In recent months I've become an addict of Channel 4's Come Dine With Me, of which umpteen repeats are available on More 4, or you can catch up with them on Four On Demand, which is Channel 4's equivalent to the BBC iPlayer. It works fine nowadays.
In case you don't know, Come Dine With Me is a competitive cooking show in which, over the course of a week - although we see just the fast-moving edited highlights compressed into an hour - four or five contestants from the same town or area - and selected by the producers - each hold a dinner party in their own homes, with the other contestants as their guests. The aim is to impress everybody else with lovely food, skilfully prepared and cooked. But also with the welcome they give, their skills at creating a great atmosphere, and the comfort and ambience of their home. These other things all play an important part in the fascination of the show, and may well be more interesting (for the viewer) than the food itself!
At the end of each dinner, in the privacy of their taxis on the way home, the contestants award the cook points from nil to ten. Just one overall score, all elements considered. Not many cooks score less than five, though a dire meal or an offensive personal attitude might mean a score of nothing. Six means it was OK but nothing special; seven indicates a definite nod of approval; and a big thumbs-up score would be eight. Sometimes people actually do impress so much that they earn a ten.
It's all done for a prize of £1,000. That's a clever amount, because it's just enough to tempt people to pull the stops out, but not enough to lose sleep over if you don't win. It's made even more exciting because it's a thousand pounds in banknotes that you can (if you win) not only touch, and fan out in your hand in gloating fashion, but throw into the air in glee.
But the way some episodes go, I'm sure that many contestants forget that this is a serious contest with cash at stake, and rapidly let some other things take over their agenda for the evening - such as revealing or justifying their principles, or expressing their point of view, personal style, or ego. Some contestants treat the show as a dating game. Given the sometimes strange mix of contestants, all that can easily lead to tensions and emotional displays. It also exposes who can hold their wine, and who can't.
It's all exactly what the programmers think we, the viewers, will relish. They are clearly hoping that a 'guests-from-hell' scenario will develop, to make it all thoroughly interesting and highly watchable.
And to be honest, I think they are judging matters correctly, for we, the viewers (or should I say voyeurs?) certainly get some fine entertainment. We get to see and hear private mutterings from the guests, and rolling eyes, and sharp intakes of breath. Not least of the fun is the constant commentary from the person who does a fast and witty voiceover, David Lamb. For myself, and please don't think me odd, I find the show so funny that I deliberately have it on in order to shriek with laughter in a way I can never normally do. It's a total hoot and a great tonic.
But would I want to take part?
I have thought about it. They've already 'done' Brighton, but I'm sure (given Brighton's seriously wacky reputation) that the place will be featured again. And although I don't actually live in Brighton, I'm located close enough to qualify as a resident there.
Looked at soberly as a money-making proposition, I think - if there were the usual four local contestants - that taking part would mean laying out about £100 on foodstuffs and drink, plus taxi fares on the three nights when I would be one of the guests at someone else's house. So overall, placing (say) a £150 bet to win £1,000, in a kind of foody Grand National - but with a realistic chance of securing the prize if I really could produce an attractive and tasty three-course meal, and create a convivial and welcoming atmosphere to suit all my guests. Well, I'm confident of my cooking skills, personal presentation, and the attractiveness of my home as a setting.
Actually, you wouldn't be throwing away £150 if you lost, because you're odds-on to get a week of great dining and lively company. Of course it might also be a week of disgusting and indigestible slops with animal hair in it, and a succession of sticky moments...
The other contestants might easily be budding Master Chefs, and snatch the prize. And in any case, you may suffer the gamut of unexpected disasters that can befall even the best-planned occasion.
That said, I wouldn't be shooting myself in the foot (as one guest did) by introducing their guests to a pet snake, giving the creature the run of the table, and then having to mop up its poo. I wouldn't be organising bizarre and childish games. No nudity or other embarrassments. Nor would I be making provocative personal remarks, just to stir up my guests. I would be charming, warm, very friendly, very inclusive, the perfect relaxed hostess - no matter what oddball persons were stacked up against me in the competition. My take: none would be odder than myself. On my night, they would be honoured guests, and I'd want to see them enjoy themselves.
The real obstacle could be simply getting on the show. Channel 4 might say to me: sorry, but you clearly want to play it straight, and that's no good - we'll only consider you if you are prepared to do things, or say things, that will produce 'good television'.
Well, I can of course play the transsexual card. That would probably swing it. It would give me an edge, a personality quirk. In their eyes, the potential for girly tears and tantrums when my soufflé collapses. Possibly some shots of me cooking in a pink tutu. It's customary for guests to have the run of the house, so they'd hope
that I would 'accidentally' leave on display my spiked collar and lash.
Or a photo of myself in feathers and headress in some Brighton pub. Or a wardrobe full of ball gowns, indicating a sad fantasy life. Maybe a very naughty little dog called Pansy-PooPoos. And a game for the guests, in which they can each explore their Girly Side.
Sorry, none of that!
I didn't leave this parked in Wishful Thinking. I went onto the Come Dine With Me website, got their email address for expressions of interest, and bunged an email off to them. The instant response was an email from which I could download a proper Application Form, a somewhat daunting six-page document, although the last two pages were really just the terms and conditions. But four pages of close questioning, to assess whether I'd be suitable. Something to look at carefully over the next couple of days, methinks!