Now in its 11th season, the German version of the reality TV show "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here" has millions of fans. DW's Silke Wünsch is one of them.
Once again, 12 people are ready to brave the infernal Australian sub-tropical rainforest. For two weeks, they will fight for the title of king or queen of the jungle. All of them were involved with showbiz at some point - some more, some less: participants in casting shows, former soccer players, models, publicity junkies, elderly pop stars and actors.
The men and women have one thing in common, however: they make a lot of money by venturing into the jungle and putting up with jungle trials that involve eating raw animal testicles and live worms, or entering dark caves where they risk attacks by awful spiders, millions of cockroaches and other vicious insects.
Germany's RTL TV broadcaster seems to have no trouble finding B-list, C-list and even Z-list celebrities who are more than willing to participate. With the help of psychologists, they identify the 12 candidates they plan to let loose at each other in the camp.
One woman is always cast as the bitch, that's a constant in what amounts to a kind of human zoo. Then, there's the guy or gal who gets on everyone's nerves, as well as the maternal type, the wimp, the freak and the wise old man.
Sometimes, there are surprise developments despite all the careful planning: Last year for instance, the German camp was peaceful, none of the contestants really went for each other's throats.
Program planners promise this year will be different, arguing they have put together a - supposedly - much more volatile mix of contestants.
For one, there is Gina-Lisa Lohfink, once a candidate in "Germany's Next Top Model" runway show. The busty blonde made the headlines when she took two men to court for alleged rape - accusations that turned out to be lies. Her ex-lover, the US singer Marc Terenzi, will also be in the camp. Nude model Sarah-Joelle, who has already proven she can be super annoying, is expected to show a lot of bare skin.
The most famous male contestant is German soccer champion "Icke" Hässler, 50, who has said he is delving into the jungle because he finally wants to do something other than play soccer.
The only real star scheduled to join this year's group bowed out just days before the show would begin to air, on January 13. Nastassja Kinski, the daughter of famous German actor Klaus Kinski, said at the last minute that she wasn't aware of the journey she was embarking on until someone explained what the show was about.
Be that as it may, her substitute is Kader Loth, an "It Girl" well known to fans of trash TV for her performance 13 years ago in the "Big Brother" reality show.
The woman has had so much plastic surgery by now that her face is unlikely to show much emotion. Botox seems to have played a role for quite a few of this year's contestants, but Loth takes the cake as Botox Queen. 36-year-old DJ Florian Wess also seems to have had plenty of anti-wrinkle injections, earning him the nickname "Botox Boy."
Germans are torn
No TV show divides Germany like the "Dschungelcamp" (jungle camp), as the show is commonly known in the country. For some, it is the epitome of trash TV - while others point out the format was nominated for the prestigious Grimme TV Award in 2013. Both sides have a point.
Watching the contestants writhe in mud, eat unspeakable things and complain about other camp dwellers is crude and tacky, making viewers cringe in delight. Basically, the show is as far from high-browse culture as it can get. Psychologists and sociologists regularly discuss about why the show is fascinating and repelling at the same time.
Three years ago, the Grimme Institute nominated the show in the entertainment category, arguing that it is an "experiment in group psychology, full of suspense to the very end due to surprise turns." The Institute praised the production, the moderation and camerawork, as well as the skillfully put-together end product. Staunch defenders of culture were aghast, but the Grimme Award panel had a point: It may be controversial, but the format - which by the way did not win the award, - is perfect TV entertainment.
Great choice of music
German fans love another aspect of the reality show, and that is the choice of background music, a perfect match to the scenes and situations being played out. Songs are often not hits from the charts, but older evergreens that delight music fans.
On Twitter, the hashtag #ibes (the initials of the first part of the German title, "Ich bin ein Star, holt mich hier raus!") promises even more fun.
Esprit, irony, venom: Users' comments outdo themselves. Critics, on the other hand, regularly say it is mean to have fun at the expense of people who join the jungle camp group out of financial necessity.
But that's what the format is all about, in Germany, Britain - where the reality TV series was invented - Romania, Hungary, The Netherlands, Denmark and Australia. While the German version takes place in Australia, the Australian version is filmed in South Africa. "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here"was also broadcast in France, Sweden, the US and India.
They know what they're doing
The show has been running in Germany for 11 years, so the candidates know by now what awaits them.
The TV audience is inclined to favor modest, friendly candidates, while contestants who misbehave, are rude, malicious and conniving tend to be chosen to face the worst trials, and end up among the first to leave the camp.
Participation in the reality show has so far not harmed the careers of any of the "stars." Invariably, they pop up again in the various shows that originally pushed them to fame, booked according to the role they played in the camp, be it total douchebag or nice guy.
The title they all strive for - Queen or King of the Jungle - is as meaningful as one of the cockroaches to be endured in the trials.