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After weeks of foundering viewer ratings, the revamped Sony TV may have found a show that can catapult it back into the thick of TRP wars. Wouldn’t you watch a show in which television stars brave poisonous insects and dangerous rapids, and fight for their dinner in the middle of a rain forest?

For real: I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! is shot in Costa Rica.

The Indian version of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, originally produced in the US for the NBC television network, is called Iss Jungle se Mujhe Bachao!, and it airs next week on Sony. The shooting for the show begins today in a Malaysian forest.

In reality television, much of the ratings battle is won by who the contestants are, and Sony hasn’t yet revealed a winning line-up. Kapil Dev was approached, but he declined, so did Mithun Chakraborty’s son Mimoh Chakraborty. Some of the celebrities approached were Sameera Reddy, Koena Mitra, Gracy Singh and Aditya Pancholi, but now TV stars Shweta Tiwari, Chetan Hansraj and Aman Verma, and former model Marc Robinson, among others, will battle to survive in extreme conditions to win the title of king and queen of the jungle and the prize money. Expect desperate measures to grab eyeballs, and some entertainment in return.

Barely two months ago, Sony told us the show was going to take at least four months to air. But it managed to put everything together for the shoot within weeks. The decision to air ahead of the original American show on Star World, which premieres on 21 July, should work in its favour.

A preview of the first episode of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! gave us a fair idea of what to expect from the Indian version. Eleven celebrities—including Sanjaya Malakar, the Indian-origin contestant in 2007’s American Idol who sports a Mohawk hair-do; Janice Dickinson, a former supermodel; the Baldwin brothers, Daniel and Stephen; John Salley, a former NBA star; and television actor couple Spencer and Heidi Pratt—are split into two teams and flown in to a jungle in Costa Rica, straight into a river with dangerous rapids. They swim their way out of it to arrive at the base camp, where the action unfolds.

It’s clear in the first few minutes that much of the contestants’ behaviour is choreographed for conflict. The Pratts are the villains whose disdain for the lesser-known celebrities is loud and offensive. Stephen spouts witty one-liners and sexual puns. Dickinson is aggressive and blunt in her opinions about the others; and Malakar, the youngest contestant, seems the happiest to be there, flashing a wide grin at all times.

The drama gains momentum when Spencer picks a fight with three of the contestants after they react to his brashness. The couple decides to leave and makes a desperate call to NBC to let them go. But the emissary never arrives and they are marooned like everyone else.

As night progresses, the “ick" factor begins to kick in. The 11 contestants are split into two groups—men and women—and asked to participate in a contest to win a chicken and pineapple dinner. Two contestants from each team have to eat whatever they’re served and whoever finishes first gets a point. On the menu—cow’s intestine milkshake, a live grasshopper, an iguana’s tail, and scorpions, among other tasty titbits.

Then there are physically demanding tasks to be completed in the wild terrain and some Survivor- and Fear Factor-like challenges, such as spending 5 minutes in a tub full of crawling tarantulas. In the middle of all this, most contestants in the American version take the opportunity to spread the message about the good causes they champion.

I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! aired on NBC when things were at a low ebb at the network. The transitions, the conversations and the stunts have the hook, although barring three or four contestants, no one has the personality to add that extra zing. Perhaps 11 is too big a number to choose good reality TV talent.

Can the Indian contestants do justice to the concept? Sony is hopeful they will at least up the TRPs.

Iss Jungle se Mujhe Bachao!, premiering on Sony on 13 July, will air from Monday to Thursday, at 10pm. I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! will air on Star World on Monday and Tuesday at 9pm, beginning 21 July.

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