Big Brother

Friday, July 4, 2003 by

They’re rather enjoying their innovations at Big Brother headquarters this year. Lots of chins have been stroked and as a result, lots of viewers (not to mention a handful of housemates) have been left a touch confused.

More than confused, sections of the fiercely loyal band of BB enthusiasts have found themselves rather disconcerted and detached from the show this year, if the viewing and voting figures are anything to go by. While previous BBs had their respective problems, not too much innovation was brought in to alleviate the predicament, relying instead, correctly, on confidence in the hand-picked tenants to raise their game and save the blushes and careers of their mentors.

Last year’s one piece of originality was more than enough to make a memorable, if rather disjointed, series of Big Brother. The rich-poor divide encouraged cliques, exacerbated early differences and brought out the worst in the housemates, or from a consumer’s viewpoint, the best in them. What made it so much more compelling was the timing – let them settle for a fortnight, get the bars up, keep them there until everyone is unashamedly fighting their own corner, then dismantle them and let the grudges roll on. Unpleasant it may have been for the housemates and their concerned families, but it brought initially lightweight and one-dimensionally unappealing folk like Alex, Jonny, Adele and Jade out of their self-protective shells. Cameras didn’t exist when ego and ill will did.

There wasn’t a great problem at the time, but BB nevertheless found the perfect solution and it made for occasionally invigorating television. It was essentially the saviour of the genre.

This year, with the emphasis on togetherness and teamwork, BB‘s remedy for the consequential problem of boredom among sadistic viewers hoping for catfights and heated spats has been to move the goalposts on almost a weekly basis. Two of these rule changes had a dismal effect; a housemate ultimately being evicted on the strength of her first half-hour indoors; and the (not overstated) heartbreaking double eviction of the two most engaging competitors. For the better part, the third rule change – the bi-continental tenant swap – clawed back some of the sincerity, but that was far more down to the way Cameron carried it out than the idea per se. So BB must be hoping for a quick equaliser, but at this stage, they look unlikely to get it.

Previous latecomers to the BB house have been replacements for absconders, with last year’s two – Sophie and Tim – both emerging as memorable and important competitors, if for completely different reasons. However, with the double eviction of Federico and Jon raising questions about whether only a trio of housemates would see the programme through to the last evening, BB answered the query by bringing in a new housemate just 24 hours after the eviction of Tania.

And so, at the halfway point, we have Lisa to contend with. It is plainly irritating that, having just got into the comfort zone with all the housemates and formed our own opinions about each, suddenly BB has decided to foist another headline-seeker upon us.

The Saturday night challenge – a rather lazy and deceptive game of straw-drawing (deceptive because all the straws were of the same length) – allowed the six remainders to wander into the reward room in pairs, each to be confronted by the sight of a rather heavily made-up and hellishly nervous 35 year old from South Wales.

Ray and Nush, the first pairing to greet her, did just that, with polite handshakes and gentle chitchat while also expressing their genuine surprise that BB had done them up again. Lisa was effectively, the “reward” for the challenge and initial reactions post-greeting suggested that the housemates weren’t too happy – not because suddenly they had another challenger to their goal of grasping the BB crown, but because there was no “reward” per se. No luxury meal, no club, no diner, no disco, just some stranger whom they had to welcome into their circle. As the other two duos joined them, it was gratifying to see that the focussed, sharp and confident Scott was more taken with the pizza and beer she’d brought with her than with the alien Lisa herself. That was a quality response from the runaway bookies’ favourite, who despite a universal sense of ordinariness in much of his “play”, is in possession of a tactical and mature brain and a flawless sense of timing when it comes to doing the right thing both by the housemates and the viewers.

Cameron, fast becoming the most surprisingly versatile housemate there, openly stated in the Diary Room the next day that he was not happy with the decision to bring Lisa aboard. He was right to do so. No personal axe was ground – not Cameron’s style – but his considered objection was delivered with enough vigour for the viewer to congratulate him on his candour. This has been Cameron’s manner since his return from South Africa, and he is so much the better for it.

