When former Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out his stall at the start of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, he sounded pretty bullish about his chances in the fifth season of Channel 4’s gruelling special forces show.
After all, he explained, so many people have screamed in his face regarding his handling of the Covid pandemic or for breaking the government’s own social distancing guidelines by having a workplace affair, being bawled out by the military’s most alpha of males in the North Vietnamese jungle would be “like water off a duck’s back”.
So, as we reach the final, what has our duck learned? Hmm, lesson one: probably best not to highlight your aquatic gifts when SAS hardmen literally can’t wait to throw you into rivers, stagnant pools or, if none of those are handy, simply to pour an ice cold bucket of water over your head.
In early episodes we saw Hancock being roundly abused and then pushed into the water by two special forces instructors (one of whom had accused him of running like “a f***ing ostrich”).
In a later episode, we saw him struggling to stay on his feet playing ‘murderball’ (a form of no-holds-barred rugby played with a coconut in a muddy swamp). Hancock handled this coconut much as he did the Covid-19 pandemic. Receiving it out of a clear blue sky, he got two hands on but let it slip through his fingers before falling face down in the mud empty-handed.
But Hancock’s main issue here hasn’t been waterproofing or catching skills. Let’s be fair, he has run, abseiled and straddled with aplomb. No, his main handicap was identified early on by “Deb” a Liz Truss look-a-like interrogator who soon pegged him as “a weasel-faced c***”.
Throughout this series Hancock has struggled to make friends with the people that really matter, i.e. those that have the power to throw him in rivers, tie him to chairs or shout into his face so loudly his eyebrows rustle.
In fact during the penultimate episode, when the man formerly in charge of the NHS asks fellow contestant Amber Turner, "What’s the maximum paracetamol you can take?", the suspicion was that it was actually Matt Hancock running a covert ‘degrade and destroy’ operation against the chances of…. Matt Hancock.
The season finale shows our hero butching it out with four other finalists (model Danielle Lloyd, former Love Island contestant Teddy Soares, retired Team GB athlete Perri Shakes-Drayton and singer Gareth Gates) in a challenge called ‘Resistance To Interrogation’, a shouty, chair-throwing inquisition assessed by a shadowy figure called The Umpire.
“You’ve got to humanise yourself. You’ve got to make it difficult for them to want to hurt you,” he advises. As if to underline what an uphill task this is going to be for Hancock, the camera cuts to a whiteboard listing his chief personality traits. ‘Sarcastic’ and ‘cynical’ it reads. Our Matt is undeterred though. He says he has a lot of self-belief and is used to facing questioning from very unreasonable people.
“Have you met Piers Morgan?” he asks.
Inevitably, he soon looks like he’d happily settle for a lifetime of Morgan questioning. He just cannot seem to do or say the thing that makes a battle-hardened special forces interrogator think, "Actually, this guy’s OK, maybe I won’t beat him to death with an iron bar."
Asked to respond with a simple yes or no to the question, "Do you understand?" Hancock somehow offers: “I do, yes” and one can feel a war crime is about to be committed.
“Oh you arrogant wanker!” opines The Umpire who also suggests: "He just needs to stop being a dick.” That’s the exact moment Matt decides he’s going to smirk.
“C***s like you wind me the f**k up because you look down your nose at people like me,” rages his interrogator.
To be fair to Hancock, this interrogator is a glowering, seven foot veteran of a lifetime’s work-outs and protein shakes so no one’s actually looking down on him. But yeah, on second thoughts, even Matt Hancock’s way of looking up is somehow annoying.
Sometimes the suspicion is that the former Health Secretary remained in the show to the bitter end to satisfy public bloodlust. But now that Nigel Farage is threatening to be a contestant on the new series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! Matt’s work could be done.
So could he actually win? Disturbingly Hancock survives a last-minute cull and thereafter has only Danielle Lloyd and Gareth Gates to beat. But can he stop smirking and follow instructions long enough to claim the crown?
He can’t. If it walks like a duck and smirks like a duck then it’s probably Matt Hancock. Gareth Gates – bulked up and bearded in a way that makes him look like the show’s former star instructor Ant Middleton – is the guy the instructors say they want by their side in battle and he snatches it at the last. Hancock ends this latest public humiliation without even his self-awareness expanded.
Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins is on Channel 4