Programmes you never thought would make it beyond the pilot, Number 427: the quiz show with Rhona Cameron where soap-star celebs disappeared through holes in the floor. Last year’s tester was literally shocking, as the likes of Lesley Joseph and ex-Corrie landlady Denise Welch stood nervously on trap doors waiting to see who’d get the drop at the end of each round. It was all for charideee, of course, which gave it a veneer of acceptability, but it was just a bit too reminiscent of public executions, with an edge of real cruelty and humiliation that went way beyond the smart-arse snidery of The Weakest Link. We were hoping not to see it again, but here it is.
At heart, it’s just an ordinary quiz show, with questions set at celebrity level ((i.e. not too hard) and a strong suspicion that steps have been taken to ensure that the celebs don’t appear too thick. The tension builds quite effectively in the early rounds, as the strongest link – sorry, immunity-holding contestant – pulls the obviously-not-connected-to-anything lever, and the red light clicks round the circle looking for its victim. The men tend towards bravado, but the women show their fear openly. The trap opens and the unlucky celeb disappears, with three action replays to make sure we don’t miss a millisecond of their ordeal.
Watching people being ritually subjected to real stress isn’t particularly entertaining, although fans of bullfighting or hare-coursing might find it fun. Either way, after a few rounds the novelty wears off and the ordinariness shows through, not helped by Cameron’s patter, which seems every bit as scripted as Anne Robinson’s but not half as sharp.
Part of the problem is that the celebs who are willing to put themselves through all this tend to be the nicer ones, such as this week’s Coronation Street characters Martin, Shelly, Ashley and Joe (who seems OK in real life, whatever he’s like in Mike Baldwin’s factory). The people you’d really enjoy seeing disappear through a hole in the floor – Mike Baldwin, Cat Deeley, Donald Rumsfeld – probably wouldn’t be up for it. The prizes seem stingy, too – at around £4,500 for a surviving celeb’s good cause, they’d be better off opening supermarkets.
Celeb humiliation is nothing new, of course – Noel Edmonds was putting them in his gunge tank when Rhona was still at school. But there’s a tinge of genuine nastiness to Russian Roulette, just as there was to Celebrity Boxing Match, a hint of the bar being raised to the point where we’ll demand to see people – celebrities first, ordinary punters next – actually being hurt for our entertainment. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.