinely happy to genuinely crestfallen. I have not seen someone look so dismayed by their obvious public support since Victoria Pendleton kept having to return to Strictly Come Dancing for many weeks after she’d lost all drive to continue. So I suggest the producers find a clearer way of doing this for subsequent heats: the audience not entirely understanding what’s going on is one thing, but the contestants being this baffled is unexcusable. Perhaps it would be clearer (if less dramatic) to simply state one contestant as being safe and two as being eliminated, with the remaining two then hopefully clear that they’re in The Splash-Off. Hopefully. Who knows?
Anyway, now that I’ve completely spoiled the outcome of the dives before even discussing them and made this blogpost as confusing as the episode itself in the process, let’s go back to the beginning. First of all, Hula Hoops are sponsoring the show this year, or to put it in their words, they are the “Happy Sponsors of Splash!“. I am always wary of anyone who feels the need to tell you how happy they are without prompting. Also, the animated bumpers they played around each ad break showed a load of Hula Hoops in a diving centre cheering on another Hula Hoop – although I feel the decision to make the background for the audience Hula Hoops red was not a wise one, since it basically just looked like a big bowl of spaghetti hoops. I wonder how many people, if asked this morning who sponsored this show, would say “Heinz”. (Probably not many; in fact I’d wager the vast majority of people would just reply “is that still on?”)
Tom Daley’s recent revelation about his love life doesn’t seem to have quelled the screaming females in the audience, though it does mean that as far as Twitter is concerned, open season has well and truly been declared on comments like “one mistake, and it’s gonna hurt a lot”. Meanwhile, I was devastated to see that Vernon Kay has ditched his Scoutmaster-chic shorts from last year and turned up in jeans. DEVASTATED. Gabby, on the other hand, was wearing an awesome dress with crisp folds in the skirt that boosted its volume by several litres and many women on my Twitter timeline coveted it. Speaking of coveting, Tom was attracting attention for similar reasons by wearing this jumper, which nearly every man I know seemed to want. It was tracked down in the end thanks to a very helpful commenter at Digital Spy, at which point the only two sizes remaining on the website (neither of them mine, sadly) quickly sold out. So Adidas did well out of this week’s show, even if no one else did.
The panel returns intact from last year as well, which is good, because there were no real problems there: Andy Banks appears to have worried that he was the bland one last year so has decided to download a personality upgrade that makes him do things like spout Essex slang at Gemma Collins for no real reason; Jo Brand is not even bothering to pretend that she has any qualifications for this (she isn’t even bringing up that show about water she did for UKTV) and that’s fine, because ITV clearly hired her mostly to stop the panel from being too po-faced and to inject a necessary element of camp, having apparently not realised that Leon was fine to do that all by himself; and the secret star of the whole piece, the limelight-loving Leon Taylor, who has grown a bit of stubble that seems to be working quite well for him, and is as close to The Mean Judge as this show is ever going to get.
So what of the actual diving? Well, there were no real Helen Lederers or Jade Ewens in the cast this episode, so nobody was genuinely terrible, which was both a relief and an obvious disappointment. I mean, say what you like about Helen but that moment in last year’s opener where none of us whether she was about to glue herself to the wall or cannonball off the end of the board was truly suspenseful television. Even Vernon looked worried.
Instead, we had Michaela, who is athletic-looking and in very good shape for 47, doing an inward dive with a tuck from the 5 metre board but not quite getting enough rotation and hitting the water diagonally, getting a “well done on a difficult dive, shame about the execution but we know you’ll do it much better if you have to do it again” from the judges, with Leon (bless him) saying that it would’ve been a perfect dive from the 7.5 metre board, so if she makes the semi-finals, then that’s where he wants her to be. She scored 21 points from the judges, and seemed entirely happy with that result. She was followed by Ricky, who seemed to come quite close to injuring his genitals during training (receiving what Tom calls a “knackerknocker”, another comment that led to a lot of tittering in my house), doing a forward dive with tuck from the 5 metre board – essentially the same thing as Michaela did, but with a greatly reduced chance of bonking your conk on the board as you plummet. He over-rotated a bit on entry and didn’t get much lift from the board, but otherwise it was a fairly clean dive, and the judges seemed mostly in agreement that it was less ambitious than Michaela’s but slightly better executed, so they gave the two of them the same score. Ricky then said that he couldn’t possibly complain because “I’m so spoilt in life, being able to do this”. I think – or at least – I hope that he had his tongue in his cheek when he said that, because come on. AIM HIGHER IN LIFE.
