Big Brother

Friday, August 11, 2006 by

Dreams can come true. Imogen is out of the Big Brother house at last, and by some idiotic quirk Nikki’s found her way back in. I’m disgusted, but only on principle.

I’ve got the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Whatever my head and its ethical, rational cogs may tell me, my heart is delighted that the best female BB contestant in years will be in situ for the final night. Logic and that infamous shield of British fair play says she shouldn’t be in there, and certainly shouldn’t be in there as a contender for the main prize. But stuff logic, or at least, do so until she actually wins. She won’t, but it gives us an opening to clear our consciences and kick the stink up.

Nikki’s easily predicted return began after Mikey and Susie’s dual eviction when Davina McCall confirmed the usual tabloid spoilers that one ex-housemate was eventually going to go back in to the main house, via a shortlist of four in the Next Door extension, and regain the opportunity to win. As the weekend came and went (during which time the remaining tenants spookily talked about which ex-housemates they would love to see again), the bookies immediately returned Nikki to her slot of second in the running, behind Pete, which she had clung on to effortlessly until the votes split and she was chucked out, to BB’s horror, on just a 37% mandate four weeks ago. Frankly, even though on Tuesday night Davina also announced the names of three other ex-housemates of varying credibility whom the public had chosen to pop Next Door for a few days, it was a stark non-contest from the word go.

The very thought of having to watch Lisa, Susie, Spiral or Sam again was repellent, but they and most of the others were there, waving dutifully to the cameras, hoping forlornly for a second grab of the spotlight. The much more worthy Lea, Grace and Mikey were the ones who also took a place alongside the shoo-in Nikki, and although I could have done without the unpleasant Grace getting whiff of a reprieve and would have quite welcomed Jayne’s return (Bonnie or Sezer too, had they been able), this was pretty much the predictable outcome when one looked at the general mediocrity and desperation of the others in the shop window. Into the Diary Room they went via the camera run while Channel 4′s viewers went to the adverts, and upon the return to programming, we were watching the four homecomers gathering on the gold chair while those still in proper contention looked on aghast on their plasma screen.

So, here’s the deal. Viewers voted for this quartet to go into the Next Door house (where only Mikey had fleetingly been before when it was a prison, and never as anything more than a visiting guard) via a vote which saw all proceeds given to charity and prompted more than a thousand complaints to Ofcom over the idea of an evicted housemate being eligible (if highly unlikely) to win once again.

They settled in quickly and eventfully. Grace proved very swiftly that she has learned nothing from the large sackloads of vitriol thrown her way since her deranged exit after four weeks, returning quickly to slaughtering Aisleyne and patronising Glyn (who is a mere two years younger than her), while Nikki too had harsh words for Aisleyne – in fact, it’s hard to get harsher than “I hate her”, really. But that’s what she said.

Nikki’s old issues with Aisleyne lie with typical female self-consciousness and competition in the looks and conduct stakes, plus the ever-dominant Pete factor. Therefore, while Nikki distributed her brickbats at an unwitting Aisleyne, it was ironic and quite touching to hear her, through the joys of editing, telling the authentic housemates that she’d happily welcome Nikki back. That’s a blessing to us all. Ultimately, only Glyn wanted anyone else (Grace, oddly, rather than his big ally Mikey or infatuation figure Lea) to return, while Richard, Pete and Jennie joined Aisleyne in supporting Nikki. Imogen, true to form, said nothing, but perhaps had a reason for once – the reason being what Grace might do or say to her over Mikey if she ever got back in the house again.

This was entirely coincidental stuff, as by this stage nobody had told the remaining housemates that it would be up to them, at the end of the week, to decide which of their evicted colleagues they would wish to rejoin them for the 13th and final week. Those wandering Next Door knew and chose not to speculate, probably because their own excitement at a second chance was being tempered by the knowledge Nikki was streets ahead with the public, and probably with the remaining sextet through the wall (although only five would make the choice, as one had to be evicted as normal first). Nikki probably knew it herself but for once some modesty took over.

So, the four comebackers settled into their new digs for the night. Lea, who had seemed the least overwhelmed by her return, and the ever-crabby Nikki climbed into their big comfy beds, while Mikey and Grace nuzzled together again and resumed a heavy-petting arrangement last seen sometime in June. Before all this, there was the drama of a loony Glyn climbing on to the roof and risking his life (and all of BB‘s phone line profits in the shape of one big fine) as he leapt down the other side into what he assumed was the Next Door garden, as enjoyed by Aisleyne and the second wave of housemates, or the old Secret Hideaway beach which he and others had surreptitiously enjoyed during the week in prison.

