Big Brother

Friday, August 4, 2006 by

It’s been an atrocious week for Mikey, and his sudden, grievous demise and eviction sums up the ruthlessness of Big Brother. After 10 weeks of relatively effortless surfing of the wave, his fall into the drink was quick and spectacular.

The Iranian-born boy adopted by the north west had already been put before the nomination panel of several million pairs of glazed eyes by the time he went through the two arguments which ruined his chances.

Suffering from a hangover and a hang-up, he turned Scouse adolescent Jennie’s simple inquiry about some missing wine into a multi-layered accusation about lies, stupidity, interruption and thoughtlessness. The bright teenager was unafraid and stood her ground well enough for Mikey to look like nothing but a bully and a grump afterwards.

Later, in a straightforward conversation with Glyn and Imogen about evicted Mancunian cat-lover Michael, Mikey claimed Glyn was being “not very nice” about some observation the Welsh lad had, and Imogen defended her countryman.

Now, the way both Mikey and Imogen allowed a very strong and flawless flirtation to break down so rapidly over the next hour or so was extraordinary. Mikey wasn’t in the mood. As Imogen tried to make him see reason, about both his comment to Glyn and his generally volatile mood, Mikey had little inclination to listen. He snapped back and then toddled off.

A later attempt to sort out the muddle led to a further argument between the two kindreds, which began while Mikey still had his semi-apologetic arms round Imogen’s neck. They didn’t stay there very long. Mikey’s pay-off line of, “you’re just trying to look good on TV” was priceless, given that is literally all Imogen has opted to try in 10 weeks. Maybe he knew it all along; that Imogen’s brand of self-awareness tactics were a good thing to cling on to, taking his chance effortlessly and effectively the moment Sezer and Grace were out of the picture. Now he has had to face the music.

He was nominated in a four-hander with Imogen, the ever-unimpressive Susie and his prime nemesis, Jennie. Of his three fellow nominees, only Susie had gone for him herself, with Canuck waiter Richard and stargazing London ghetto girl Aisleyne the others putting a vote his way. They all had an issue with Mikey’s one-dimensional nature of argument – his manner of shouting someone down without any sense of guile was no more prevalent than when he made Jennie feel very small over an otherwise numb makeshift game of rounders in the garden. Nikki, albeit in a semantically different manner, summed up Mikey during a task several weeks ago when she said, “you are impossible to argue with”. Imogen and Jennie – and to a lesser and sillier extent, Glyn and Aisleyne – have discovered it to their cost this week and not liked it, but ultimately Mikey felt the cost himself.

Those on his side aimed their nomination Jennie’s way instead, while Susie and Imogen both got the brunt of feeling over vanity and caution. Four-handers are rare, and I felt smug when I saw whom the nominees were, as the remaining quartet – Pete, Glyn, Richard and Aisleyne – were my bold tip for the last choices on the final night. Had I not lost my bottle and done a massive sub-editorial cull of the last review prior to submission, you’d have seen it for yourself. True story.

Susie was installed, rightly, as favourite to go, but the two major rows which showed off Mikey’s darker side led to serious betting which in turn prompted a wholesale slashing of the odds. And Imogen yet again escaped unscathed, with the BB audience seemingly unaware of her complete lack of a discernible contribution. Richard, having described her previously as, “like herpes – she won’t go away” among other things, once again bemoaned her status as chief mirror-hogger and waist-shaker whenever a smidgeon of music belts through the speakers. He’s tough in his language and does it for effect, but he’s right. Imogen has made zero contribution since the first day – even in arguing with Mikey she failed to develop any viewer sympathy, for all his indiscretion – and yet she’s managed 11 straight weeks with barely a sideways glance at the exit. She and Susie were very, very lucky to be still in the house at this latest eviction stage – and neither seemed remotely grateful for the fact that they’re there at all. Imogen stares, says “babes” a lot, and watches debate rather than instigates it; while Susie does the housework, whinges at the younger housemates and uses annoyingly mature instincts and an obvious awareness of her own image to maintain decorum, even when BB tries to open up her personality and enforce a reaction.

The closest to this occurring came at the start of the week, as BB left a bidet-sized postcard “from” Margate on the lounge floor, claiming to be on a break there, and setting up an automated message system, with a keypad of a size Dom Joly would have been proud, in the Diary Room. Housemates had to press one to leave a Diary Room entry, two to make a request and three to leave. As if to ape all automated communication systems, the female voice was slightly too reassuring, soundbites were followed to the letter (“Your Diary Room entry is important to us and will be answered shortly”) and in the event of someone randomly being put on hold, insipid muzac would be played, rather loudly, for a length of time deemed suitable for the housemate in question.

