Celebrities (no, not you, Dolly) should stay at home and let us dream

Welcome back to Curmudgeon with a Passport. I’m your host, a beloved C-list performer receiving an inexplicably large pay cheque to stay at the most luxurious hotels in the world and break the fourth wall with disparaging looks to the camera every time I’m daunted by a local custom.

While you dissociate in front of your television, shedding skin cells into your couch and contemplating eating fistfuls of Coles-brand shredded mozzarella straight from the bag, I’ll be venturing into the Icelandic wilderness and complaining about it, wandering through a Turkish bazaar and complaining about it, and eating lovingly crafted Michelin-grade cuisine and complaining about it.


You’re not here to escape the drudgery of real life with fantasies of cities you’ll never visit and hotels you’ll never be able to afford. You’re here to witness the splendour of my charm. By the end of every episode I’ll reach the same conclusion: Wow, being on holiday is great! Other cultures have something to offer – who knew?

We’re all fluff here at Curmudgeon with a Passport. Accessibility? Never heard of it. Truly surprising destinations? No thanks. Compelling content and profound insights into cross-cultural awareness? Keep looking. We’re just here to look at pretty things and pretend it’s relatable to eat gold leaves for dinner.

Travel shows are a fantasy facilitator, and escapism is lovely. How would we fill our days if not with elaborate daydreams lovingly crafted over thousands of visits every time you sit through a boring meeting, start your commute, or wait for your turn to speak? In some of mine, I’m a playwright, I’m Taylor Swift’s best friend, I’m running into my ex on the street looking incredible.

So why do all these celebrity travel shows – The Reluctant Traveller with Eugene Levy, Down to Earth with Zac Efron, Travels with My Father with Jack Whitehall, that one weird and overlong hotel ad in the middle of Cunk on Earth – designed to fill me with wanderlust just leave me with my lip curled instead?

Can someone please organise a road trip with Dolly Parton?Credit:Stacie Huckeba

Maybe I’m a little embittered that global events have all but held me hostage in the inner north for the last three years, and now the eye-watering prices for long-haul flights will keep me trapped for who knows how much longer. Maybe Levy’s chagrin at being helicoptered into an ultra-luxury resort in Utah is lost on me as I load up my dinner with rice and legumes to try to stretch my grocery budget a little further.

In the current climate of widening wealth gaps and expanding class divides, it seems a little tone deaf to expect viewers to enjoy being asked to look but not touch unimaginable luxury. It’s the same disdain I feel every time my newsfeed clogs itself up with images of a Kardashian child’s birthday party: a mountain of waste destined for landfill, all for a kid who won’t remember a moment of it.

It’s the same tug of embarrassment I feel in the designer neighbourhood of Chadstone, a museum of opulence and greed where handbags cost more than a year’s rent.

I flick on our mindless entertainment to escape the drudgery of real life, but lately, all I see are reminders of two groups at war: haves and have-nots, queen bees and worker bees, the unfathomably rich and those of us who will probably always have an AfterPay balance.

Who am I supposed to direct this discontent at? Eugene Levy is as harmless a host as could ever exist. Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy is a stomach-rumbling delight. Who doesn’t want to look at Zac Efron for hours at a time? I’ve tried to think of which known-but-not-famous-famous host would fill the space between “bland” and “rage-inducing”, someone who could catch and hold our attention and introduce us to corners of the world we’d like to visit without making us roll our eyes or anxiously check our bank balances, and I keep coming up short. Would we go on safari with Steve Martin? Wander the catacombs with David Tennant? Take a road trip with Dolly Parton? (Actually – wait, yes, please can someone organise this?)

Maybe, like talent competition shows, suburban soap operas, and scripted reality about toxic and out-of-touch families, the appetite for fantastical travel television has waned.

When escapism feels less indulgent and more like torment about the unachievable, maybe there is no quirky, innocuous host who can breathe new life into a beaten dead horse without sparking the ire of housebound writers who really, really wish they were in Naples right now. This curmudgeon with a passport suddenly believes that some things – most things – should be left to Dolly Parton, or absolutely nobody.

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