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Culture

Is German Reality TV Show 'Torture'?

The ratings of a new reality TV show in Germany are climbing as minor celebrities are put through daily hair-raising ‘challenges’ in the Australian jungle. But as the tests get crueler, criticism is starting to grow.

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Popstar Daniel Küblböck in the “terror aquarium.”

Germany’s private television channel RTL has hit ratings pay dirt with its version of the British and American show “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.” Called “Ich Bin Ein Star Holt Mich Hier Raus” in German, the show has dropped ten B-list celebrities into a jungle in Australia for 12 days.

Despite being inundated by reality TV in recent years, German viewers are flocking to the program, which forces one member of the group to undertake a stunt testing their courage each day in order to earn food for all. But after a singer of questionable talent was forced to lie in a "cockroach coffin" with 30,000 of the wriggly creatures and an out-of-work TV host was pecked nearly to tears by a band of aggressive ostriches, media watchdogs and other groups are beginning to question the show’s lack of moral grounding.

“I’ve really been blown over. These are methods that are reminiscent of torture tactics,” Jo Groebel, the director of the European Institute for the Media in Düsseldorf, told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Alarm bells for many went off when Daniel Küblböck, who become a celebrity as a performer in the German version of "Pop Idol," suffered a panic attack after putting his head in a “terror aquarium” filled with eels and water spiders. The melodramatic 18-year-old was forced to do three stunts in a row by the Schadenfreude-filled audience, who voted by telephone on which cast member would be forced into the humiliating acts.

Daniel Küblböck mit 30.000 Kakerlaken

Daniel and the cockroaches.

Walter Eykmann from a national Catholic church group told the daily tabloid newspaper Bild that RTL was putting “profits and ratings” above the participants well-being. “It’s absolutely repugnant how Daniel Küblböck is being abused,” Eykmann said.

Plenty of publicity

Though the candidates earn €1,000 ($1,276) for each day they stay in the camp for the charity of their choice, the real motivation is likely the free publicity that could help their careers. Shown live each evening, the show's ratings have swelled in recent days. On Tuesday, it garnered a whopping third of the total viewing audience.

Despite the growing popularity of “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here,” the company said it has so far kept the price of a 30-second commercial spot steady at €34,500. And RTL has defended the program, saying all those taking part were aware of what they were getting into.

“The participants are acting of their own will and are public persons who know exactly what they are doing,” said an RTL spokesman. “We aren’t torturing anyone.”

Krokodil

Krokodil im Kölner Zoo

But some animal rights groups see things differently, saying that even if the celebrities can choose not to take part, the the snakes, spiders and cockroaches used in the television stunts can’t. Both the Association Against Cruelty to Animals and German Association for the Protection of Animals have criticized the show for using living creatures simply for a scare effect.

Germany’s authority for television standards has also stepped in to the debate and is planning to hold a hearing on Feb. 11 to determine whether RTL's show breaks the country's normal standards of broadcast decency. However, since the two-week run of “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here” will long be over by then, there appears little chance the plug will be pulled.

In the meantime, who knows what the Australian jungle holds in store for these has-run starlets.

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