Big Brother

Friday, June 16, 2006 by

The last seven intriguing and frustrating days in the Big Brother house have been about two girls. And, in their collective paranoia and vindictiveness, they really were girls. Not women. It’s been a highly immature week and, for those of us watching, quite thrilling stuff. It’s worrying when one enjoys television like this, but also easy to get over the guilt later on.

Grace and Nikki proved themselves to be over-competitive, highly unsporting and, most of all, collectively vicious to the point where it might have been worth glancing at Section Five of the Public Order Act. Yet despite their mutual chagrin at being put before the lion’s den outside, they were entirely different in terms of how they reacted to a nomination which, in hindsight, was highly predictable.

Grace, easily more intelligent than the bimbette malingerer of four years her senior, was more articulate in her destruction of Golden Housemate and unwitting sole nominator Susie, a fortysomething ex-model from Kent. This allowed Grace no chance of mitigation when her words were returned to her by Davina McCall upon her eviction as there was little room for ambiguity.

Even prior to Susie’s sharp turn in the Diary Room, Grace was on her case, realising that she could do little to prevent her from following the “Get Grace out!” chants which accompanied Susie’s rise up the staircase and through the sliding doors. Grace was the target of the public, but didn’t have the intelligence – or the facility to swallow her pride – to use the opening days of Susie’s tenancy to make her welcome and do her utmost to avoid the nomination procedure.

Grace’s paranoia – not helped by her doormat Scouse beau Mikey trying to reassure her that nothing was wrong – grew visibly when she was not issued with one of the four invitations to Susie’s gourmet dinner, choosing to ignore camp Canuck gossip Richard’s insightfulness in stating everyone should, “Just keep thinking it’s Big Brother trying to divide us.”

While Richard, Aisleyne, the ever-wonderful exam-dodger Glyn and the fantastically-clingy (and considerably orange) Lea enjoyed an alfresco two course dinner and genuinely exploited each other’s company for the good, the irritants inside the house, led by Grace and happily followed by million-a-day smoker Lisa and Welsh nothingness Imogen (who has still to contribute in any way to the house, making it almost poetic justice that her own lawbreaking, plus circumstance, has prevented her nominating anyone thus far) sulked and whinged about Susie’s obvious charm around the others, not realising or believing it was possible to walk in with an open mind.

Grace’s serious insecurity clearly closed Susie’s mind towards her by the time the meal was over and – seconds after agreeing to refuse them to each other – the outcasts plastered on the fake smiles and accepted the chocolate truffles left over from the coffee course which the diners had gallantly brought indoors.

By the time the next day came round, Grace was at her wit’s end. It was as visible in her face as it was audible in her protests. “The Waiting Game” was the task and all bar the exempt Golden Housemate were required to stand on boxes for as long as it took until just one was left, who’d then win an unspecified prize. Nikki’s renowned lack of attention span and communication skills ensured she was off and outside within three minutes; the charismatic Pete soon followed with his unwanted mummy figure Lea following him wherever he went. Richard then quit and Aisleyne unluckily slipped off, leaving five.

This whittled down to four when Imogen had enough; then chivalry from Glyn brought it down to three (Pete: “If Lisa gets off, Mikey will let Grace win.” Nikki: “Oh, you’re so clever!”), with Grace anxious to win as everyone was convinced from the start that immunity from eviction was the prize. Mikey, crucially against Grace, did the wrong thing by resigning his box, as Lisa was also determined not to be nominated. As both Grace and Lisa agreed to draw straws, it was clear Grace didn’t want to do this; she wanted to win the task as she was convinced, rightly as it turned out, that it was her only way of avoiding the trapdoor. But her straw was short and off she jumped, prior to an enormous crying session with Mikey and self-appointed agony aunt Lea again in tow. When the confirmation came through via the winner’s envelope that Lisa was not eligible for nomination as a consequence of victory, Grace was totally gutted. Her demise was coming fast.

Susie’s journey to the Diary Room (she was expecting to be last due to the traditional alphabetical order of nominating) was eventful and articulate and, in the case of Nikki, summed up the flighty and wonderfully brainless housemate to a tee.

“I think she’s amusing, but in small quantities and sometimes her over-dramatics I find just a little bit irritating. She will come up and it’s just a whole, ‘I really can’t cope with all of this’ and obviously sometimes it’s called for, but a lot of the time it’s done unnecessarily. I feel it’s very much a stage show. It’s very diva, let’s put it that way. Very diva. I find the whole naïveness [sic] a little bit silly when, at 24, I think you know enough, especially living in a sort of lifestyle she says she lives, I can’t believe anybody can be quite that naïve. Her whole movement, probably the strops, because the strops are very much nine or 10-year-old little girls when they can’t get their own way. Flicking the hair back over the shoulder and charging out of a room; that’s nine or 10-year-old little girls.”

This was spot on, although it has made Nikki ultra-watchable, if not a deserving winner of Big Brother. Previous airheads like Helen and Jade have had their charm and charisma to go with their innocence; Nikki less so. But she’s pitiably interesting. Her vulnerability entertains.

As for her nomination of Grace, Susie was just as conclusive in her views.

“I’ve felt scrutinised by her. I think she was more suspicious of me than anybody else in the group when I first arrived. That’s how I feel. I think Grace is quite calculating and is obviously a hard player so she’s looking to see if it’s competition. This morning she’s been chatting so there’s no hostility but I was just aware of her just losing her temper slightly yesterday or being a little bit snappy for something that was really very trivial. So this is obviously where the veneer has started to break and you start to really see the real people.”

