CBS’s Big Brother is now in its thirteenth season and shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed the show has spawned a cult-like following.
I tune in every season for many reasons, few having much to do with the real purpose of the show. I love the colorful rooms of the Big Brother house, the contenders fascinate me with their variety and lack of effort to disguise their true selves, the contests to win Head of Household and Power of Veto are amusing and intriguing, and finally, here’s a reality show that has little scripting - and right there is something very unique in the reality TV genre.
I never got deep into the purpose of the Big Brother house. The whispering and conspiratorial confabs kind of bored me and I never quite followed them. In preparation for writing this column I’ve given serious thought to Big Brother, its purpose, and what it all means. As best as I can I’ll give an overview of how it works.
A group of people are chosen to live in the Big Brother house. They're not allowed televisions or radios and have only very limited contact with the outside world. These are ordinary people, not necessarily pretty people or talented people as on other shows. In fact, the contenders to win the half million dollar prize have no discernible talents; or if they do, it’s no matter in the process of winning this particular challenge.
Each week over the course of a couple of months one individual is voted out of the house by the others. That very concept, simple on its face, is a bit mind-boggling.
Viewer entertainment comes in the form of contests that are almost genius in their design. Most of the challenges involve some sort of test of endurance added to a form of humiliation that might involve being covered with chocolate or other goo. A recent Head of Household challenge this season involved having the contenders hang on to a fake banana while they are drenched in chocolate and pelted with candy. The last man standing, figuratively, will win the coveted Head of Household.
The Head of Household is given the use of a private bedroom and often some contact with his or her home. The most coveted reward for the HOH is the ability to nominate another housemate for eviction. Another reward, determined by yet another amusing test of endurance and determination, is the Power of Veto. Those winning the POV can veto a nomination made by the HOH. A housemate up for an eviction vote would be eager to win a POV in that they can then veto their nomination and have another nominee put in his or her place. The object of the series, after all, is to be the last person left in the Big Brother House for the winner to take all.
Along the way, contenders might be restricted to eating “slop” for a long period of time or be given other humiliating punishments, perhaps having to wear silly clothes or some such. Recently contender Rachel was restricted to slop for two weeks. Two weeks is a long time to go without nutritious food so I’m thinking the producers ensure that one can remain alive with slop but not be all that happy.
It seems a simple thing, the premise of living in and hopefully winning the prize in the Big Brother House by surviving all evictions.
Consider that there you are, one contender in the midst of about ten. You win the HOH challenge. Simple, no? Just nominate for eviction the one other person you’d consider the biggest threat to your residency. This would be the person you’d identify as most likely to win the most HOH competitions and who would eventually nominate you for eviction.
Ah, but is it really that simple? First, assuming you win the HOH challenge, not always a given no matter your brute strength, determination, or endless endurance, there are other obstacles. The HOH challenges are specifically designed to test all phases of a contender’s strength; there are even some mental contests. Second, your nominee, assuming you win the HOH, could win the power of veto and “un”-nominate themselves. This season the contenders are working in pairs and a pair is nominated for eviction by the HOH. Thus the other house guests much choose between one of two contenders to evict.
This is another quirk of the Big Brother House - the rules can change on a whim. It’s part of the show’s charm, causing it never to go stale and to keep the spellbound viewers enthralled.
What eventually happens in the confines of the Big Brother House, just as it likely happened in the caves of yore that housed our Cro-Magnon man ancestors in their social units, just as it happens in our own House of Representatives and Senate? POLITICS!
Like-minded folk veer toward other like-minded folk, the weak sidle up to the strong, the ambitious beguile the vacillating, unions are formed that insure a win-win for all under the circumstances. Just as every bumblebee ever pollinated a flower for want of its nectar, just as a Senator from a blue state cajoles one from a red state, just as nature itself dictates, deals are made that will benefit all of the dealing members in some form or fashion.
And as the universe will unfold as it should, at some point there is a betrayal, a failure, a sudden and surprise win. The Fittest then ascends to the victory.
The Big Brother reality series is a microcosm of the world as it functions and it’s no wonder it fascinates.
Let me end by suggesting that viewers keep a sharp eye on contender Rachel. She’s already won this series once and while she’s a bit on the crazy side, she has a fierce determination and a will to win that is most admirable.
Big Brother can be seen on CBS on three nights a week during a series run: Wednesdays at 8 pm, Thursdays at 9 pm, and Sundays at 8 pm.