We Watched ‘Embarrassing Bodies Down Under’ So That You Wouldn’t Have To. Ever.
Stay classy, television.
Last night’s premiere of Embarrassing Bodies Down Under was a landmark for Australian TV, proving once and for all that there’s no need to import revolting, exploitative faux-medical porn. We can make it just as well in our own backyard!
If you’re lucky enough not to have heard of Embarrassing Bodies, it’s a reality show produced by Britain’s Channel 4, which features people with gruesome and “embarrassing” medical conditions getting treatment… ON NATIONAL TV. Some canny TV exec must have realised that there were enough sickos watching it on GEM and Lifestyle YOU to justify a local version — and now here we are, recapping it and feeling like we need a shower.
It all kicked off with brief intros of the show’s doctors; Christian, Brad, Sam and Ginni. Christian, the host of the British version, gets top billing – he’s here to show the colonial doctors how to furrow their brows, make awkward puns and colour block (oh, and care for the patients).
Brad and Sam are willing disciples when it comes to Christian’s fashion advice, while it falls on Dr Ginni to attempt to give this freak show and air of respectability: “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” she says, rather confusingly.
Of course her claims are somewhat undermined seconds later by Dr Cindy Pan’s disturbingly excited narration, promising to “leave no orifice unexposed.”
And with that, there we have our first testicles of the series.
Thirty-year-old Simon “likes it smooth down there.” So much so, in fact, that he’s given himself sebaceous cysts from constant shaving. Simon’s not the brightest spark: he left it six years to get medical attention and, when he got round to it, did so on national TV. “It’s day one and I get to do a procedure in the truck,” says Dr Sam gleefully, before busting out the scalpel. Think of an epic YouTube pimple video, but on a dude’s balls. Classy.
Next is Raymond, who has a “sore bum.” More on Raymond in a second, but there’s something incredibly distasteful about Embarrassing Bodies’ insistence on the word “bum.” I’m no Dr Christian, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a medical term, and when you’re running the most anus-focused show since The Bolt Report, it’d help to work in some synonyms.
Anyway, Raymond is an in-and-out job (I’m sorry), though he reveals with a smile that he once cut up a small chilli and put it in his arse. There. Are. No. Words.
Three of the four women on the show didn’t actually seem to have particularly disastrous medical problems. Tanya wanted surgery to “correct” her inverted nipples so that she could feel like “a real woman.” I guess it must have sucked for the up to one in five women with inverted nipples to find out they’re not real women, but there you go.
Tanya was pretty chuffed with her new nips, but you would have thought a program purporting to be an educational service rather than a freak show would mention the serious risks of such surgery. Oh well, we got a pretty neat-o chart of the three degrees of inverted nipples – good job, graphics department!
Jaime was self-conscious about her high voice, which Dr Ginni no doubt helped by constantly infantilising her: “You’re a tiny thing, and I guess you have a tiny voicebox.” But it’s OK, because she finished off her consultation with “the last thing I’d prescribe is for you to remember that you’re a beautiful person.” Seriously, shut the fuck up Dr Ginni, especially when the very next segment is about a woman getting a “quick and easy 30-minute operation” to insert a chin implant.
Dr Christian appeared in two memorably awkward scenes, one explaining the Bristol stool chart to a group of punters who’d helpfully brought photos of their own output, and the other getting drunk people on the Gold Coast to put condoms on bananas while wearing goggles. The first was memorable for the woman who shouted “that’s my pretty one” when the good doctor produced a photo of her shit, while the second seemed to send the message that condoms are really difficult to use.
Dr. Christian: full-time perve.
Finally there’s Simon, who has an “extra bumhole” AKA a pilonidal sinus (SERIOUSLY, STOP SAYING BUMHOLE). He’s a rather humourless lad who doesn’t laugh at Dr Sam’s “cracking wound” pun. What follows is a truly disgusting surgery scene, in which a piece of meat the size of a lamb chop is removed from Simon’s arse, pried apart and drained of pus for the camera. It made me feel ill even remembering it.
Which brings us to the question: why the hell anyone would watch this in the first place? I propose a couple of theories.
For one, it’s a makeover show dressed up as a medical one. When someone’s “embarrassing” problem is fixed, you get the emotional payoff of seeing them happy after their operation.
Judging by my squirming housemates on the couch next to me (at least from what I could see through my fingers), there’s also a huge element of deliberately grossing yourself out. I don’t understand it, but Embarrassing Bodies is by no means the first to do it (think Saw, or even RPA).
But despite its constant insistence to the contrary, Embarrassing Bodies is not educational TV. It’s a good old 19th century freak show, and in some ways it’s even more extreme because it medicalises diversity: The Lady With The Slightly-Too-Small Chin would never have made it on the circus circuit. In the end, I can’t help but conclude that people watch Embarrassing Bodies to make themselves feel better about their own less-than-perfect bodies.
“We’re giving people such a great opportunity,” says Dr Sam to his colleagues as the credits roll. Yup, what an admirable public service. Make sure to tune in next week when Dr Christian and the crew “de-stigmatise these sensitive issues while also spreading important health messages” by getting a whole bunch of women on stripper’s poles and looking at their boobs. Or not.
Embarrassing Bodies Down Under screens on Foxtel’s LifeStyle YOU on Tuesdays at 9.30pm. You really shouldn’t watch it.
Alex McClintock is a freelance writer from Sydney. He has contributed to the Guardian, VICE, The Monthly and others. Follow him on twitter at @axmcc