Big Brother

Friday, August 18, 2006 by

“Eazamanna!” This was the Big Brother with the most weeks, the most housemates, the most twists, the most innovations, the most outside influences, the most late arrivals, the most eviction escapes by one person – and the most telegraphed winner since the first week. Nothing, but nothing, was ever going to stop Pete from grabbing the glory.

Many parties can look at the Sussex singer with the tics and the trousers and feel grateful towards him. Fellow housemate Nikki, for realising that there was more to people than money and showbiz. His mother, for taking pride and benefit from her son’s universal popularity. Tourette’s and its sufferers, for seeing the positive end of the stigma of twitches and obscenities. But perhaps, most of all, BB itself, as a programme and a genre which Pete has almost been pushed into saving single-handedly.

BB ran for 13 weeks – a quarter of a year, if you like it to sound somehow longer – and involved no fewer than 22 different individuals. 14 entered the house at the beginning, two replaced walkers after a week, another was drawn in at random from a commercial tie-in, and four of the remaining five were sent in from a neighbourly side project, with the fifth never quite making the house. This made BB long, laborious, controversial, sometimes overpowering, and often too complicated or badly explained to raise authentic interest or debate. The risks involved with such a plethora of innovations and surprises meant that BB had to put all its confidence in its existing housemates to keep the dream and the figures alive. Pete led by example.

The favourite since bookmakers first quoted odds, the early belief in Pete was pinned down by his obvious ability in the early stages to amuse everyone and annoy no-one. Cliques were formed, arguments soon raged, and tensions built. Pete took absolutely no part in these developments at all, and managed to use his own strong personality, and facility to smile and energise, to make sure he alienated nobody whose side he didn’t join.

As the contestant numbers dropped, then rose, and then dropped again, Pete’s schtick never altered. Either blissfully happy and active, or worryingly reflective and lonely, he nonetheless had the whole house taking his side, asking his approval, considering his responses, checking his well-being, queuing for his affections. Although the Tourette’s could have earned him the status of sympathy vote in the earliest stages, the others didn’t use it as an excuse to leave him be as he was quite adamant he didn’t consider it an issue himself, and never did he use his condition to garner empathy or hugs. Indeed, all his Tourette’s ever did was make people laugh (with him, not at him) and have the E4 live feed censors working harder than ever.

BB‘s masters realised the invincibility of Pete early on and, given that his exceptional attitude towards his Tourette’s was earning the show its most positive publicity of the run, it was perhaps understandable that as the crescendo got nearer and his general demeanour about his future grew gloomier, they made an unsubtle and hugely contentious decision to crowbar his main soulmate, the high-maintenance Nikki, back into the mixer even though she had legitimately – if surprisingly – been evicted by the public a month earlier. This, along with a letter from his mother which reassured him that his antics had transformed her life, gave Pete the final impetus he needed to get his glowing smile back and goof around in the closing week up to finals night.

Actually, Pete goofed very little, except when BB forced him to. Nikki’s return to the house shortly after Imogen’s departure the previous weekend resulted in a sweet, if somewhat uncomfortable, week where the two of them barely took their hands off each other unless they absolutely had to. Nikki, fresh from photo shoots and TV deals, had her saintly boy back earlier than she imagined, and the public watched their courtship unfold and feel somewhat nosy, even allowing for BB‘s whole purpose of warts ‘n’ all voyeurism.

The first 48 hours of Nikki’s homecoming left Pete devoid of sleep, so goofing was the last thing on his mind when, having won a slow BMX bike task, he was instructed to take his reward – a Diary Room disco with cocktails and ’80s music – at a time when he was just dropping off to much-needed slumber. Eventually, the alcohol on offer livened him up (oddly, it has the opposite effect on me) and by the time the slow dance song began (Spandau Ballet’s True, natch), Nikki was listening on the other side of the door, desperate to join Pete in his personal nightclub for the six minutes worth of cuddling and tonsil hockey which Gary Kemp’s girly backing vocals always spur. For his part, Pete turned his back on the camera and pretended to smooch with himself. Goofing at last.

