Big Brother

Friday, September 1, 2000 by

“Anna and Mel turn into two loud-mouth fat slobs who spend their days in bed smoking and eating.”

The story of the seventh week of Big Brother is one of inertia, as the brakes crash on. With the household whittled down to five, the programme that so dazzled us two weeks ago is now something of a drag. Put 10 strangers in a house, and the dynamics are electric (particularly if one of them happens to be a Machiavellian charmer), however looking in on five slothful friends who are reasonably comfortable in their environment and sure of themselves – well, it doesn’t quite have the same edgy compulsion. However, we’ve been with these people for two months now, we owe it to ourselves to see it through to the end. All of us have invested too much time in Big Brother to stop watching now.

It was a dull week again in the house. And yet, like the householders themselves we have somewhere down the line been conditioned to become tremendously excited at the merest stimuli. Just as the promise of wine roused Mel, Anna, Claire, Darren and Craig into air-punching and whooping, we almost arose from our seats in excitement on Tuesday with the botched nomination process. But more of that later.

Unlike other commentators, I particularly enjoy the Monday edition of Big Brother which, aside from deviating from the format, affords us the always satisfying opportunity to nod wisely in agreement with the psychologists as they affirm our own suspicions on the motivations and machinations within the house. This week we could happily tick off our “Claire” scorecards as the “professionals” confirmed that she does indeed flirt far more than the unfairly maligned (and if Friday’s edition is anything to go by, demonised) Melanie ever did. The Monday programme refreshingly reframes the householders as guinea-pigs within the experiment. We are reminded that essentially we’re just analysing, and enjoying, subjects’ reactions to stimuli. For the rest of the week, we’re in there with them – it’s a soap opera. Every Monday, however, we observe them, rather than live with them.

And if this is an experiment, then Claire seems to have been introduced as the control element. Watching this charmless intruder is perhaps both the most fascinating and repelling factor of the last two weeks of Big Brother. Facing up to Davina on Friday’s edition Claire was presented with the requisite greatest hits package representing her time in the house. It was telling to see her early moments again as she very purposefully placed herself in the centre of activities; not just benefiting from bringing with her, from the housemates’ perspective, something of The Shock of the New, but proactively initiating discussions and activities (remember the drill sergeant routine?). How quickly this fell away as she found herself in an environment where the inhabitants sleep for a large portion of the day, are largely inactive and yet have a tremendously emotional response to the largely trivial. Having been denied the five weeks they’d all had in the house she seemed to find it (understandably) impossible to fit into this lifestyle, and it’s telling that when she left on Friday she expressed sympathy for Craig, the only member she was able to relate to (albeit on a one-note, and for this viewer, extremely irritating level) being left with the “aliens”. Her ill-placed, cloddish comments (“Look on the bright side … it’s not as though you’ve lost a kidney!” she advised the group after Tom’s eviction last week) show how wrong-footed she’s been ever since she entered. Moreover, you cannot escape the conclusion that often Claire would find herself verbally trampling on the flower bed just for the sake of saying something. Fatally for her, she was utterly ill-equipped to deal with boredom. “I’m boring myself” she admitted at one stage.

So to Tuesday. At last, here was another test of the group dynamic (which the recent tasks set by Big Brother had failed to do) as the household overheard Darren’s nomination of Mel and surmised his other choice (Craig). One of the delights thus far of Big Brother has been in watching those moments of realisation wherein the participants finally cotton onto something that has been revealed to us for some time. Darren’s justifications for nominating his house mates have been something of a joke since the programme began; as he offers spurious reasoning patently designed to portray him as a decent bloke (“Craig needs to get back to his business so he should go”). In actuality what we have seen is an offensively dim and ill-thought out attitude to those he is dispatching. Finding out he’d been overheard, it was fascinating to observe how repellant the group found Darren as he laid out his “good-hearted” reasons for dangling the sword of Damocles over his friend, Mel. Fundamentally misunderstanding everyone else’s attitude to the nomination process, Darren compounded his mistake by assuring the group he would change his vote. Anna’s bitter diatribe delivered in the Diary Room later on that day was perhaps the most eloquent and real thing we have seen from her. Utterly bemused by all of the above her scorn for Darren was untempered. Elsewhere Craig and Mel spat contempt in the Jacuzzi, and the following day Claire and Anna also conducted a post mortem in the tub, although by this stage things had become a little more complicated (as these things do) and Claire’s ire was directed at Mel (maddeningly the sound of passing traffic obscured Anna’s response to this).

Unfortunately, aside from surely assuring Darren’s place on the eviction list for next week, the fallout from the incident diffused all too quickly. The rest of the week paned out in an unmemorable fashion with the unsuccessful completion of the group task (making chicken-wire sculptures of themselves) contributing little to the plot. For the viewer too much time was spent killing time. Anna paced out the length between the bedroom and the bathroom, various dull practical jokes were played, Darren and Mel reflected wistfully on Nick and most of all, a lot of water was splashed about in the Jacuzzi. Of the latter, we might charitably conclude that aside from providing the production team with more shots of the flesh (and it is notable how the nudity content has upped whilst the drama has done the opposite), the Jacuzzi was installed as a sort of meeting place, a Rover’s Return in the Big Brother soap. To that ends, it works. Alas little of import has happened here.

Come the Friday night eviction programme there was not much at stake for the viewer. Of course, everyone knew that Claire would go, and never having surmounted her status as “the new girl” there was little bound up in her fate. We watched simply to observe justice being done. Suitably the reaction in the house was muted, and the whole affair conducted from the Jacuzzi. There were some great moments, however, with the opening which found Davina McCall ensconced in the Diary Room particularly amusing (more so in retrospect; it transpires she accidentally left her mobile phone in there, which was then found by the housemates). Claire’s post eviction interview dwelt at one stage on her flirtation with Craig, drawing a deliciously icy response from her boyfriend in the studio. And yet there wasn’t much to be revealed here. Not only had Claire been in the house for just 13 days, but she had also proved herself the least perceptive of all the Big Brother contestants. Insights from her, then, proved as considered as Darren’s nomination process.

Next week sees the last of the evictions, and the programme staggering ever closer to our final flick of the wrist. As Davina plunged from the studio back into the baying crowd the camera, as ever, shot off skyward – over and across the furor to find that Portacabin of a house. The mix from the roaring excited masses to the sedated, mildly depressed Big Brother contestants is always an affecting moment and shows real directorial style. With intrigue in the house at such a low ebb, maybe it’s time to employ more of this sort of flair.

Whatever; we’ll still be watching.


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