Big Brother

Friday, July 13, 2001 by

In its final stages now Big Brother is reaching the point where, for me, it became most interesting last time round. Less people means more time for the remaining participants. More evictions mean a higher awareness amongst the housemates of both the impending end of the show and of their own mortality within it. More interaction between the last few with less interruptions means a far greater chance to evaluate their characters.

The missing link this year of course, is the absence of scandal. Regardless of what tabloid newspapers may parade on their front pages, Helen and Paul holding hands for a split second in the dark does not a Nasty Nick make, and although at that time last year I felt that the entire Nick palaver was overdone I begin to crave an episode that would be at least as noisy if perhaps not as compelling.

But this is a result of what I feel has become the central motif of Big Brother 2; the extreme consciousness of the housemates to the presence of the cameras and the attentions of the audience beyond. It seems obvious that this has been a major influence on the housemates this year to a far, far greater extent than in last year’s show. One could sense, for instance, that the participants in BB1 had very little idea of the attention they were drawing in the outside world and were genuinely surprised to be confronted with the proof of this by Davina when they emerged from the house after eviction. In BB2 it’s been particularly apparent during the last week that a preoccupation with the media has tempered both the actions and words of the housemates to a greater or lesser extent (depending upon their overall engagement with the show).

With six housemates this week we were presented with a situation that mathematically was only going to be offered to us once; three couples. With a tidy purpose, fate decreed that these should be a fairly interesting clutch: Dean and Elizabeth, Paul and Helen and Josh and Brian (Maw, Paw and the kids). Although there has been much talk of the most interesting members of the house having been voted out early we can at least give thanks that we have been left with Brian and Helen (especially Helen) to hold our attention – both the most vocal of the housemates. Dean and Elizabeth, in contrast prompt very little reaction from the viewer. It’s difficult to say much about either of them other than that neither have very much to say about themselves. Oasis of calm to some, boggy morass to others they have proved to be stayers and will, I think, make for fascinating nominations next time round.

While Josh has remained very much a background influence, Paul has rather come into his own this last week with the most direct reasons for a nomination of the series so far. On nominating Josh he asserted that his nominee had been less than frank about his sexuality and had disturbing character traits identified as “slimy” and “poncy”. This strayed from the path the others had taken both in this and previous weeks and clearly highlights an acute awareness of the audience. The others had taken what could be described as almost a coward’s road in claiming that their nominations for one person were purely as a result of them not getting on as well with them (or “gelling”, would you believe) as some others (but not because they dislike them, mind you). The players in the original had also developed this to a certain extent (Darren nominating Craig and presenting it almost as a favour to him so he could spend some time with his business; Craig nominating Darren so that he could spend more time with his family) but never to this extent. Paul, however, decided to come clean and make his feelings (genuine or not) known. In this he may have differed from the others in what he said – abandoning the stock answer – but not in his motive, I think. Perhaps Paul has come to realise that the time has now passed for sitting in the background and not saying or doing much.

(As an unkind thought, if he is – as the assumption of all the participants seems to be – looking for a career in television, he would not be able to achieve that without generating some interest in himself by whatever means, nominations or otherwise.)

Certainly Paul was not the most visible of the housemates during the opening weeks but he still managed to rack up an impressive slew of nominations (and an even more impressive run of avoidance). I suspect he now realises that what is needed is a rather more strident approach. Identify a constituency and play to it. Exploit antipathy to Josh and benefit from it. It surely can’t have missed his attention that Brian has not been nominated once and the massive popularity of Brian must be seeping into the house in ways that manifest themselves to the other housemates. So who antagonises the most popular character? Work off that and gain kudos by it. Perhaps I am too devious or cynical (perhaps I credit Paul with too much intelligence) but the appearance of strategy in his nominations (and in his increasing interest in Helen) is only the tip of the iceberg, I think, in what will become a very tactical game in the Diary Room.

For himself, the week’s evictee, Josh, proved adequately that, apart from faintly antagonising Brian and apparently irritating Paul, he was a character we could live without. The result of the vote (he was evicted by a massive majority over Helen) only proved that this was a TV star the public were fed up with. Before he arrived he promised (among other things) naughtiness and nudity. Nudity we got. Naughtiness? I think not. And not many characters on television have managed to turn the public against them with just a pair of trousers.

What Josh’s eviction must result in at the very least is Brian’s realisation (surely) that by now he is all but untouchable in the race for the prize. The others, naturally one would think, must realise this also (although I’m not so sure about Helen) and that might make for a more interesting dynamic. Certainly I will be listening intently to what new reasons the remaining contestants might be able to concoct for the eviction of the others whilst maintaining their image as lovely people in the eyes of the public. If only they knew that most of the public have made up their minds about them already.


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