Any Big Brother fans out there? I confess I look forward to the reality show every summer and have been watching it for the past ten years or so. For those who don’t watch it, the premise is simple enough. Toss 14 strangers into a house and lock them away for 70 days. The house is huge, with a big kitchen, a lounge area with couches, two or three large bedrooms with multiple beds–some of which must be shared, a large co-ed bathroom, an outdoor area with a pool and Jacuzzi and a big yard for excercising or running or just sitting. Add a hundred or so cameras and microphones to follow the houseguests every move and capture every whispered conversation and you have the stage set for an experiment in social interaction. Usually by the end of the first week, guests have sussed out like minded guests and form alliances, since the object of the game is to nominate one houseguest every week for eviction. In the US and Canadian version, there are competitions where the winner is made the Head of Household for the next week. The HOH has the power to nominate two guests up for eviction and at the end of the week, the other guests vote which one of the pair to oust from the house. There is also a Veto competition, involving the two nominated guests and a selection of other guests who vie for the Power of Veto, which gives the winner the power to remove one of the nominated guests. If that happens (they don’t have to use the Veto if they choose to leave the nominations the same) the HOH must substitute another nominee. The houseguests also have luxury competitions, usually dividing the guests into two teams; the winning teams get to have regular and sometimes extra special food and treats. The losers live on gruel-like “slop” for the week.
Evictions start the first week, when the guests barely know each other, but then the fangs start coming out. Guests are targetted for a multitude of reasons ranging from being loudmouthed and obnoxious to being a bully to being a strong player the others fear will make it to the end and win the quarter million dollar prize awarded to the last man standing. Strategy plays a huge part in the game and forming strong alliances is key to making it through the 70 day process. Lying, playing both sides, getting together in “showmances”, swearing to support someone then breaking that promise for a better offer are all part of the game. Indeed, it is encouraged by the producers in order to make the game more cutthroat and interesting.
Normally it *is* intriguing to watch how the guests manipulate their way through the weeks. The strong players emerge fairly soon and depending on who in their alliance wins the Head of Household with the power to nominate, the strategic wars to evict the opposition claim victims on either side. There are also “floaters” who prefer to sit back and watch the stronger players go at each other and sometimes it is these floaters who survive the wars and go on to reach the finale. Names like Doctor Will and Boogie and Janelle and Evel Dick have become synonymous with the best players and they were, indeed, fun to watch. The US and CAN versions are on three times a week through the summer. Eviction night is the only live broadcast, the other two are compiled of highlights selected by the Big Brother crew but avid followers can watch and hear all the proceedings via spycams live 24/7.
Why a blog on Big Brother, you ask?
Well, as I mentioned, I am an avid fan of the show. Watching the social manipulation, the backstabbing, the whining and wailing, the tricks and strategies is fascinating in a nails-down-the-chalkboard sort of way. It shows the good…there are a lot of laugh out loud moments…but more often than not, the horrid things about people who are driven by nothing more than greed.
This years cast was a prime example of the latter. There was very little good left in the three finalists. They were the worst of the worst and because the canned shows were heavily edited, very little of the *worst* was shown to TV audiences. Hardly any of them could speak more than two words without using the F bomb. One of them rarely referred to the female houseguests as anything other than bitches or c**ts. There were incredibly disgusting racist remarks, some of which did make front page news, and embarrassed CBS enough to make the host, Julie Chen, cringe when she was asking evicted guests about them. There were also hours and hours of the three finalists going on and on and on about evicted players and their families in the worst possible terms, and if I were them, knowing those evicted players were going to be going back and watching all of the archived feeds, I would crawl under a rock—where they belong—and stay there for a few years.
For me, who usually tunes into the live feeds for the last month, I watched for a few hours here and there, but in the end had no stomach to peek in on them. They disgusted me, all three of them, and while I recorded the shows that aired on TV, I didn’t watch the finale until a few days later because I really didn’t care who won. None of the three deserved it. They were all examples of the worst, not the best.
In my disappointment, I picked up on a post on one of the BB chat boards and looked up Big Brother Australia on YouTube. They follow a similar format with the 14 houseguests and the big roomy house with cameras and microphones but that’s where they started to differ. If caught swearing, they spend time in a “naughty room” where they have all manner of time- consuming tasks, like finding an actual needle in a huge stack of hay. If caught discussing nominations with fellow houseguests, as in who to plot against, they are awarded a strike. Three strikes, they’re evicted automatically. This simple rule cuts out most of the backstabbing, the lying, the need to plot and cheat and lie.
