I must apologise for the tardy posting of this piece. Initially, it was intended as a rousing call to bolster the ratings of a late-night slice of TV gold, but, alas, I stumbled upon the joys of Hot Tub Ranking late on, so you can call this a more of a fond farewell. Anyone inspired to watch will have to wait until the next series (that’s assuming another series gets commissioned, and, if there’s any justice in the world - or, failing that, an audience for ladies in bikinis jiggling around - I’d say they are a shoo-in.)
And they say Friday night on terrestrial TV is moribund? Cobblers.
In the space of five triumphant minutes last week, channel-hoppers experienced the true diversity free-to-air telly still has to offer. On BBC1 at around 11.30, Stephen Fry was on the Jonathan Ross show talking about poetry, waxing his lyrics with the kind of florid wit to which we have long been accustomed. One day I will tire of Fry bashfully dead-batting impertinent enquiries about his sex life and countering them with a gloriously eloquent self-deprecating anecdote about cardigans or ginger biscuits, but for now it is still a joy.
Obviously, the perfect foil to all this garrulous pipe-and-slippers cleverness is some good old-fashioned smut. A quick flick to our friends at Channel 5 at this time of night is often fruitful and Friday proved no exception, as I was thrust into the sordid world of the extraordinary Hot-Tub Ranking.
A quick synopsis: Five ladies of dubious repute examine and rate each other’s body parts and have to stand on podiums in the order they believe their male judges (who are hidden off-stage) will rank them. If they are standing in the correct order when the results are revealed, they win cash.
You may mock at the crudeness of the set-up, but, actually, HTR is a complex sociological experiment that deliciously deconstructs your traditional Five flesh-fest. Yes, there is plenty of camera panning and pouting, and a soft-core porn soundtrack as the contestants attempt alluring postures, but the real drama comes as they are required to put themselves in order of sexiness – and thus, a standard line-up of preening dolly birds descends into a cacophony of bickering and squawking and desperate shoving as they all scramble for the Number One podium.
In short, it’s betraying the fact that women who disrobe on Channel 5 are shallow, unpleasant and craven attention-seekers – indeed, it could even be argued that a quick glance at Hot Tub Ranking would be enough to completely dissuade viewers from ever tuning in to their late-night output again for fear of shattering their porn preconceptions, and, for that, you have to admire the programme-makers’ pluck.
At any rate, the results are gleefully revealed by the compere – an extravagantly beehived Oriental woman, who, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, looks like her previous job involved Gentlemen’s clubs and ping-pong balls. Mia is her name, and while she exudes sophistication with her kimono and breathy commentary, there is no disguising the fact that she is presiding over a show where young women are obliged to compare knickers.
In the episode I watched, the male judges were all nightclub DJs who drooled disturbingly from the security of their private room and murmured insightful analysis such as “That is a spectacular arse”, “Great rack”, and, with genuine incredulity, “I think she might be naturally pretty…”
The women themselves have to negotiate tense, confidence-sapping rounds based on certain body parts.
Exotic looking Eva, whose faint similarity to Jennifer Lopez was endlessly talked up by our faithful hostess, breezed through the “Face” and “Bum” rounds, the DJs evidently impressed by her Latin indifference as much as her lacy underwear, and from the early skirmishes it was all too apparent that the others were battling for second place.
Donna, a tall and slightly ditzy brunette, was touchingly thrilled that her ample chest had controversially carried off the honours in the “Breasts” round, but, sadly, the other three had perhaps over-estimated their own comeliness. When it came to the finale - “The Full Package” - one could only sympathise with their predicament, because, at this level, in the cauldron of competition, and with Eva and Donna already established as having extremely tidy attributes, they were really only playing for pride.
Lisa, an Australian who had overdone the collagen to such an extent her lips resembled a couple of quivering salamis, had nowhere to hide from the bitterness of defeat. The DJ judges, unmoved by her pleading eyes and orange-peel skin, ranked her last with relentless and frankly uncharitable regularity.
Sarah, meanwhile had a lithe, dancer’s body, but was hindered by a face like an enraged sow, and the contestants were rounded off by Gemma, a combative scouser with an unambiguous PVC strategy that meant she looked like a giant pink blancmange.
The group dynamic was fascinating. For example, in the pivotal “Bum” round, Gemma, after briefly ruminating over the eternal HTR conundrum: “I suppose it all depends on whether they like big bums or little bums”, merrily concluded that her more generous proportions warranted last place, but others were less charitable in their self-appraisal: “Am I not sexy?” demanded the bellicose Sarah ad infinitum during the “Face” round as her colleagues coaxed her towards the dreaded podium number 5 - A confrontation that neatly contradicts the traditionally sycophantic female code, which states that all women must fuss and coo over their fellow “sisters”, even if they do look like brickies from Enfield.
If, like me by this stage, you are thinking “all very well, but where’s the hot tub?” at least the “ranking” part of the title is given plenty of airtime.
Mia has a never-ending supply of puns on the word “Rank”, her faux- Eastern accent playfully rolling the “r” to emphasise her point: “The Full Rank”; “The DJ’s have ranked all over you”; and “Ranking like troopers”, which doesn’t even make sense, but proves the old adage: if something works, run with it…
Moments earlier on BBC1 – Ross would have doubtless cheerfully utilised the gag playing on his own genuine vocal affliction, and somehow it would have sat more palatably on his sofa, as he swapped saucy banter with Fry and his house band - 4 Poofs and a Piano. Here though, used as the commentary to footage of three voyeuristic gentlemen looking through 2-way mirrors at scantily clad, wannabe glamour models gyrating mechanically and pawing desperately at their silicon-enhanced bodies, the wordplay is a mite too graphic.
I rather lost track towards the end suffice it to say, the DJs also stripped down to their pants and were subsequently ranked themselves. The prize money element was removed for this exciting climax, but there was still the prospect of a complimentary “back, sack and crack” waxing session at their local beauty salon if they got themselves in the right order, so, clearly, much to play for.
The hot-tub didn’t emerge until right at the end when all the participants piled in together for the debrief (by which I mean they assessed the experience, rather than removed their underwear – though I suppose the latter wouldn’t have been all that surprising…)
Mia: Breathy commentary
The contestants finally get to grips with a hot tub. And their judges.