Throughout its eight-season run, no contestant has ever described the I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here jungle as a relaxing “holiday”.
But in the wake of a global pandemic and nationwide lockdowns, co-hosts Dr Chris Brown and Julia Morris reveal that even the unlikeliest of famous faces came knocking on their treehouse door.
“All of a sudden, we’ve had celebrities not just consider but agree to do the show – and you wouldn’t have predicted in a million years that these people would do it,” Julia, 53, tells TV WEEK.
“Even for Chris and I – we laugh that we’re so desperate to get back there and do 12-hour working days [laughs]! This show is a mind and body detox – it’s a very odd, hardcore vacation.”
For Chris, 43, heading into the jungle feels like a much-needed excuse to get away.
“It’s almost like working holiday for me to be able to immerse myself in the bush with all sorts of wildlife around,” the vet shares. “I just really look forward to getting amongst it and the show being my life for five weeks or so. It’s something that I really treasure.”
While the pair teases “the biggest season we’ve had” which includes sport stars, comedians, actors and TV personalities, they add that this time around has felt different on both a personal and professional level.
I’m A Celeb was forced to forgo their usual local of South Africa to film in the Australian outback and the production of the show was flipped.
Chris says “we love it over there. But at the same time, being in Australia has given us a really unique opportunity to test out celebrities in different ways and reminded us all as Aussies how hard our own bush really is.”
Despite the change, Julia noticed “there’s a really strong level of acceptance and kindness that runs through this group” due to the impacts of COVID-19.
Each season, both Chris and Julia have admired the unique friendships and unexpected bonds that remain strong after the celebs leave the jungle. But as the hosts, Chris admits that they can’t help but feel a little bit left out of the camaraderie.
“That’s where Julia and I get jealous. The celebs get closer than we could ever imagine. They have their own WhatsApp groups and then they have reunion dinners and nights out,” the doctor explains.
“In seven seasons, Julia and I have never been invited to one of them and we can only conclude that it’s because we put them through some sort of torment. We’d even accept a token invitation!”
As a television personality and a working vet, Chris is used to being busy. So when the COVID lockdowns hit Sydney, he admits that being idle felt strange.
“Just finding a way to keep really busy was the biggest challenge for me,” he says. From exercising to brushing up on his guitar skills, Chris managed to stay occupied enough to stay sane but after months of living a quieter life, he learnt an important lesson.
“You can’t be too hard on yourself,” he shares. “If you don’t feel like you’re doing enough or you’re, fit enough or busy enough – it’s okay! You can have quieter days and quieter weeks. Provided that you’re continually learning and challenging yourself. I think that’s the biggest thing I learnt this year.”
Julia admits she and her loved ones felt the heavy mental load that came with lockdown. Having to home-schooling her daughters Ruby and Sophie – “the word still makes me shudder” she says – the days were tricky to manage.
“Watching my kids and others around them take a deep dive [in learning], all our focus had to be on them,” she says.
“The girls were just waking up and getting lost in the computer with nowhere to go. All the kids were down and so were the adults. When they’re in the teenage years, it’s harder to fix the problem and make them feel like they’re being heard. It’s a tricky time. I think our nation is still in the PTSD stage of it.”
At the same time, Julia faced her own battle.
“I’ve put on so much beef during lockdown as I loaded raspberry bullets into my face, constantly. So in the four months before we got ready to shoot the show, I thought, ‘what am I gonna do about this?'” she says.
“So, I walked up and down the beach every day in the brutal Melbourne weather, I fasted until around 2pm and I cut out a LOT from my diet. I didn’t do it for society expectations. It was a combination of not fitting in my clothes and a moment of seeing how I looked in the series earlier this year and I thought, ‘Mate, nothing makes me happy about that’.
The same can be said of her cosmetic surgery procedure, which she had earlier this year. The comedian expected to receive backlash, but was never going to hide from it.
“I had all the beef in my eyes cut out – an eyebrow lift they call it,” she says. “I knew I would be open about it and I thought there might be surgical blowback, but the response was really positive. The stock and trade of a comedian is honest, and apart from my family, I am. I can’t say I’ve just had a lot of rest [laughs].”
On paper, the pairing of Julia and Chris is a strange one but ever since the first season of the show, the chemistry they’ve shared was magic on screen. Years on, their friendship has only gotten stronger. Something that Chris credits to the vulnerability of shooting live TV on another continent.
“Nothing brings hosts and a partnership together more than live TV because there’s a trust and a dependence on each other. You know, we share a lot about our own lives with each other and when you’re in that jungle environment, you’re away from friends and family and we become each other’s only comfort and friend,” he reflects.
Their friendship definitely isn’t one sided. Well, mostly.
“Actually in series two we shared a house – honestly, he’s so obsessed with me, I can’t believe it [laughs] – and all we wanted to do was walk around in our undies and hang out because it was so hot, but we couldn’t ‘cos the bloody doctor wanted to hang out!” Julia laughs.
“But seriously, any man who can stand by my side and be kind during my menopausal years is alright by me [laughs]. He’s a good man, my docteur,” she says. “Chris has a good heart, he doesn’t enter into bulls***t and he is still wonderful to this day.”
For Chris, it’s their differences that make their on-screen partnership so damn entertaining.
“We’re fully aware that we’re an unlikely pairing,” Chris adds.
“We’re very different and even though we come at every situation from a different angle, that’s where the joy of our partnership is. Where we meet is where the spark is and where the chemistry belongs.”