PA­TRICK FREYNE

Ire­land’s fittest fam­i­lies are ter­ri­fy­ing – and be­ware those who come bear­ing funky songs

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE -

If you were to take a per­son from the an­cient world – a woman from me­dieval Lon­don, for ex­am­ple, or a man from 1980s Kil­dare – they would be very con­fused by what’s go­ing on in Ire­land’s Fittest Fam­ily (Sun­day, RTE 1).

Watch­ing four mem­bers of the McCann clan hang­ing from me­tal bars sus­pended 20ft over the Ir­ish Sea, it would ap­pear that they were be­ing pub­li­cally pun­ished for some ter­ri­ble crime (li­cence-fee avoid­ance, per­haps). But as events pro­ceed, it seems that, ter­ri­fy­ingly, th­ese are vol­un­teers and this is a com­pe­ti­tion de­vised by those evil ge­niuses at RTÉ. Over­seen in its third year by re­cov­er­ing D’Arcy acolyte Mairead Farrell, when Euro­pean civil­i­sa­tion col­lapses (in 2023), Ire­land’s

Fittest Fam­ily will be how we choose our lead­ers.

For now, we are in­tro­duced to each fam­ily, weaker mem­bers of which have been left to die on nearby hill­sides. Th­ese peo­ple run for plea­sure and not be­cause they’re be­ing chased by lo­cal chil­dren or dis­eased bats. They have tro­phy cab­i­nets filled with tro­phies, not empty crisp pack­ets. Com­pe­ti­tion has bonded them to­gether and not ripped them apart into bit­ter, feud­ing, will-pars­ing fac­tions, like it did with your fam­ily.

In short, they are ex­actly the kind of peo­ple you’d ex­pect to hang hap­pily from an iron bar un­til they lose their grip while peo­ple shout things like “keep on hang­ing” or “hang on a bit longer” and the song Hangin’

Tough by New Kids on the Block plays in the back­ground.

(In­ci­den­tally, Hangin’ Tough by NKOTB – a song in which five boys with ex­cel­lent hair pos­ture as a street gang and threaten to “put you in a trance with a funky song” – is the tough­ness level I per­son­ally as­pire to.)

Ire­land’s fittest fam­i­lies are not like your stupid fam­ily. Cer­tainly none of them has to be dragged to the sus­pen­sion con­trap­tion like a cartoon cat, grab­bing pass­ing lamp posts and scream­ing: “I don’t want to hang on the bar! I don’t want to!” which is what you would do.

No, they go to the bar calmly and are thank­ful for their ex­pe­ri­ence. “It was a lovely sen­sa­tion ac­tu­ally, just hang­ing,” says eerily re­laxed 48-year-old Mary O’Brien Devine, who man­ages to cling to the iron bar for two min­utes be­fore plum­met­ing into the depths, and may have been driven mad by the ex­pe­ri­ence.

But the “hang a fam­ily from an iron bar” game is only one part of the episode. Six fam­i­lies in to­tal are tak­ing part, each in two batches of three, and one fam­ily from each batch will be elim­i­nated from the com­pe­ti­tion.

Once the win­ner of the “hang a fam­ily from an iron bar” game makes it through to the next round, it is, in Mairead Farrell’s words, “time for the [re­main­ing] fam­i­lies to fight it out in the Elim­i­na­tor”.

Now, this is not fol­lowed by each fam­ily choos­ing weaponry from a se­lec­tion of pikes, buz­z­saws and axes, for the Elim­i­na­tor is ac­tu­ally just a glo­ri­fied ob­sta­cle course de­vised by some­one who’s been work­ing through their own fam­ily is­sues.

Firstly, one mem­ber of the fam­ily must heave a big net filled with bag­gage to a huge height (“This is aw­ful to watch,” says one of the coaches sadly) be­fore run­ning to re­lease the rest of their fam­ily from a ship­ping con­tainer (“The McCanns are fi­nally out of the con­tainer,” says Mairead chill­ingly). Then they must run, jump and climb over sev­eral ob­sta­cles be­fore as­cend­ing a ramp to a podium, sig­ni­fy­ing their su­pe­ri­or­ity to their ri­vals and, let’s be hon­est, you, you loser.

Luck­ily, at this stage, thanks to the gen­eral wide-eyed can-do-itive like­abil­ity of th­ese strange crea­tures (I’m not sure I’m even part of the same species, to be hon­est), I start en­joy­ing my­self and com­ing up with my own tac­tics.

Th­ese in­clude: hang­ing on the bar longer than ev­ery­one else in the first round; run­ning faster and be­ing stronger than ev­ery­one in the sec­ond round; or, more re­al­is­ti­cally, us­ing my jour­nal­is­tic skills to per­suade an­other con­tes­tant to carry me on their back like a baby. “In­ter­est­ing tech­nique,” I imag­ine Farrell say­ing in voiceover, as a 20-year-old GAA player hauls my weep­ing, in­ert form over the fin­ish line.

Any­way, all good things must end. “Af­ter a gru­elling day, we’ve lost two fam­i­lies,” says Farrell sadly (the losers are, pre­sum­ably, hu­manely de­stroyed).

Love and mar­riage

The McGraynor fam­ily are among those who make it through. One of the sons (not the one who has an an­chor tat­too on his bi­cep, like Pop­eye) ad­mir­ingly ob­serves how his fa­ther sin­gle-hand­edly dragged his mother up the ramp. “That’s why they’re mar­ried, I sup­pose,” he says.

“I’m sorry I’m get­ting a bit emo­tional but it’s a lovely thing to do with your fam­ily,” says the McGraynor pa­tri­arch. “To your fam­ily,” I find my­self cor­rect­ing him from the sofa.

Kieran, of the tri­umphant and tri­umphal­ist Dav­ern fam­ily, whose torso is tri­an­gle shaped and tat­tooed, like an oc­cult Mr Man, con­cludes by of­fer­ing a dark pic­ture of the fu­ture. “We’re al­ways go­ing to be chas­ing you, we’re al­ways go­ing to be hunt­ing you down,” he prom­ises.

Yeah, you heard him – he’s talk­ing to you. And what have you got to de­fend your­self? That’s right, the lyrics of

Hangin’ Tough by New Kid on The Block. When Kieran comes bear­ing down on you, the lust for vic­tory in his eyes, the best you can do is to try putting him “in a trance with your funky song”. Yeah, that’s all you’ve got. That’s all you’ve got go­ing for you.

One of the sons ad­mir­ingly ob­serves how his fa­ther sin­gle-hand­edly dragged his mother up the ramp. ‘That’s why they’re mar­ried, I sup­pose,’ he says

Mairead Farrell (cen­tre) and her team of su­pe­rior life forms

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