He found bricks and mortar and some heavy-duty perspex. No door, no window. No access. So he hammered hard on the perspex, making enough noise to frighten Grace and concern Mikey, who had to convince his bed partner that it wasn’t him kicking the side of the bed as a gag. Glyn realised he was chasing rainbows and so climbed back on to the roof, as his housemates searched frantically for him. Eventually, with the aid of the leporine topiary in the garden, Glyn shinned back down and was immediately summoned with some sternness to the Diary Room. Aisleyne went with him and BB threw her out again, wanting Glyn to receive his health and safety lecture alone. He was in trouble and knew it. “I want to see my friends. I think I’m up this week and you won’t tell me, so I wanted to see them,” he whined in his strongest Welsh enunciation.

“Big Brother will get back to you,” was the reply. “Oh no, don’t do that,” beseeched Glyn. His appeals came through Next Door’s walls and Nikki opened the door – accidentally, as it happened – and heard him. He also heard gossipy whispers. “Grace? Grace, is that you?” he yelled, unwisely. Next Door now had their confirmation that the housemates knew of their return, and BB was very unhappy as Glyn received no response and left the Diary Room, unaware of his fate. Richard and Imogen scolded him for risking his life and his chances of victory for the sake of 10 days. Nikki received a telephone admonishment for “forcing” the back door to the Diary Room, which she argued strongly about.

Ah, Nikki’s back. It’s never dull again. Let Grace and Mikey re-acquaint their tongues with one another, let Lea dream of Pete and look forward to her Dolly playing house with Dicky again. Only one of them was actually going to see the finalists and be part of BB7′s nexus next week, and everyone Next Door knew deep down who it would be. And, as a fabulous two-in-one, not-to-be-beaten offer, Imogen was on her way out at the same time.

A blessing to the housemates and the public for finally combining properly and giving Imogen her cards, and just in time. The travesty of such a colourless, inarticulate, uncommitted and dull housemate reaching the final week through luck and fate would have been a serious lowlight of what has been generally an excellent, if divisive, BB run.

Imogen’s survival has always been based upon the proviso that she would be no emotional threat to the girls and the provider of common ground and unflaunted physical appeal among the boys. Her self-awareness came through because of a desire to be cautious and leave herself uncommitted in debate, while still taking in every word. I doubt, however, that this was a conscious game plan. Ultimately, I think she was so quiet and so unconfrontational because she wasn’t intelligent or daring enough to be anything else.

She snuggled up to Sezer, then rolled over without a backward glance to Mikey when the sardonic stockbroker got heaved, while playing the attentive big sister to Glyn and using their mutual Welsh tongue as a clever tool of making sure he at least had one massive reason not to nominate her. When she went all girlish with Susie in “best friends” week, one can only imagine the indignant cartwheels turned by Grace and Lisa on the outside, having previously supported Grace’s stance on Susie while never allowing herself to believe it in real incidents. Finally, it took one disagreement with Aisleyne and a proper bust-up with the brooding Mikey to make people notice her flaws, and the nominations started coming out.

Her prime nemesis, Richard, had been nominating her for week on week, progressively bemoaning her routine survival each time he was prompted into uttering her name again. He claimed she was vain, dull and not half as attractive as her use of femininity and past title of Miss Wales led her to believe. Befitting the genuine brilliance of all his stints in the Diary Room, he was cutting, mildly callous and slated her for laughs, but ultimately he wasn’t far wrong. Yet as the new final nominator following Susie’s dismissal, he very nearly cooked his own goose by admitting he had found this week hard due to a slight improvement in his relationship with Imogen. With Jennie exempt, and having already picked Aisleyne (who was nonetheless safe) he would have been forced to then nominate Pete or Glyn and, due to the votes they had already each accrued, would have automatically faced that person with the public vote. Consequently, Richard would have been evicted without any question at all. But by putting Imogen’s name forward again, he equalled her tally of three with his own. He wasn’t to know this, of course, but you could feel the tension as the nominations took their course and it seemed, for a little while, that Pete could be going up via the housemates for the first time, and that Imogen would be saved again.

