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Big Brother 19’s premiere rapidly ruins its potential

Big Brother 19’s premiere rapidly ruins its potential
The BB19 cast, right before their season went to hell. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Sixteen normal, decent houseguests were suspended in pods in the Big Brother back yard, all facing the same direction, each with a button in their hand. The first to press their button would win $25,000—but also face a consequence.

It was all going so well, and then Big Brother’s pathalogical inability to be a decent, normal reality competition infected the show and wrecked it already, returning Paul to the game as a replacement for one player, and giving him even more power at the same time.

Okay, sure, I was annoyed almost immediately by the standard cast introductions, with their fake key reactions and their over-acting—I love watching happy people, but 30 minutes of screaming introductions and faux excitement is exhausting for this introvert. And the editing’s emphasis on the houseguests’ desire to bang each other was trying way too hard.

But BB19 has a pretty normal, decent-on-paper cast, and they seemed pretty decent in the house, too. That’s so atypical that several of the houseguests noticed that many of them were normal, non-model fans of the show, and thus actually thought it was a shocking twist. How great is it that?

There were other things I liked:

  • Two competitions and an eviction in one episode, so it wasn’t all padding.
  • The sped-up voting with the actual vote concealed, which definitely increased the drama, because the live voting can drag.
  • Cody trying to convince Alex to drop out of the endurance challenge, and Alex replying, out loud, “No offense, but I hope you eat shit.” (Alas, she didn’t win.)
  • One of the first temptation’s two consequences: requiring the person to throw the HOH competition. That means they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed, but would have to work to protect their identity.
  • Any sentence with Christmas’ name in it. “Poisoned apple for Christmas!”

I also liked the idea of temptations being this season’s twist, because choices and consequences are interesting television, if executed correctly. These were not. These were executed in a way that highlighted what terrible game design Big Brother has, with producers constantly unleveling the playing field.

In a summer of temptations, they cast was tempted three times—except two of those were not actual temptations! There was only one: the $25,000. The other two “temptations,” themed to safety and power, were called that, but were not temptations.

And all the first big consequence did was wreck all of this season’s potential in a series of increasingly bad choices on behalf of the production.

Paul returns, brings back Big Brother’s worst impulses

Big Brother’s producers proved their skill in botching the game by bringing back a returnee almost immediately. (Of course, Paul wouldn’t have returned had Kevin not taken the $25,000 temptation—but I’d have taken it, too, and that much money made it an almost sure-thing that someone would take it.)

I’m not a fan of this because returning players have a massive advantage in non-all-star seasons of competition shows. They not only have the experience of playing the game, but they’ve also expeirenced all of the parts of production the rest of the cast has to learn and get used to. Plus, they’re essentially celebrities, and that creates a power dynamic that it’s hard to overcome. Sure, it can happen, and has, but the game started with Paul shooting a free throw from atop a ladder placed next to the basket.

Not only that, but the producers then gave Paul a bunch of power disguised as a temptation. The safety “temptation” was Paul choosing eight people to have immunity. Begging Paul for immunity ≠ temptation.

The problem with the  twist, besides making the second hour start with everyone kisisng Paul’s bracelets/ass, is that it reoriented them from thinking of him as a threat to needing him. (To counter my own argument: It also created eight people who are potentially annoyed with him, though the only one for which it truly matters was voted out.)

I don’t actually think the show is rigging the game for Paul, but the production couldn’t have given conspiracy theorists more fodder than they did in this episode.

I also think it’s a safe bet he’ll get voted into the “Den of Temptation” first, since viewers vote and the TV-watching fans are going to vote for the guy they recognize, and give him “pendant of protection” immunity for three evictions. Three!

Please, BB19, look up ‘temptation’ in a dictionary

The three on the block received the final, power-themed “temptation,” but it wasn’t a temptation, it was a choice between a vote or a competition.

That isn’t enticement; it’s just a choice—and there isn’t an option to avoid the choice, either. Temptations are fun because something known is offered but comes with something unknown as a penalty. There are so many places to go with that, but Big Brother couldn’t even think of three.

One consequence we might see during the season is Big Brother’s favorite punishment: a diet of “slop.”

But slop is just steel cut oatmeal with protein powder and vitamins added, as was demonstrated recently. I’ve tried it; it has a bit of a metallic taste and pasty texture, but was fine. It might be boring to eat, though there are a lot of allowed condiments. Still, the show’s producers have convinced themselves and/or the network that this is rich entertainment, worthy of a weekly attention and a fitting punishment for losing a challenge.

But really, it’s just bland. So is a season of Big Brother with the same rut being traveled once again.

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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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