Weaver's Week 2024-04-21

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The Underdog: Josh Must Win

Lifting the curtain on the sausage factory.


Josh Must Win

Primal Media and Group M Motion Entertainment for E4, 25 March – 9 April

These people think they're here to take part in The Favourite, a nebulous popularity contest being filmed for telly. Nick Grimshaw hosts, there are challenges and stunts, and one of the most unpopular players each day leaves. At the end of the week-long series, the winner will get £10,000.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win A show within a show.

But there's a twist, one so large that even Chubby Checker would be impressed by its twistiness. Nick Grimshaw, and some reality television veterans, are working behind the scenes. Their aim is to make sure that Josh wins. Because if Josh wins, all of the contestants win £10,000. And all the contestants get to meet Amber Gill, Vicky Pattison, and Pete Wicks.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Pete, Vicky, Amber, and Nick.

Now, Josh knows nothing about this plot, he is being manipulated just like all the other contestants. And if the celebrity panel are rumbled, if the house figures that there is a plan to ensure Josh wins, the jig will be up and it will all have been for naught.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win They'll be dancing in the mansions of Southend tonight, Simon.

We'll cut through to the result: the celebrity panel weren't rumbled. A number of contestants did suspect that something was a bit unusual, their unease never rose beyond "things are bonkers on reality telly". And, after doing what they could to influence the vote, Josh did end up being voted as the favourite. Josh, and all the candidates, did get their £10,000.

Who is this Josh person anyway? Who is he? Who is he?

The Underdog: Josh Must Win The chap under the umbrella.

Josh is a young man in his early-to-mid twenties. A mop of tousled dark hair, spectacles, perhaps light freckles. There is an indefinable slightness about him: Josh is the sort of person who will slink into a room and wait a few minutes to be spoken to. Josh will not burst through the door and declaim "Josh! Is! Here!" and demand everyone stop whatever unimportant thing they're doing to pay him attention.

Josh is rather like the typical Big Brother winner these days. He's a bit reserved, not utterly outgoing, perhaps a little shy and overwhelmed in unfamiliar situations. There are layers to him, getting to know Josh is like peeling the layers off an onion. And once you do get to know him, you find Josh is genuine and charming and witty and a good person to be around.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Josh sits and talks with a couple of contestants. Does that picture on the wall look like someone familiar?

The other contestants fit the various stereotypes of reality telly. There's the posh one, the obviously gay one, the makeup queen, the sacrificial lamb who'll be gone by day three, the one who you want to cover your drink around, the obnoxious one, and the inevitable bimbo. (Many of these stereotypes crossed the traditional gender boundaries.) All of them were loud, lairy, alpha people. They are the sort of person who will burst through the door and declaim "The winner! Is! Here!" and feed off the oxygen of everyone's attention.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Plot scheme plot scheme.

All of the players live in a hired mansion in Southend. They're only using about half the building, the rest is studios and backroom stuff – such as Grimmy and his gang. Food is provided, and a limited amount of alcohol – enough to get merry, not enough to get tired and emotional.

Every day, each contestant votes for the other player who is their favourite, and whoever is their least favourite. The player with the most least favourite votes is up for eviction. Whoever's got the most favourite votes is safe, and they nominate someone else for eviction. Who goes? That's decided by "the viewers".

The Underdog: Josh Must Win The viewers on their sofa.

Our players in the house are told that the viewers will decide. And the viewers do decide: except it's not the viewers at home, as one might assume, but it's the four viewers in the control room backstage. That is the limit of the show's deception: it uses the assumption that the public vote on who leaves.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Eliminated contestants had an exit interview with Nick...

The Underdog: Josh Must Win ... which ended in a surprise...

The Underdog: Josh Must Win ...meeting with other reality stars.

The influencers

How do Nick and Amber and Pete and Vicky influence the game? By stealth and gentle direction. Sure, Amber could go into the house and threaten everyone to vote for Josh otherwise she'll sing to them, but a) this would be completely unsubtle and b) would probably lead to the contestants getting a bit suspicious that someone was trying to alter their votes.

