Why the response to I'm a Celebrity's Sam Thompson is a major problem

sam thompson, i'm a celebrity get me out of here
Why the response to I'm a Celeb's Sam is an issueITV/Shutterstock

Sam Thompson celebrated being chosen as I'm a Celebrity camp leader in what viewers will now recognise as classic Sam fashion: he leapt in the air and took a bouncing victory lap around ITV's province of Australian undergrowth. Then, in the Bush Telegraph he tore off his hat and threw it into the air as he shouted "Yeehaw!".

Much of the commentary around the Made in Chelsea star's stint in the show has swirled around this puppy-like exuberance and seemingly unflappable energy. It has at times been stark, in a setting that so often beats its campmates into a sort of docile, famished, irked submission.

For Sam, daily humdrum life in a drizzly bog with a bunch of variable celebrity bigwigs seems to have had the opposite effect.

It's something Ant and Dec spent much of a recent episode's live gags on during their treehouse cutaways. They made joke after joke about Sam on Sunday (November 26), imitating his lively response to any and all news in the camp with fist pumping exclamations.

They then did a bit which involved imitating Sam for supposedly cheering on inane events like the kettle coming to a boil and a council tax bill sliding through the letterbox. The whole thing left them in peals of (perhaps genuine) laughter.

marvin humes and sam thompson, i'm a celebrity get me out of here

Sam did indeed celebrate his nomination to do the fish-focused Bushtucker Trial alongside Nella Rose with his trademark buoyancy. This again brought on more treehouse tomfoolery, as the hosts joked that the campmates were probably celebrating too, since the trial had inadvertently gifted them "a whole hour without being hugged by Sam".

The jokes and jabs would be fairly harmless, if it weren't for the fact that Sam has been open about how he was diagnosed with ADHD and autism earlier this year.

Sam shared his journey of self-discovery with his documentary Sam Thompson: Is This ADHD? Ahead of the one-off episode, Sam spoke with Digital Spy about how he had long wondered if there was something "wrong" with him, as he struggled to maintain enough focus to do basic errands like paying bills – slightly queasily in the wake of Ant and Dec's jokes.

While neurodiversity representation has improved in recent years – with the likes A Kind of Spark, Love on the Spectrum and Wednesday putting neurodivergent people at the heart of their programming – Sam made a point of telling us he had not seen his own experiences represented on screen. He went on to say that he hoped his documentary could "build awareness and knowledge".

"I used to beat myself up thinking it was my fault that I couldn't listen to someone or I'd get distracted easily when it's something I should concentrate on," he said.

sam thompson voted first camp leader im a celebrity show 9 2023

Sam's character in the camp has been one of smiling, hugging and recreating JLS dance moves with Marvin Humes.

Yet, unfortunately, Ant and Dec's flippant commentary is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to those labelling Sam's energetic behaviour as "annoying", and it isn't particularly hard to find online. Sam's reality show maven bestie Pete Wicks even felt compelled to publicly defend Sam in the face of those labelling him "over the top".

"He is quite obviously aggravating," Pete told the Daily Mail in a recent interview. "However, that is the Sam that we know and love and I specifically love.

"Sam struggles with boredom and a lot of things because of his ADHD and autism but that shouldn't be seen as a bad thing. I have read a lot of comments and it's something that I believe shouldn't define him," Pete continued.

"People should embrace that because he's entertaining and that's what the show is about. He should be defined by the fact that he's a really fun, positive guy and that's his personality aside from having ADHD and autism."

marvin humes, sam thompson and danielle harold, i'm a celebrity get me out of here

What feels particularly egregious is how that online commentary about Sam – which may indeed come from viewers unaware of Sam's diagnosis – has started to bleed into the show and is coming from those on the production who will undoubtedly know he is neurodivergent.

And, yes, while Sam did introduce the loathsome Nigel Farage to camp by inexplicably dubbing him "sir" and giving him a hug, Pete's comments show those close to him have drawn a direct line between this lively, affectionate personality and his neurodiversity.

ITV's use of Sam as the butt of a gag, and hinting that his behaviour is grating on his campmates, tacitly endorses those online who are saying similar things and makes light of what is in its simplest terms a fact of neurology we shouldn't be given free reign to joke about.

It might be more responsible for Ant and Dec's joke writers – perhaps those off camera, laughing at each and every gag like their paycheck depends on it – to leave the 'Sam's too much' material on the treehouse cutting-room floor and stick to the Brian Spears bit instead.

I'm a Celebrity… airs on ITV1 and ITVX.

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