Big Brother 11 news and rumors: two tribes and two houses? cliques? a $0 prize?

Big Brother 11 debuts two weeks from tomorrow, and facts and rumors about the new season are floating around online.

Last Friday, bloggers and TV journalists and the like spent 14 hours in the house for media day because, like I mentioned on Twitter, it’s useful for the producers to test things with a group of people who are as unstable as their actual contestants. They’ll be allowed to talk about their experiences–when CBS will likely reveal some twists and possibly even the cast–this coming Monday.

But why wait when we can speculate? After all, this is Big Brother, and many people have been in hibernation until now, when they wake up and get ready to devote about three months of their lives to obsessively following other people’s lives for three months.

Before the rumors, here are some actual facts: Showtime 2′s broadcast of After Dark will return starting July 9, according to the network’s schedule. Speaking of schedules, after a 9.5 week season last year, this season will be about the same length: nine-plus weeks. CBS announced Wednesday that Survivor Samoa, the show’s 19th season, debuts a week before the regular TV season, on Sept. 17. That premiere is exactly 10 weeks from the July 9 start date of Big Brother, which means the houseguests will definitely leave our TV sets by Sept. 15, if not Sept. 13 or 10. Finally, just like last year, the live studio audience will return, and tickets are now available if you’d like to wave fake signs to help the houseguests feel better about themselves.

As to rumors, first, my contribution: I’ve heard that the show will basically borrow from Survivor and organize the house into, for lack of a better term, tribes, and thus challenge wins and losses–including HOH–will benefit/punish the entire team. This isn’t a lot different than what the show has done in the past with challenges that force the houseguests to divide into teams, but they’ve never started with two pre-set alliances, basically.

For what it’s worth, I really hope the producers don’t pre-sort them into groups. The best season in the show’s history, Big Brother 6, worked in part because the house aligned and divided itself organically, and last season was pretty great because the producers took their insecure hands off things and just let a group of interesting, actual strangers play the game.

In related rumors, Reality BBQ suggests the casting has something to do with high school clicks, while the two-tribe format sort of aligns with another rumor, which is that there will be two physical houses. A replica house was constructed, according to a Jokers’ Updates poster. However, in an awkward phone interview with TV Grapevine, casting director Robyn Kass said “it’s cool,” which sounded singular to me, not that she’d reveal a big twist.

In addition, I find it to be highly improbable that CBS would spend the money to build another house while Survivor is filming back-to-back seasons only because of budget cuts and the cheap-ass Housecalls online talk show gets cancelled because it can’t find a sponsor. Maybe the current house is being split in half somehow, but that also seems like it would cost more than it’s worth.

Colleen Sullivan, the show’s CBS publicist, wrote on Twitter that the show is “is Going Green like you’ve never seen!” and is “Eco Friendly proud,” which may refer to the house–or to read into way into it, maybe they’re even recycling contestants, since all-stars are a perennial rumor even though that didn’t really work last time.

Meanwhile, radio host Carrie Ann Moten, one of the embargoed, um, journalists in the house last Friday blogged that “There is a pretty awesome twist this season AND it’s NEVER happened on TV.” But reality blurred friend B-Side, who was also in the house, wrote on Jokers, “I don’t know the twist, and I was in the house with her!”

One final rumor from Jokers: the cast will be told the prize is $0 and they have to earn it, which if that’s true, would be directly cribbed from The Mole and its “pot.” With Survivor-like tribes, maybe this season’s theme is “we totally ran out of ideas and stole them from better reality shows.”

Finally, while there are 12 empty spaces for houseguest faces on Big Brother‘s web site, Julie Chen said on The Early Show in March that they will “throw 10 new strangers into the house this summer.” If there actually are just 10 people, that would be the smallest number since the first season, which also had 10. But she also said in March, and there’s no way they’d locked down the season’s details by then. Also, she’s Julie Chen, and we know how good she is with dispensing accurate, coherent information while broadcasting live.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.