Sunday night’s launch of the latest season of “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” on ITV has become the U.K.’s most-watched show in 2018, eclipsing recent BBC smash hit “Bodyguard” and everything else on British TV aside from live coverage of the World Cup soccer tournament.
The series debuted in the U.K. in 2002, and while the likes of other reality-TV staples such as “Big Brother” have run out of steam, “I’m a Celebrity…” still appears to be firing on all cylinders. The launch of Season 18 averaged 11 million viewers in a tough Sunday 9 p.m. slot against “The Little Drummer Girl” on the BBC and had a peak viewership of 11.9 million, or a 51% share. The knockout numbers marked a five-year high for an opening episode of the show.
“I’m a Celebrity…” beat the BBC’s popular “Strictly Come Dancing” and its new natural history epic, “Dynasties,” and it had more than twice the audience of “X Factor,” which ran earlier on Sunday on ITV.
“I’m a Celebrity” has celebrities live together in the jungle and take on wild “Bushtucker Trials” that range from eating unusual animal parts to being put in confined spaces with reptiles and other creepy crawlies. Viewers vote on which star will embark on the tests. Previous contestants have included Stefanie Powers, George Hamilton and Martina Navratilova.
This year’s lineup comprises stars from British soaps and TV, including John Barrowman (“Torchwood”). Soccer manager Harry Redknapp is also in the jungle. The series is shot in Australia. ITV strips it through the week in the U.K.
As well as tuning in to see stars swap their celeb lifestyles for the hardships of the jungle, British viewers were also keen to check out the show’s new presenting team. Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donelly, better known as “Ant and Dec,” have successfully fronted the show, but McPartlin is on hiatus after a difficult year that has seen him convicted of drunk driving. Holly Willoughby is co-hosting with Donnelly this year.
ITV Studios handles the format, and produces several of the international versions. It has sold to 11 territories but never got real traction in the U.S., despite ABC and NBC both trying it out. ITV Studios recently announced that the show is coming back to France.