“BBCONE uses KYLIEMINOGUE. It’s super-effective!”
So Splash! made a comfortable return last week, bringing in 4.76m viewers according to the overnight reports – around three-quarters of a million less than last year’s launch, but still not a bad result for ITV on a Saturday night in early January. This week, however, was always going to be the big test for the show as it faced off against The Voice UK for the first time, the BBC having yanked it away from its original Easter timeslot where it was inevitably sandbagged by going up against Britain’s Got Talent/having to be interrupted for Eurovision/the nights getting lighter and people deciding that they didn’t want to be indoors watching the telly/the fact that the live shows were never much cop (delete as applicable). The Beeb had also re-energised their show by replacing the departing Jessie J (arguably well-intentioned but with a personality more abrasive than sandpaper laced with broken glass and the Ebola virus) and Danny O’Donoghue (smarmy, dressed like an absolute tit, and every bit as awful as you’d expect a judge who had been hired for his “rock credibility” to be) with People’s Pop Princess and perennial favourite of the gays Kylie Minogue, and handsome (albeit looking a bit thin these days) and naturally witty Ricky Wilson from out of them Kaiser Chiefs.
So, although The Voice UK has never quite become the all-conquering behemoth that it threatened to be (mostly because as soon as the auditions are over the format becomes drearily derivative and unnecessarily convoluted), you can see why ITV would have reason to be nervous about this assault on a show that’s still finding its feet – basically, if Kylie lures the girls and the gays over to BBC One, then Splash! is fucked. So how did ITV respond to this threat to their core audience? By deploying Tom Daley’s nipples, obviously. After the usual bombastic opening to the show courtesy of the diving troupe, a wet-and-dripping Tom swam over to join Vernon and Gabby at the side of the pool in typically tiny trunks, as if to say “yes, I know Kylie’s on the other side, but really, boys and girls, can she give you this?” He stood there, glistening (I am really trying not to recap this in a salacious fashion, but come on, I am reporting the facts here) while Gabby and Vernon interviewed him (including asking him about his obvious emotional attachment to the contestants, which LOL) and when they’d wrung the maximum amount of skin out of him, Tom shamelessly mugged to the camera that oh dear, it was time for him to go and put some clothes on. Well, I give credit to everyone involved for at least being entirely upfront about the shamelessness of this manoeuvre. (Sadly for Splash!, I fear its effectiveness was minimal – the show averaged 3.4m against The Voice UK‘s 8.4m. You could argue that a hit of only 1m viewers is a result against such competition, but sadly Splash! wasn’t really in a strong enough position in the first place to sustain that kind of loss. So unless it stages any sort of serious recovery in subsequent weeks, I suspect this might be it for Splash!.)
Part of Splash!‘s problem at this point is that it isn’t really attracting the sort of contestants who are going to reel in the casual viewer. This week’s roster of amateur divers contained Boyzone and Coronation Street‘s Keith Duffy, kids’ TV presenter Anna Williamson, broadcaster and less-famous-Ross-sibling Paul Ross, former rugby player Martin Offiah and 80s punk pin-up Toyah Willcox. Of those, Keith is demonstrably the only one with the sort of fanbase who might turn up to this show of its own accord (never forget how far the Boyzone vote took Mikey Graham on Dancing On Ice), but I can’t imagine the others were much of a draw for anyone channel-hopping. Really, what this show needs is either a big name, or a moderately-famous name that we all want to see in swimwear, and I’m not sure it’s managed that at all so far in either series. Also, I think this show demonstrated a lack of fighting spirit in the wardrobe stakes too, since neither Gabby’s dress nor Tom’s jumper were anywhere near as good as last week’s efforts. COME ON, SPLASH!, GET IT TOGETHER.
It’s a shame that tonight’s show was the one that got crumpled under the weeks of The Voice UKYLIE, because it was a marked improvement on last week’s, in terms of the diving (in general, this week’s contestants seemed both more accomplished and more ambitious than last week’s) and in terms of the overall flow of the show. Once again, Splash! seems to have listened to its critics, and this time they made the reveal of the results much more straightforward – one contestant was declared automatically through to the semi-final, two were told that they’d been eliminated, and the two remaining knew that meant they were in The Splash-Off. See? Easy.