Susie, when she heard about this, declined to visit the Diary Room until she was obliged to at nomination time. As the last housemate alphabetically, she had heard everyone’s stories of how one was to be pressed prior to the first nomination, two prior to the second, and three for confirmation. Straightforward, it seemed. But Susie, on pressing one, was told she was in a queue. On came the muzac. At first she laughed and expressed her amused dislike of such systems in the real world. But the music went on, and on, and on, until she got genuinely rattled, especially when the message system interrupted and told her she was seventh in the queue, then sixth – and then sixth again, and again, and again …

“I was sixth last time!” complained an agitated Susie. She was cross, but wasn’t letting her guard drop. Despite the pre-broadcast surveys claiming she was the least intelligent housemate (which we found out at the start of the week; we also discovered Aisleyne was the most Machiavellian – an expression she misunderstood but took to mean deceptive and fraudulent, causing sobs in the Diary Room and a full explanation from all news outlets on what it really meant), Susie was wise enough to realise that BB was trying to de-shell her, get her to show a more emotional side beyond mild grumbles about hygiene, tea-making and bedtime discipline. It was entirely deliberate.

What on Earth was Susie ever doing in the house? Her history, dug up after the Golden Housemate’s sacred path was opened before her, suggests that she has tried and failed numerous times in the past to get on BB. Yet upon finally achieving her ambition – at no little expense to a husband who sounds awfully henpecked – she spent her rolling weeks of televised incarceration displaying regimented housekeeping skills, condescending attitudes to the more youthful attitudes about their habits and noise and a quite appalling tendency to turn up her nose at anything which didn’t interlock with her own lifestyle choices.

She was an awful bore, a person whose complete lack of humour and empty outside existence pulled naggingly at the stances of the other housemates, who couldn’t express themselves fully whenever she was in earshot. She didn’t deserve the dreadful treatment the immature Grace gave her in her first week, but afterwards she unwittingly helped the atmosphere crash down over her head. Lisa, not necessarily categorised as deep and perceptive, got it right in her own eviction interview when she moaned that all Susie does is, “drink tea and got to bed at half 10.” Susie never used the pool, took to tasks begrudgingly, never swore (even mildly, except in a brief spot of man-bashing with Aisleyne), barely offered sympathy at lower moments, exposed appalling middle-class snobberies and was sometimes spineless and cruel, not least when a foolishly drunken Glyn was being very, very ill and while the humane Mikey desperately tried to nurse his young buddy through his copious retching, all she could concern herself with was the smell and the carpets.

Still, in a latterly revealed twist via the Friday tabloids, she’s now out too. A second consecutive double eviction was something I’d prayed for when I saw the nominees, although I was looking more at Imogen and far less at Mikey. The Welsh statue might still be in there, but at least Susie is out.

But so too, of course, is Mikey. The most believable and seemingly straightforward of the seven males who entered the house, he remained the most believable and straightforward of everyone, females included, by the time the public opened the trapdoor. Mikey’s nomination came before all his major rows – Aisleyne and his close ally Glyn also felt the receiving end of his irritable disposition – and so the housemates put him before the public not believing for a second that he was going to be ripe for a fall.

Like Sezer in the second week, Mikey’s facial reaction upon hearing his name at crunch time suggested he was not expecting to go, but unlike Sezer, at least he’d acquired 11 weeks of gravitas and propriety to enable housemates and public alike to believe him when he said “I’m cool, it’s fine” as the others rushed in to comfort him. His immediate call to the exit jumpstarted Susie’s underused brain cells as she worked out that eviction night wasn’t going to be over the moment Mikey emerged from the sliding doors and into the abyss of flashlights and catcalls. He quickly and unfussily said his goodbyes to everyone, paying special attention to a distraught Glyn and a flummoxed, suddenly unsafe Imogen.

His reception was mixed – frankly, the idea of Mikey being booed by this bunch of cretinous turnips who go to BB eviction nights stinks to high heaven – but he took it all in his stride and gave a candid, sporting interview to Davina McCall, who clearly liked him and admitted herself that she thought he was going to be there until the end.

