The biggest danger in the I’m A Celeb jungle isn’t an animal
MOST had seen the show, dry-retched watching the food trials, marvelled at the meltdowns.
They knew the food they'd have to scarf down would be beyond gross.
They knew the toilet facilities were ... well ... pretty crap, and the showers were cold.
They were prepared for meagre rations, dangerous animals, demanding fellow-campers, isolation and uncomfortable beds.
But I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here veterans say nothing - nothing - prepared them for the jungle's biggest challenge: Boredom.
Forget knuckle-whitening sky-high challenges, agitated animals and fish-gut milkshakes.
Forget Bernard Tomic having too much time to think, and walking out within days.
Forget Anthony Mundine mysteriously flicking the switch and quitting this week.
Survive the interminable boredom, and you survive your time.
The reality of the reality show is hours upon hours laying around a tiny camp, with sod-all to do.
There's no time, because there are no clocks, and any crew member they encounter with one has theirs taped over. Clocks in the trucks that transport them are either set wrongly, or concealed.
When hosts Chris Brown and Julia Morris enter the camp, celebrities know it's about midday, because the time difference means the show is being beamed live into Australia, but that's not a daily event.
There is an alarm clock of sorts. A troop of raucous resident baboons greet each morning by enthusiastically crapping on the canopy which covers the camp.
Incidentally, that canopy is why celebs aren't left drenched and the fire doused, when it rains.
As the days merge into one, plunging your head into a bowl of live maggots or getting in snapping distance of a snake becomes more appealing than another stretch sitting on your camp bed.
'IT'S WORSE THAN JAIL'
Broadcaster and commentator Steve Price lasted 42 days in the jungle last year. For 23 of them, he didn't leave camp.
Because the catch of I'm A Celebrity is, if you're flying beneath the radar, you're consigned to hour upon hour of ... pretty much nothing.
At the start of the show Price feared exhaustion. He'd been voted to take part in challenges three days running by a public eager to see the firebrand personality lose his cool.
He hadn't, so the voting public found new targets.
When the boredom set in, he was totally unprepared.
"The quandary you have is the public don't dislike you enough, you don't do anything," Price says. It went on for two weeks straight.
"I had no idea how boring it would be," he says.
"I didn't think of it at all [going in]. It's worse than jail: no TV, no internet, little food. Cold showers.
"Probably 70 per cent of the time you are just sitting around in the camp on your bed, and it really plays with your mind. You see nobody but the other celebs, and once a week, Chris and Julia.
"The film crew are in a hide and you maybe hear them occasionally, but never see them.
"The only thing to do apart from sleep and eat meagre rations is talk to others and go for a swim."
Or play darts. Price took in a dartboard which "saved my sanity. We played for hours and hours on end".
He also gave himself a job: Chief pyromaniac.
"I took over the fire. It kept my mind active. I'd check it constantly, get up during the night to keep it going," he says.
"Some of the group formed an exercise group, but that wasn't my thing. And it only takes up so much time."
And once the lack of food takes hold, campmates run low on energy.
A DAY IN THE JUNGLE
The magic of television means challenges and tucker trials play out on screens over a period of around five minutes.
But they take hours to film.
Which is why, amid monotony punctuated by morning baboon toilet habits, the idea of simultaneously dangling from a highwire while juggling an angry baby croc and chomping on a piece of buffalo anus becomes preferable to another day in camp.
"When you see people going out to do trials you want to go as well. Even if it's horrendous, it gives you something to do for half a day," Price says.
Last year's winner Casey Donovan says hours away from camp are vital.
Stay, and you end up spending a lot of time in your own head.
"The camp is actually tiny. You go stir crazy," Donovan says.
"I wasn't prepared for hours and hours of nothing. None of us were.
"Outside, people always say they love time to themselves but it wears off pretty fast.
"No phone, no mates, no animals - except the baboons.
"You lay on your bed, go for a walk to the waterhole. Sometimes you just go to the Tok Tokkie to talk to the producers because you've run out of conversation with everyone else.
"I'd sometimes go to the short drop - not because I wanted to go to the toilet, but it was somewhere different to sit.
"The highlight is them [those on the challenge] coming back, because there's something new to talk about."
Even domestic diversions are limited. With food so scarce and basic, cooking takes up little time. Washing day, with just the clothes they're in and a few changes of underwear, becomes washing half-hour.
You could have a cup of tea, but there's only water.
Cold, which you could imagine is beer. Or hot, which you can pretend is coffee or tea.
Mostly, as another 2017 jungle graduate, Dane Swan warned Tomic, who lasted only days this season, "you're sitting on a log, doing nothing".
"If he thinks playing tennis at Wimbledon is boring, the celebrity jungle probably isn't the place for him," Swan wrote earlier this year.
"If his idea of fun and entertainment is sitting on a log for 24 hours a day, five to six days a week, with people you don't really know, with no energy or sleep, well the jungle is.
"You have to sit there - with people you don't know very well initially - just passing the time.
"As much I'm good at talking s**t, I'm not that good."
Price - used to juggling three jobs and consuming news on, at the very least, an hourly basis, was astounded how mentally draining doing nothing could be.
Donovan, who laughs "luckily for me, I'd had downtime in the past 14 years", said "giving myself over to it" was the key.
"Boredom is the challenge. It leaves you with your own mind," she says.
"You play little games dreamt up by the producers. But the games your mind plays on you are the worst.
"It's a tricky thing to get your head around, especially when your thoughts are running a million miles an hour.
"Once you realise 'I do have time to sleep and sit with my thoughts', and stop trying to count time, you can handle it.
"But you can't prepare for it. There are depths you don't know about in your mind until you are in a situation like this."
BONUS OF BOREDOM
The irony is the same active mind that drives you insane is vital for you to survive, Donovan says.
It makes you inventive. It makes you talk to people.
You can't write any grand ideas down in a journal for later, because there is no pen or paper.
Price invented Jungle Radio, purely to keep himself entertained.
"You rediscover the art of discussion. Lots of people have lost the art of conversation and talking to people," Price says.
"You remember that people are really interesting if you just dig down a bit."
Donovan believes if you were to build the perfect character for the show, you'd combine a few animals into human form.
"Maybe a combination of a sloth, who would be happy to lie around. Maybe a turtle, because slow and steady gets there, and a young goat - because they are entertaining - when they get bored they start jumping off s**t," she laughs.
"I feel like I was part goat in there. You have to make your own fun, and have people willing to be fun with you."
"The same mind that will do your head in is the very thing that gets you through."