It’s injury-porn week, with special guest director Artem Chigvintsev!
Okay, Splash!, you and I need to have a talk. I’ve done my best to support you even in these dark days when The Voice UK is stealing all your thunder because it happened to get someone who used to be in Hollyoaks and Paloma Faith’s sister’s best friend’s window cleaner’s daughter (WHO’S PARTIALLY DEAF!) to audition, but we need to discuss your banter crisis. You had similar problems last year at first, which I put down to the odd combination of Vernon Kay’s cheesy ITV non-ironic irony running headfirst into Gabby’s serious sports broadcaster approach, combined with Tom Daley’s general lack of experience with live TV. Yet you pulled it all together by the end of the series, with Vernon managing to up his game a little bit while Gabby learned to deliver a crass innuendo straight down the camera lens and love every second of it.
This year, sadly, something is just not working. Admittedly the script isn’t helping (sample dialogue: “this show really sorts the men from the boys” “No, that’s just the admission pricing structure!” *crickets*) but there’s just a general sense of awkwardness pervading all of the chat segments – frequently the post-dive chat with Tom seems to be something that every single person involved wants to get through as quickly as possible, and the directors seem far too keen to let the camera sit on a group of people nervously laughing at an extremely forced joke, and then cut to one of the presenters still trying to laugh at the same forced joke. It’s so uncomfortable to watch, and at this point I don’t really know how to fix it. Perhaps it’s because last year the show was an unexpected hit (of sorts), and this year the PR’s much less positive, with the show having to focus on how it’s failing to offer much competition to The Voice UK each week. (To be fair to Splash!, its audience has been fairly stable since the initial drop, but drawing in around 3.5m viewers every week when your rival is bringing in nearly 8m, the narrative is inevitably one of failure.) So it’s understandable that the atmosphere behind the scenes might be one of doom and impending cancellation (or worse, one of Tom Daley realising this show needs him more than he needs it, and abandoning ship), but if it’s going to stand any chance of survival, it really needs to have fun while it’s on the air. Come on, Splash!. I believe in you. Get better writers, stop thinking about the ratings and just enjoy the time you have left.
One thing this episode did have working in its favour was a much stronger pool of contestants than we’re used to – people who either delivered on the personality front, or by injuring themselves dramatically, or in the case of Austin Healey, both. Up first was The Gadget Show‘s Pollyanna WoodWARD (oh, you’d better believe the emphasis is on the “ward”). Pollyanna quickly established herself as this week’s Action Girl, mostly because she didn’t want to be outdone by Austin Healey (and I was quite grateful for this, because we all know Austin Healey works best when he has a rival to contend with, eh Tom Chambers?), so she leapt off the TEN! METRE! BOARD! right from the get-go and was determined to have a go at whatever Austin was doing. This was all soundtracked by ‘Anything You Can Do’ from Annie Get Your Gun, and all credit to the sound editors for using the “no you’re not, yes I am” part of the song to score Pollyanna’s inevitable face-plant right into the pool with “NO YOU’RE NOT!” echoing ominously. (No credit at all to the camera person who PANNED AWAY FROM THIS as it was happening to capture Jenny Eclair’s reaction rather than Pollyanna’s fall, so when Jenny asked the camera “did you see that?”, the viewers at home responded with a resounding “NO!”) So Pollyanna emerged from the pool with a serious nosebleed, giggling through the pain about how Austin clearly isn’t trying hard enough because “he hasn’t drawn blood yet”. So, yeah, she’s HARDCORE and I take my hat off to her.
Particularly since we went from there to the 7.5m board, where Pollyanna confessed to Vernon that her rehearsal dive went wrong as well and she’d been in A&E a few hours previously BLEEDING FROM THE EYE. They cleared her to dive if she wanted to, with the apparent subtext of “girl you crazy if you do anything other than go home and sit in a darkened room for the rest of the night”, but Pollyanna had been training all week for this and was undaunted, so she decided to go ahead with the dive she’d been planning all along – a forward 1½ somersault pike. “There’s a haemorrhage in there somewhere,” she admitted as she blithely listed her various injuries to Vernon. (And – spoiler – the public still didn’t vote for her. British public, you are HEARTLESS.) I got the impression that Pollyanna just wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible, just in case her seemingly limitless nerve decided to abandon her at the last minute, so the cameras didn’t capture her jump, but the dive itself was – thankfully – a solid effort. There was a little bit of over-rotation going into the water, but if you can point me to somebody who hasn’t had this problem this year, by all means do so. After everything that Pollyanna had been through, even Leon couldn’t resist giving her a bit of a bonus for bravery, and she ended up with a not-shabby-at-all 24.5 points.