Yet when the two have been together, they have, at face value at least, got on rather well, some of which may be down to their similar ages. Cameron’s known tolerance has linked nicely into Lisa’s eagerness to settle in, and when she re-styled Cameron’s greying hair and massaged his shoulders, we once more wondered whether Cameron’s delicate and astute ploy of platonically ingratiating himself with the ladies of the house was again in full swing. Yet while the likes of Ray are clearly lacking integrity (not to mention charm) when airing public or private views about others in the house, Cameron has a truckload of personal honour to guard him against any form of internal or external backlash when he decides to be blunt in his opinions. This, remember, was a man who tut-tutted at swearing and alcohol consumption until as recently as the fourth week, and took on a protective fatherly role amongst the youngsters around him. What a difference a plane makes.

Lisa can put her legs behind her head, as proved on her first night in the house. Blimey, if you thought PJ grinned wildly when the gorgeous Sophie first turned up in the house during last year’s BB, imagine how wide his inane, testosteronic beam would have been had she then put her legs behind her neck. Particularly if he was sitting opposite her. But, although Ray and the departed Federico clearly had themselves down as classic, gigolo-type examples of red-blooded maleness, Lisa got a muted reaction from all of the others when she carried out this gymnastic feat, with their words of admiration purely aimed at her technique. But when she said she was hiding a “big surprise”, the speculation started straightaway, particularly at showbiz desks in media empires, with many a scruple-free communications outlet deciding that she may have been previously a man. This is a cruel assumption to make, almost certainly untrue and has already been vehemently denied by her mother. But, leaving the supposition about Lisa’s physiological history firmly aside, it wouldn’t be beyond BB to introduce a transsexual into the house rather than a tenant from any other socio-political category of person purely to bump up the ratings. It’s all by the by, anyway, and another example of how much of a thick skin housemates’ families will need to develop when their loved ones enter the abyss, knowing that knives are being masochistically sharpened almost as soon as the door shuts.

Lisa could not nominate anyone this week. Nor could she be nominated (point of order: why should she be exempt on entry when the original 12 were certainly not so back on May 24, leading to Anouska’s rotten departure?) and with Cameron still exempt from the chop after his heroic, life-enhancing trip to the southern hemisphere, the remaining quintet was rather restricted in their choices. Gos, Nush and Ray were put into the public domain, and in the Diary Room, we finally saw the housemates give credible, understandable and at least partially articulate reasons for their nominations, with the notable exception of the increasingly-introverted chef Gos, who was as rubbish and as disinterested in nominations as he has been from day one.

Still, that won’t happen again, as Gos, who in the last fortnight gave the impression that he was sick to the back teeth of the whole BB experience, was the one who was forfeited by the public. Unfortunately, the announcement and event were delayed by 24 hours due to the discovery of a “suspicious package” (a term which could be used to describe BB4 as a whole) meaning that the results of the poll were not known or announced until the Saturday night – indeed, the bosses of BB decided to keep the voting lines open, ever willing to cash in on what could have theoretically been a thoroughly perilous situation. As a result of the alert, the housemates were whisked away to a second studio and the crowd dispersed, so when Gos finally had his name called and emerged from the house, it was to almost complete silence, with Davina McCall shouting his name the moment he waltzed through the sliding doors, shaking hands with the now-ubiquitous (and, on a deserted night, totally superfluous) guards who flanked his re-emergence into civilisation.

A reticent and modest figure within the house, Gos had been an unofficial backbone to the less stable tenants, keen to quell tension and dispel disagreements while also dutifully taking on the catering responsibilities. He was often criticised by onlookers for his lack of razzamatazz within the house, but his wide-eyed, enthusiastic, jovial interview with Davina was most enjoyable, almost on a par with that of Jon a fortnight earlier, making one wonder just how far Gos would have gone in BB had he shown a little more of that playfulness within the walls. And he came up with a top quote when he was told that the refuge where they’d been taken amidst the bomb scare was where the Press were normally housed – “Man, I thought it had a bad smell.”

