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BB:OTT was an improved Big Brother, but don’t expect summer to change

BB:OTT was an improved Big Brother, but don’t expect summer to change
Big Brother: Over the Top finalists Kryssie Ridolfi, Morgan Willett, and Jason Roy. (Photo by Lisette M. Azar/CBS)

Big Brother: Over the Top comes to an end tonight, after about two and a half months of improving on the summer version of Big Brother. Those improvements—increased interactivity, more access for live feed watchers to participate—are changes fans have wanted for years. But it seems unlikely they will affect the summer version of the show when it returns on CBS in June.

Asked if live feed watchers will get to see summer season challenges play out live, as they have this fall on BB:OTT, executive producer Allison Grodner told The Hollywood Reporter, “no, we don’t see changing that for the summer season. It’s just not possible. They really are different beasts.” She refers specifically to how the challenges “are complete and total yard transformations. They’re much more complex, big builds.”

And Grodner makes it clear that she views the CBS All Access season differently than the summer broadcast network version: “we proved is that it’s not the same as the summer show so ideally no one feels like it stepped on the summer show’s toes in any way. It was a really new and innovative way to see a competition program play out, to see audience interaction and participation and how that can affect a series in real time and it was a lot of fun to do.”

That’s disappointing because BB:OTT hasn’t exactly been “new and innovative”—it’s just been what the show should have been all along: actually interactive, actually live. Viewers have real power, selecting tonight’s winner, rather than the ability to vote for have-not meals that don’t affect the competition in any way. They’ve been able to play a role in nominations, thus affecting the game rather than being passive observers of it.

What a contrast from a show that, in its summer seasons, has increasingly resorted to a rigid formula for episodes and the game play—so formulaic that players know when to expect certain twists, and adds frustrating elements such as overly coached, annoying Diary Room interviews.

If summer BB won’t change, one OTT a year would still be a gift

Of course, BB:OTT was still Big Brother, though, and all of the hallmarks of the game were there, such as shifting alliances, the effects of isolation (though the houseguests were told about the results of the presidential election), accusations of unfairness, and racist comments. So fun.

But even if the additional interactivity and transparency is just a fresh coat of paint on top of a still-problematic series, why not stick with that new paint? I haven’t had practically any chance to watch this fall season, but I’d welcome seeing these changes play out on television next summer.

I think it’s a matter of audience. The summer season caters to a television audience, which is where the show makes its money. Feed watchers may be passionate and vocal fans, but it’s the few million people who tune in to episodes of the summer show that are the revenue generators, and who the producers/network don’t want to alienate.

Perhaps there’s a happy medium in having one of each season every year: a pay-the-bills, stick-to-the-formula summer edition, followed by a gift for the most loyal fans.

And those who have been watching for the past few months have appreciated the changes and what they’ve seen—it really has been a gift, and even if it’s a one-time thing, it’s been appreciated.

Here’s what live feed watcher and friend of reality blurred Dingo, aka Hamsterwatch, wrote about BB:OTT:

“This season is a breath of fresh air, bringing back most everything we used to love about BB and ditching a lot of the things we’ve grown to loathe. We’ve got incredible transparency, feeds from move-in, live comps and ceremonies, and virtually no blocks. The live Diaries are somewhat contrived, but they do give us some candid glimpses into our hamsters’ heads and their games. The packaged recaps and weekly shows are the usual CBS-style edits, but they’re streamlined and sticking to ‘just the facts’ so far. The comps so far have been great, less glitzy but with more substance and subtlety, and the cast has tremendous promise. I don’t really care about all the viewer voting one way or another, but voting for a third nominee and an eviction vote each week adds an interactive element that’s made this a true hybrid between USA/Canada and international style Big Brothers. Best of all, we have an actual weekly schedule and they’re sticking to it, cutting out the guesswork for when the various regular events might happen. All in all, it’s a big big winner and a thank you to us feedsters, their most ardent and loyal viewers.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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