"Finicky Word Choice" and Unsurprising Surprises: Checking in on Big Brother

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Big Brother S14E10

It’s been three weeks since I wrote about the brain-dead charms of Big Brother, when this season began. Since that time, an already-convoluted and manipulated season of the show has gotten even more convoluted and manipulated. Before we get into tonight’s “big twist,” let’s quickly review all that has happened over the houseguests’ first three-plus weeks in the BB house:


– Kara, the former Playboy Playmate who I pegged as a favorite to win, was voted out the first week. She made absolutely no impression on me, or anyone else in the house.


– Willie, the brother of reality-famous Russell Hantz, won the first HoH and about mid-way through that first week, lost his mind. Before anyone could get settled, he started squawking about the likelihood of the coaches entering into the game—something we all knew but some of the houseguests treated like a SHOCKER—then subsequently butted heads with just about everyone else in the house. After his first day of non-HOH house living, Willie lost his mind, throwing food at Janelle and head-butting Joe, the chef who screams in the diary room like he’s never watched an episode of reality television before. Hantz legacy!


– My main man Frank seemed/seems to be the center of everything happening in the house, with both Janelle and Britney trying to get Mike Boogie’s best player out from the beginning.


– Frank was nominated and on the outs with Willie in week one, HoH in week two, and the got back-doored into the nomination seat this week once Shane, three-time veto winner and week three HoH, let his coach Britney talk him into the “Frank is the biggest threat” rhetoric. (Amusingly, Britney came to this decision because a conversation with Ian involved “finicky word choice.” The smallest, dumbest things can get you evicted from Big Brother.) I love Frank—especially in light of the fact that he’s the son of former WWE and WCW star Sid Vicious—but folks have overblown his power and skills. It’s so early, there’s really no way to say anyone is that dangerous.


– JoJo was evicted last week. She was a walking Staten Island cliché who supposedly had a lot of bite and yet, I can barely remember what she looks like now.


– In true Big Brother fashion, the CBS product has focused on a select few houseguests—basically everyone I’ve mentioned thus far—and left others completely out of the picture. Dan, one of the best and most popular competitors of all time, has been non-existent for much of the season, which is what happens when you’re a coach with only one player left, and said player is a love-sick fool (sorry, Danielle [and CBS], Shane isn’t interested). I don’t remember if Jenn has been on my TV screen at all since the premiere.


– The coaches “twist” has been both a success and a failure. On one hand, it’s added another layer of strategy to the game and made the other houseguests more paranoid. On the other hand, most of the houseguests are too dense or sheepish to actually think about that strategy on a higher level and the extra paranoia has resulted in some pretty crazy actions (see: everything Willie did).


So there’s your set-up. As I said in my write-up of the premiere, Big Brother seasons are made or broken based on the quality of the cast and after three weeks, Season 14 has been a little bit of a wash. Indeed, there have been exciting moments here and there, and the coach element has worked well enough, but the singular focus on Britney, Janelle, Shane, Frank, and Boogie wasn’t what I had hoped for when the season began. Obviously, everyone’s perception of the season is going to be shaped by who they like and who they don’t, and the prominence of the female coaches and the lack of Dan simply makes me sad.

BUT THAT’S OKAY, because tonight’s episode changed everything.

Okay, no it didn’t. In fact, it brought forth a “twist” that everyone watching saw coming from the opening moments of the season premiere. However, now that the twist is “out” and the coaches are officially back into the game as players, the season has the potential to be much better, or at least more compelling in the coming weeks.

I didn’t get into this with my discussion of the premiere because it’s something of an outlier in the typical Big Brother episodic formula. This is a good thing, as each individual episode of the show spends anywhere from five to 10 minutes at the beginning recapping things that TV viewers saw days before and live feed/spoiler consumers knew for even longer.

Clearly, the producers of the show do this as a way to keep viewers up-to-date with what’s happening—a necessity for a show that airs three times a week—but it also helps craft a narrative for the episode, regardless of whether that narrative is true. This happens most often when there’s a little indecision with a nomination, veto selection or vote, and even when there isn’t indecision, the show and its producers go out of their way to make it seem like there is.