“I had a bad week, I know,” admitted Mikey, as the sequence of arguments was shown back to back. Of course, it’s worth pointing out for the purposes of impartiality that his arguments were largely justified, with the notable exceptions of his over-sharpness with Jennie and his ridiculously excessive tirade at Glyn during a game of pool. In the past he has certainly emerged as a champion for putting Richard in his place over his obsequiousness to Susie, and his rightful admonishment of Susie herself over her vocal mistrust of him, not to mention her misconduct when Glyn was vomiting everywhere.

Mikey was never a winner, admittedly. His star quality didn’t quite come through in the way which made Pete and Glyn the more obvious contenders for the BB crown and the £100,000 in readies. But he was a very consistent housemate and also – as even Susie admitted – a highly conscientious figure. He appreciated the blood and guts nature of nominations and never bore grudges, even when Richard was at his most bothersome, and beyond the minor tiffs, emerged through his 11 weeks with barely a scratch on his reputation. Though in interview he said he was happy and proud of his time – as he should be – one can’t help but feel he is cursing his sudden change in temperament which probably cost him a place in the final. Lastly, it’s also worth adding that he did not deserve to go when looking at the three who faced him, and the survival of Imogen at his expense galls those of us who believe in the original BB ethics of promoting human nature. One can only assume that Wales is voting en masse.

Now Susie. Evicted 45 minutes later without any formal pomp in the lounge, she emerged to a similarly mixed bag of responses and, true to her conduct in the house, she didn’t care a fig what anyone else thought of her. I can’t recall anyone who has gone into the house for “exposure” purposes quite so blatantly and publicly as Susie has, and though one can, on balance, admire her candour, it doesn’t ultimately do her or BB any favours. One now can see more than ever why she kept being turned down for BB‘s passim. Enigmatic wasn’t the word for her, despite her deliberate tendency to cut herself off from the general hustle and bustle of the house except when it was absolutely necessary to be involved. She played mother, but the sort of nightmareish, symbolically-driven, over-proud mother who hears but never listens, and judges but doesn’t understand. Her barky instructions to the hyper teenager Glyn to not mess about in the garden because she was sunbathing was scandalous, while her general lack of humour, guile and life skills was thrown into the mix for everyone to see on so many occasions. She didn’t swear and put on awfully disapproving faces when someone did; she tried to commandeer the garden necessarium as, “her own personal toilet” even after she’d ended her golden stint and no longer had exclusive rights; and the reaction on her face when Jayne – a mother and a mature lady like Susie – arrived and promptly burped, swore and broke all the rules told a million stories about who she really is.

In her last week, during the intriguing University of Big Brother task, she and Richard (the only housemate who had any long-term appreciation of her) were told to learn some rudimentary Welsh, and everything I knew I disliked about middle England came to the fore when she described it as, “a false language” and, “tedious”. Glyn would have gone ape at her, and quite rightly, if he’d heard, especially as he was chuffed at the thought of two non-Welsh housemates learning bits of the tongue of which he is so proud and did all he could to help. I visit France a lot and speak my best stab at French all the time I’m there – Susie reminded me of the many Englanders who visit or emigrate to Europe and make no effort to blend in or learn even the very basic local terms.

Susie was treated to the “exposure” (her word, in her Davina interview) she wanted but I find it impossible to believe that any company in television will want to help her fulfil her ambitions to become a presenter. She’s witless, boring and has considerable inexperience of the real world for a woman of her age. Give her an autocue and an earpiece and she’ll fall to bits. Once the spite of Grace had been removed from the equation, the other housemates found it tough to dislike Susie (not least because of her domestic skills) but suddenly the element of fun and relaxation and hedonism had evaporated. People checked for Susie’s presence before telling a dirty joke, talking about sex or generally extolling youthful attributes. Susie’s whole conduct was flawless when measured against her own personal values, but she doesn’t have much left for the real BB viewer. She’s no Nigella – and I don’t mean on a catering front either. Domestic goddesses have to be likeable as well as picturesque and coherent.

Susie defended her conduct as Davina had a bit of a rip at her. “Well, what was I supposed to do?” she asked with genuine incredulity when Davina questioned her generally dormant actions beyond the basic housekeeping she fulfilled during her weeks. It became a distinct possibility as Susie told of her dislike for the drinking, skylarking and teasing culture of BB that she may well have never bothered watching the programme at all. Either that or she was even more thick than she let on – only a seriously deluded individual would go on to BB with a stark disapproval or ignorance of everything it involves and naturally provides. Future housemates with Susie’s gameplan should bear in mind that it’s about entertainment, as without viewers tuning in, all your starry-eyed ambitions will remain unfulfilled. Susie’s final observation was that if it didn’t work then, “okay, I’ll go back to being a housewife”. I think she’ll be back in housewifery quicker than she imagines. If she gets a job on telly then we might as well cut the electric off.

