There were plenty of bugs in the jungle but no Ant as I’m A Celebrity… crashed through the canopy for its latest season. The other conspicuous absence was TV gnome Noel Edmonds, widely touted as a contestant this year but not featured in the first episode.
Very much in situ, though, was the absent Anthony McPartlin’s temporary replacement, Holly Willoughby. The This Morning presenter seemed subdued as the curtain rose. First night jitters also emanated from Declan Donnelly, visibly trying too hard to create a spark with his new foil.
Meanwhile, we’re still at the getting-to-know-you stage with this year’s crop of tropical try-outs. They are: Harry Redknapp, Emily Atack, Sair Khan, James McVey, Anne Hegerty, John Barrowman, Malique Thompson-Dwyer, Fleur East, Nick Knowles and Rita Simons.
If you recognise less than half of those names, fret not. None of the contests seemed to have heard of each other either. Here are all the talking points.
When will Noel Edmonds make his entrance?
You’re dying to hear all about the first episode of the latest I’m A Celeb. But first Noel. Or should that be “No-el”? After all the hype – and a rumoured £600,000 appearance fee – Mr Blobby’s best-mate was nowhere to be seen. The gossip is that he’ll be introduced several instalments in.
One report even had it that he will be accompanied by “two melon-sized orbs that he believes are his late parents”. But for now there was a Noel-shaped void on the screen and in our hearts.
Can Holly Willoughby replace the absent Ant?
With McPartlin sitting out this year's jungle rumble, Dec was still settling in with his new co-host. Willoughby seemed, in truth, a bit eager too fit in and was cracking up straight away at Declan’s terrible gags.
“One of the most gorgeous presenters on British television… has been joined by Holly Willoughby,” he dead panned. She collapsed into chuckles – possibly the closest she came to a human emotion all night. Willoughby will no doubt get better but this was a cagey debut. Harry Redknapp would have taken her off at half-time.
Didn't Dec seem overwrought?
"I've never done it with a girl before, it's usually a bloke," said Dec. If Willoughby was still finding her way, her new jungle buddy appeared just as jumpy.
It was weird that Donnelly would look so conspicuously out of his comfort zone when sharing the spotlight with a human being who didn’t have a huge forehead and a Geordie accent. He has, after all, successfully helmed Saturday Night Takeaway solo after McPartlin announced he was taking time away following personal upheavals.
Yet there were moments it felt he was making nervous smalltalk with a stranger rather than fronting the nation’s favourite reality show about former soap stars being bothered by scorpions. Deep breaths Dec, deep breaths (and fewer dad jokes).
Was there a lack of tension in the high-wire event?
"This is the highest challenge we've ever had on I'm A Celebrity," explained a beaming Donnelly. The first four contestants – John Barrowman, Sair Khan, James McVey and Rita Simons- had been divided into red and yellow teams. As per I'm A Celeb convention, they now had to clamber via high wire to retrieve a precious flag. The winning side had their pick of the later teammates – and early bragging rights.
But instead of the expected spills and chills, the jump-suited newcomers, with the exception of the jittery (ish) Khan, scampered up the wires and retrieved the flags with minimal fuss. The real terror was in Dec's face as he tried to think of something interesting to say to his new co-presenter.
Harry Redknapp misses his bacon sandwiches
Each year I'm A Celebrity reliably throws up a contestant who has no idea what I'm A Celebrity is beyond representing an apparently straightforward pay-cheque. This year the unsuspecting guinea pig was football manager Harry Redknapp, who'd never seen an episode and whose big worry was how he’d wash his trousers in the jungle.
That he’d signed up for more than a bit of light larking only dawned on him as the team made camp and he was surprised not to find a stall in the corner serving bacon sandwiches. Instead he had to make do with fried emu – hugely traumatising, considering he was a fan of Rod Hull back in the day.
The two teams appear evenly matched
Challenge winners James McVey (from The Vamps) and Rita Simons (from EastEnders) didn’t hesitate in picking Fleur East (an X-Factor finalist) and Anne Hegarty (the “quiz personality” from The Chase) for their side. That left Nick Knowles, of DIY SOS fame, and Harry Redknapp to team up with Barrowman and Khan. And then it was off to another challenge to settle on a final team mate (Noel count: still zero).
The first bug event was a tour-de-creepiness
Harry Redknapp looked like he'd just watched England lose 5-0 to Andorra as, scratching around for a token to open a gate, he saw a huge spider wriggle up his hand. Equally traumatised was Team Yellow's Anne Hegerty, taking on a crab to get her tokens.
And they arguably got off lightly compared to teammates Knowles and East, each running a gauntlet of ferocious ants – of the six-legged rather than ITV variety – in order to raise the barrier. The challenge was ultimately won by Team Red, who chose Malique Thompson-Dwyer, from Hollyoaks and fresh from a parachute jump, as their fifth team member.
At least one contestant already wants out
The episode was building to a canoe race, with the winners bagging the luxury camp, the losers bunking on the floor. John Barrowman went above and beyond, swimming behind the Team Red boat and "kicking like a banshee".
Team Yellow fared less well. Their canoe sank and they ended up mucking about in the shallows. Which they found hilarious – until it was pointed out that they still had to get across to retrieve their back-packs.
Viewers’ faith in humanity – sorely tested as Fleur East arrived wearing a jacket made from bin-liner – was restored when Knowles jumped back in to help the losers get their kit across.
Atack, alas, was nominated for Monday’s bushtucker trial. And Hegerty was on the brink of sobs and regretting ever agreeing to compete. Could things get worse for her? Well obviously. She might leave before Edmonds arrives.