As far as the diving goes, Keith donned some shamrock-print trunks and opted for an inward dive with tuck from the 7.5m board, telling Vernon before he dived that he’d considered the TEN METRE BOARD but thought he could do a more precise dive from 7.5m, and he’d save the TEN METRE BOARD for when he came back for the semi-final. (He was clearly saying this tongue-in-cheek, but my general experience of public reaction to reality show contestants suggests that a woman would never have got away with saying that, however ironically.) It turned out to be a shrewd decision – although the entry to the water suffered from a slight under-rotation, the tuck was a good one and the judges gave him 24.5 for skill and showmanship, a score that was good enough to keep him at the top of the leaderboard for the whole episode and, combined with the public vote, get him straight through to the semi-final. It probably didn’t hurt that he just kept saying that his main goal to impress his kids, which is always good for an ovary-vote or two.
Next up was Anna, who was overly talkative in the way that kids’ TV presenters often are, who bemoaned her fate at being stuck in a heat with people who could actually dive, but despite describing herself as being “mainly competitive with [her]self”, she clearly had a steely core and an inner determination. And frankly, why not? I know some people sniff at contestants on these shows for “trying too hard” (again, more often applied to women than men and frequently a euphemism for “not knowing your place”), but I think once you’ve signed up, you might as well give it your all, otherwise what are you? Diarmuid Gavin. Anna spoke extensively about her fears of heights, water and air vents (much was made of the last one, possibly too much), and went for a dive which, to the best of my knowledge, was a Splash! first: a T-start forward pike fall. A pike fall but where your arms are initially stretched out to your sides rather than above your head, in other words. She went for the TEN METRE BOARD, which earned her approval from Gabby who loves competitive women (Gabby ♥), largely on the basis that she might only get one chance to do this so she might as well go for broke, and it pretty much paid off: there was a very slight degree of over-rotation, but the technique looked pretty solid and the judges rewarded her with 24.0. By far the best part of all of this was Anna’s new BFF Toyah’s ecstatic poolside reaction, by the way. Anna was followed by Paul Ross, who got the obligatory “class clown” edit, but turned out to have surprisingly good technique in training and got applauded by Tom for his lack of splash upon entry (fnar). Paul’s mantra was “I am middle-aged, chunky and unfit, but I will have a go”, which, again: fair enough. He went for a forward tuck from the 5m board, wearing some comedy cartoony shorts, and was a little bit too horizon upon hitting the water. Afterwards, Paul regretted not going for the 7.5m board, and Leon suggested he’d probably have had a better result if he had done that, and his “good effort but not ambitious enough” earned him 21.5 points.
My unexpected favourite of the night turned out to be Martin Offiah (who, along with Austin Healey, is making this the unofficial series of “men who danced with Erin on Strictly“), sporting some natty purple trunks and a fetching pink bandage on his shoulder. His body was a little bit rugby-ravaged, meaning that even fairly straightforward things like getting his arms in the air were harder for him than most of the others, and also he had a “real genuine fear” of heights. (I love the shade, however unintentional, at all the contestants who have drawn attention to their many fears in an attempt to pre-emptively cushion themselves against a poor performance.) He seemed to be experiencing a magnetic repulsion from the end of the diving board, so just leaving the ground at all was an accomplishment. Vernon berated Martin for only going up as far as the 5m board (never meet your heroes, eh Vernon?), at which point Martin revealed that this was already an upgrade from his preferred position on the 3m board. He’s also the only person in the history of the world to have asked Vernon Kay if they should chat for a little bit longer, such was his aversion to actually having to dive. It was worth the wait, though: his forward pike-fall was accompanied by a genuinely terrified “AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!” as he plummeted pool-ward. I have no idea if that sort of thing loses you points in the professional world of diving, but I suspect it does. “I didn’t like that,” Martin informed Gabby as he resurfaced. The judges took the piss of him for being a big scaredy-cat, and Leon called him “a bit boring”, and y’all know how much I love Leon but I fail to see how any dive that’s soundtracked with the sort of scream you’d expect to hear from someone falling off a church roof can ever be boring. Martin told Gabby he’d only signed up “to prove that brothers dive”, god love him, and got 18.0 from the judges. The non-screaming highlight of this segment? Gabby relishing telling viewers to “get ‘Offiah’ sofa” and vote for Martin. Martin basically told the viewers not to vote for him (spoiler: they took him at his word), but I for one am sad that this is all the Martin Offiah we will be getting on Splash!. He was fun.