Upon his fatigue-ridden, inebriated exit, he put a lounge pouffe on his head and began crashing into things, much to everyone’s obvious regalement, although the frolics could have turned catastrophic when Pete, drunk and in an enclosed receptacle, jumped deliberately into the pool, with lifeguard Glyn realising the danger as he freewheeled towards the water and following him in. He got a stern earful from BB for that, although his safety seemed to be less of an issue to them – in contrast with Glyn’s idiocy on the surrounding walls a week earlier – than the fact that he had left the pouffe in the pool and bust an expensive microphone. Pete, perhaps in hope that he’d soon have £100,000 to help him, offered to pay for a new mike. And finally, he was then allowed to sleep.

So, with Pete back in fully-fledged gregarious mode, the result of the final vote was again in safe hands. Only his self-imposed exile prior to the big night would change matters, and with Nikki stroking his head and making girlish chuckling noises, that wasn’t going to happen. Therefore, the placings of the other five became the big talking point and the subject of much fluttering by a watchful public. A whopping 16 housemates had seen their chances scuppered, from shapely Loughborough droner Bonnie back in May (May! I’ve married, honeymooned and watched a World Cup since then) through to Welsh dullard Imogen last week. So, with Pete and the resurrected Nikki we had taff teenager Glyn, gay Canuck waiter Richard, complex London ghetto girl Aisleyne and breezy Scouse latecomer Jennie. The initial odds showed that Richard’s record-busting six eviction escapes had not hugely prompted a swathe of admiring votes his way as people’s attentions switched to picking one winner rather than five losers, while the hopes of Aisleyne and Jennie were extremely limited. If anyone was going to usurp Pete, it was Glyn, whose genuine journey of life through a lens had earned him many supporters, some on the celebrity sofa next to Dermot O’Leary on Big Brother’s Little Brother, while the ever-important provincial Wales vote – especially for a lad so valiantly nationalistic – was always going to help him.

As for Nikki, it seemed clear that for all her brilliance in the house first time round, she wasn’t going to retain her support due to the discomfort and bad headlines generated by the decision to concoct a scheme which would plant her back alongside Pete for the finale and generally make a mockery of the public’s say. Good money was spent getting her out – albeit in a convoluted and inconclusive manner which was BB‘s own fault to begin with – and therefore the show’s disciples felt it was wrong to have her back as a candidate. Jon Tickle was never allowed to win BB4 when he was voted back in (although he probably would have done, an irony that does the current BB no favours) and Nikki should have been likewise.

As entertaining as it was to see her there, the familiarity with Nikki’s ruinous personality meant that the protests about tasks and temperatures were not met with the same mixture of bemusement and mirth by the public. They were misplaced. The other housemates, equally as accustomed with Nikki’s habits and how to deal with them, just laughed at her. For all the solace she took to Pete, ultimately her reunification with the house didn’t work. Jennie was bored, while Pete felt the daggers nudging into his back. The public were simply not going to vote for her to win. She became in serious danger of having all the goodwill of the masses drawn away from her, especially in the final 24 hours when she evidently couldn’t disguise her envy at Pete’s ease alongside Aisleyne.

As Nikki’s revival ran cold, the final week was, by contrast, a hugely significant one for Aisleyne. Her curate’s egg status in the house – everyone has praised her or slagged her off at some point – meant that she couldn’t confidently predict that she wasn’t a pariah outdoors as well, as her only test of the public’s faith came when burpy Jayne’s crimes put everyone up, forcing Nikki out via a massively split vote. The fact that a considerable number of others were up against her meant that Aisleyne couldn’t take great comfort from survival, as she didn’t know whether she came second or 10th. Her days ever since have been made up of emotional extremities – either positive and femininely jovial, or in deep, depressive paranoia that the proles were itching for a proper chance to get her out. Her fears and hopes were never conclusively proved either way, and so she would simply have to wait to see how long she could hang on through the last night. However, perhaps unwittingly, BB helped Aisleyne’s cause for a good last hurrah no end.

