X Factor. Big Brother. Strictly Come Dancing. The schedules are crammed with reality/talent shows just now, but ITV1's vastly underrated 71 Degrees North deserves more attention. In this show, which recently started its second series, 10 celebrities undertake various challenges in the chilly Norwegians wilds, journeying across frozen tundra to the titular 71 degrees north, as one of their group's eliminated each week.
Together they build ice holes, swim in sub-zero fjords, pull sleds, hang from bridges, cross ravines, climb ice walls, sleep in tents suspended vertically from a cliff, abseil down frozen waterfalls, and race snowmobiles. You can't say the celebs don't earn their money on this show, with temperatures regularly dipping to -30C. And that's part of the reason I really enjoy it, because eating bugs, learning to ballroom dance, or living in a house with strangers, has nothing on 71 Degrees North's physical and mental demands.
The lineup this year may cause the odd titter and furrowed brow, but it's far starrier than what Channel 5 recently gave us with Celebrity Big Brother. On 71 Degrees North we have OIympian Amy Williams, ex-children's presenter Angelica Bell, ex-EastEnders actress Brooke Kinsella, buxom gardener Charlie Dimmock, comic actor John Thomson, Loose Women presenter Lisa Maxwell, "Hollywood actor" Sean Maguire, Crimewatch presenter Rav Wilding, '80s popstar/actor Martin Kemp, and celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke. That's star-power akin to I'm A Celeb, which is amazing considering 71's not likely to revive flagging careers in quite the same way. But that's actually a credit to the people who get involved, as it feels like they're genuinely there for a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, not to sit around getting humiliated and scared for a big fat cheque that could lead to panto work or an ITV2 fly-on-the-wall docu-series.
The only flaw with 71 Degrees North is that every series isn't going to be vastly different, as there's only so many challenges you can do in an arctic setting. The first episode was almost identical to Series 1's premiere last year, ending with an endurance swim in freezing waters. The show also lacks the sex appeal of the other celeb-based shows, unless you find crampons a turn-on. There are no "showmances", no saucy clinches in a cha-cha-cha, no semi-naked showers under an paradisiacal waterfall, no bikini-clad sunbathing in a garden. But who cares? Instead we get something far better: camaraderie, stress, endurance, teamwork, people overcoming fears, and mounting respect for the celebs as you sit at home with a hot cup of cocoa watching the poor sods hike through blizzards. And the celebs give it 100% effort, because winning a challenge means they're treated to an overnight stay at a luxury chalet with comfortable beds, hot food and hot showers. No half-hearted bushtucker trials ending in a walk back to camp with a few hot meals, here.
It's a good show, deserving of more love and attention from viewers, as it undeservedly gets overlooked because ITV are too busy promoting X Factor to death.