He might have lifted the Rugby World Cup but Mike Tindall won’t be winning I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV). In a series full of surprises, Minister Matt defeated Magic Mike. The ex-England centre fell agonisingly short of the jungle franchise’s grand final, becoming the eighth star to be eliminated.
In the race to reach the contest’s crescendo, he was pipped at the post by former health secretary Matt Hancock. As a member of the royal family, Tindall sportingly maintained a stiff upper lip but he’s unlikely to be amused at being beaten by the disgraced politician.
It was a result you wouldn’t have predicted a week ago. In the early stages of this 22nd series, Tindall established himself as the camp patriarch and all-round alpha male. Nicknamed “Mike the Machine” and “Man like Mike”, the no-nonsense Yorkshireman handled Bushtucker Trials with such square-jawed aplomb that his mantra, “Fear is a choice”, briefly became a catchphrase among the group.
Squeamish, snowflaky campmates called him in to deal with spiders. He stripped down to “budgie smugglers” for a dip in the creek. Around the campfire, he told amusing anecdotes and displayed a talent for rapping that gained him the extra moniker of “Vanilla Mike”.
The first ever member of the royal family to appear on a reality show got away lightly when it came to discussing his regal relatives. Campmates hardly asked him about it or if they did, it was tactfully edited out. There was the odd juicy nugget - about his boozy first dates with Zara Phillips or the time he split his trousers by dancing in front of mother-in-law Princess Anne - but generally he kept classily tight-lipped.
Wife Zara was waiting when he walked across the rope bridge to freedom. As the couple clutched each other tight, their love was touchingly apparent. Tindall said in his exit interview that eldest daughter Mia “wanted me to be in trials with creepy-crawlies”. The craggy 44-year-old also admitted that his first treat back at their Queensland hotel would be getting a facial. Well, the Australian bush can be terribly tough on the skin.
Tindall formed tight bonds, initially with his “camp wife” Sue Cleaver (who complained about his loud snoring like a long-suffering spouse) and later with comedian Seann Walsh. The gentle giant was so caring and tactile that he was dubbed the “rugger hugger”. However, he seemed to hit a wall over the last week. Perhaps worn down by hunger (or having to make three weeks of small talk with C-listers), Tindall went quiet and somewhat lost his spark. That’s presumably what made his fanbase fall away in the home stretch.
Earlier on, the last quartet donned superhero capes for that much-loved semi-final fixture, Celebrity Cyclone - a giant slip-and-slide inflatable obstacle course. Clad in copper-coloured Spandex, Hancock styled himself as “the Bronze Bronco, holding on for dear life”. He’s certainly a survivor, you have to give him that.
He shocked his campmates by diving headfirst into a plunge pool, before striding confidently up the middle of the course. Hancock was promptly pelted by Swiss balls, slime and water cannons until he went slithering back to the start. As co-host Ant McPartlin observed: “That’s what you get for being Hancocky.” “I just thought I’d give the people what they want,” said Hancock gamely. “A big target.”
When he was unceremoniously rugby tackled by Tindall, you got the distinct impression that the strapping bruiser enjoyed body-slamming the scrawny statesman. “I wanted to make sure I had an anchor,'' deadpanned Tindall afterwards. The Cyclone, always a series highlight, provided as much multicoloured slapstick as usual, even if Hancock might struggle to live down the undignified clips.
Earlier in an entertaining episode, Tindall raised a wry eyebrow at his rival canvassing for votes, noting how Hancock was ensuring that the back of his gilet, emblazoned with phoneline numbers, was visible on-camera at all times. “Once a politician, always a politician," said Tindall. "Constantly polling for votes.” He began cheekily turning over Hancock’s garments whenever he wasn’t around. It was to no avail. Hancock got enough viewer support to see him through.
Sunday night’s series climax will see one of the surviving trio - Hancock, Hollyoaks actor Owen Warner or Englad Lioness Jill Scott - succeed Emmerdale actor Danny Miller and be crowned King or Queen of the Jungle. It’s one royal title that Tindall won't ever claim. If Hancock was to win, however, it would be a TV redemption story for the ages. He couldn't, could he?