A task was set whereby housemates, in the privacy of the Diary Room, had to guess which of their fellow room-mates had used various quotations in their final audition tapes prior to entering the house. The rest were fairly innocuous, but Aisleyne was horrified to see herself on the plasma screen 13 weeks ago, in baseball cap and street clothes, wearing lashings of hard make-up and in possession of – as Richard put it – a “trout pout”, claiming that if anyone crossed her, she would “fuck you up”. She came across as crass and ignorant, and Aisleyne saw that as clear as day. She was acutely embarrassed by her words and image, rightly, but immediately there was a ticking in public brains about how the BB experience had fundamentally changed her for the better, with Aisleyne still confrontational and brassy, but with a softened edge, less make-up and – after a mickey-take too many in the house – fewer “black” expressions in her dialogue. Within 24 hours of the video being shown, and of Aisleyne’s mortification (and apologetic tears in the toilet and Diary Room), the votes were stacking up and the official bookies made her a sudden second favourite.

On went the week, with more games and tasks given to the housemates in an effort to free up their tensions. With the exception of Jennie, who was feeling an outcast since Nikki’s return, the housemates felt freer than their compatriots in previous BBs have in the final week of their stay. The day of judgment was barely mentioned until Pete happened to tell Richard he wondered whether his achievements over the 13 weeks would count for anything were he not to win. This could have been a final piece of cynical vote-winning, especially as Pete had made it clear that his industrious mother was to be the sole beneficiary of any monies he picked up, but one feels that he earned the benefit of any doubts at all.

Glyn, Aisleyne, Richard and Nikki also talked of winning. Nikki’s mention of it seemed shallow in her situation, but although Glyn talked down his chances, certainly others in the house seemed truly convinced that it was him or Pete who would walk out last and that it was too close to call. I doubt they were being polite, as everyone recognised his entertaining life journey over 13 weeks as much as those outside did. It culminated in BB revealing his A level results on the penultimate night, with an A in art and E grades in English and Welsh (so low because he’d only half-completed his exams prior to entering the house) prompting a belly whoop of delight from the future undergraduate of Bangor University. His aims to be a teacher, a Plaid Cymru politician and the bloke who dethrones Prince Charles’ position as the Prince of Wales, remain on course.

As for Richard, he kept his glory ambitions for the Diary Room, reminding himself and us all that the money was just that, and with a sick mother waiting for him, he knew where his priorities lay, irrespective of where he was placed. All noble and befitting of a decent guy, described by Aisleyne as the “backbone” of the house, whose mischief and monologues have kept the nation regally entertained.

So, the final night arrived. Davina McCall, mere weeks away from her third child’s debut, did her regular patter of relentlessness when it came to the voting lines, squeezing every last drop of coinage out of an exhausted but loyal public. After some final brief house events (including a round of endorsement speeches for each housemate, which Aisleyne failed miserably to manage on a forgiving Pete’s behalf, incurring Nikki’s exaggerated wrath), we went through the traditional “housemates take a bow” routine. The still awful Shahbaz turned up, in Scottish motif shirt and tie combo and without lingering thoughts of suicide, while it was nice to see Bonnie come back, looking well but undoubtedly still browned off at the emphasis on her pronunciation (Davina: “Say your name for us one more time!”) and the way she sustained the first eviction through little of her own doing. George, the bescarfed posh lad who split because he didn’t like the idea of fame (and was missed for every subsequent day he wasn’t there), presumably thought he could still risk one more night of flashlights by coming along for the bunfight. Only the legally-barred Sezer and airbrushed fraudster Dawn did not make the trip, while Davina magnanimously made sure that Next Door outcast Jonathan got the cheers the Cumbrian doorman’s low-key eviction didn’t produce.

Then to business as the first eviction was announced. While Aisleyne began a verbal crusade, believing she would be out quickly and painfully, the announcement was for Jennie to say her farewells. Everyone knew that her time would be up before any of the more settled quintet around her, and her own discomfort in the last week over not being able to embrace Nikki’s return seemed to wrap her in too many chains for a final push towards voters. Less than 1% of the public thought she was a winner.

The pretty teenager had curled her hair and donned a businesslike white skirt (“I’m dressed as a girl!”) for her departure and smiled sportingly at the crowd, who gave her a warm response as the doors trundled open. In her interview under the big, ugly dome stage which adorns all BB finals, she made it clear she felt left out and ostracised by Nikki’s re-arrival (“All I felt that I did was make the butties and the good brews”), even though she regarded her closeness with Pete in the same way as she would with a girlfriend, and therefore wasn’t specifically jealous on a romantic front.