Gos was not drawn too far on Lisa, but admitted that the housemates collectively felt suspicious of her and alienated by her sudden arrival. On a personal level, he was ambivalent towards her, yet his tone suggested that he suspected that more broadsides from the more remonstrative alumni were imminent. He is likely to be right, as while the housemates could not nominate the new incumbent in the week of her arrival, it would not come as a bolt from the blue if Lisa found herself quickly facing the guillotine next week as her über-chirpiness, self-obsession and whingeing have quickly threatened an onset of bad karma in what had chiefly become a contented, peaceful house.

Digressing for a moment, we now know that her nomination (and those of the others) depend entirely on the result of the latest “innovative” challenge, wantonly and anxiously revealed in both nature and reward by BB in advance on the E4 interactive service. Boy, have things got so bad? Clearly such a desperate act by BB shows that they are seriously worried by the lack of interest in the whole BB event this year. By revealing the nature of the challenge and the reward – including not just a group jamboree in the special room, but also a daredevil role for one fortunate housemate next week which will see them exempt from nomination – BB may as well have held a huge placard or neon sign over the cameras saying “Please, PLEASE watch this!”

Anyway, back to the topic in hand. Though she was pressured by some of the housemates, particularly the thoughtless Ray, to reveal titbits about events in the outside world during their incarceration, Lisa still went overboard in the eyes of a stern BB in what she did say despite her continuous protesting about the peer pressure to which she was being subjected. It is a classic example of Lisa being far too keen to impress and, sadly, she has had the opposite effect.

Certainly the flowering attachment between Cameron and the principled Steph has blossomed further since Lisa’s arrival with their absolute, public and virtuous opinions on the new circumstances within the house. It is yet another example of just how gripping a force Cameron has become in the house; frank and forthright in his views when previously he didn’t seem courageous enough to say boo to a goose.

Chatting away from Lisa’s earshot, the bonded pair (about whom there has been much speculation as to how much they fancy each other) discontentedly harped on about BB messing with their heads by bringing Lisa in, with their vocalised thoughts centring on the injustice bestowed to their departed housemates.

They have a point. They have six, actually – called Anouska, Justine, Sissy, Federico, Jon and Tania. While few would sympathise with Justine because of her thoroughly spoilt and unladylike conduct since eviction; or with Federico because of his half-baked, planted and divisive opinions (which made him massively entertaining and valid, therefore deserving of a pardon), the fact remains that these two, along with the left over quartet of more readily accessible outcasts, were deemed worthy of being part of the original dynamic dozen. Lisa was not so, yet she’s managed to be in the house at the halfway stage while her predecessors look on, all confused, some probably angry and certainly envious. And no-one could deny them their right to be all three. After all, Lisa could now walk off with £70,000 in her purse for essentially doing half the job. If that happened, the sheer frustration and fury of the three other finalists on the last day could come flying through the screen so terrifyingly that Davina could be prompted into early labour.

Though Cameron and Steph (as sweet to watch as a partnership as Helen and Paul, though no-one has “Brianised” their flirtation by lamenting “Why don’t they just shag?”) are quite justified in considering purely their own futures as a result of Lisa gatecrashing the bunfight, the needs of the viewer seem to have been overlooked by the decision makers as well. As well as the argument about having to work even harder to understand BB this year, there are plenty of viewers who look at the sad dual eviction of Federico and Jon as the “Danny Kendall” moment of the show – ie, the point where it lost its edge and became devoid of interest or relevance. The double eviction of these two highly charismatic housemates, both of whom possessed, during their stay, more personality than the rest put together, allowed for the eventual arrival of Lisa to make up the numbers, as we now know. Two brilliant housemates ditched, an instantly hateable, unwatchable and disruptive housemate promoted. And yet those with the power wonder why viewing and voting figures are plummeting.

The twosome’s tirade also focussed on their own insecurities as a result of Lisa’s arrival. It was a fascinating chat, full of insight and considered thinking, with the burning anger clearly brimming within them despite their relaxed external appearance. Not so much apprehensive about whether they’re going to survive or not, but more shrewdly, Cameron and Steph were concerned that “Lisa knows more about us than we know about each other” and, of course, they’re not only spot on in this assessment, but as a consequence of realising this, they’re also absolutely right to feel aggrieved, helpless and cheated.

