“Holy shit. It’s finally here. All of my favourite celebrities together in an action-packed competition, performing dives that may be either incredible or disastrous, much to my great amusement.”
The people behind the big budget, much-broadcast TV ads for Celebrity Splash may have expected the above reaction from viewers. What they got was more along the lines of “Huh?”
I thought it was some kind of tongue-in-cheek promo for Dancing with the Stars. My friend Cat Marmody said he thought it was just one challenge within a larger whole, some sort of multi-stage, Wipeout-esque competition. But no, it’s definitely celebrities (debatable) diving (just as debatable).
Nevertheless my curiosity was sufficiently aroused to draw me to Channel 7 with an ice-cold beer on Monday May 29 and Tuesday May 30. And believe it or not, things actually started pretty well.
Episodes start with a showcase of people who can actually dive doing some pretty spectacular stuff; presumably they’re divers in training. It’s not Olympic-level Chinese diving team precision, but it’s more than what I could do, and far more than what the celebrities pull off, so it’s nice.
The hosts are okay. Larry Emdur plays Larry Emdur to perfection, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s 100% interchangeable with Andrew O’Keefe, Eddie McGuire, Grant Denyer or Karl Stefanovic. What I’m saying is he’s a male Australian TV personality, and behaves EXACTLY how you’d expect him to. He’s not exactly breaking the mould here, but he chips in with a few harmless zingers. His female co-host doesn’t fare so well.
What Kylie Gillies says isn’t boring or offensive; it isn’t really bad in any way – in fact her enthusiasm is pretty endearing. The problem is how she says it. Her delivery is much like a blend of Puberty Boy from the Simpsons, and an over-excited, shrill middle-aged woman who could burst into tears at any moment but instead constantly teeters on the edge. You may as well cheese grate your eardrums, and I feel bad saying that, because she seems really nice. Unfortunately for Kylie, this is the Reviewman, and I’ll bloody well call it how I see it/hear it.
The judges are Greg Louganis, Matthew Mitcham and Alisa Camplin. While two of those are legitimate diving champions, in particular Louganis who is regarded by some as the best diver in history, Alisa Camplin is, quite literally, a skier. She’s not a crap judge, she’s got innocent charm and charisma to spare, but so do the other two. There’s no Simon Cowell here, no variety, no truly humorous or “damn that was harsh” moments. It begs the question – you could’ve brought in a token mean person or outrageous comedian to lend a bit more personality to the cast, so why choose a skier? It’s like making a BLT, but instead of putting in bacon, the best bit of the BLT and the thing that primarily makes you want to eat it, you substitute that shit for cucumber, which is just another vegetable and pretty lame in and of itself. Sorry Camplin.
Onto the contestants, the beef mince of this entertainment Bolognese. According to my calculations, they vary from the D-List (Josh Thomas, Andrew Symonds, Leisel Jones), right down to those who could probably benefit from more letters in the alphabet. But status shouldn’t matter; if they entertain me I’m all good. Results vary.
Some people are downright boring. Renae Ayris, Nick Bracks, and Andrew Symonds are spectacularly dull. But at least they’re not desperately annoying. Those duties are left to Josh Thomas, who I’ve never rated, while Brynne Edelsten has no redeeming qualities and makes me angry whenever she speaks. But there are highlights. Adam Richard is a funny guy and could teach Josh Thomas a few things, Denise Drysdale has cute moments, and Derek Boyer is suitably intimidating without actually being scary. The rest sort of float around like flavourless croutons in mediocrity soup. Thankfully, Paul Fenech is absolute comedy gold.
He truly is the star of the show, and if it were up to Australia alone you could’ve given him the title of best Celebrity Splasher before the series started. He’s full of beans, overflowing with the stuff, and is prone to impromptu dives mid-interview, out of nowhere karate moves, pretending to be a shark and saying ridiculous stuff like “This stooge is going to give it 100%!” or “We’ll be like two subwoofers pumping together”. He can’t dive that well though, and was eliminated before his time. And there’s the problem with the show.
There’s a very good reason why a YouTube video of Matthew Mitcham’s gold medal-winning performance in Beijing of ’08 has around 112,000 views, while “Indiana Diving Bloopers” has more than six million. Love it or hate it, society loves to see unfortunate people failing at things. That’s what gets the viewers. Channel 7 has ignored this PROVEN SCIENTIFIC FACT, and has instead devised a scoring format that awards two scores out of ten, for Technique and Courage, for a total of 20. Channel 7 has forgotten that this isn’t the Olympics; this is a group of down-on-their-luck celebrities who will do anything they can for their moment in the spotlight.
Encouraging actual effort is wasting an opportunity. Why not add in a third category: Hilarity? Biggest Splash? Outrageousness? The diving is the essence of the show, so it pays to make it entertaining. Sadly, it doesn’t entertain consistently. Because these people are actually trying, the worst dives aren’t hilariously crap, they’re just poorly executed. And the good dives are actually kind of good, but not spectacularly so. On the whole, they’re uniformly average, so it becomes like watching the same sort of dive, time after time.
So far there’s only been one dive highlight: Derek Boyer’s astonishing belly flop, which probably took more guts and mental and physical strength than a gold medal-grade Olympic dive. But he was eliminated in episode one, losing the interest of people like me who want to see Richter Scale-rattling belly flops. In subsequent episodes he’s been joined by Leisel Jones, Edelesten and former Essendon footballer Andrew Welsh who one can take or leave. But 7 also lost arguably the biggest celebrity on the list in Josh Thomas, the funniest in Paul Fenech, along with Renae Ayris and Demi Harman: the token eye candy (Laura Csortan, Miss Universe 1997, pulled out before her first dive due to injury, but she’d also fit in this category).
So if you do the math, just halfway through the series, Channel 7 has lost the guy who did the funniest dives, the biggest star of the show, the funniest bloke and the best-looking female contestants. That’s a lot of viewers down the drain, including 99% of the straight male population. And guess what? They went largely because they weren’t technically sound at diving. With its judging system, Channel 7 shot itself in the foot, then reloaded and aimed a bit higher.
While Celebrity Splash is undeniably hilarious in terms of concept, it falters in key areas, and delivers a fatal blow to itself where it counts most – the diving. I struggled to bring myself to watch episodes two and three after the initial promise of one (Derek Boyer’s belly flop, specifically), and won’t bother with four to six, since everyone half-decent is gone. Is it irony if a show that should have been based on belly flops is itself a flop?
3 belly flops out of 10