Bright, eloquent and tenacious, Jennie achieved much by staying until the end. She brushed off the distinct disadvantage of being one of the four housemates voted in from Next Door by Aisleyne, and gleefully broke the pattern (or the “curse” as she accurately described it) of turfing out the newbies by clinging on to the limit, surviving nominations with affluent ease. As Davina rightly pointed out, she was infinitely more mature than her 18 years (something from which Nikki, Grace and Lisa, all older, could learn) and her feistiness in argument was complemented by her ceremonious attitude and willingness to muck in, have fun, smile a lot and not be fazed.

Jennie’s basic problem was that there was nothing specific in her personality for the observant viewer to grasp on to, and ultimately everything she achieved was eclipsed by someone else doing it better. Her gatecrasher status, at a time when the housemates were settled in punters’ psyche, added to her barriers, but for all that, she could feel proud of her stint. While some of the long-gone tenants on housemates’ row were nonplussed by her as they’d never been introduced, she got generous applause from those who did make her acquaintance.

Five left. Aisleyne’s face suggested she couldn’t bear the tension as the big screen showed everyone back on the sofa, waiting for Davina’s next notice to quit. And, as if to prove that BB‘s manipulation of the public would only ever backfire at voting time, Nikki’s name was announced after only 6.5% of her former devotees felt she was a winner. She seemed shocked – and Aisleyne’s hilarious hungry-guppy expression flaunted her own incredulity that she had beaten Nikki – but quickly offered her cheek pecks, put her handbag over her shoulder and headed for the exit, as if she thought she had it sussed after her last go.

“Why are they booing?” she wailed, loudly, as she heard the banner-brandishing cretins issue less than complimentary sounds prior to the slide of the doors. The boos ultimately didn’t outstrip the more acclaiming noises from the live audience, but Nikki was aghast and rooted to the spot. Not for the first time, Davina had to take her hand and soothe her.

The interview was a disaster, both for the viewing public and the production team. Nikki was a fish out of water, bewildered and hurt by the reaction, and very simply wouldn’t listen to Davina’s patient effort at questioning, nor barely even acknowledge her existence. We got one cogent answer only (“scared”, when Davina asked Nikki how she felt) and the hostess, despite being three weeks from motherhood again, even knelt down in front of the ludicrous figure to try to cajole her, but this wasn’t happening.

Nikki wasn’t getting her own way, and didn’t have the charisma, intelligence or emotional strength to cast aside the jibes and get on with it. Although her brain doesn’t contain too much, you could see every cog trying to work inside her, probably struggling with rust as she failed to suss what was happening to her. “Can I go and sit over there with them?” she asked, pathetically, looking at the dual rows of ex-housemates. Davina gave up and let her go. Now the bedraggled anchor had to fill some time; almost 10 minutes had suddenly become available, and therefore an eviction not scheduled until the later screening was due to take place sooner.

From what I could work out, the third eviction was to be announced prior to the ritual half-hour interval to allow Jimmy Carr and Dave Spikey to be unfunny and get paid for it, but the person in question was not to leave until the return to Borehamwood afterwards, just like an average run-of-the-mill heave-ho. However, the truncated interview with the wretched Nikki left Davina with a gap to plug and, clearly performing the difficult talkback trick as she sifted through her script cards and spoke to the masses, she worked her way back towards the big screen and prepared for another departure.

With four left, it at last felt like the proper final. Usually it’s a quartet of finalists who face the blackball game and now we had them. I’m chuffed to say they were my final four of choice too. Pete, Glyn, Richard and Aisleyne probably couldn’t have predicted for sure which of them it would be, although Aisleyne remained convinced through her sound-offs within Davina’s set-up patter that each eviction would be hers. However, it was Richard, with 9.2%of the four-handed vote, who got this call to stairs.

Richard’s first thought was to bolster Aisleyne’s confidence further by pointing out where she now stood (“You see, Aisleyne? Third at least!”) prior to his stroll to the doors. Donning his favourite naval hat – the bald Richard always wore some sort of headgear except when in bed – he climbed the stairs with some nerves, but had no need to be concerned when the exit flung open.

The reception this layered, captivating housemate received was deservedly explosive, and he lapped it up. Two mock-plays for the physical attentions of the pair of beefcake-types guarding the door and balcony were followed by an almighty hug from Davina and an excellent interview.

