Back to The Carrot or The Stick

The Guardian

Nancy Banks Smith


Of all the chuckle-at-suffering shows on TV, and there are many, The Carrot Or the Stick (Channel 4) has been the most endearing. And that is almost wholly down to Graham, a mild-mannered man for whom the word wimp seems much too muscular. Contestants were chosen for their close resemblance to headless chickens. Most hoped to be motivated. Graham hoped to prove to his girlfriend that, if he took off his spectacles and found a phone box, he too could be Superman. That he was a sci-fi fan did not surprise you. That he had a girlfriend did.

Your suspicions were well founded. Last night Graham confided that she was only a virtual girlfriend. "I've never actually met her. I've been talking to her for about three-and-a-half years. She told me that if I was mad enough to do this she'd cast conscience to the wind and meet up with me." You wrench yourself away from the virtual girlfriend with a noise like velcro.

The idea was to test if fear of punishment (hell) or hope of reward (heaven) produced the best results. Frankly, not fielding Graham produced the best results. Last night, both teams were level pegging, then they were all unexpectedly offered the chance to go home.

For Graham it was a dark night of the soul. The Carrots were stronger without him. The bright lights of Lowestoft beckoned. Was this the moment for a Captain Oates gesture? Or would it be a far, far better thing to stay and get underfoot as usual? His team offered muted and ambiguous encouragement ("It wouldn't be the same without you"). Graham, much moved, decided to stay.

The last test was orienteering. Wales was thunderous. King Lear would have felt quite at home. In the middle of the night, balaclavaed kidnappers swooped and snatched the weakest man from each team. Graham, still in his pants, and Lofty, a 6ft 3in gents outfitter, were rushed away and chained to a disused WC in the wild Welsh woods.

Well, I wept. I held my pocket handkerchief before my streaming eyes. Graham was eventually located and, as his legs were still shackled, had to be carried up the highest mountain in South Wales, apologising meekly all the way. "I'm this close to knocking him out to shut him up," said Fraser.

You were rooting for the Carrots, of course, but it was quite moving to see the Sticks arrive first, jogging out of the mist in a disciplined phalanx. Even their sergeant major came over all misty. Some of the contestants do seem newly motivated. Lofty is studying law. Fraser is joining the Marines.

Graham still hasn't met his girlfriend.