Toby Young: A load of rowlocks

We are starting to worry about how we are going to look in this TV show. But it's probably too late now ...

Week three of The Other Boat Race and we're all beginning to get seriously paranoid about how we're going to be portrayed when the programme is eventually broadcast. The cameramen are strangely absent whenever one of us comes up with a brilliant one-liner or helps an old lady across the street, but always on the spot when one of us complains about the training regimen or starts picking his or her nose. The suspicion is that we're going to be depicted as a bunch of lazy, overweight slobs who have reluctantly agreed to learn how to row in the hope of reviving our flagging careers. In other words, 100% accurate.

Have I made a terrible mistake in agreeing to do this? Last year, I turned down an offer to appear in Celebrity Wife Swap and one of the most useful bits of advice was from an old school friend who produced the first series of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!. He said that the makers of reality programmes effectively cast the shows in advance, assigning various character traits to each of the participants and then editing the footage accordingly. Since my wife and I were asked to swap with Jade Goody and her partner, I would be cast as "the snob" in contrast to Jade's "lovable street urchin". It wouldn't matter how conscientious I was about not correcting her rudimentary grasp of Britain's geography, they'd turn me into Evelyn Waugh.

It all comes down to how you're cast - which is why I was encouraged to hear that the Oxford team in The Other Boat Race have been cast as the plucky underdogs, while the Cambridge team are going to be depicted as a bunch of over-confident prima donnas. Admittedly, the source of this rumour is one of the producers and he may be trying to lull us into a false sense of security, but this isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.

To begin with, the Cambridge crew contains three Olympic athletes, including one gold-medal winner, whereas our boat doesn't contain any. Then there's the fact that our boat is being coxed by Jonathan Aitken, who is 6ft 3 and weighs thirteen and a half stone. True, he does have God on his side, but he isn't going to get much help from his crew because we're all dwarves.

Finally, five members of the Oxford crew are asthmatics. We discovered this after our coach made us race a team of 17-year-old Olympic hopefuls on Sunday. Afterwards, as we were all bent double on the river bank, five members of the team pulled out inhalers and started puffing away. I immediately asked one of the producers if I could approach Ventolin about a possible sponsorship deal, but he said that was against BBC rules.

I daresay the programme-makers won't make a final decision about how to edit all the footage until they know who's won the race. After all, if the David v Goliath storyline is going to pan out, our team will actually have to beat the Cambridge lot. If we lose, which is far more likely, it won't make much sense to depict us as the RAF to their Luftwaffe. On the contrary, we'll be shown enjoying cigarette breaks and taking catnaps while the Cambridge team sweat it out on rowing machines.

The only bit of The Other Boat Race the participants have any control over are the video diary sections. We've all been given camcorders and told to prop them up on biscuit tins in our kitchens and record our thoughts from time to time.

Naturally, I've turned into a budding little Cecil B DeMille. I recorded my first video diary entry last Friday and it took me two hours to get 30 seconds of footage. I sat at my kitchen table, surrounded by an array of angle-poise lamps, trying out a succession of different shirts. Every time I made a recording I had to get up, walk over to the camera, rewind it and then play it back in the viewfinder to see how I looked. I would then adjust one of the lights, change my shirt, and try again.

After more than a dozen tries, I finally hit on the right combination of lighting and wardrobe and decided it was time to go for a "take". Unfortunately, it was only then that I realised I hadn't given any thought to what I wanted to say. I sat there, staring vacantly into the camera lens, as my wife stood in the doorway trying not to giggle.

All I could remember were the words of my old school friend who had worked on I'm a Celebrity: "The thing we usually say to the contestants is, 'Just be yourself and you'll be fine.' In your case, though, I don't think that's such a good idea."

Toby Young

The GuardianTramp

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