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Big Brother

Posted By Stuart Ian Burns On Friday, July 18, 2003 @ 10:00 pm In 2003 reviews | Comments Disabled

Information has become the true currency in the Big Brother house. Whoever has the most information wields the most power, and with that power the ability to control the outcome. It’s ironic then that within the house the most powerful voice isn’t actually going to be allowed to win.

Friday night’s eviction show had ended on a cliffhanger with Jon Tickle re-entering the house. As he sat and gave his old housemates the rules he was all but offering his strategy for the ensuing week. “I can’t tell you how I got here. I can’t tell you why I’m here. All I can tell you is that I’m here now.” They took him at his word. They assumed that he’d been advised by Big Brother not to divulge anything. Cleverly this wasn’t true at all. He couldn’t tell them about the outside world, but he could tell them that because he’d lost already, he couldn’t nominate or be nominated, and more importantly that he couldn’t win. But because they didn’t ask, he didn’t tell them. In moments he had become the focus of the group, commanding more attention than ever, his every word being hung upon, contestants keen to jump upon anything he would “stupidly” let slip. He knew this and capitalized upon it.

The viewer began scrutinizing his every move. How much of what he was doing was deliberate? As soon as he went into the house he went to the toilet. He told them it was so that they could talk about him behind his back, which they did as paranoia began to envelop them. Why was Jon back, what were his motives and how long was he staying? Later he left his luggage bag open and they quickly started to glance into it. Was that deliberate? The detectives amongst the group were hard at work – he had three pairs of underwear which meant he would be staying for at least the weekend. But Ray had a feeling it would be for the whole of the final two weeks and he wasn’t happy. Jon had enjoyed his time in the house, been put out on a public vote, it was out of order he’d returned with full privileges. Was there some other motivation involved? That night, Jon spent an hour in the Diary room. All we received in the Sunday night highlights was a glimpse of some master plan (with Tickle sounding unnervingly like Davros creator of the Daleks). He was going to be winding them up. A lot.

As the week progressed, we saw a different Tickle. There were still inspired moments reminiscent of the first four weeks, such as sunbathing whilst whistling the music from the Cantina scene in Star Wars – but this was a darker version of Jon. Once he had Scott and Nush to himself he expounded his theory about the Cameron’s game plan. With just two weeks to work within, he was acting quickly, no room for subtlety. “Everyone thinks that Cameron sits in a little shack in Orkney and guts fish for a living. Cameron is an international businessman. He is not the simpering fool who cuddles women and is no good with women. The whole Bible-bashing businessman, I’m not buying it in the least. I think he’s being quite fake. I’m not convinced by Cameron in the least. I don’t think you can send someone to Brussels to an international trade fish fair and have that bloke on the stand.” Nush seemed amazed as though Jon was either nuts or had hit upon something. Did Tickle really believe what he was saying or was he the one playing? If only he’d known that in a few days a handwriting expert would appear on BBLB and back up everything he’d said based on Cameron’s application form for the show.

The Tickle master plan seemed to consist of pointed comments at inopportune moments coupled with downtime to let people speculate about why he was there. As Lisa had been for the prievious two weeks, he was now their primary point of contact for any scraps of information about how they were being perceived on the outside world, and how this would effect the voting. So anything he said, even if it wasn’t all that relevant, was picked upon. In this regard, the following is particularly revealing. It was featured on the Big Brother website, but not in the highlights show (presumably because it makes him out to be much nastier):

“The gang were playing their favourite alphabet game, this time based around TV shows when Jon dropped another conversation stopper. Out of nowhere, and it was never made clear to what he was referring, the 29-year-old announced: ‘Another thing I can’t talk about.’ Understandably the gang gave up on their game for a second. ‘It’s something that someone said randomly ages ago and now it’s boiled over,’ Jon finished darkly without explaining his drift. ‘It fills me with absolute f***ing peril when we have moments like this,’ Scott quivered in response. ‘I’m scared silly,’ trembled Nush. ‘Jon I don’t like this, you know stuff that we don’t,’ Ray shivered, summing up the words on each of the housemates’ lips.”

This happened late on a nomination day which had been quite tricky for the “29-year-old”, because it would the first time the housemates would find out about his immunity. As the computer man read out a laminate which broke the news to everyone that he was exempt from the process it was fairly obvious that Ray and Scott were waiting as long as they could to leave the vicinity without looking like they were leaving for that reason. The Irishman felt like the rug was being pulled out from under him. At no point did it occur to him to ask Jon whether he could win. This was very interesting indeed.