When it comes time to nominate potential evictees, they go into a soundproof chamber where every guest assigns five points to two houseguests of their choice in a 4-1 or 3-2 split. The SIX houseguests with the highest point count are put up for eviction and the public votes on who to send packing. There is no HOH, but they do have challenges and tasks for extra rewards and food luxuries. There is no Veto competition, but there is a challenge where the winner gains the power to remove one of the nominees and substitute another. The houseguests, from my casual first time observation of BBAU, generally have a whole lot more fun and there is WAY less mean, bullying behavior. There are still the strong players and the annoying players and the floaters and even alliances, to a degree, though none are formed openly. They have better twists than our BB’s, like introducing “intruders” into the mix after four or five weeks–new houseguests who throw the originals into a tizzy. And frankly, having the public vote for the evictions makes the whole process more interesting and harder to predict because there is no way of telling from week to week who is in the public favor and who is ground fodder.
Unfortunately, BBAU is right smack in the middle of their 2013 season and even though the programs air 5 nights a week, I caught up and ran out of patience waiting for each new episode to get uploaded to YouTube. So what did I do? I went back and watched BBAU 2012, starting with episode 1 right through to the finale. Great way to pass the last few weeks when the only thing on TV in the evenings was reruns or goofy summer substitute series. (For a while there, Netflix had become my best friend letting me go back and enjoy all the seasons of Foyle’s War and Doc Martin.)
Okay, so why, you are still wondering, am I blogging about Big Brother? Well, for a couple of reasons. My personal disgust with the three finalists on CBS’s BB highlights for me the state of social disrepair we seem to have fallen into. The fact that rudeness and racism and bullying was basically applauded by those three finalists should toss out some huge warning flags about why those same qualities are becoming prevalent in schools and schoolyards and out on the streets. The one houseguest was proud of her “ghetto-speak” and used the words whore, c**t, f**k in every other sentence. One of the male finalists was gay, yet he was the most vocal in tearing down other houseguests because of their lifestyles or imagined faults, and I lost count, in a half hour period watching the live feeds, of the number of times he used the word “hate”. The other member of the trio could hardly form a sentence or voice a thought without using some sexual slur or reference. It’s a chilling thought to know that one of them boasts about being an educator.
My other reason for highlighting Big Brother is because it is, indeed, a microcosm of today’s society, wherein the houseguests come from all walks of life. In the BBAU version one guest was a millionaire, another was unemployed, and there was everything in between. One who stood out for me was a contestant who had emigrated from England to Australia. She was in her mid 20’s, yet she had no idea who Winston Churchill was. She also had to be told what a meter was, and had to have the word “rival” defined for her. Granted, levels of education were never disclosed, but really? An English woman who didn’t recognize the name Winston Churchill? Even more alarming, when asked what the queen’s name was, she gave an owl-in-the-headlights look (she had big eyes) and answered, quite seriously: “Queen?”
These people are the future. They vote for the country’s leaders…hell, they could become presidents or prime ministers themselves. They teach your children. They give birth to little clones of themselves. They decide that spending billions on running election campaigns is worth more than spending those billions on education and in fact, cut funding for education so they can form committees to study the failing education systems.
I know I’m old and crusty, but I still remember a time when you couldn’t show a married couple sleeping in the same bed on TV. Now they take delight in putting the camera right under the sheets. Even in the movie theatres, Rhett Butler had to go through ten censor board hearings before he was allowed to say the word “damn” at the end of Gone With the Wind. When I was a kid, no more than four or five, I have a clear memory of sitting at the dinner table one night and staring at a clump of broccoli on my plate. I muttered the fateful words: “I hate broccoli.” Next thing I knew, I was banished to bed without any supper at all and given a stern, threatening lecture about using the word “hate” for any reason. And believe it or not, I didn’t drop the F bomb myself until I was 37 years old, and it was such an astounding event, I phoned a neighbour (who had been trying to get me to say it for years) at 3 in the morning to tell him I’d said it.
Watching shows like Big Brother and hearing some of the language used by kids these days…even acknowledging how my own language habits have changed over the years…maybe those old standards weren’t so terrible after all. Cabinet Guy, while working on my renovations, always addressed me as Mrs Canham because I was there 39 years ago to diaper him when he was born and that was how we taught our kids to address adults. I, myself, would cut my tongue out before referring to adult friends of my parents as anything other than Mr and Mrs So-and-so. It was simple respect and not so terrible a hardship for us to employ it.
As for Winston Churchill, I read his voluminous memoirs back in high school. An amazing, brilliant, fascinating figure and it’s a shame he is being forgotten by his own countrymen.