Picture the scene: it’s a weekday afternoon, rain drips miserably down your window, you sit staring blankly at that essay that needs to be ready in a week.
The clock strikes 5 – wham! Your laptop is slammed shut, you’ve thrown yourself onto the sofa and switched on Channel 4 with a flourish, because there’s no way you can do anymore work for the next hour. It’s time for that most golden of duos, the Ant and Dec of afternoon telly, the ultimate procrastination tools, the two Cs: Come Dine With Me and Coach Trip.
Come Dine With Me is the most well-known of the couple, satisfying our voyeuristic love of dinner parties, food and nosying around other people’s houses by making 5 people stage a dinner party and have the others score them on their efforts for a prize of £1000. A simple enough formula, but one so ingenious that you wonder why it hasn’t been done before.
Not only is it stellar food porn, but the bitching and backstabbing is juicy enough to satisfy reality TV’s “drama” requirements but adult and middle-class enough to make it seem like the tittering of a bad ’70s sitcom. Voice-over man Dave Lamb’s dry observations will have you giggling in delighted guilt. Colourful characters on the show have included burlesque dancers and opera singers, but also mixed among teachers and bank clerks. Will leave you planning your own menu.
Coach Trip is the light fluffy dessert to Come Dine With Me’s meatier main course. Essentially a “Brits on tour” holiday on wheels, Coach Trip takes a set of couples on a tour of Europe on a classy Union Jack emblazoned coach, adding new couples all the time and with the chance to vote off couples that they don’t like.
Once again, a very simple but effective formula, but addictive viewing once you get to know the characters onboard. The real star of the show of course is Brendan the tour guide, a no-nonsense northerner who switches from camp benevolence to sly bitchiness in the blink of an eye, often exasperated when the coach trippers don’t enjoy tasks like mucking out pigs.
Come Dine With Me and Coach Trip are the very essence of low-budget reality TV, yet so much more entertaining than the money-making juggernauts such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. The formula is simple: throw a bunch of middle-class British people from as many different backgrounds as possible (preferably designed to clash with each other) and watch the magic happen. Unlike other reality programmes, there’s no sneering Cowell-esque malice or opportunities for the public to get involved, it’s just people, plain and simple. If you want a picture of middle England, these are the programmes to watch. Watch human nature in all its crazy, boring, colourful, dull glory and put that essay off a little bit longer.
And if you’re interested, here is my (student) Come Dine With Me menu:
Starter – Sun-dried tomato bruschetta with balsamic vinegar
Main – Lamb and apricot tagine with cous cous
Dessert – Baked apples with raisins and toffee sauce
All served with copious amounts of red wine.
What would be yours?
Originally published on The Yorker 4th October 2010