Now Ray became the target. A classic moment followed next day when the nominations were announced. Ray already rattled because he knew that everyone else had worked out his votes (and handling it a lot worse than the week before when they really did know) which had meant Nush would be up for eviction instead of Steph, tried to share a moment with Jon. There was a smile, then Jon explained that one of the people who had voted for Nush shouldn’t have because it now meant that they couldn’t win. Ray tried to give a look which said that he knew exactly what Jon meant. He didn’t have a clue. He ran directly to Steph and Cameron, misquoted what he’d heard, and began to sweat, visibly. It’s a very oblique comment, but giving it some thought, I think Jon meant that because Cameron had nominated Nush instead of Steph himself it meant that he had a stronger opponent in the public vote and there was a greater chance he would be leaving on Friday (Jon knowing what we know about the public’s general attitude to the housemates). Ironically (considering later events) Jon seemed to have become the eyes and ears of Big Brother, and more than a spanner in the works. The fun-loving Ray was slowly giving way to an utter sourpuss. He was biting his finger nails to the bone. The façade was deteriorating and by the end of the week the public perception would be markedly different. Later, we found Tickle looking at the same two pages of Shakespeare for 14 minutes. It was Julius Caesar. He was covertly communicating to the outside world that the only way to win in this game was through backstabbing. Perhaps.

Jon understood that by controlling the flow of information, he could to certain extent control the emotions of his fellow housemates, but that whatever he did would stay within the house (bar some illwill towards him when they left). The ideal of a series like Big Brother is that it’s a cocoon. The people inside should have no idea about what has been happening in the world outside the house until they step out of the front door into the awaiting crowd. At no point during the four years the programme has been airing has this ever been the case. In the first year, The Sun flew a model airplane over the compound dropping leaflets exposing the double dealing of Nick Bateman. In Big Brother 3, Tim used his knowledge of the World Cup and his coded attempts revealing the scores as a way of currying favour with his new housemates. Now in Big Brother 4, The People newspaper nudged a story which was playing out far too slowly for them, and it might have been one of the worst moments in the history of the show. Unlike Jon who was particularly trying to effect changes within the house, the paper was trying to take control of the housemates lives to increase the potency of a story.

How bad can the security around the compound be that a journalist was able park up nearby, pull out a loud hailer and start shouting statements into the house? That it took so long to bring in the crowd noises to mask the sounds of the hack? Then subsequently that it suddenly became part of the Big Brother experience as Nush entered the diary room (assuming she would be called anyway) and wasn’t seen to be offered any kind of an apology for such a violation. And then, telling, the incident become part of the highlights show. Granted not to show any of it would have been tantamount to censorship, but as a viewer it felt terribly exploitative, especially as Nush went into her bedroom and felt the camera following her as she walked to her bed. None of the housemates had followed her there, why should we? It was a turn off and made the viewer question their own motives in watching the series, and what the producers were showing them. Which is no good thing, especially for a reviewer who knows he is going to contradict this holier-than-thou attitude at some point in this review. But the reasons became fairly clear. The incident had adversely affected their plans for the evening.

For Endemol the romance between Nush and Scott was hotting up, and they would do everything they could to manipulate the outcome. No matter what Jon or the journalist might think, the people with the absolute power are the producers. Even on the E4 live feed they have the ability to blank out the sound lest the public should hear anything they wouldn’t want us to (although they do let something slip now and again. Only this week via the feed shown on Channel 4 late at night did we find out that in the first four weeks a press photographer had been taking photos over the fence). Hence the housemates constant jitters as to how they are being portrayed. This was one of those occasions in which they would be attempting to manipulate the action. Did the producers allow the incident with the megaphone happen on purpose? You decide. But there have been precedents. In the final week of series two, Paul and Helen were given a candlelit dinner in a secluded spot. Nothing happened except a bit of rolling about. Helen was still attached and Paul knew better than kick into the apple cart. Two years later and it looked like it was happening again. Except yet again it backfired.

As ever on the Saturday night edition, the players were competing for the right to enter the Reward Room. The catch this time around was that there would be only one winner, who would then have a choice as to who would accompany them. This ruling was doubtlessly conceived under the assumption that the outcome would be something in the region of Scott and Nush going into the room together, and “things” happening between them. However, almost as if he was intent on usurping this plan, Scott sensitively volunteered himself as the Bingo caller in their game, thereby negating his entrance into the room. As a result Ray won deciding to take Cameron in with him.