Not willing to be outdone in the injury stakes, Austin was up next wearing some extremely snug trunks and looking around nervously in case Lisa Snowdon was waiting poised in the wings to rob him of his rightful place in the semi-finals yet again. He admitted that he was partially here because his daughters wanted to meet Tom Daley, and partially because he had DEMONS to battle – he used to dive in his youth until he had an accident that involved cracking his head on the springboard, landing unconscious in the water and having to be fished out by the lifeguards. (The ever-sensitive Splash! decided to recreate this for the viewers with frantic, black-and-white underwater shots. Stay classy, Splash!) You wouldn’t know that Austin’s been having nightmares about that based on his performance, though, because he was pretty darned good in training, giving just about anything a go. He said that he wanted to do the hardest dive he possibly could, but then had a Danielle Lloyd style mid-air panic and ended up bashing his shoulder on impact with the water. Back in the studio, he shrugged off the setback and prepared for a backward 1½ somersault from the 7.5m board (basically doing a twist and a flip in mid-air, which is a style of dive that even Tom doesn’t particularly like doing, he informed us later). Austin’s attempt was a little manic, and his legs were a bit all over the place as he landed. Andy thought it was the hardest dive attempted on the series so far, but scolded him for the scruffy execution, so Austin got the exact same score as Pollyanna.
Filling in the obligatory “unskilled amateur just here to do a pike fall from a low board and collect their cheque” spot was Jenny Eclair. Training revealed that Jenny could be graceful on the low boards, but any attempts to go higher up tended to make her buckle at the waist and enter the water at a most unflattering angle. There was a brief comedy bit where Jenny hid in a locker to avoid doing more diving, and then hid on the TEN! METRE! BOARD!, reasoning that nobody would think to look for her up there. She did her best to compete with Pollyanna and Austin in the injury stakes, doing a bit of a bellyflop and having a bit of a cry, but she blamed that on overall tiredness and showed us the bruises on her thighs as a cautionary tale of what happens when you’re not concentrating properly. After a bit of banter about knitting with Gabby (thereby proving my point about the severe banter problems on this show), Jenny went for the forward pike fall from the 5m board (“Come with me!” she beseeched Gabby), which was never going to be exciting enough to get anyone’s motor running however well she did it. So, although it was probably one of the better pike falls we’ve seen this series (and she shouted “the frogman’s a bit close!” just before diving, which I like to think was her secret spy code to confirm that this was the time to exchange the briefcases), the judges gave her a “eh, you would’ve probably looked better in a lesser heat, but we’ve just seen Pollyanna and Austin” score of 21.5.
This week’s fourth contestant was Una Foden (née Healy, which confused Vernon more than once having so many Healy/Healeys in the room at once) from The Saturdays. Now, as lovely as they are, The Sats don’t have the best track record on reality TV, since nobody voted for Vanessa on Popstar To Operastar and Rochelle has been a bit rubbish on Strictly Come Dancing specials not once but twice, so I didn’t exactly have high hopes for our Una. Indeed, she didn’t even need to get near the pool before she made her contribution to this week’s injury-porn count, somehow managing to injure her little toe in the soft-play area that the contestants use to practice their somersaults. This cued up an “Una is accident-prone” montage to ‘She Bangs’ (I think this show borrowed its music team from Homes Under The Hammer), and poor Una probably spent more time with the physio guy than she did with Tom. Also, her past form as a champion swimmer came back to bite her, because apparently swimmers dive far and fast, but divers dive near and slow, or something. The rest of The Saturdays came along to support her on the night, which was sweet – they had foam fingers and everything. Una went for a forward dive with tuck from the 5m board, which wasn’t quite as vertical as it needed to be, and Andy and Leon argued half-heartedly about her tuck shape, which mostly just made me want to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. Score? 22.5.
Rounding off this week’s contenders was Paralympic gold medallist Richard Whitehead MBE, and there were slightly more logistic issues for him to contend with than everyone else. Having opted to dive without his prosthetic legs, he and Tom had to work around the fact that Richard’s centre of gravity would be different from everyone else’s, which would affect his technique. Tom did his best with this, but unsurprisingly it wasn’t his area of expertise. Richard wasn’t too fussed about the injury porn side of things, laughing off his failed dives, and focusing more on trying to find a dive that would make him stand out. Between them, he and Tom worked out an arm stand forward dive from the TEN! METRE! BOARD!, which Richard executed pretty much flawlessly – and after a discussion about how diving is not a Paralympic sport and the reasons why that might be, the judges rewarded him with the highest score of the series – 27.0.
However, the most momentous moment of the entire series was yet to come. During this week’s pro dive dance number (set to Christina Aguilera’s ‘Candyman’, but with every single line containing any sort of innuendo muted out, which completely defeats the purpose of the song, SO WELL DONE EVERYONE) – brace yourself for this, because it’s completely unprecedented – THEY LET A WOMAN DIVE! Just one, mind, because we don’t want these ladies getting above their station, but still: truly this was a great day for feminism. Also, Tom Daley dived in his best An Officer And A Gentleman fantasy outfit, for anyone whose kinks that directly appeals to.
Come the results, Richard was sent straight through to the semi-finals, while Pollyanna and Jenny were dispatched, leaving Austin and Una to fight among themselves in The Splash-Off. Both of them improved on their previous efforts with their second attempt, but with extra points for ambition, the judges voted unanimously to send Austin through to the semi-finals, where he will somehow end up getting robbed by Danielle Lloyd, or something. Somehow. I don’t even think they’re in the same semi, but IT’LL PROBABLY STILL HAPPEN. Anyway, join me next week when we’ll all have a semi. (Yes, I made that joke last year, but recycling is good for the planet.)