I’m A Celebrity star who broke contract as show’s strict measures are revealed

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A few years ago, just before a dozen celebs were gearing up to enter the South African jungle for I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!, crew members were alerted to the fact that one of the high-profile contestants was drinking in a local pub.

Sounds innocent enough.

But the well-known Australian athlete had gone rogue from his strict contract, escaping his hotel room and breaking cover to hit up the public watering hole.

Given the top-secret preparation behind the Channel 10 reality series, involving months of meticulous covert operations to keep the celeb line-up under wraps, the sport star’s presence at a public venue triggered resounding alarm bells at the network.

“He went missing and was found in a local pub at about 11 o’clock at night by our security team,” Alex Mavroidakis, ITV’s Supervising Executive Producer for I’m A Celeb tells news.com.au.

“Our team knew a lot of locals and started ringing all the places that this Australian sportsman may have frequented, and one of the people, he said, ‘Yep, he’s in this pub.’

“So we went and retracted him. I had to have a very stern word with him.”

One secret to the show’s success is the extreme secrecy surrounding its contestants. Ten only announce a couple of celebs before each season premieres, with the bulk are revealed during the launch episode. None of the celebrities even know who they’ll be going into the jungle with.

Stars are spread across different flights on alternating days into Johannesburg, and then again into the remote town where the show is filmed. They’re booked into separate hotels, and are largely banned from leaving their rooms until they are blindfolded to enter camp.

“They’re essentially in lockdown,” Mavroidakis says.

“They have chaperones with them. We try to match them up with somebody who is like them or is going to have the same interest as them. So if you’ve got an AFL player, you generally will put in with a young male chaperone who has an interest in sport.

“These chaperones spend all day and night with them. They get their meals for them, then they’ll let them go for a swim or on a safari. But while that’s happening, the other celebrities that are in that vicinity are locked down.”

Prior to the on-the-ground operation, back in Australia, the secret squirrel operation is in full swing for months.

Conversations about which celebs to approach kick off around July – eight months before premiere – initially involving only about three top-tier people at the production companies.

They conjure up a ‘theme’ for the impending season so they can openly discuss contents in their own language. Last year it was ‘cocktails’, with the celebs each given a code name in line with the theme.

In 2017, with a theme of ‘biscuits’, Ten commentator Steve Price was bestowed with the moniker ‘Tiny Teddy’, which was taken quite literally by his chauffeur upon arrival into South Africa.

“Steve walked through the arrivals and he’s looking around for his name and has seen Tiny Teddy [on a sign]. He walked up to this young South African chaperone and said, ‘Well I’m going to guess that that’s me’,” Mavroidakis remembers.

This year, the theme was Marvel superheroes.

Thor [Tristan MacManus], Flash [Frankie Muniz], Scarlet Witch [Skye Wheatley] and the rest of the ‘MCU’ gathered, all at once, for one day at a secret location in Sydney upon signing onto the show for official photos and interviews. And still, they don’t actually meet each other.

“This day is like a military operation,” Mavroidakis says.

“We have an underground car park. We have runners stationed at every elevator. We have a schedule that is almost to the second. We have disguises. Masks.

“The celebs turn up to the location – one comes up the lift, while one is held in a holder room, then they go down the lift, they go into a car, they’ve got a towel over their head.

“We’ve even got the extent of getting lightweight towels so they don’t ruin hairstyles.”

As the season begins, up to 400 local South African crew members and more than 100 Aussie Channel 10 and ITV employees base themselves near the set at the foot of the Klein Drakensberg mountain, an area of which is about an hour flight from Johannesburg.

Aside from the immense leg work it takes to film any TV production – drivers, caterers, cleaners, hair and makeup, wardrobe, photographers, directors – producing a show of this kind is a major security risk, largely due to the wildlife inhabiting the area around camp.

There are hippos, venomous snakes and lions. Word onsite is there’s also a resident leopard that lives near camp.

Enter the “bush boys”, a squadron of trained and armed guards dressed in full camouflage who surround the camp 24/7.

“You will not see them. Their suits are covered in leaves,” Paramount’s Head of Creative Production and Entertainment Tamara Simoneau says.

This writer got a close look at a bush boy when Network Ten sent me – along with other members of Aussie media and local stand-ins – into the jungle for one night as test dummies.

While we didn’t clock them protecting the boundary at any point, one of them snuck into camp to prank Kyle and Jackie O Show’s Peter Deppeler, best known among listeners as ‘Intern Pete’.

Please, let the photos speak for themselves:

After breaking cover to bestow us with the pleasure of watching Pete have a meltdown, the bush boy ventured back into the wilderness alongside his fellow few good men and was never seen again by us stand-in contestants.

Their presence is paramount to the stars’ safety.

“We’ve had many snake encounters crew wise and celebrity wise,” Mavroidakis says of the lingering dangers.

“Once we had the trials areas closed because hippos took residence there. We had to move the whole trial to the studio.

“But snakes are the number one concern because they are everywhere.”

Something thatmay not be apparent to viewers – but certainly is after some time in camp – is how genuinely gruelling the days are for the real celebs.

I participated in this season’s first two challenges over a period of 36 hours, and it was a rough ride. We weren’t able to win enough stars to receive much more than a tiny amount of chicken for dinner, which was followed by one of my worst night’s sleep in recent memory. By the next morning, it was much easier to understand why Bernard Tomic bailed after just three days back in 2018.

It costs millions of dollars each year to bring I’m A Celeb to Aussie screens.

While ratings fluctuate, particularly as the series initially goes up against the behemoth that is Channel 9’s Married At First Sight, Ten views it as a pivotal investment – counting it as one of the only show’s left that’s sticking to the formula of the 2000s TV glory days.

“This is the only 24 hour turnaround show in the game, and the most interactive,” Mavroidakis says.

“The audience can interact and make all the calls daily.

“We can be topical, we can talk about news events happening now, we can show our celebs news from home and it’s all completely authentic and real. It’s a dangerous way to make TV, but it’s the best way.”

Simoneau echoes the sentiment, declaring there’s “nothing else like it” on offer to local viewers.

“No one else has this, and that’s why it’s one of the jewels in our crown,” she says.

“We look forward to it every year from a program perspective, but also just marketing. You can tell by the marketing that we have so much fun.”

I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! airs on Channel 10

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