Again, pretty much down to a tee. It’s worth pointing out the suspicion which remains, helped along by typically screamworthy but substance-free tabloid headlines, over Susie’s own status in the house, but Big Brother issued a stern disclaimer to her in the Diary Room that her nominations should not be based on anything she encountered outside. She has some dignity and integrity about her to suggest she followed orders. But it must be hard not to nominate Grace when the chants of, “Get Grace out!” followed her into the house, especially as the subsequent paranoia took over the 20-year-old dance teacher and the eyes started to bore into Susie’s back.

If Susie showed respect for Grace’s tactics in nominating her, then it wasn’t reciprocated. Grace clearly didn’t know what had been said; only that she was up for eviction before a crowd yelling for her blood the previous weekend. But even then, the way she and an easily-swayed Nikki began to bitch about her became rather uncomfortable to watch and hear, especially from two young women who must have known that part of the public’s problem with Big Brother housemates is their lack of ability to say what they feel to the target’s face.

Calling her “mutton dressed as lamb” (when she was wearing clothes she didn’t choose) and claiming that whichever housemate stayed had “to make her life a fucking misery” did not do either nominee’s chances a great service. Grace, cleverer than Nikki by some distance, had less to lose, and knew it. Sweetness and light wasn’t going to wash with the venomous public and so her frustrations were able to boil over with defeat accepted. She and Nikki mimicked Susie’s accent (even though Grace sounds just as middle-class) and tore into her. Precisely what Big Brother envisaged.

The last days prior to the result, including “State of Susie Day” (a boring and meaningless trial of mock-obsequiousness only brightened up by Pete’s poetry and artwork in tribute, and the frustrations of Nikki as she was forced out of bed three times in quick succession to faux-worship), became something of a letdown as the editing suite sifted through hours of vitriol from Grace, Lisa and Imogen (but, intriguingly, not Nikki, who had finally realised that two nominations in a row weren’t a fluke and that Susie might be half-likeable) and Friday couldn’t come soon enough.

Grace picked up almost 88% of the vote; nearly as staggeringly one-sided as Sezer a fortnight earlier, and tried to get the last laugh on Susie by deliberately tipping a glass of water over her during her few seconds prior to the doors opening. Aisleyne went ballistic, but Susie herself maintained her composure and did not rise to the bait. Grace may have felt a lot better, but she certainly didn’t look it as she tripped up the stairs to the sliding exit, with Aisleyne’s protests behind her and the baying crowd ahead. Her face was brave as she faced the ever-ludicrous catcalls and she even managed a mock curtsy, not to mention a stunningly expert bum-out manipulation of the snappers as she posed for the glossies and morning rags.

Davina, trying to be gentle with this determined but inexperienced person, nonetheless explained without pussyfooting about just why she had been so vilified by the public by showing clips of Grace denying all bitchiness, prior to destroying Nikki and then protesting innocence; then doing likewise with Sam and, most interestingly, Imogen. Grace proved a worthy and admissible interviewee even though she was not any easier to like once the cauldron of BB and the clashing housemates was finally removed from her train of thought. She had emerged, hated and hateful, and will need time to reacquaint herself with ordinary life.

With Grace, a hitter like Sezer, out of the picture, it falls on the remaining big guns to keep the house’s mixture of camaraderie and conflict alive. Pete’s place is secure; Nikki probably feels untouchable, and rightly so. It’s hard still to have actual time for her as the spoilt, childish and cerebrally limited princess she is, but something drags her into the viewer’s sympathy and keeps it moving along.

On the last night before Davina’s announcement, Nikki went off on one of her girlish tantrums, described so flawlessly by Susie in the Diary Room, because a bottle of beer she had surreptitiously hidden under her pillow had been pinched. Mikey owned up to taking it, largely because his own anger at the likelihood of his bedmate Grace being ejected at Nikki’s sparing was finally beginning to trouble the level-headed Liverpudlian. There then followed his first real contribution to the debate – a quite breathtaking destruction of Nikki’s character, this time without the aid of Diary Room walls, which the ruined footballer’s fiancée-in-waiting could not bear to hear. It made his place warrantable at last; Nikki was away in tears and many millions were yelling their agreement with Mikey at their screens. And, most of all, it also confirmed Pete’s status as soaraway leader – while the others chose (as was within their right) to let Nikki stew it out through lonesome face-down sobs in the bedroom, the conflict-hating Pete, whose own experiences as a Tourette’s patient has made him hugely sympathetic with bullying victims, quietly followed Nikki to the bedroom, lay down next to the wailing princess and comforted her without even speaking.

The next few weeks could promise so much from BB, as although intricate characteristics are on display, this isn’t a freak show like BBs 6 and 5. There are colossal strains of backbiting and gossip, but the personalities taking part are merely insecure rather than idiosyncratic. Lisa, Imogen and – to a lesser extent – Mikey may now fear for their own futures (there’s little doubt Imogen would go out the moment she’s nominated) against the opposing clique of more mature and analytical figures like Richard (whose description of Lisa in the Diary Room as “an acidic little troll” was pretty much perfection), Susie, Lea and the much-underrated (especially by this reviewer) Aisleyne.

It may well be that they ultimately cancel one another out as the sniping gets too much for E4′s square-eyed audience, and who lies between? Nikki, Glyn and, most of all, Pete. As he continues to play his impromptu percussion with spatulas and dustbin lids and soundtrack the daily sun-worshipping in the process, he tiptoes unwittingly closer to victory, and nobody in the house seems brave, aware or ruthless enough to do anything about it.


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