Gemma Merna is scared of heights. And water. And diving. But she is not scared of attention, so that is why she is here. She struggled a lot with her NEHHHHHHVES in training (picking up right where Abbey Clancy left off, oh good) and opted for pretty much the easiest (and least interesting) dive on offer in this show: a forward pike fall from the 3 metre board. She managed to pull it off, albeit in a rather limp-legged fashion, but really nobody was paying attention to her diving because she emerged from the pool with lipgloss, eyeshadow and mascara intact, and everyone wanted to know HOW. The judges were of the opinion that she’d done a good job but it was too easy a task to reward, and gave her 18 points. Gemma said she’d done everything she came into the competition to achieve, which was presumably “land in water, not drown, collect money”. Perri, of course, gets flipped around in the air for a living and wasn’t particularly concerned about any of the various challenges presented to him by this show, so he opted for the TEN! METRE! BOARD! (which, I’m sad to say, really isn’t being given the recognition it deserves this time around – I was hoping it would at least have its own intro video). The show did its best to cover up the fact that Perri is 10 times the ringer Natalie Gumede ever was (as my boyfriend pointed out – he’s doing what he does every day except landing in water at the end, which if anything would probably make it easier rather than harder. At least in this he doesn’t have to worry about shattering Ashley Banjo’s spine or something), not that they really needed to bother, because the First Rule of Ringerdom is that no one cares if the ringer is a man, it’s only women who need to be punished for having prior experience. Perri did a fall back somersault which did, admittedly, look awesome, but Leon decided that it still wasn’t even half of what Perri can probably do (most likely true), which prompted Andy to siren “IT’S THE TOP BOARD, LEON!” and Jo to take the traditional woman’s role in this sort of thing and separate the squabbling boys. Perri got 25 points, by the way.
Finally, we had Gemma Collins (saved for the pimp slot for maximum drama because it seemed entirely possible she might have an anxiety-related coronary during the show) who seemed to be having a fair bit of trouble undoing the knot on her robe’s cord, setting a worrying precedent for her general aptitude at the whole diving thing. She got the intro video that everyone expected (wearing sparkly high heels, stopping to eat some chocolate between dives), and explained that she was fine from the 1 metre board, but that any higher than that played havoc with her nerves. Since the minimum for competing on the show is 3 metres, the “WILL SHE GO THROUGH WITH IT?” narrative followed, and the short answer is “yes”: she did another forward pike fall from the lowest board, but not before she’d showed us all her severely bruised boobs from some of her training misfires, scaring away the three heterosexual men who are still watching this show in the process. What she lacked in technique she made up with showbiz flourishes on the board pre-dive, and got a few bonus bravery points from the judges, putting her at 18.5, just 0.5 ahead of the other Gemma.
So as I’ve explained above, Perri was voted through immediately and Michaela and Gemma C faced The Splash-Off. Michaela got the chance to correct her earlier mistake and did so, while Gemma managed not to die for a second time. Leon and Andy voted to keep Michaela in, while Jo voted for Gemma in big-girl solidarity, so Michaela stayed and Gemma was eliminated, which was the outcome that both Michaela and Gemma were rooting for, so hooray for that.
As I said earlier, there are still some problems with this show: the announcement of the results. The lack of towels for the celebrities to put over their shoulders during the judging so they don’t freeze/get Gabby’s lovely dress or Tom’s lovely jumper wet. Those bits post-judging where Tom and either Vernon or Gabby fill airtime with a post-dive analysis until the diver in question ambles up awkwardly behind them and waits to be acknowledged. The fact that all the musical sequences still insist that the professional diving world is no place for a lady, and they must remain in the pool doing synchronised swimming while the MEN get to do the exciting stuff. But these are all fixable, and given this show’s Bob The Builder-esque approach to self-improvement, I like to think they could all be sorted in time for series three, if there is one. However, in the meantime, I’m still sticking around because the show is a fun, lightweight distraction over Saturday nights in the new year, and also because Austin Healey’s on it at some point. So I’ll be back next week with another blogpost, and hopefully I’ll have found Tom’s jumper in size medium in the meantime.