For my money watching the two winners indulging themselves in a women’s night-in was far more entertaining than what the producers were fishing for. This was certainly the most gay friendly evening since Josh and Brian’s dinner together in BB2. Ray might have been using the cosmetics to make himself look hard with a black eye and all, but Cameron was enjoying the soothing oils. Watching their Morecambe and Wise inspired night in bed together was a joy, their discomfort at sharing the bed recalling John Candy and Steve Martin in Trains, Planes and Automobiles. Ray’s champagne consumption and Cameron’s pleas for more apple juice demonstrated that they were different people and so they would remain.

But wait – there was still second chance Sunday. And so predictably Scott won the task this time and picked Nush to go in with him. On the Monday night highlights show the producers again seemed to think that the nation was gripped by what was for me a non-story, and decided to devote almost the entire show to an utter non-event. Nush and Scott had refused to sing the tune of the producers and instead they just talked. A lot. We were subjected to the usual post-modern conversation about the questions Davina McCall would be asking when they finally left the house. They had an idea what would be asked, but why were we being shown this at the expense of some of the action that had appeared on the E4 live feed which was just funny? They also had a no physical contact agreement (which was mostly adhered to). The cushions went up the centre of the bed as they tucked in, and they reminded us that it was a statement about something.

Like the final night of a summer holiday before going off to University for the first time, it was clear this would be the highpoint of their relationship in the house and that nothing would be the same again. Over the next few days, they were much less physical when sober (and only hugging when tipsy), talking rather than touching. The final nail seemed to be during a conversation between the “couple” and Jon about Steph and Cameron. Nush had said she wished she could force them to be together. Tickle advised that he thought they knew it was nice that they had each other inside the house, but once it was over that would be that. He seemed to talking about Scott and Nush instead. They sat and shuffled. And to give the BBLB body language experts something to talk about, looked downwards. As the week progressed Nush had moved on. But Scott hadn’t – or at least this is how it was portrayed on the Thursday night highlights show.

Actually, in terms of manipulating the footage it’s difficult to remember whether in previous series the structure of the highlights shows were so much like television drama. In recent weeks there seems to have been a reliance on primary story, with secondary material buzzing about. This was clearly evident on Monday night’s edition, with the Nush/Scott situation being counterpointed with Steph’s reaction to the task. I have to admit to not being a great supporter of Steph as a contestant because up until this week she’s too often appeared to be a bystander, on the edges of the action; there to give Cameron someone to talk to. When she has been up for eviction she seems to have won through because the housemates she has been up against have been less liked. There’s nothing particularly to dislike about her, but nothing to lock onto. So it’s been very uncomfortable watching her come to the realization that she is under the shadow of Nush. It’s a self-esteem issue, of course, polarized by the Sunday night Bingo task in which she felt that out of the lads only Cameron might pick her. It was another reminder that these are not scripted characters, but real people and should be judged as such. At that time we didn’t believe for one moment Ray would have actually picked Steph, but as the nominations developed this was muddied somewhat. The triangle was being rocked to the core.

For the final nominations, Channel 4 decided to show something from everybody (a change from recent weeks which have been pretty lean). The biggest surprise was seeing Nush and not Steph up for eviction. The deciding vote came from Ray, who sadly wasn’t articulate enough for it to be clear whether he was actually being sincere to Steph the night before or if this was pure tactics. In the late stages of previous series, evictions were about who the housemates would have to spend their final week with. Was I really missing something about Steph? Or had we not seen any of the really entertaining things she’s done? In year two, for example, no one wanted to nominate anyone else because they had become such good friends (apparently). Now they were at it like hardened game players. The love-in I talked about last week had become a much harsher place.

And then it was Wednesday night in the Big Brother house, and the disembodied voices had lovingly supplied some booze. I can’t be certain, but I’m willing to bet that in a fortnight it will be possible to look back at the second half of that night’s edition and select the exact moment when Ray lost Big Brother. Could it be when he threw the heart to heart he’d had with Steph back in her face? When he got up and walked away angrily, pulling the lid off a beer violently before storming into the house and slamming it on the table? Dragging a hobbled Nush halfway across the house despite the protests of his friends that he was going too far and then threw a glass at her head? No, for me it was his classic line to Nush: “I just want to punch her in the f**king face!” He had become everything Scott had feared he could be after a few drinks and at no point was it fun.

