Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Making Money On The Sofa

Thursday, 21 August 2008

‘Alex Beaumont’ posted on my blog the other day asking if I had any betting tips for Big Brother. I don’t, because I just can’t be bothered to commit the time required for watching it (never mind the daily episodes; serious punters will be tuning in to the all-night live shows, hoping to spot anything that might appear in the edited version 24 hours later and change the prices).

  But the other problem is that Big Brother got a bit too gimmicky for special-betting. They started introducing weird, arbitrary rules – unexpected double evictions, or people being voted out and allowed back in – which totally cocked up the relatively simple skill of working out who the public would and wouldn’t like.

  I’ve done well betting on reality TV in the past, and I now find it easier to stick to talent contests. These are still, almost always, determined by personality (Leona Lewis was an expensive exception, because she was so ferociously gifted, but I still mutter about fixes on that one) and there are smaller, more manageable chunks of personality to deal with – short VT clips, brief interviews – rather than hours and days of constant rabbit to be analyzed.

  Last season’s X Factor was very satisfying. Even my most respected fellow gamblers were saying it was a 100% done deal on Rhydian. Betfair had given up and started a ‘Winner without Rhydian’ market, so minuscule were his odds. But did these people not remember Leon Jackson crying when he talked about wanting to make a better life for his hardworking single mother? Did they not remember Rhydian’s early arrogance and proclamations of his own talent? The Welshman sang beautifully, and is probably a perfectly nice man, but his first statement was off-putting and he looked like Hitler Youth. I cleaned up on the cheeky, tearful little Scottish guy.

  If you want to bet on the new X Factor (or any reality series) try reading it like an Enid Blyton novel. Look for the plucky little heroes. Ignore all the snobs who bang on about this genre appealing to a lowest common denominator, about it reflecting the worst in human nature. They don’t watch the shows. They don’t understand. They don’t have a clue.

  The British nation has a rigid moral spine. A bunch of people will go into a recording studio, a house, a jungle, a farm, whatever. Those who display cowardice, pettiness, vanity, selfishness or – worst of all – deceitfulness will be punished. Bet on those people being given horrid jungle tasks, or early evictions.

  Those who are straightforward, kind, consistent, good-natured or – best of all – brave, will win. Germaine Greer wrote that the British public ‘so enjoyed the anguish of Natalie Appleton in I’m A Celebrity that they voted for her to do bushtucker trials five times’. No. They voted for her to do bushtucker trials five times because she was bitchy, whiny and insincere. Money in the bank.

  Beware the red herrings. On the first episode of the new X Factor last Saturday, we saw Rachel (footage below), a young mother of five children, three of whom were taken into care because of her teenage drug addiction. She is now clean, a devoted mother to the remaining two children, a phenomenal singer, a strong talker, a beautiful girl and an inspiration to people who are ‘where she used to be’.

  But that won’t wash. Those who see the courage and determination of Rachel are not the majority of voters. The mass of typical British TV voters are not quite ready to see drug addiction as an illness that somebody has bravely overcome. They also might suspect that if motherhood were her first priority now (and they like motherhood to be a first priority), she wouldn’t want to embrace a round-the-clock performance and publicity schedule.

  Winners need to have survived things for which they cannot possibly be blamed (childhood deprivation, poverty, Simon Cowell’s sharp tongue, acts of God, fire and theft). Or they can have a privileged background and simply have come out a good person: Gareth Gates’ stammer was narrowly beaten by Will Young’s gutsy yet polite speech about Simon Cowell being too harsh on contestants.

  I’m not saying Rachel won’t win. But she’ll only win if, some time between now and the live shows, she gets all the children back, announces that she doesn’t want a musical career after all because it will take her away from them, and then saves a dog from drowning at enormous personal risk.

  So that’s my best tip for betting on reality TV. Watch; think “What would Enid Blyton do?”, and put your money in that direction.

Rachel’s audition (stick around for the singing)

Another Rachel that I still remember fondly


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KimW at 7:08 pm on August 26th, 2008

Like Enid Blyton books, there is no room for moral ambiguity or complex plots in reality TV.  During the celebrity BB racism row, Jo from ‘S’ Club got caught up in the bitchiness, but didn’t, as far as I saw, actually do anything racist. Yet, it suited the tabloid press to include her in the ‘witches coven’ - systematically destroying her life in the process, and leaving her distraught (an act of bullying worse than anything she did).  Shetty, on the other hand, had a bitchy streak, and there were ‘nicer’ people in the house, but after being cast in the role of heroine, she was an inevitable winner.

Victoria Coren

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