There's one big opportunity each day to let Josh shine: the daily task. Our panel pick one of ten qualities that they think popular people possess – team player, or entertainer, for instance. And then they're allowed and encouraged to manipulate things in Josh's favour, or to peg back someone else. In the entertainer task, for instance, the leader was given a very dull song to sing, completely out of his comfort zone, and it was no surprise that he made a hash of it. Josh, by contrast, was given a wrestling demonstration: active, and engaging, and in the centre of his comfort zone.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Cheers for Josh, the best wrestler in the house.

The panel also had the chance to pull in favours. A call to Josh's mum revealed the remarkable fact that her son had saved someone's life – he'd pulled a young child out of the path of a speeding lorry. Josh hadn't gone round telling everybody that he'd done this noble deed, but he accepted the plaudits and explained what had happened to the rest of the panel.

Whenever there's a chance to make Josh look good, the panel took it. A spot on Sofa Shop (you spend, we send) asked the contenders to help Vicky sell various items of consumer detritus. This lint remover is very good at removing lint, and we'll spend forever rubbing it up and down items of clothing and oh good grief this is even more boring than watching paint dry.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win More fun than a home shopping channel could ever be.

But here's a team to flog a children's see-saw, and they're not going to jump on – oh yes they are! Fun and laughter and good-hearted tomfoolery for this team, before the next lot talk about their device to track the flightpath of your local moths and zzzzzzzz.

Later in the series, apparent outsider Gemma Collins came in. She's another reality tv veteran, and she was briefed about the secret mission. Of course her first action in the house was to seek out Josh, ruffle his hair, and say how wonderful he was. Gemma was warm with the others, she was steaming with Josh. And when famous people say something, when people with a reputation tell you Josh is wonderful, you're going to listen.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Gemma Collins would vote Josh.

All this positive reinforcement would have been for naught if Josh wasn't already an interesting person. Josh is an interesting person. He's a professional wrestler, comes on as the weakling only to turn the tables on the local baddie. It meant he was able to take physical pain, and had a lot of endurance – as demonstrated in a "Take one for the team" task of painful activities.

Josh is funny and witty, when he can get a word past the conversation-dominating blowhards in the house. He's fun to be around, and he brings out the fun in other people. In a world of bigheads and loudmouths, he was the only modest and quiet person. It's almost obvious how they'd scripted the show. It's a human cartoon, with so many larger-than-life two-dimensional characters, and one modest innocent, the only fully-featured player in the show. (For some reason, we're reminded of the Paddington animations of the 1970s.)

Every day's a school day

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Just in case the celebs forgot, their control room was a shrine to Josh.

All things considered, Josh Must Win was an example of how producers can manipulate "reality" competitions to advance their favourite contestants. No other show would be as blatant as this, but an astute viewer to other shows might see some of the techniques here.

On singing shows, many people talk about "the pimp slot", the last performance before lines open, so that the viewers are reminded of who they like and are motivated to vote at once. Look at how often Josh performed last in the challenges, able to end the event on a high.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Pete Wicks (in the orange suit) pings Josh's braces. Ouch.

To the viewer, Josh was edited to be the centre of attention: everything was viewed through the lens of "how are we going to make Josh win?" On other reality shows, how often are the established favourites given the bulk of the edit, or interesting things to do?

Even in the final episode, the panel had a trick up their sleeve. Every reality show ends with a video montage, a compilation of each player's best bits. Unlike every reality show, The Favourite played out the montages before the final vote. The celebrities could manipulate what was in the packages, they could influence what the others remembered. We see this elsewhere: through repetition, Big Brother remembers Alex lipsyncing behind the bedroom door, and memory-holes Federico bringing out some bread and butter pudding for his exit interview.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win The finalists settle in for the last lunch.

Here, the players were reminded that Josh has grown as a person, their initial impressions of him were not correct. This was contrasted with the others: what you saw on day one is pretty much what you see on the final day. All of this manipulation achieved its desired result, of course, and Josh was voted favourite on The Favourite to win his £10,000.

Josh Must Win was fun to watch. It was lighthearted throughout, never passed up the opportunity to be a bit silly. Although there were sometimes harsh words exchanged amongst the contestants, they were encouraged to settle their differences. The edited programme didn't dwell on this conflict, and certainly didn't encourage it.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Josh has a sensible talk at a table.