Richard’s original BB profile included a morbid fear of pregnant women, which made the situation potentially troublesome for his interrogator. “When I was a boy, a woman’s water (sic) broke in front of me”, he explained, as Davina told him to look up rather than down, adding nicely, “You probably haven’t looked down there for a while, have you?”

On to business, with Richard enjoying a montage of daytime TV-esque “advice” clips from his many efforts to counsel housemates with problems, and the one-liners in the nomination process, which probably was the main key to his constant survival. Then he explained carefully his “plastics” theory (“The great thing about the plastics is that they can be reformed … they are very good people … have you not seen Mean Girls? Imogen was Gretchen Weiners, Grace was the queen bee, she was Regina George, and Nikki was the one who couldn’t remember her name!”) and his adoration for Nikki, Lea and Susie, plus the three still cocooned in the house. Clearly, as a more mature figure who has been through far more damaging life troubles than mere spats with potty-mouthed Lisa or insipid Imogen, he was happy to take all the ribbing with a pinch of salt and seemed delighted with his placing of fourth and his new BB record of six eviction escapes. He was a quite brilliant housemate, a high-value exponent of the Diary Room art, an exquisite but not evil wind-up merchant and a tidy mixture of caring and cunning. He made enemies in the house but even those who couldn’t stick him for much of a moment – Michael, Imogen, Grace – had to acknowledge that he was efficient.

Three remained now, and part two of proceedings would begin with someone coming straight out. The time alterations via Nikki’s dumbness dictated that the third placed housemate could be told of their impending ousting now but would get a 30 minute stay of execution while some surveys were read out in a disinterested manner and Sean Lock considered sacking his agent. As we grabbed the beers from the fridge and sent out final texts, the result of the whole of BB now seemed clear. Despite the huge deluge of extra votes for Aisleyne which had prompted a sharp slicing of the odds and a brief rise to second favourite, it seemed sure that her time was due after Richard’s departure. Sure enough, the London ghetto girl falsettoed her name over and over again during Davina’s regular, erm, pregnant pause prior to revelation, and at last she predicted correctly. Her defeatist nerves had gone; she now knew that beyond the jealous adolescents giving her shallow hell in chant form outdoors, a huge amount of public endorsement had come her way. The 22% of the vote she received suggests she was close to finishing runner-up, but at the very least she had poked some eyes out by ending as top female and was set to walk out humble and radiant to a good reaction. Half an hour later, she did just that.

Where did it all go right for Aisleyne? Well, probably from the start. My guess is that while her chameleon-esque status in the house riled the ill-educated knee-jerkers shouting her name week on week, the more watchful TV viewer saw someone not for a moment trying to cover up or suppress herself. Whether she was being amiable or awful, it mattered not a jot to her and the public noted this. Her battles with the likes of Grace and Lisa – who motivelessly castigated her in horrendous terms almost as soon as she arrived via a giftwrapped box in week two – were sometimes tough to watch, but always she stood her ground. She cried a lot, she wailed dramatically, she laughed eccentrically, she showcased her buttocks, she teased Spiral and Glyn and she used her obtuse “black” soundbites and got pummeled for it, but she learned, and she gained motivation from every good and bad event which encased her.

She also had quite a rough time through circumstance and the fate of the rule book where others didn’t, and I’m sure that the way she beat herself up over the Next Door device and harrowingly decided that Jonathan was not a worthy housemate earned her many fresh sympathisers. Her embittered but temporary run-ins with Nikki and Lea, and her obvious horror at the noxious individual on show as BB made everyone revisit bits of their final audition tape, all gained her ground. I also think some women took to her because, despite the make-up and clothing giving her a superb photogenic appeal, she looked refreshingly rougher than anyone else when the morning alarms sounded.

I initially underestimated her, but by week six I was telling a gambling friend of mine, who didn’t watch BB, to get something on her for top female. Jennie and Nikki’s final exoduses earned him £117, and I too felt pleased with myself as Aisleyne bounded out, looking relaxed for the first time all week, and ready to face her doubters head on. Quite a few of these were sitting in housemates’ row, and it was notable that anything which gained approval from the audience during a good interview with Davina was rebutted via stony, expressionless faces from some of the sorer losers on parade. As well as being the bitchiest BB for some time, it was also the most partisan, and Aisleyne had been in the thick of it.