Which brings us to the flipside of the accusation of the producers using their skills to portray the housemates in a certain way. The house is all about behaviours. Although the highlight shows are heavily edited, they aren’t fictionalised. Everything within them actually happened. If Ray (or Steph for that matter) had just been happy to have a quiet drink, sit about a lot, perhaps ask Jon for his impression of how the sky was looking, nothing would have appeared in the highlights show and their impressive work during the opera task would have been the big story taking up much of the show (as such, it was barely featured). They argued and the producers had to include it, and not just for ratings purposes. Not to include the actions would have just proved the accusation that they were controlling information flow from the house in order to control the outcome.

That said does anyone remember a housemate called Cameron? Went to South Africa, up for eviction this week, appeared in the girly reward room. You might have noticed that he hasn’t warranted a mention in the past few paragraphs because since the weekend his impression on the action seemed to be pretty minimal. From all the Lisa-hating which appeared last week he just seems to be around. The most interesting thing he’s done is appear as a Pavarotti knock off and turn up in the diary room understandably sermonizing about the evils of drink. His much self trailed secret was still out there, but he was keeping that close to his chest. He did get some coverage on BBLB and in the highlights sections of E4′s interactive service, but in terms of viewer coverage, that’s a bit like a rock fanzine reviewing a band the editor’s girlfriend saw in a suburban pub on a wet Tuesday night. Where at one stage everything seemed to be about Cameron, Steph now seemed to have a point: everything really was about Nush. Which could be why she was evicted.

There is a pattern which has built up this series: Once the nominations have been made the focus seemed to shift to one of the housemates up for eviction, who aftr getting all of the attention somehow ends up leaving. Last week, the house spun around Lisa, she was the main topic of conversation, and her every move was writ large. For the latter half of this week, it was all about Nush. Even in Friday night’s mini-highlights she became the main character and the only time we saw Cameron doing anything of any import, he was talking to the orange stringer.

And so to the Friday night eviction show, which was the most enjoyable in some time. Whether it was that Nush left to cheers, or that she just seemed to want to love the moment and not try to make a point about something, I’m not sure. The voting breakdown seemed quite brutal: She received 66.87% of the public votes (951,512) in comparison to Cameron’s 33.13% (471,346). To some extent she was a victim of the press who developed a profile of her as an utter flirt using her sexuality to get what she wants. That might not be entirely fair. Granted she warmed to the male housemates a lot over the weeks but that was possibly more of a survival technique than anything else. I think on this occasion it was just a case of one housemate being more popular than the other overall, and more of case of the Cameron fan block vote going into effect.

Trust Jon to be involved in one of the moments of the series. Just seconds after Nush had been announced as the ninth evictee, seemingly with the backing of his fellow housemates, Tickle followed her into the bedroom and began a pep talk which within the space of a few minutes focussed the various themes and information from across the week into a point …

He told her he couldn’t win (his control of information within the house). He told her that she had the chance to make a lot of money over the following week and that she needed to make her mind up as to which Sunday paper she would sell her story to by 9am Saturday. Using the Helen Keller approach of finger on palm he told her how much his fellow evictees had made and advised her to get approval about any copy the papers write, but to understand that they would still lie (the press trying to control the story). He told her to be careful about the agents, but listen to their advice and not to go to every showbiz event. That Davina was one of the nicest people you could meet and to speak to Gos for support but stay away from Anouska and Justine (still no love lost there then). To stay in London so that she was close to the other ex-housemates who are a good support network – and do RI:SE (controlling your image and message within a wider context) …

By then, Big Brother’s call to attend the diary room had become a mantra and he had to go. She hugged him and said: “If they tell you off …” “They’re going to do more than that.” He replied. He received a reprimand, but frankly, the worst they could do is ask him to leave which would look very bad indeed for them.

As Big Brother 4 enters its endgame apart from more Jon Tickle it’s looking to be the least appetizing final week yet. In week one it would have been difficult to foresee that Steph would be the final woman in the house. That feels like luck. With her out of the picture the final prize will be between Scott, Ray and Cameron. As has been said, Ray may have ruined his chances after Wednesday night (and certainly the E4 ticker, which has backed Ray for some time has turned very hostile) and although there is a lot of popular support for Scott, I think that the widespread appeal of Cameron will lead him to the £70,000. But then I thought Anna Nolan had it in the bag and that Alex Sibley was a shoo-in.

Who would I like to win? Can I take the Nush approach? “Oh I don’t know … you decide …”

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