Frankly, as the week progressed and they worked up several further sweats, the grumbling has been terrific to observe at times, with Cameron and Steph both making Diary Room trips to vent their spleens on Lisa’s dubious impact on their BB existences. Steph, referring to Lisa’s revelation that she both walks and talks in her sleep, told of how she was woken in the night by Lisa sitting on the edge of her bed right over her, having forcefully removed the covers. “I thought she was going to kill me!” she said, through nervous giggles. While expressing guilty feelings about grassing up the new girl, Steph has been entirely vindicated in airing her concerns.

Meanwhile, Cameron’s appalled outlook at Lisa’s characteristics had a nation in stitches when he confessed his disapproval of her.

“That lass – I don’t know what it is with her. She is either a compulsive liar, a hypochondriac or just trying to get attention all the time. She must have had every ailment known to man. If I hear her talking about her breathing difficulties during the task again I’ll put my own thumb over her windpipe.”

The last bit, referring to the week’s equestrian-related task, was quickly withdrawn with apology by the docile Orkney lad, but it seems that although he holds these reservations, yet another BB modernism has brought out the best in him. Unless paired exclusively with Scott for eviction in the interim, he’s unquestionably there on the last day.

With Scott and Nush also expressing chagrin on a less ear-catching scale, it’s clear that the housemates are feeling collectively duped by BB, and who can blame them? It’s not as if they haven’t given Lisa a chance. When she proudly announced her expertise as a make-up artiste, Steph and Nush agreed to be the guinea pigs as the newbie set to work on their complexions with the boys ribbing them in the background. While Steph and Nush scolded the lads for their daft verbal horseplay, in a chivalrous attempt to give Lisa the benefit of the doubt that she knew what she was doing, the two baulked when they disappeared into the girl’s bedroom to check out the results of Lisa’s handiwork on Nush. She looked abysmal. Compare this with the beautiful and relaxed Tania, who despite the overblown blusher obsession, made herself look so immaculate on a daily basis that she was asked to spend much of her week on BBLB giving on-camera make-up tips to the viewers, all of which were delivered with a mixture of flamboyance, common sense and just a little humility.

While Lisa, of course, cannot shoulder the blame personally for the nature of her gatecrashing act (she didn’t make the rules), she has shown herself to be overbearing, dominant, patronising, erroneous, matriarchal and incredibly bossy (“Right, we’re playing Spoof!”) in a short period of time, but while we could delight in Tim’s unbeknownst comedy value or begrudgingly admire Nick’s daring underhandedness, there seems to be no redeeming feature at all about Lisa which neutralises all the irksome things which will make her an almost certain nominee when she is declared eligible. And when you think about the ground gained by the five she is up against through sheer hard graft, it is unlikely anything resembling a tempting price will be placed over her head by the bookies once her name has gone to the public. The moment she qualifies for nomination, she’ll be instantaneously nominated, and the moment she’s nominated, she’ll be uncompromisingly kicked out. And if that moment isn’t before the last week, then she will have completed the most effective relaunch campaign since Madonna released the Ray of Light album.

Elsewhere, the greatly enjoyable task was successfully concluded with the equestrian showjump, involving self-crafted horses which they “rode” over fences in the garden and decking in Bernie Clifton/ostrich stylee, though even that was tainted by Lisa’s asthma attack (“it feels like I have my thumb pressed hard against my windpipe”) as described and beautifully bemoaned by Cameron in the Diary Room. This enabled her to skive it off, failing to amuse the others in the process – particularly as she will be entitled to her equal share of the shopping which will be purchased from the £123 earned by all except her. This woman has succeeded by becoming the talking point, and BB wanted that, but there already seems to be a telepathy going on between the vociferous veterans of the house and the viewing public, who should redeem themselves conclusively if and when Lisa is placed at their mercy.

Once Lisa’s away, things can get back to normal and we can once more wait for Cameron and Steph’s simmering flirtation to come to the boil. Oh, and of course, for Scott to win.


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