Big Brother

Friday, June 13, 2003 by

Sissy Rooney, a mouthy and moody fashion designer from Liverpool, has just been evicted to a muted, though not hostile, response from the crowds outside the Big Brother house. Such an indifferent reaction from the baying fanatics perched against the cordons is indicative of how little BB4, and those taking part, has caught on thus far.

Viewing figures have remained relatively solid since the 12 new housemates ventured into the glorified goldfish bowl, but at this stage, BB4 has generated little wayward publicity via its personalities to entice new or previously lapsed viewers into the world of voyeurism.

While isolated moments have thrown up brief snippets of intrigue – and even then, only two housemates have really caught public imagination at this stage – the general consensus has been that the tenants are too nice, too similar and too wary of the cameras. Emotional clashes, inspirational events or scenes and idiosyncratic moments have been almost completely non-existent.

Of course, the housemates are not to blame. They cannot help it if they get on with one another and have an adopted sense of collective responsibility. But the lack of cliques, battlegrounds or opinions in the early stages – something which spectacularly contradicts last year’s show at the same stage – has made the viewing so repetitive that even the bemoaned nightly packages on Channel 4, oft-scorned for less than balanced editing policies, make tough viewing.

The powers-that-be on BB take enormous pride – and indeed, tell us at every possible opportunity – that thousands upon thousands of people turn up at seminars for the audition process, with the selectors-in-chief going through a sturdy, heartfelt whittling down procedure which finally leaves the chosen dozen.

Audition tapes aside, we never see the traits of those at the sharp end within the wheat ‘n’ chaff separation route in full, and therefore the reasons for their final selection are reserved for the cash-in book published as the series comes to a climax. Looking at the protagonists involved this time round, one wonders whether they had a full character transplant between the final audition and their entry into the house amidst the flashing lenses. Or maybe the infamous psychological and counselling practices which they had to endure before they were finally let loose into the house scared them so much they mutated into their own waxworks.

Tellingly, the reactions of the three evicted housemates thus far when informed by the ever-excitable Davina McCall of the outside reaction to BB4 and those within it have been infinitely more entertaining than just about anything else thus far. Yet when Lynne, Alison and Lee had left by the same stage last year, they had left behind a house of argument and faction which even the monotone himbo Lee had sussed out.

Alex had incurred the wrath of many with his camp outburst over hygiene; Jonny had taken his crew over the first of many alcoholic cliff faces and Lee and Adele had started their interesting, if somewhat false, flirtation. This time round, there has been little more than a minor squabble which has never rumbled on into major sulks or face-offs, and with too many willing peacemakers stepping in to build the bridge.

As for flirtations, they have been next to zero. The easy-on-the-eye Anouska, whose Pan’s People wiggle on entering the house became the most interesting thing she did in her seven days, had clearly a staged conversation with the handsome but massively conceited Federico (“don’t call me Fed”) about the possibility of having sexual relations within the house (the sort going beyond Jade and PJ’s inebriated fumble the year before) in order to enhance their popularity. Even if Anouska had stayed, the likelihood of this was extremely remote, not least because Federico’s general demeanour and attitude towards women was a con which far outweighed the pro of his boyish good looks.

Anouska was ditched by the public with some surprise, not least to Anouska herself, who can count herself most unfortunate to go so soon. The same could have been said for any of the housemates, however, as BB decided to make them all nominate within the first night in the house on “first impressions”, leading to some ludicrous reasoning which was clearly not the housemates’ fault. Federico, for example, got nominated because he had asked the others, not totally irrationally, to call him by his proper name, as opposed to any lazily shortened version.

The decision makers came to the conclusion that to give the show a new sense of purpose from last year, they would abandon any policies designed to make the housemates grow apart from one another. The rich-poor divide got a lot of criticism last year as the expected tantrums from the housemates forced to live on chickpeas and rice didn’t occur enough, and we were, for one hellish week, faced with watching a whole seven days of the dreaded Tim sitting totally alone on the rich side moaning that he had nothing to do. While Tim’s inveterate complaining made him a hate figure outside the house, he was never one inside, as most of the things he said and did which would really irritate his fellow inmates were kept in the confines of the Diary Room.

So everyone’s together, with new positively coloured d├ęcor, big settees, comfortable beds and an automatic exit door which shuts off the evictee in a newly constructed corridor/staircase, presumably to shut out the reactions and chants from the proles when the evictee lets the noise in, thereby keeping the remaining housemates as much in the dark about outside opinion as possible. And there’s a predominantly happy atmosphere. Minor, unremarkable quibbles apart, they all like one another, with only the odd sense of meagre toleration rather than actual fondness. Add to this the absence of genuine strength in character and you have three weeks of largely unremarkable TV. Summing up the feeling of inconsequential friendliness was the pact made that all evictees would return to the house on the subsequent Friday nights to greet those who followed them down the stairs at the public’s insistence, all rather tweely in the name of “support” and obviously nothing to do with staying on the telly.

However, light at the end of the tunnel exists within two clear outlets in the boys’ bedroom. Federico, a Scots-Italian waiter, survived two evictions in the first three weeks thanks more to the shrewdness of the public than the antics of he or any other housemate. While the whole gaggle of tenants are generally without interest, some are still more interesting than others, and with Federico, there is a cunning combination of what he says and what he does which makes potential for mileage as the show progresses.