Last but not least, we had Toyah Willcox. (This show’s allocation of its pimp slot is very interesting: Gemma Collins last week, and Toyah this. Not necessarily the contestants I’d expect to keep an audience hanging around to the end.) Toyah was basically just here for Tom, and took advantage of every opportunity to ogle him in training, despite admitting that she was “old enough to be his grandmother”. Don’t worry, Toyah: so’s Dustin. (Oh come on, you can’t expect me to let ALL the easy jokes pass me by.) Hilariously, Toyah turned out to not only be a horny cougar, constantly flirting with Tom and Keith, but also a SECRET RINGER. For a 55-year-old woman with a hip replacement, she was impressively agile – even if a misfire in training had her sent off for treatment (courtesy of handsome bearded physio Keith, which was the cue for more jokes about how Toyah’s libido). Toyah declared the whole experience “one of the best occasions of my life” and applauded everyone else’s efforts over the course of the evening, before doing an inward dive with tuck from the 5m board with impressive slickness. The judges declared themselves very interested in Toyah’s performance and gave her 24.0, the same as Anna, and Toyah informed us all that she’d like to keep up diving if she can. Toyah expressed her desire to keep up diving even after the competition, if she can, and then we all admired the camera operators who managed to get Vast Vernon and Teeny Toyah in the same shot for the post-dive chat with Tom.
To fill the time during voting, Vernon had a chat with Davina McCall in the audience, a VT telling us how much training for the show takes place away from water, and then the pièce de resistance: an exhibition dive to Girls Aloud’s ‘Untouchable’, where Tom Daley made his acting début of sorts, wearing a suit on a diving board before stripping off his jacket and shirt (but not his trousers), and then diving into the pool to have some sort of romance with a mermaid. I like the show’s attempts to embrace the many diverse aspects of Tom’s sexuality, even those that he shares with Troy McClure. As the show’s second attempt to lure the gays away from Kylie on The Other Side, it was possibly too little too late, but I can only applaud such high camp on primetime television.
Nothing that the rest of the show was offering up could really top this: the results weren’t especially surprising, as Keith got the automatic pass to the next round, while Anna and Toyah went head-to-head in The Splash-Off. Anna’s dive was slightly better the second time round, while Toyah’s wasn’t quite as good, so Anna got Andy’s and Leon’s votes, while Jo opted for Toyah (possibly through a need to support the inspirational older woman). Toyah didn’t mind because at least this meant she didn’t have to go higher, and Anna and Toyah had a bit of a luvvie-in about being the only two girls in their heat and the bond that they’d formed and what a shame it was that they couldn’t both continue, and then Toyah got all “BUT YOU’RE THE BEST BABE” and everyone kept calling them both “girls” despite the fact that Anna is in her early 30s and Toyah is 55. Oh well.
The big question is, now that The Voice UK has nicked nearly a quarter of this show’s viewers and it inevitably faces some sort of survival crisis, what will it pull out next week? Arguably not much star power in the divers (another TOWIE star, reality TV veteran Danielle Lloyd who will hopefully manage to get through the entire show without saying anything racist, 80s pop star Paul Young, a comedian I’ve never heard of and an MP I’ve never heard of), so maybe panic will set in and we’ll get full-frontal from Tom next Saturday, prompting ITV to commission a spin-off, Celebrity Skinny Dipping. Well, you never know.