Behind the smiles, Josh Must Win gave all viewers something to think about. How is the show made, what techniques are they using. Do they do something similar on Egg Factor? On Ballroom with the B-List? This week, we hear that the Eurovision Song Contest will manipulate its running order further, allowing Christer Bjorkman to make an even better sawtooth; is this fair, will it make a better show? We know what the tricks of the trade are, perhaps they might be more obvious now.

In the end, Josh Must Win was a very Channel 4 programme. It takes the culture as we know it, and gently nudges us to a place we wouldn't expect to be. A lot of entertainment, and just a little education. Thought-provoking and well made, in the inimitable style of a confident programme.

The Underdog: Josh Must Win Josh ended the series in the control room.

We revised this article shortly after publication, having confused Scarlett Moffatt (who didn't appear) with Amber Gill (who did). This is not a commentary on the interchangeable nature of minor celebrity in the 21st century; it is a straightforward error.

In other news

"The 1% Club is the biggest game show on tv", trumpeted an ITV press release this week. They claim,

The 1% Club has become the biggest game show on UK television over 2023 and to date with its current series averaging 5.8 million viewers in consolidated figures. The show’s ratings success also makes it ITV's biggest original game show in a decade.

The 1% Club Gold-plated fact, or not?

Let's turn the spotlight of fact onto this claim. This column is in favour of scientific fact, and of reviewing all the evidence. We don't like people who use only some facts to bolster an outcome they want.

We'll blow our trumpet for a moment. This site is a reasonable source on what is a game show, in the widest reasonable definition of a programme with a way to win or lose. The biggest game show on television – as defined by this site – is Strictly Come Dancing. An average of 8.45 million people saw the episodes last autumn. Strictly Come Dancing is the biggest game show on television.

Strictly Come Dancing A recent winner of television's biggest game show.

Second place is I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, where 8.25 million saw the average ep. The Traitors drew in 6.7 million fans, and Gladiators averaged 6 million across its series. Got Talent fell just short of 6 million last year, and The Masked Singer just under 5 million for its series last year and this.

By "game show", do they mean "entertainment contest where ordinary members of the public can win a prize without great training or investment of time"? The Wheel has 3.75 million viewers, Limitless Win averages 3.5 million. Across all episodes, The 1% Club averages a mere 2.9 million... but that includes repeats from last summer, and late at night, and on Sunday teatimes. Looking just at The 1% Club on Saturday evenings, we see an average of just under 5 million, pretty much level with The Masked Singer.

The 1% Club Never mind that, who saw this being as big as Joel Dommett's disguises show?

We don't agree that The 1% Club is the number one biggest game show on telly. We do agree that it's the biggest contest for members of the public completed in one day. However you crunch the numbers, The 1% Club is phenomenally successful, and fully deserves its success.

(For this piece, we've used 7-day consolidated ratings for episodes broadcast from 1 January 2023 to 24 March 2024, as placed into the public sphere on BARB and Thinkbox websites.)

The Traitors Light it gold.

Golden cloaks? The BBC is plotting a celebrity version of The Traitors, according to Deadline. Claudia will host, of course, and apparently the Beeb is "aiming high" for the celebrities. Is that in the style of Peter Crouch, Tilda Swinton, Richard Osman, and Naomi Campbell, all of whom are in the top 5% of very tall people? We'll see if they can get there in the new year.

Congratulations to Bother's Bar, the witty and fast-moving blog marked its 20th anniversary on Friday. Nick's been through the highs (Deal or No Deal, studio tapings of excellent shows) and the lows (Don't Scare the Hare). Nick's also compiled the votes in our End of Year Polls, won by great programmes and identifying the train wrecks since 2005.

Coming up this week: E4 has a Love Triangle (Tue, Wed, Thu). A new run of The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected (Radio Scotland, Fri). Next Saturday, Pointless Celebrities has a Josh Must Win reunion with Pete Wicks and Vicky Pattison (BBC1).

Picture credits: Primal Media and Group M Media Entertainment, Magnum Media in association with Silver Star, BBC Studios, Studio Lambert Scotland.

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