Remember Russell Kairouz, the big jerk from this summer's eleventh season of Big Brother? He taunted Ronnie, insulted Jeff's intelligence, poked fun at Jordan's weight, and called Chima a racist. It was impossible not to hate his smug grin, arrogant demeanor, loud bark, and porn-star-style facial hair. Well, guess what? He's not a jerk at all -- he just played one on TV.
Hold on a second -- acting? On a reality show? It's no secret that "reality TV" is hardly a true-to-life depiction of actual reality -- the dialogue on The Hills is about as real as Janice Dickinson's face. And it's common knowledge that producers manipulate cast members and editors splice footage to create dramatic TV. But if we're not even watching real people, what's the point? Is there any reality left? And does it matter, as long as it's entertaining?
In an exclusive interview with TV.com, Kairouz dished on his Big Brother experience, the tactics and strategies that made him Season 11's most memorable villain, and how little of his on-screen persona was actually real.
The Accidental Contestant
"I didn’t apply for Big Brother," Kairouz said. "I was at a bar with a friend of mine and we were having a good time. I was just being myself and being the life of the party, and they came up to me and asked me if I’d ever heard of this show. I never expected to do a reality show. I just knew I would never do something that’s trashy or unclassy. So I researched the show -- it’s a game about how you use your strengths and weaknesses to further yourself. It’s not just a bunch of people just sitting around at summer camp. So it was intriguing. It was a mental challenge and I was like, 'You know what? Why not?'"
"[Big Brother] was an opportunity for me to play a different character, a different role, something that you can’t do in real life," he said. "You get sick and tired of seeing the same love story play out, the same superhero win. And I felt like, 'Hey, you know what, I’m going to be a smart villain. I’m going to be a charismatic villain, and I’m going to try and do it my way. It’s the first time I’ll ever get to act. Why not run with it?' And I had a great time doing it."
Kairouz isn't the only reality-show contestant with a fantasy facade. The current Survivor cast is dealing with one contestant in particular -- Russell -- who began his run on the island by fabricating a heartwarming story about his post-Katrina experience in Louisiana. He's been wreaking havoc ever since.
The Perfect Villain
"I was always playing different characters," he said. "So it was always a juggling act and a balancing act. And it got pretty hot at some points trying to figure out what person to be, because I needed to be very smooth sometimes, very quiet sometimes, very loud sometimes. All of my fights really had a purpose and a tactic behind them. It wasn’t just me trying to get some airtime."
Things Aren't Always What They Seem
"I think America’s misconception is that if you are a bad guy, you’re automatically a terrible person," Kairouz said of the differences between real-life and on-screen personalities. "And I think it’s funny that people cannot separate the game from reality and what’s personal from someone who’s actually using it for strategy."
When did reality TV become an outlet for fulfilling fantasies of everyday people? Are characters -- not real people -- the future of the genre? Should we expect any semblance of reality from reality show contestants, or does being on a reality show mean spending eight weeks in an alternate universe where you can pretend to be whoever you want? Does it even matter?
One thing's for sure: "Reality TV" has altered our definition of reality, whether we like it or not.