TV Viewpoint: Ireland’s Fittest Family and The Great

Ireland’s Fittest Family will have your heart in your mouth

FULL disclosure: I have never had an inkling of interest in Ireland’s Fittest Family before now. Is it because even the thought of a gruelling workout makes me want to retire under the duvet covers, probably. Is it because the thought of people being shouted at in order to make them reach the very limits of their physical capability brings my weakling body out in a sweat, certainly.

It’s most definitely because any sort of competitive entertainment designed to both get the audience’s adrenalin up and pull at the heart-strings that are, as a result of mirror neurons being activated while watching the exertions, already stretched to their limits, exhaust me both physically and mentally.

But when a local family is in competition, one must tune in. And, despite too many heart-stopping moments of tension that brought actual tears to my eyes to mention, it turns out there’s nothing like rooting with all your might for a team to succeed.

It’s lucky that we here in Tuam have the decision of which team to back made for us, because each and every one of those competing in the first episode, broadcast on Sunday evening on RTE One, has something valuable to offer. It’s really stirring to see the camaraderie and support given between each team.

The O’Rourke Family from Tuam, competing on Ireland’s Fittest Family

The challenges are designed to push the teams to their limits, but are also fair in distributing roles to play to different strengths. Four separate teams kicked of the series opener, one for each coach. The O’Rourke family, from Tuam, are under the mentorship of Derval O’Rourke, who was greatly impressed with their competitive spirit on their first meeting.

Dad Tomás, his son Dara and daughters Fiona and Aoife make up the O’Rourke team, and what a team they proved to be. Competing second, the first contest consisted of one family from each team balancing on a log suspended six feet in the air, first on both feet, then on only one, while the rest of the team lugged sandbags over hurdles from spot A to spot B.

While all the teams did exceptionally well, some better on the assault side, others with the balancing, the O’Rourkes stood out for their cool, calm and collected approach to both tasks. There were no admonishments between the ground team, only briskly applied support, and Aoife, up on the suspended log, wowed everyone by remaining balanced on one leg with nary a wobble for over 11 minutes.

Even though they did extremely well in the second test, the “back against the wall”, the team found themselves in the elimination round, which turned out to be as nail-biting as the other two. They were up against the Doyles from Longford, who were biting at the O’Rourkes heels at all times, with the latter just about pipping the Longford natives to the post.

The programme really was thrilling from start to finish, a great show of team-work, resilience and grit. There is no doubt that families up and down the country are only half-joking that they could do it too by next year’s sign-up deadline, inspired by the determination of the teams. I, however, will be sticking to the comfort of the couch, but will absolutely be cheering the O’Rourkes on from it for as long as they’re in the running.

The Great also began on Sunday night, but couldn’t be more different from Ireland’s Fittest Family if it tried. First of all, it’s a comedy set in the luxury of the 18th century Russian royal court, secondly its subjects are not steely but fair competitors with only nice things to say about their opponents, but tricky aristocrats who would think nothing of throwing their granny under the stagecoach to gain favour with the monarch.

Starring Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great and Nicolas Hoult as her husband Emperor Peter, it’s written by Tony McNamara, who penned the Oscar winning film, The Favourite. Similarities between this series and the Oscar winning film are rife, but the show lacks the movie’s artful finesse, and is rather more vulgar (rather than playfully bawdy) as its predecessor.

Nicolas Hoult and Elle Fanning in The Great

Saying that, Fanning’s performance hits all the right notes between naive and cunning, the costumes and setting are undeniably fabulous, and the self-aware silliness carry it as a fun, naughty romp that willingly admits to being only a little bit based on historic accuracy. A light-hearted diversion, it’s lazy Sunday night fodder, to bring the pulse back down after all the Fittest Family excitement.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 06 01 21

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