“I don’t get it Davina, I don’t get it!”, she bellowed in some hysterics. Two weeks was the threshold she set herself after arriving as one of the replacements for Shahbaz and Dawn, but the complexity of her character kept her foot in the door as she watched montages of her different facets – hard Aisleyne, emotional Aisleyne, flirtatious Aisleyne, caring Aisleyne. She also scolded BB – correctly – for making her be the judge of five other people’s destinies which led to Jonathan’s unenviable status as the housemate BB never quite had.

With Aisleyne gone, the two safest presences in the house remained. They were both in a jumpy mood on the sofa (later we discovered this was because they both needed to expel some nervous urine and BB had banned them from leaving the lounge) and practised their shoulder choreography to pass the time. Though Pete’s status as favourite was secure and still likely to be borne out, Glyn’s many supporters could point to a dramatic voyage of discovery in their boy, as he arrived a wastrel sixth-former and lifeguard who’d ditched half his exams for the BB house and possessed no worldly experience at all. His first seven days were virtually wordless (not to mention suitcaseless) as he adopted the demeanour of a startled cat. Now, first or second, he was about to leave as an A1 grown-up and a credit to his parents who had learnt about women, catering, decorum, fashion, the perils of binge drinking and the need to appreciate different cultures. He had also done Wales a great service, and had the Cameron-like factor of a sizeable geographical block vote which Pete couldn’t call upon. And he was funny (his tricking of Nikki into saying, “I need a good arse whipping” in Welsh this week was absolutely priceless), never unlikeable and always a thoroughly good sort. Was it all enough?

Not quite. Pete took the prize and the title after the most drawn-out gap of tension Davina could muster, and the magnanimous, applauding Glyn managed to hug his dancing partner prior to watching him systematically wrecking the furniture in celebration of his achievement. Pete’s dreams had come true. And with 61% of the crucial last vote, they had come true relatively conclusively.

With a beanie hat hiding his unintentionally ginger hair and a dog tag round his neck courtesy of his main clothing adviser Mikey, Glyn took to the stairs, singing one of his favourite anthems, Here I Go Again. His grin was wide and his shouting was intense, especially when as Davina introduced him to his public, he noticed a Welsh flag being handed his way. Up it went above his head. He was as proud as anyone could possibly be of being a BB runner-up, and the assertion that he was, ostensibly, a nice, well brought up and perfectly normal young man was proved beyond doubt in his interview.

“Lea is the most attractive person I’ve ever seen,” he said, leaving the 35-year-old single mum in bashful raptures. Davina knew that some sexual awakening, albeit not in a graphic, physical sense, was important to Glyn’s blossoming in the house and needed to bring the subject up with him.

“I’ve spent half of this series apologising to your mother for bits we were about to show, including your lap dance,” she said. Glyn could only cheer. “[It was] awesome. I’ve never been to a strip club or anything like that. It was the best thing that could ever happened.”

But for all the minor irks and idiosyncrasies in Glyn’s make-up – frustration over Richard’s perennial (ie, completely deliberate) mispronunciation of his name, slowly learning to make spaghetti on toast with Lisa – it was the Welshness which made him open up to the crowd the most. “It’s important that we keep our language, so speak Welsh”, he cried, followed by the same statement in his own tongue.

“I just wanted everything to be Welsh, and just to stay in Wales, but now I want to see the world and everything like that, and different people,” said the reforming nationalist. A congratulatory message from Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of Wales, gave Glyn’s free plug for the province a major thumbs-up, though one can’t help but suspect that he saw precisely zero minutes of BB over the last 13 weeks on the grounds of always having something far better to do.

“You’re going to have the time of your life,” said Davina, as a pay-off. Even though Glyn was without £100,000 to spend, she was clearly right. But it was Pete, the Brighton singer, afflicted but never pitied, humorous but deep, frivolous but peaceable, who had earned the winner’s cash and sash. It was time for his public to greet him.

Pete had been steadily burning off his exhilarative energy during Glyn’s interview by rolling and kicking bits of furniture around the room. Now, his time had come.

