What is it really like to be on Come Dine With Me? (Picture: Channel 4)
Come Dine With Me has been lighting up the TV schedules for 16 long, glorious years, and we can’t imagine a world without it.
It’s become a British institution in that time – as much a part of the fabric of UK life as talking about the weather, drinking tea, or being randomly fascinated with the price of Freddos.
The format of the show couldn’t be simpler: five strangers host dinner parties on five consecutive nights, and the person who achieves the highest score from their fellow guests wins.
Add in a brilliantly catty voiceover from Dave Lamb, the chance for viewers to nose around peoples’ houses, and some of the biggest characters (and some of most irritating berks) on telly, and you’ve got one of the most incredible shows on the box.
There have been a whopping 45 series made, and if you wanted to binge it all, it would take you in the region of 402 hours, or 16 days. It’s never something we’ve attempted, but there’s not a day goes by where we don’t think about giving it a go.
But what’s it really like to take part?
We spoke to former contestants dog business owner Karen Chamberlain and radio DJ Mary Flavelle, who spilled the tea on their experiences behind the scenes on the programme in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
Now, get off our property and get some lessons in grace and decorum by reading about what it’s really like on Come Dine With Me below.
There’s a LOT more drinking than you might think
The show has been on our screens for 16 years (Picture: Channel 4)
First off, taking part in Come Dine With Me sounds absolutely wild.
‘I always joke about I think it’s like an 18 to 30 holiday on acid,’ Karen said about her time on the programme. ‘It’s mental – a total whirlwind. We stayed up until three o’clock in the morning and the cameras were on us all night.’
Karen added: ‘We were so drunk the first night. I mean, I don’t even know why they bothered filming it. By Friday, we were just hammered every single night and didn’t care who won or lost – although I did win!’
Karen’s experiences aren’t a one-off either. Mary revealed that producers of the show warn contestants not to drink too much – and a lot of the drinking footage ends up being cut from the finished programme.
‘Of course, they don’t want to see people drinking too much,’ she said. ‘But you can tell when you watch the program how much they’ve had off camera, and who had a skinful.’
Mary also said she treated her guests to a welcome drink, plus mini Guinness and champagne, but that was all cut before the show went to air.
The schedule is pretty demanding – especially if you’re still hungover from the night before
Karen appeared back on the show in 2016 (Picture: Channel 4)
It’s not a walk in the park feasting on three course dinners five nights a week. In fact, it sounds pretty exhausting.
‘People don’t realise that filming begins at 11am,’ Karen said. ‘If it’s your day to host, they’re in your face on your doorstep at 9am. They want to start filming and you’re like, “Oh my God, I’ve got my makeup on yet.” I was so hungover.’
‘I would say the killer day is Thursday,’ Mary added, talking about the logistics behind the scenes.
‘You’re picked up in the morning and taken somewhere to be interviewed about the host’s menu. Then they bring you back again and you go off to the venue at around 4.30pm. Of course, dinner can take hours because of the filming.’
It was so demanding, in fact, that Mary even fell asleep while inspecting one of her host’s bedrooms.
‘We fell asleep on his bed – that was the first day as well, on the bed of a strange man that we’d just met!’
Those shots of guests snooping around bedrooms? They’re agreed beforehand
The schedule isn’t for the faint hearted (Picture: Channel 4)
‘Obviously that’s staged,’ Mary said, talking about the scenes of people inspecting the host’s house.
‘They’re not just going to let you go and open their knicker drawer. It’s designated which drawers you go into. That’s all staged.’
There’s strictly no chatting to fellow guests, who are all kept separate during filming
Guests aren’t allowed to speak when the cameras are off (Picture: Channel 4)
‘You’re not allowed to talk to each other,’ Mary said, speaking about the strict rules put in place.
‘To make sure you don’t speak to each other about anything personal, if we go into our bedroom to wait while some filming is going on, we weren’t allowed to say, “Where do you come from? Where do you live? What age are you?”‘.
The rules are made to be broken, though
Karen welcomed an Elvis impersonator to perform during her night (Picture: Channel 4)
Karen admitted to bending the rules on her episode – getting a friend to pop out for a roll of pastry and chocolate ganache for the pudding while she was cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
‘I’d run out of pastry. I had to ring my mate up and get them to go and get me a pack of frozen. They had to come around the back and give me the flaky pastry,’ she said.
‘I also got away with a chocolate ganache. I said I made that but I didn’t. It was in a bag and I just quickly put it into a jar. Put it in the microwave. You know? Yeah, it was fine.’
The producers have no time to waste – and things get pretty crowded
The crew know what they need from the contestants, and they don’t hang around getting the right answers for the cameras.
‘The guys are so good,’ Karen says. ‘They don’t give you an inch. It’s “Right, okay, what do you think about this menu? What do you think about this person? Why do you think he doesn’t like you?”
‘You just have to answer and they go to make cuts. We just stop talking.’
The houses can get pretty packed too, with a room of guests and crew quickly filling up.
‘It’s four to five of the crew that are there with you,’ Mary said. ‘It can fluctuate a little bit depending on whether there’s an assistant or not, but generally it’s four to five.’
We can only imagine the scenes as the crew members tried to control the contestants in the early hours during Karen’s show…
You make friends for life and everyone should do it, basically
‘I have to be very grateful to the crowd that we got,’ Mary said about her fellow guests. ‘We’re actually all still friends. It’s just the most wonderful experience.’
‘We all stay in touch with each other,’ Karen adds. ‘We’ve had the best nights since and ended up being best mates.’
Come Dine With Me is available to watch on All4 and Netflix