The problem with reviewing a TV show designed to raise money for charity is that I am honour-bound to be nothing but nice. While they may not be my cup of tea, these shows are inherently good and therefore, in theory, beyond reproach.
But having watched last night’s latest addition to the “celebrity charity challenge” canon, Celebrity Hunted, I’m struggling to find any compliments. Trust me, it doesn’t feel great.
Now in its fifth series, the show sends five teams of famous pairs on the run and tests their deception skills against a crack squad of “hunters” (ex-police officers, intelligence operatives and army personnel) who track their every move and attempt to find and “extract” them from the game.
I’m a big fan of the civilian version, where the stakes are high and there’s a £100,000 prize on the line. But with no real incentive to stay hidden other than the need to create six hour-long episodes, this celebrity variation was too false to be enjoyable.
Breaking out from Shrewsbury prison were comedians and podcasters Ed Gamble and James Acaster, life coaches Nik and Eva Speakman, Strictly’s Katya Jones plus former Olympic snowboarder Aimee Fuller, and YouTuber Saffron Barker and University Challenge mathematician Bobby Seagull.
Actor and broadcast journalist Nicola Thorp was also on the run, going solo for the time being while her partner, Starstruck actor Nikesh Patel, stayed at home recovering from Covid.
All the groups were allowed to pre-plan their escape from Shrewsbury, though Jones and Fuller were the first to put their scheme into action. Jumping on a bright red motorbike, with Jones in a sidecar (not exactly a subtle getaway), the pair drove to a nearby garage where they had arranged for the owners to send out three decoy vans to confuse the hunters – who were watching from a helicopter – while they stayed put. Somehow, it worked.
Meanwhile the Speakmans made the mistake of getting in touch with their daughter, Liv, who picked them up in her own car and started the journey back to their own home. The hunters were on their tail straight away and eventually intercepted Liv’s car. But somewhere along the way, Nik and Eva had jumped out and transferred to another car, leaving the hunters to find stuffed dummies in Liv’s car. Again, somehow, it worked.
Gamble and Acaster were the only group who met the exercise with the same amount of effort the hunters were putting in: very little. After stopping off for lunch in a Shrewsbury café, they got a lift from their waitress to Birmingham. Acaster threw his shoes out of the window, Gamble performed a stand-up routine in a local comedy club. Still, they weren’t caught.
There was one moment which set my pulse racing. When Patel returned to the game, he was tracked by the hunters to Euston station and spotted on a train up north. But just as the hunters were about to grab him on a train, the episode ended abruptly. Even the Succession writers aren’t that good at creating cliffhangers.
That the hunters kept falling for silly ploys reeked of production intervention. Mistakes made here would never be given grace in the real Hunted; it was clear the celebs were being given an easier ride. The whole façade felt heavily choreographed and the hunters’ reactions were almost certainly fed to them. Let’s just say none of them are worthy of any acting awards.
Hunted usually hinges on the audience rooting for the fugitives and hating the hunters. Here, I couldn’t bring myself to care either way.