Chatteringly incessantly to himself after Davina interrupted his impromptu assault course to tell him to come out, the bleached, mohawked singer was drunk on the excitement as the doors opened and the noise of crowd and fireworks hit him. Of course he milked it – this was Pete – and he ended BB as he started, by falling down the stairs to exit just as he had done to enter.

“No way!” he yelled as he hugged Davina tightly on the circular stage. A quick ad break later and we were ready to hear his reaction. Could a man whose Tourette’s was exacerbated by excitement and tension be satisfactorily interviewed?

After lots of tics and daft heckles, he got underway by telling of his premonition to get on the show and win it. “More than just the money, it meant a lot. Last year I went mad, completely bananas, and I was completely, absolutely at the end of my tether with life and all that, something bad had happened, and I had a huge visit from a mate in heaven …”

Before it got too tender, Davina introduced a montage of all the different squeezes, aside from his sweetheart Nikki, who had craved a piece of Pete over the 13 weeks. Lisa, Lea, Aisleyne, Jennie and an unexpected picture of Richard hugging Pete in mutual slumber all featured.

“I’m oblivious to it all, aren’t I? What was the question?”

The Tourette’s took over as Davina tried to probe his future plans with Nikki, while the issue of publicising his condition was also discussed. A fabulous hotch-potch of his best bits followed – goodness knows what was left on the cutting room floor – prior to the closure of the show for the final time, and Davina’s latest earnest preparation for one of her favoured home births.

BB remains a major player in Channel 4′s programming blueprint because a richly versatile and varied general public will always give the network confidence that this time it’ll be better. It’s coincidental that Channel 4 earned an earbashing from outgoing ITV big cheese Charles Allen as BB took its bows before a 7.7m audience, and then promptly won a gong for Best Terrestrial Network at the Edinburgh TV awards. Channel 4′s successes are always illustrated, in print or online, with a picture of the BB eye, sometimes with Davina or Dermot thrown in. The very name of Big Brother now defines Channel 4 in the way Brookside and Countdown used to. Anybody who believes BB is a spent force is watching BBC3 instead.

For all its strengths, this year was a real cocktail of highs and lows. The vetting of housemates can only go so far, and for every brilliant piece of recruitment (Pete, Nikki, Glyn, Aisleyne, Richard, Mikey), there was a stinker (Shahbaz, Grace, Lisa, Susie, Spiral, Sam).

I always despair of the innovations which go into BB – I want it to be stripped bare and handed over to the personality of the contestants for each week and then to the public for 24 hours of voting. Tasks and games are fine, but arbitrary decisions on whether someone can have their suitcase or not, enter the house through chocoholism or get an unethical second chance to win are not. If I’d ripped up a betting slip on the evidence before me of Nikki’s exit, I’d have been ready to sue Channel 4 when she went back in. It’s all publicity of course, but not of the type to stick on your press office’s walls or your official website, and not of the type which would protect the housemates involved.

Despite the lazy branding as a “freak show” which BB has received annually for the last three years, this was anything but. Nobody with any gravitas was absolutely extreme, nobody who made the grade did so through shock tactics or a political standpoint – there was no Kitten, no Marco, no individual with an axe to grind or an unrecognisable trait to leave viewers frightened or confused. There were bad housemates, but their shortcomings came predominantly through lack of intellect or inbuilt character flaws; the type which will never change no matter what intricate customisation to one’s beliefs or appearance one makes. The quality of the housemates was sound. The quality of BB‘s methods of shaking them up and whittling them down was not, although at no point did I want to stop watching, and the winner was the correct one. Enough housemates overall outmaneuvered the negatives, and I want to end on a high because I’ve enjoyed far more than I haven’t.

One last thing – Davina is always magnificent at BB. She’s on the tabloid “wanted” list thanks to that abominable talk show and her general presentation record away from BB, but to me the show is forever going to be stamped with her name. Her ability to empathise with each housemate and whip up a crowd cannot be underestimated. It’s live, it’s got a full press corps watching and it’s always prone to unpredictability thanks to the wannabes hoping to make their mark. Davina handled everything impeccably this year, and whatever projects fall by the wayside on her future CV, she will always, hopefully, be called back for BB.

Pete’s doing a gig with his band in my home city next month. I’ll let you know if any of his songs feature “sugary love”…


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