Come Cringe With Me

The first episode of Come Dine with Me SA had Susan Erasmus in fits of laughter, but the thought that this might be screened elsewhere in the world makes her cringe.

The commentary was razor-sharp, the contestants painfully diverse or crazy and the interiors of some of the houses reminiscent of a garage sale from 1975.

All this, does of course make for brilliant television. And in this series, it's clearly not going to about the food. This programme seldom is.

Something for the uninitiated about the programme off the official website:

Come Dine With Me follows five total strangers competing for the title of the ultimate dinner party host. Each night for a week they will take it in turn to cook up their idea of the perfect evening. As well as cooking, the rival hosts snoop around each others’ houses and go to bizarre lengths to win the competition. At the end of the evening, the host is judged by their guests and scored out of ten. The contestant with the most points at the end of the week wins a cash prize

The four participants

In this first episode the four contestants were from the 'garden idyll of Alberton', to quote Dave Lamb, the acerbic, but extremely funny narrator on the programme. And boy, were the contestants chosen for maximum conflict potential.

Two middle-aged white Afrikaans women, one awfully jolly (a bok vir sports, I think the expression is I am looking for) and the other just awful. As in Freddy Krueger awful.

Michelle, the jolly one, looks like a nice person, but she was not chosen as a participant for her sophistication.  Estie was definitely chosen as the resident whack job for this episode.

And on to the rest of this foursome. Kgosi, a suave young black man, whose father is a royal personage of some sort, was well-spoken, if a tad superior and proud of his looks. In other words, perfect for his chosen career: marketing.

Then there was Zakhile. A young black 'trolley dolly' as he was called by the commentator. What a delight. Kind, with a good sense of humour, and probably wondering what on earth he let himself in for.  Both he and Kgosi were clearly wealthy, sophisticated and well-spoken and look like the kind of people anyone would happily invite round to dinner.


The horror of Estie and Michelle

I fully realise that editing can make anyone look good or bad. Snippets are obviously chosen from hours and hours of footage. But nevertheless, neither Estie, nor Michelle did us proud.

Michelle's manners are shocking. (How much will it cost to ensure this programme is not broadcast in the UK, or anywhere else?) She sniffs all food, she said on camera that she chews her toenails, she rinsed her mouth with wine to get rid of the spinach on her teeth, and she ate her dessert face first into the pudding bowl. I kid you not.

Estie, who had the cheek to remark that Michelle lacked finesse, had marginally better table manners, but swore (just what other farting do you find besides 'arse-farting' for heaven's sake?) and shouted at Zakhile from the dining room.

I have been watching versions of this programme for years and it is only the second time I can remember that  someone manages to get through a whole week without saying a single nice thing about anyone else.

She was enough to give anyone a real skrik. Portrayed as vicious and competitive, with illusions of spirituality, it was clear from the start that she would stop at nothing to win. Except be kind to the other guests, that is.

Just a thought: if you have to tell anyone just how spiritual you are, haven't you sort of missed the point? Especially if minutes later you purse your lips and turn your eyes into slits and tell the camera that people who cross you will come off second best. Alberton, beware, I would take this threat seriously if I were you.

Social interaction

The interaction between the four participants is what I always find interesting, more so than the food. (The food looked great in general – Zakhile's tripe and Michelle's dessert being the exceptions).

Conversation was mostly stilted, especially when Estie was chatting about fairies and past-life regressions. I was relieved to find out locals produced the programme: the thought that foreign camera crews might have seen the pictures these two had on their walls, makes me wince. From the church bazaar/tombola table school of interior decorating, no doubt.

Twenty years ago, these 4 people would not have shared a dinner table, especially not in Alberton. There was a certain amount of tension in the air, and there were some long silences. Alcohol eventually helped smoothe things over somewhat and a certain camaraderie sprung up between Michelle, Kgosi and Zakhile. Uniting against a common enemy and all that.

I won't tell you who won, as some of you will still be watching this programme's re-broadcasts.

I fully realise that this programme thrives on strife, social inequality, people's delusions of grandeur, and social ineptitude. That's why the participants get lumped together as they are. But please, please if you're watching this from another country, don't assume all South Africans are like Estie and Michelle. Some of us do use cutlery.

(Susan Erasmus,

(Come Dine with Me is screened on DSTV Channel 120 at 21h00 on Wednesday evenings)

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