Big Brother and the Joy of Low Expectations

The key to enjoying Big Brother is to not expect much from it.

Big Brother 17 cast: Image provided by CBS

Big Brother is best when it embraces its trashy heart. They assemble a bunch of pretty people (with a couple of oddballs like mountainous pro wrestler Austin mixed in). Most of them aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer; few of them are aware of this fact. Usually one actually intelligent person somehow winds up in the mix, bewildered by the dolts around him/her. Stoke the paranoia. Toss them into competitions wearing bathing suits and then douse them in a variety of liquids. It’s not rocket science.

Good Lord, is it not rocket science.

Big Brother 17 began unspooling this week. There’s the usual mix of personal trainers, waitstaff, retail employees, wannabe performers, students and folks with dubious professions like “poker dealer.” That is: a group of people who can spend three months locked on a CBS soundstage with no material impact on their professional standing.

Host Julie Chen seemed almost lifelike. Fans will miss the Chenbot if she manages to be this loose and humanoid all summer. Clearly this is Sharon Osbourne’s fault.

The lies and paranoia started immediately. Da’Vonne is one of the most entertaining houseguests off the bat. But would the others really be that threatened to know she’s a professional poker dealer? Actual professional poker player Vanessa seems to have a better basis for concealing her “job.” On the other hand, “rock and roll” dentist John was such a space cadet, one can’t blame Da’Vonne for not believing that he tends teeth for a living.

Big Brother 17's Austin: Image provided by CBS

Each player’s calculus as to what will or won’t make him or her a target is bizarrely fascinating. The big, jock-type guys and athletic women are eager to look weaker. The skinny guys and girly girls all want to demonstrate that they’re tough. And as is traditional with Big Brother contestants, they all fear the others thinking they “don’t need” the prize money. As if any Big Brother winner in the history of the show was selected on the basis of financial hardship.

Big Brother loves twists. The show has a compulsive need to shake things up. Possibly to keep viewers interested. Possibly so that the line producers charged with plucking a watchable episode of television from hours of footage won’t kill themselves out of boredom.

This season, Big Brother has brought back one of the few of its twists not to fizzle almost immediately on deployment: the “Battle of the Block.” Instead of one Head of Household, each week two players get that title. Each nominates two potential evictees. Those pairs face off in a competition. The winning pair gets immunity and “dethrones” the HoH who nominated them. Who is then exposed to potential eviction. There was a lot of collusion last year in the use of “Battle of the Block.” Producers clearly hope to get some hostile co-HoHs this year.

Big Brother 17’s big “new” idea is “The Takeover.” Each week, the show will bring in a “special guest” to unleash fresh hell on the game in a variety of ways. The first is Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan, whose first act was to round out the Big Brother 17 cast with a duo from the Race’s recent “Blind Date” edition. CBS loves cross-pollinating its reality competition franchises.

And because no one was clamoring for it, Big Brother has brought back the “Twin Twist.” They did this once before, about a decade ago. It involves a pair of identical twins playing the game as one person. They switch in and out of the house at random intervals and try to make the others think they’re one person. If they survive the first five eliminations, both twins will get to enter the house and play individually. And endure the anger borne of hurt feelings and a sense of betrayal from the other contestants.

Big Brother 17's Audrey: Image provided by CBS

One thing Big Brother has always had going for it has been a commitment to diversity. The producers have managed to bring in contestants of different races, religions, socio-economic backgrounds and orientations. This summer they’re tapping the zeitgeist with Audrey, the show’s first ever transsexual contestant. So far, the other houseguests have been rather supportive.

But hey, let’s hope these people aren’t too nice for too long. We need some drama. We need to see shallow thinkers try to outmaneuver one another. Lies and paranoia! Cheesy competitions!

Don’t expect too much and Big Brother will deliver.

Originally published at on June 26, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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