The tasks, which unlike last year’s basic darts ‘n’ basketball eye gum, have been made interesting and elongated by their genuine difficulty. Keeping a pedalo going for 72 hours shouldn’t necessarily be too tough for a dozen fit young people if they can overcome the tedium factor, but Federico’s desire for chewing gum, and his exit from the pedalo to locate some, resulted in group failure and basic rations. His reluctance to accept blame was astutely delivered to the other housemates, who didn’t take a petty line the following week within the nomination process and saved him from a potential early chop.

However, it was the waiter’s doing again when task number two also went to the wall, when in being asked to wear scout uniforms (one for the fetishist viewer) and learn the cub scout law and promise, Federico recited the promise in the Diary Room instead of the law and, with no other incorrect responses from the others, again shouldered sole responsibility for the group’s failure and subsequent near famine but, crucially, decided not to come clean to the other housemates. Only the house’s elder statesman Cameron, an Orkney fish trader with greying hair and a slight suspicion of play acting, gave him a nomination on the hunch that his provincial counterpart was the party accountable for the lack of food and booze. Others also nominated him and Federico was put before the public, but different reasons were given. Federico’s survival so far can at least allow hope to rise amongst those waiting for all-out spats on their TV screens, should the truth ever fully come out. If it does, Federico has next to no hope of making the last four, having also shown bouts of political incorrectness, uttered obscene suggestions to a female voice in the Diary Room and branded Geordie women “slags”.

The other beacon is Jon, a highly educated and well-adjusted Norfolk systems manager, whose profound vocabulary and matter-of-fact disposition has sufficiently rubbed the others up the wrong way to the extent that he has been nominated each week thus far. Jon has been the mainspring of the show’s rare watchability and has certainly had the majority of the news coverage within the media when they were not focussing on the usual array of bankable and dubiously-truthed kiss-and-tells.

The simple reason for this is that no-one else in the house comes close to Jon’s sense of logic; his dry humour; his willingness to self-deprecate and his desire to be right all the time. Initially he got pilloried by the Press when he rambled on about his Star Trek obsession (thereby gaining the Trekkie vote unconditionally) but this only served to instil another astute observation among the voting public – he’s a geek, he’s a bore and he’s a control freak. He’s actually none of those, probably, but the glorified editing has put him on so much of pedestal that he has become something of a BB icon, surviving the eviction nights with ease at the expense of three of the girls (all of whom are completely nondescript unless you go shallowly for looks alone, which even then only brings in half of them – and one of those is already out) with the public rightly believing that he is one of the few whose awareness of the cameras is next to zero and by not trying to win, he might actually be a winner.

Anouska was disappointed but gallant at her eviction; Sissy less gallant (and with justification) when she found out via Davina that her alleged confidantes within the house were the ones who nominated her (“They’re all snakes”) but the second evictee, the almost completely deadbeat Leeds sales manager Justine, came across as massively bitter, self-obsessed (“I think they will really miss me”) and unsporting when she emerged from the house after being soundly beaten by Jon (whom she didn’t especially like), and discovered that she got the boot not because she was disliked outside, but because Jon was loved. Her anti-Jon crusade during her Davina interview and her subsequent week sitting with the ever-brilliant Dermot O’Leary on Big Brother’s Little Brother was both tiresome and shameless.

Of those men so far unmentioned, there’s the telegenic Liverpudlian marketing co-ordinator Scott, whose restricted input seems to consist of peacemaker and troubleshooter (and being the one who looks like Joe Absolom); London chef Gos, whose culinary skills with restricted ingredients and genuine shyness (not ideal for 24 hour voyeur telly) has endeared him to the housemates; and Dublin IT manager Ray, easy-going and affectionate and the most likely to earn the Alex-like “girlie” vote, even with barely a quarter of Alex’s personality, wit or whimsy. The three remaining females – Malvern sales assistant Nush; Redditch “visual merchandiser” Steph; and London fashion worker Tania – seem only likely to make real headway if a pro-feminist “sympathy” vote goes their way after the departure of three room-mates in quick succession, such is their collective featurelessness. Nush is the “nice”, “happy” one, Steph is practical (well, she does the majority of the cleaning) and Tania is feisty and has an array of supposed celebrity sex conquests on her CV. Though sex appeal alone may see Tania through to the last week, the other two may have to rely on staying on the right side of their housemates with regard to nominations if they are not to follow the trio of female evictees out of the door too early. It is genuinely difficult at this stage to imagine any of the men losing their place in the house if one of the women is also up for eviction.

As the house basks in the aftermath of another departure (and a genuine highlight seems to be the way the three evictees have so far been completely forgotten inside the house once the cheers have died down) BB4 is in an ideal position to spice up. The public’s role cannot be over-estimated in this ambition – if they want entertaining, they need to keep the less mundane contestants in the house, even if it means sacrificing the one who has done nothing wrong or who looks nice on E4 at 3am when climbing into bed. Jon and Federico – and, to a very minor degree, Tania – are, at this stage, the really deserving cases for endurance in the house. If any of the others want to win, they’ll have to risk their reputations, as too many people are coming across as genuine bores with their eyes in the headlights. Nine left in body, only three in spirit. Time will tell.


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