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Cannonball feature

Pop CultureAugust 1, 2020

Belly flops and budgie smugglers: Cannonball is your Saturday night delight

Cannonball feature

Finished watching Floor is Lava and looking for your next dose of bonkers TV? Cannonball is the show for you. 

The world is going to Hades in a handcart, and for one hour each week, I need the distraction of blue skies, warm sunshine and beautiful people volunteering to make fools of themselves on television. I don’t know who to thank, but the TV gods have heard my prayers and blessed us with Cannonball, television’s most wonderfully pointless show and the perfect tonic for the hellfire that is 2020.

It’s no insult to call Cannonball pointless, because the show wears that badge proudly. “Twenty-four intrepid buffoons compete in the fastest, wettest, most pointless competition on the planet,” cricketer-turned-host Andrew Flintoff says in the show’s intro. Anyone who calls their contestants “buffoons” has my heart, and any show that insists on flinging humans off a giant cushion just so they can watch them splat awkwardly into the ocean has my soul, my swimming togs, even my inflatable water wings.

Cannonball is so pointless that there’s no real prize for the winner. You’ll forget the contestants immediately, and you won’t care who gets through to the final round. There are five hosts, which is four, maybe five, too many, and the commentary is brilliantly irreverent. Nobody actually does a cannonball or tries to pop a cheeky manu, and winning comes down to how well you swing off a rope. Cannonball is a hectic hour filled with bonkers Brits who risk their own lives for our entertainment, and it’s so wrong that it’s completely right.

The show belongs to the Floor is Lava and Wipeout genre of entertainment, but unlike Wipeout, Cannonball needs no skill or talent to win. This is the school sports day us couch potatoes always dreamed of, where those of us who lack the ability to run in a straight line at speed have as much chance of winning as the naturally gifted athletes.

Yes sir, you are.

Cannonball’s competitors are grandmothers and cab drivers, beauty queens and paramedics. The underdog rules supreme, and gameplay or strategy is a pathetic waste of time. Winning Cannonball comes down to the luck of the draw and the slippy slide of your budgie smugglers, which is exactly how the Greeks wanted the Olympics to be run in the first place.

Each episode features four challenges that send the intrepid contestants flying through the air, limbs akimbo, over and over again. They crash into the sea and smash into walls, emerging from the ocean depths with a dazed grin and a thumbs up. It’s a moving symphony of physicality, set in a world where nobody gets hurt. Cannonball is an inflatable paradise of equal risk and reward, and everyone’s having a cracker of a time.

There’s “Knockout”, the obstacle where contestants become human bowling balls, rolling down a ramp to knock oversized skittles into the sea. “Skimmer” sees two players slide and skim across the sea like human stones, while “Jump” is like your high school attempts at long jump, if your high school had a massively high slip and slide and every kid had a boogie board and an attitude that just won’t quit.

NSFW, sorry.

But the best challenge, the one I will never tire of watching, is “The Blob”. Contestants are catapulted into the air off a phallic-shaped inflatable pillow, just to see how high they’ll go. The higher they fly, the more points they score, but what we’re really here for is the landing. We want belly flops. We want skin hitting sea with a crack so sharp that your thighs sting just from watching. No landing is ever the same, and grace and style are rarely seen. Bring your dreams and dignity to Cannonball, but you will not leave with both.

Cannonball will tell you it’s a competition about speed, accuracy, height and distance, but they are wrong. This is an hour of simple pleasures, of watching big personalities in jazzy costumes reach for greatness but land happily in a puddle of mediocrity. The sun always shines in Cannonball, the seas are always warm, and none of those inflatables ever get a weird puncture that you have to cover up with chewing gum and a sticking plaster.

That’s all Cannonball is, friends. Fly the highest, slide the fastest, become a human bowling ball and make your dreams come true. We’ve had enough by the time we get to the final round, and even choosing a winner seems completely pointless. Everyone’s a winner on Cannonball, and this is how Saturday nights should be. Wet, wild, and with more double entendres than Cream Week on Great British Bake Off. It’s the escape from 2020 that we all need, and the one we definitely deserve.

Cannonball screens at 7.30pm on Saturday nights on Three.

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