From a production standpoint, I totally understand this choice. There has to be a narrative, and likely some suspense. We’re all smart enough to know now that reality television doesn’t reflect “reality,” it reflects a constructed version of reality under the guise of the real. In any event, we’re okay with this approach on most reality shows, but with Big Brother, the ability to view the live feeds creates a frustrating and sometimes hilarious disconnect between what actually happens and what CBS and the producers decide to put on the airwaves. Big Brother has an additional layer of enjoyment because of this. In this season, we’ve seen the CBS product continue to harp on a “showmance” (an on-screen romance between houseguests) between Shane and Danielle, when it’s clear to everyone watching the feeds or following spoilers, or really anyone who is not Danielle, that Shane isn’t interested.

In tonight’s episode, typical Big Brother story construction was on display. With Frank now stuck in the nomination seat under the assumption he was staying, and HoH Shane and his alliance knowing that the opposite was true, the producers did their best to create some drama. Much of the episode was spent on Wil’s sudden frustration with his coach Janelle, who, admittedly isn’t the most enjoyable person to be around, let alone have to follow.

What’s silly about the episode’s suggestion that Wil might turn on his coach and/or alliance is that he never really verbalized doing so. He claimed to be annoyed with his clearly annoying coach, that’s about it. But one little tiff became the centerpiece for an episode looking for voting-related tension.

I did, however, appreciate the almost meta way in which the Wil-Janelle “confrontation” unfolded. After recognizing that Wil was upset, Janelle approached him, tissue in hand, ready to squeeze out some fake tears for him, and the audience. Cut to Janelle in the diary room saying how she’s doing it all for show, then cut to Wil saying that he knows that she’s doing it all for show, and suddenly we’re trapped in a creepy world of knowing performance that makes me a little uncomfortable that I like watching these idiots so much.

In any event, none of this mattered anyway. Instead of an eviction vote, we had ourselves a “game reset.” America “voted”* to give the coaches the option to come back into the game and fight for the big $500k and forgo their opportunity to coast along and win $100k. If just one coach voted to reset and enter the game, they would all have to. And before the live episode could create any substantive tension, Britney, the first coach in the diary room, agreed to join the game. Janelle and Dan joined her, with only Boogie, a competitor clearly terrified to be revealed for the fraudulent, lame game-player he is, deciding to stay as a coach.


* As Reality Blurred discussed last year, this series is fairly manipulated. And as most diehard fans of the show know, the producers have no problems shaping storylines on the fly, handing houseguests lines in the confessional, and much more. I put voted in quotes to suggest that it doesn’t really matter what people voted for or not—those veterans were coming back into the game, no question. Again, according to Reality Blurred, the coaches knew from the beginning that they’d join the game.


So now, the reset is in play. The move that we and the houseguests have been expecting from the beginning has been made. One would think that the coaches being part of the game would create interesting choices for the newbie houseguests. Do they stick with their coaches, or do they band together—like they suggested doing in week one—and take out the veterans? Last season, the house was full of people who were even more dense and sheepish than these folks, and so all the returning players ran ram shod over everything. I couldn’t take Rachel and Brendon with that much power, I’m not sure how I’ll be able to swallow Janelle with that sort of clout either.

The problem with tonight’s big move and really Big Brother all together is that the houseguests rarely make it as compelling as it could be. It’d be great to see the newbies successfully stand up to the veterans, but even if they make an attempt to do so, they’ll probably fall flat on their faces. Shane kept calling his move to back-door Frank one of the biggest moves in the game. It wasn’t, at all. And that kind of small-minded thinking is what leads to safe gameplay and a lot of middle weeks of the show filled in with false narratives and too much bluster. Until someone actually makes a big move, I’m going to assume that Janelle rides the power of personality** to the top of the house’s foodchain.


** I find it so hilarious when new houseguests are intimidated or “star-struck” by former players. They’re still just goofballs playing a fake game on television. They’ve just done it once or twice before. Get a grip.


How do you feel about the coaches entering the game? And with that in mind, who is your current favorite to win?

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