Six remain then. Imogen’s continuing survival remains a great mystery, and certainly I’d have been at my most cock-a-hoop following a BB eviction if Imogen and Susie had been slung out. But she’s still there and has to be dealt with. Of the six, she’s surely sixth. But maybe she’ll end up seventh. Yes, Davina looked straight at the camera and announced, without a hint of resigned desperation in her voice, that the old Tickle trick of BB4 was being repeated, with one old housemate eventually going back into the mixer, via the house Next Door (presumably no longer a prison then), to reacquaint themselves with BB. The three housemates not evicted by the public – insane Shahbaz, cheat Dawn and the splendidly noble George – were ineligible, as were Sezer and the unfortunate Bonnie, who were barred for “legal reasons”, of which the issue over Bonnie certainly remains a mystery. Cumbrian bouncer Jonathan was also not deemed entitled to be in the running after not making the main house from Next Door.

So, let me remind you – splenetic dancer Grace; half-completed transsexual Sam; sweary million-a-day-smoker Lisa; scaffolding-bosomed manipulator Lea; royally spoilt new E4 star Nikki; belching gob-on-stick Jayne; uptight gay apostle Michael; and world’s worst rapper Spiral, plus the just-out Mikey and Susie, all now have their names attached to phone and text lines again, and four will go Next Door, without the remaining housemates knowing. What a choice. One of these housemates (or, to put it another way, Nikki) will then win a public vote to return to the main house – and be eligible to win the whole shebang.

This is the sticking point for me. If someone whom the public has fairly chucked out then returns to the house and usurps those already inside to collect the loot, then yet again – after the letters from home fiasco of last week – BB‘s basic principles have been compromised. Actually, more than that – they’ve been sliced apart. Although only Nikki has any real hope of this mammoth achievement, nonetheless BB would be turning its back on the public who paid money to vote her out (albeit when they shouldn’t have) in the first place. And anyone who laid a bet on Nikki’s success and not unreasonably tore up their betting slips after she got the boot will be surely seeking legal advice.

Nikki’s return, like that of Jon three years ago, will only benefit the house. Everyone inside and outside will be hugely glad to see her. But that’s where Jon’s remit ended, beyond some deliberate mischief-making which his brain allowed him to do. He wasn’t under pressure to conform, as he couldn’t win and therefore was free to shake up the remaining housemates who were all in one large clique.

Nikki isn’t anywhere near clever enough to carry out a similar remit, so why does BB feel the need to put anyone back in? There are only two weeks left, and those still in the house have really earned the chance to fight among themselves for the prize and the pride. All the proceeds – not 28p in the pound, or whatever the normal rate is – from the phone and text voting will got to charity, said Davina. Fine. But they could have done that with another proper public vote next time round, instead of ripping up the statute book first.

The quintet of Pete, Glyn, Richard, Aisleyne and Jennie is still a varied, interesting, well-rounded set of housemates to contest the business end of BB7. Imogen’s prolonged residency is regrettable, but not terminal. She isn’t going to win, as Wales will surely side with the splendid Glyn if ultimately it goes that far. Novelties aren’t needed at this late stage of BB, especially if 13 weeks of isolation, patience and anxiety all get ruined at closing time because of someone who spent part of the term securing TV contracts, meeting bona fide celebs and getting blotto on far more expensive champagne than that which the house shopping budget would allow.

Pete and Glyn certainly deserve to be treated better for the decorum and entertainment value they’ve brought individually to BB7; Richard also for his impeccable, exhausting record at avoiding the axe. They’ll greet Nikki (it will be Nikki, of course) with shrieks, hugs and warm embraces.

But by the time they all leave, their attitudes could be different, and that’ll be down to BB. It wouldn’t be a question of responsibility, but a question of blame. I hope they know what they’re doing, and I hope Pete, who is getting more reflective and solitary, doesn’t meanwhile throw a wobbler and quit, as he remains the mainspring of making sure that a topsy-turvy and controversial BB7 at least ends with a proper winner.


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