However, as it was Imogen he was facing, Richard was apophthegmatically going to survive this one and his arduous run of avoiding eviction was extended to six times over as Imogen took the lion’s share of the vote and came down. For all my long-term reservations about her contribution and gameplan, it’s hard to find anything really stonewall and credible to dislike about her unless one is unappealingly churlish, and those dervishes who attend BB evictions had seemingly little to hold against her as doors opened and she left to some refreshingly good cheers.

Imogen and Richard had been sent Next Door by BB for the final 48 hours prior to the result, leaving the remaining quartet of Pete, Glyn, Aisleyne and Jennie behind in the knowledge that they had not had the chance to say goodbye to one person properly. During this weird period, when we found ourselves watching a group of housemates who had more non-runners than contenders, Nikki let slip about Richard’s blessed “plastics” tag, which prompted a lot of hurried, awkward explanation to a confused Imogen, while Grace mentioned unmaliciously that she knew of Richard’s tag for her (Horseface Grace), thereby putting the Canuck into even more of a squeeze, this time with someone who had no right to be in the same room as him. This didn’t seem fair at all, and exposed the shambolic logistics of having evicted housemates cooped up with those who have remained cocooned. Suddenly, we didn’t know what was sayable and what wasn’t. It all got blurry and hard to watch. Richard was in all sorts of bother and could have expected a little more protection from BB, especially given his impeccable survival rate which should have earned him some respect from the masters.

Still, it ultimately wasn’t to be to his detriment, as when Friday came, Davina announced Imogen’s name. The Welshwoman’s gleeful reaction – she had made many weepy noises about wanting to see her mother – was in stark contrast to that of Glyn, who was seriously disappointed at losing his linguistic partner, and Aisleyne, who burst into the sort of sobs only she can emit. Imogen went to the exit directly from Next Door, with an extra doorman on parade to make sure neither she nor the competing housemates left behind could gain access to her via the traditional leaving route.

One thing that irritates me about some BB contestants, past and present, is the way they can change upon release from the house, either for better (Adele, Gos) or worse (Spencer, Federico). The adrenaline of a favourable reaction, the joy of seeing her family and the relief of knowing the public scrutiny was over brought out a sunny, talkative side to Imogen in her interview with Davina which was totally alien to the sour, silent, conformist, uncommitted robot who had been on the telly for a dozen weeks.

Davina had the foresight to scold Bonnie when the Loughborough care worker changed from a moody grouch into a grinning chirper in the short time between eviction and interview, when she was the first to be chopped back in May. Davina’s reasoning was that the new Bonnie could have survived had she had that persona in the house (although in truth, the then-shirtless Glyn would still have won that particular vote, even though it was the first week and he’d barely said a word). However, clearly Imogen’s achievement in doing 12 of the 13 scheduled weeks, avoiding a couple of evictions and emerging to an unlikely heroine’s welcome overhauled any thoughts in that direction. And, in the interview, I liked Imogen for the first time as she happily shrugged off the “plastic” label, endorsed Glyn, praised Mikey and generally came across as engaging and, well, nice. Grrr.

Imogen’s chief role in the house was as decorational matter for two of the alpha males – initially Sezer, then when he was ditched conclusively after a fortnight, along came Mikey. It was notable therefore that even though her liaisons with these two were her most memorable contribution to the watching experience, her best bits featured barely a shot of Sezer at all, even despite the further issue of her disqualification from nomination for the first fortnight due to conspiratorial rule-breaking with the London stockbroker. This was BB continuing to juggle the prickly issue of Sezer’s right to status as an innocent man with a need to put a discreetly safe distance between him and the programme and keep the PR bods busy.

With Imogen gone, BB instructed Richard to return to the main house instantly and stop in the Diary Room on the way. He collected an envelope from the chair and followed instructions to read the contents immediately to the other real contenders as soon as he returned. By now, Glyn had received his punishment for his spot of zealous abseiling, banished to a locked bedroom by BB, and so when Richard read the instructions that the housemates had one minute to decide which of the four exes they wanted back, Glyn was barred from taking part.

