Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

How Donal jumped to rescue of TV show as injuries piled up

All hail Donal MacIntyre – hardman of journalism, lover of Lycra and saviour of reality television. Joe McElderry may have been the official winner of The Jump but Donal was the man who made the final of the Channel 4 celebrity-baiting unmissable television show.

Having landed mouth first in the snow (from a great height) just before the programme went live from a mountain in Austria, Donal manfully struggled on with half his face missing. Like a true pro, he carried out interviews with aplomb while holding an ice pack to swollen eyes and bloodied cheeks – before voluntarily throwing himself off the same jump that had caused the damage.

If you missed the 10-day show, here's a gist of how we got to the stage where an X Factor winner and an award-winning investigative journalist found themselves going head to head down a ski jump. The Jump took 12 well-known faces off to Austria and trained them in Winter Olympic disciplines including the skeleton, bobsleigh, speed skating, the gruelling ski cross and slalom. The bottom two each night were then shoved down a ski jump, with the shortest distance (or most spectacular fall) sent home.

They're not really going to send Sinitta down a bobsleigh track, headfirst at 65mph? Oh yes, they are. And so began the most entertaining and completely bonkers show I've ever seen. An unparalleled sporting legend like Sir Steve Redgrave found himself competing on the pistes against a comedian, a Pussy Cat Doll and a hairdresser. Even he was crying for mercy by the end.

The casualties began stacking up from the first show. Sinitta cried, Henry Conway broke his hand, Melinda Messenger suffered concussion and Darren Gough cracked a rib and gashed his leg. It was when Sir Steve broke a finger and bruised his ribs in a dramatic fall that I started to wonder if the intention of the show was really to kill off a national treasure. The eventual finalists weren't even in the original line-up such was the list of injured parties. Joe and Donal were drafted in to replace those lost to the Innsbruck A&E department. Donal was eliminated in his first 10 minutes ... and then brought back the next day to replace the latest crock.

The final was supposed to be a four man affair – until Sir Steve left in tears and Marcus Brigstocke bust his knee, leaving producers to furiously chop the broadcast back by 15 minutes. If Donal had understandably pulled out after his spectacular (but very funny) face plant in practice, there would have been no final at all.

I've never been much of a fan of celebrity reality television (I don't include my beloved Strictly Come Dancing under that label). I've always found it a bit dull watching narcissists who I've never heard of compete for attention. But The Jump was different. At risk of sounding like I enjoy watching people in pain, I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard at a television programme.

It's not going to win any Baftas, but as an hour of escapism, it did the trick every night. Even though the contestants were in agony, they looked like they were having the time of their lives. There was no cheesy talk of going 'on a journey' (unless it was in an ambulance) or of life-changing emotions, they were all just hell bent on getting out alive. Just when you thought (or hoped) a genre might be dead, a silly big ski show comes along unexpectedly and breathes new life into it. Donal typified the determined attitude of his celeb friends as he insisted on seeing the final out to the very end, in his very fetching pink sparkly ski suit.

ITV turned The Jump down two years ago because it was "too dangerous" and now we know why. Will Channel 4's Health and Safety department allow it to commission a second series? Will they get insurance? Will any celebs have enough of a death wish to take part? Here's hoping.

'I CAN'T RECALL THE LAST TIME I LAUGHED SO MUCH AT A TV SHOW'

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