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8th Dec, 2021

I’m A Celeb is back: Why do we love watching famous people eat gross things?

Leamington Editorial 21st Nov, 2021

The new series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! is returning tonight (Sunday, November 21), with producers of the ITV show promising this year’s contestants – who include pop singer Frankie Bridge, ex-footballer David Ginola and broadcaster Richard Madeley – are in for a rough ride.

Executive Director Olly Nash explained:

“We did set out at the beginning to make it much tougher.

“They’re in for longer, the trials are bigger. The trials were quite limited last year but this year they’re much closer to the Australian series in terms of their scale.”

For fans of the long-running reality show, watching the rich and famous being forced to stuff their faces with all manner of nausea-inducing items is one of the best bits. But have you ever wondered why it’s so enjoyable to watch celebrities trying to wolf down fermented eggs or crocodile feet?

Ahead of the new series, which will be taking place at Gwrych Castle near Abergele in North Wales for the second year running due to pandemic travel restrictions, we asked a psychologist to breakdown the strange appeal of the Bushtucker Trial…

We love to watch celebrities suffer

“There’s a Japanese word, meshiuma [which means] the misfortune of others tastes like honey,” says Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience.

“The sweetness of schadenfreude (to borrow the German term) is heightened when famous people are involved because humans are social creatures and, in an evolutionary sense, we’re very aware of hierarchy and status.

“[Watching] celebrities doing something which is disgusting or funny or awful, and they’re just not enjoying it, we get a sense of reward. Dopamine is firing up and we’re thinking, ‘That’s really funny, at least it’s not me’.”

… especially if we don’t think they’re really that famous

Do you find it particularly satisfying watching a so-called Z-list celeb on I’m A Celeb having to guzzle foul-smelling liquids or munch creepy crawlies, as opposed to a star you truly admire?

While it’s not particularly kind or gracious, Tang explains:

“[If] in our perception they’ve done nothing to earn their status, even more so do we want them brought down a peg or two. It makes us feel that little bit better.”

We can mock them from a safe distance

Unless you happen to be on Gogglebox or are actively mocking celebs on social media, there’s no personal risk involved with this kind of schadenfreude – unlike there would be if you were mean, or laughed at someone, in person.

“That reward we’ve just received has not cost us a thing,” says Tang. “We’ve sat in our living room and watched it happen and [the celebrities] can’t even come back at us for laughing, because they don’t know we laugh. If we saw someone being sick in public, we may feel sympathy or sadness [instead].”

We feel sorry for the celebs too

“There is a sense of empathy to some extent,” says Tang, so don’t worry that your love of Bushtucker Trials means you’re a heartless monster.

“As we see someone eat something disgusting, we might be reminded of a time where we ate something disgusting. It might bring back a funny memory or a story.”

It gives us something to talk about

Whether it’s on your family Whatsapp group or with colleagues, being able to chat about the latest ghastly Bushtucker Trial can fulfil “another human need, and that is to be included,” Tang says, especially if it elicits laughter.

“Laughter’s a positive thing, it makes us feel good. Now we’re going back to work we want to have those chats – ‘Did you watch I’m A Celebrity last night?’ – and if you haven’t, you feel a bit left out.”

I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! starts on Sunday, November 21 at 9pm on ITV and ITV Hub.

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