Glyn’s peccadilloes meant it was curtains for all three outsiders Next Door, although even with him involved, Grace was still toast, as the prospect of Aisleyne (who hated her) and Jennie (who had never shared the house with her) voting for the gobby dancer was a non-starter. Any chance Grace had to endear herself a little to Jennie was lost when, having turned 21 during the week and been given 21 minutes with her old housemates as a present, Grace promptly ignored Aisleyne with great deliberation and did little more than say “hi” to Jennie, instead choosing to explore the house, talk to a thrilled Glyn and check on Pete’s well-being on behalf of Nikki. Grace, whose shameless bitching and complete lack of self-awareness had been her ugly downfall first time round, had learnt nothing. Indeed, she seemed to be playing on her status as a hate-figure. Either that, or she knew full well that she had no chance of beating Nikki in the quest to become fully-fledged again and therefore just used her time to create mischief and amuse herself. After all, until BB told Grace to return, a ferocious-looking Aisleyne had no idea how long Grace would be staying, and Grace was in no rush to tell her.

With Glyn involved, he might have made a case for his mega-crush Lea to return, as certainly Pete and Richard also loved her company and Aisleyne and Jennie were good compatriots of the chested one. But all Lea got was shouted apologies from the electorate as again the debate returned to Nikki, and the argument that Pete needed her. Those who viewed the reprieve for one evictee with disdain and cynicism saw BB‘s risk bear fruit there and then, as Nikki got everyone’s approval, and the other three were all asked to leave together. Needless to say, Grace got booed loudly again, and managed to call Aisleyne a “moose” one more time. If I never see that abhorrent woman in print or vision again I’ll be extremely happy.

Nikki was then ushered next door, and although she found a chance to embrace Aisleyne, Jennie and a liberated Glyn, it was obviously for Pete that she reserved her tenderest and longest greeting. Indeed, such was its poignancy, it felt really intrusive – bit of a problem when it’s not only being filmed, but it’s being shown live on telly and an enormous big screen outdoors – and prompted the other housemates to leave them to it and retire to the lounge. Then, in a fine bit of unplanned spontaneity, Davina entirely missed her cue as she too was transfixed by the reunion of Pete and Nikki on the big screen and had to make a mock-apology when she finally turned round to her camera. It was possibly deliberate, but it doesn’t matter. It worked. It was funny.

However, the issue of Pete and Nikki’s togetherness merely adds more fuel to the fire that BB chose to manipulate public opinion by planting Nikki back in the house as a riposte for its bread and butter punters having the nerve to evict her in the first place. Nikki, although still as entertaining, had proved during her stint Next Door that she was now entirely aware of the act expected of her, and a week would lay ahead of her where her knowledge of her own importance could make or break the chances of both herself – as a former second favourite with the bookies – and Pete of winning BB. Pete’s top dog status has never been seriously threatened, and now’s the time to see if it will. Essentially, BB has risked its priceless reputation to preserve that of one of its housemates. That seems careless and unsporting. No wonder Jennie, a bright and likeable girl but the clear rank outsider, looked so glum as Nikki’s reincarnation was completed. Bad enough was it that her own pleasure in Pete’s company had been eradicated before her very eyes, but now she has even less chance of winning BB than before – and before she had no chance.

Pete’s happiness has now been secured for the final week. It was helped by his much-craved letter from his mother awarded to him via Imogen during the lifesize BB board game which lit him up no end (and, for all the absolute joy one could share in Pete’s own elation, and the terrific television it made, slightly annoyed me again over this issue of outside contact), during a task where Richard had to sit in the pool while dressed as a banana and Jennie, as winner, received her free pass to the final. Gone are the chances of Pete deciding to do a runner and proving right the observers who assume that a Tourette’s tic equates to insanity and self-destruction. As the final week of an exhausting BB experience approaches, he’s still going to win. Glyn and Richard are still going to leave to enormous acclaim. Aisleyne will divide folk in both voting and reaction, and Jennie will be first out to cheers of appreciative sympathy.

The main question now is whether a second dollop of the Nikki tantrum-and-tiara schtick will still charm the public, or whether – like a joke being told to you twice – it’ll get a little tiresome once you know too much. My feeling is that Nikki might not be in as strong a position as she hopes. BB‘s decision to dismiss the public’s decision and pass her off as a bona fide contender is likely to cause consternation for many a week ahead, long after Nikki and the rest have gone back to obscurity. Meanwhile, it will be fun watching and finding out.


Comments are closed.