Thoughts about returning to Big Brother after skipping it for a week

Last week, I was in the North Sea aboard the Steve Irwin, covering Whale Wars spin-off for Playboy, somewhat worried about being imprisoned and/or dying. That meant I missed three episodes of Big Brother, among other TV shows, and coming back to those was quite the contrast.

After five days away, I lost all interest in the show. That was in part because the post-ship land sickness (I’ve self-diagnosed myself with this syndrome) has been making it difficult for me to actually watch TV for a few days. But literally, it dropped away, even with the big, pre-spoiled twist. However, I had too much invested to just drop out now–I’m not the kind of person who walks out in the middle of a movie–so I just watched all four hours in a row.

That’s left me with some observations about this season and the show in general:

  • The point of watching is that you’ve already watched a lot. A significant part of the motivation of watching the show is the investment I’ve already put into it. (I have no idea what motivates people who watch the live feeds; they’re stronger people than I am.) Usually at the end of the season, I can’t believe I’ve wasted more than two months on this nonsense and purge it from my brain, which allows me to approach it with fresh enthusiasm the next summer. But stopping mid-season is much more of a shock to the system.

Watching Big Brother is like riding a kiddie roller coaster and losing your memory every time it pulls into the station so you think there’s brand-new track ahead: it’s mildly exciting at some points and you keep thinking it’ll get better, but really nothing changes and it’s not that exciting to begin with. If you do regain your memory mid-ride, it makes it difficult to keep going around and around and around. That’s because:

  • The show is incredibly boring. Let’s be honest: Even when there’s something interesting happening strategically, Big Brother is actually a really boring show. The episodes don’t even start until about three or four minutes into the hour, and end four minutes before the end of the hour, which is actually only 43 minutes without commercials. Add in all of the stock lines the houseguests are forced to say, the descriptions they are forced to give us of things we can see perfectly well for ourselves, and absolutely useless footage, and it’s maddening considering there’s a lot of content that the episodes ignore.
  • On top of that, we get the same challenges, the same musical cues, the same structure for every episode, and it just drags and drags and drags. Some familiar elements make sense–“the tribe has spoken” and so on–but the challenge of editing the show in near-real time has given us an increasingly familiar show.

    In four hours, very little happened, although it had the potential to be very interesting: Rachel sobbed, Lawon nominated himself and got voted out, Brendon returned, the underdogs prevailed and Daniele became HOH only to play nice and nominate the least-controversial people, Daniele back-doored Brendon when the opportunity presented itself. I would have liked to have seen more depth to all of this rather than, say, footage of Shelly pacing around in solitary.

  • Brendon’s return proves “story” matters more than reality. Big Brother is watched by around 7 million viewers, which is not a lot, and most of them don’t watch the live feeds or follow the show online, probably because they have things to do. All they have is the TV show, so that is their reality.
  • When I interviewed executive producer Allison Grodner a few weeks ago, she repeatedly mentioned “story,” and noted that the pre-existing relationships from the duos “gave us a lot of story, and that has been what’s driving this particular season.” In other words, that’s what they’ve primarily chosen to focus on.

    So, it’s no surprise Brendon got voted back in, even though many of us can’t stand him or his relationship with Rachel. First, the 2 million votes that were cast aren’t that significant: that’s 200,000 people voting 10 times each (assuming people didn’t cheat and log in under multiple identities). Brendon got 1 million votes, which is just 100,000 people voting. Although the fact that he got 50 percent of the vote seems impressive, he got far more than half the screentime this season, and the others never had a chance. The producers might not fix the game directly, but they exercise tremendous power with what they choose to focus on.

  • The casting sucks. The CBS executives who approve and/or insist on this cast need to get a little perspective and stop this madness. Pouring an even less-interesting person into the same mold every season has got to stop, as does the return of previous houseguests. Lawon’s absolutely hilariously stupid decision to vote himself out of the house and Shelly’s delusion about her lies are mildly amusing, but fail to compare on any significant level with the entertainment or game play we’ve seen in the past. All that happens now is that the clones of previous contestants try to imitate behavior they learned when they’ve been forced to watch previous seasons during casting, and the cycle repeats itself, but just gets duller.
  • There is no reason any of this will ever change. The show nearly always wins its timeslot and sometimes even outperforms itself, and those ratings justify all of the decisions that are making the show suck, which means we’ll never see significant changes. Our only hope is another network finding a summer show to put up against Big Brother and either killing it or waking its ass up.
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