Derek Draper’s wife is vying to win the latest series of I’m a Celebrity. Here he gives his professional tips on how to survive the mind games and come out on top
The television ratings juggernaut I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! is back for its 19th series. What is the secret behind its success? That’s a question that has long intrigued me as a psychologist. This year, my interest is even more acute: my wife, Kate Garraway, the TV and radio presenter, is one of the celebrities taking on the jungle — in fact a former banana plantation — in New South Wales.
We bought a humongous TV just before she left so the children and I could feel as though she’s in the room with us. We have cheered her on as she has dangled from a 300ft-plus building, and survived getting bitten by thousands of cockroaches and crickets, while 25 rats scurried over her. I hope the 11m other viewers have been cheering her on too.
But the allure of IAC — as its crew call it — is about more than prurience. At its heart lie fundamental psychological phenomena: those of belonging, challenge and change, the same universal dynamics that play out in playgrounds, families and in the boardrooms where I make my living as a business psychologist.
The first thing that happens on IAC is what psychologists call affiliation, the human equivalent of two dogs sniffing each other’s bottoms. Just like on the first day at school, or the first meeting of a new project team, the jostle for status and attachment begins. Who’s the top dog, and who’s going to turn out to be your ally, or maybe even friend? The alliances can seem unlikely — see Georgia “Toff” Toffolo and Stanley Johnson’s jungle friendship from two years ago. I’ve witnessed many such supposedly unexpected pairings in the workplace.
Rivalries develop, too, though the camp-mates know to keep that from the TV cameras. Watch out for the hints of passive aggression, though, such as when Caitlyn Jenner was asked, “You don’t know who we are do you?” and she replied: “Not really.” But didn’t she? If she was anything like Kate, she would have had a pile of printed-out research on her camp-mates stashed in her hand luggage.
In 1938 the US psychologist Henry Murray listed the eight secondary needs of human beings (primary needs being air, water, food and so on). It is fascinating to note how precisely these are served by the format of IAC:
1 Ambition: everyone desperately wants to be crowned king or queen of the jungle. Kate gave up sugar and got up even earlier than usual to work out with her fitness coach.
2 Materialism: the camp-mates crave creature comforts and covet their luxury item — Kate’s was concealer.
3 Status: the jockeying for position starts the moment the celebrities meet, false modesty hiding a yearning to have been recognised. Careers are compared, pre-jungle outfits carefully chosen.
4 Power: the producers play with this, arbitrarily making a camp-mate leader. This can cause resentments, just like in the real world. “Why did she get promoted and not me?”
5 Sadomasochism: played out clearly in the terrors of bushtucker trials. Next time you watch, ask yourself: are you identifying with the petrified celebrity or the guy pouring in the creepy-crawlies?
6 Social conformance: the need to fit in and not to appear to let people down. To this end, Kate packed two sorts of bikinis: some that cover her well, others that are skimpier. I bet if the younger women and guys are egging her on she will slip into the racier ones. (I had a sneak preview and she looks fabulous.)
7 Affection: the necessity of getting close to someone else or a small group to gain support and reassurance. My heart broke when the camp got some good news and Kate turned to hug someone, but everyone had already chosen someone else to hug. I wanted to jump through the TV screen and give her a hug myself.
8 Information: curiosity and the need to find out about other people. As the camp gets smaller, the intimacy increases and the camp-mates forget the cameras are there. It’s the moment the producers are waiting for. In response to being intimately invaded by some cockroaches on day two, Kate cried out: “They’re going up my noo-noo!” I am dreading what she might be sharing with the British public by day 15, if she’s still in there.
In my day job, I assess and develop executives’ potential. When Kate was asked to go on the show, I watched a few past series and did some research, looking for attitudes and behaviour that seemed to lead to people being crowned king or queen of the jungle.
The results were crystal clear. The winners all display three characteristics. First, authenticity: did they seem genuine and true to themselves, not posing or playing games? Second, niceness: did they show empathy and support their camp-mates? Third, hard work: did they pull their weight and really try at the trials, even if they didn’t do well?
Or, put another way, would viewers feel they’d enjoy going out for a drink with them? A heuristic, by the way, that could explain the outcome of the other big vote taking place in Britain soon.
Whether it’s Jason trying to recover the golden fleece or a former soap star trying to win enough points to win a decent meal — or our own struggles to survive and thrive in challenging circumstances — the story of the hero’s journey taps deep into our human consciousness. IAC is stuffed full of such narratives.
Kate was in two minds about doing the show. She already has a successful career and doesn’t need any more work. But she liked the idea of being challenged and doing something new and different — and the children egged her on. She also, at 52, wanted to show how middle-aged women can, and should, be just as adventurous as those in their twenties.
But there was one particular thing that made up her mind: she spoke to a lot of people who had been on the show before — winners and losers — and not a single one regretted doing it.
The next two weeks are a chance not only to be entertained but to observe fundamental human psychology playing out — and to see if any of what we see might apply to our own lives. Do we challenge ourselves enough? Do we strike up fresh friendships? Do we show openness, agility and resilience at work? Do we get out of comfort zones?
You don’t have to be thousands of miles away, eating crickets and wearing an Indiana Jones hat, to push yourself to try something new.
Derek Draper is the chief executive of CDP Leadership Consultants and the author of Create Space: How to Manage Time, and Find Focus, Productivity and Success (Profile Books)