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On Big Brother, an ugly CBS reality show pattern repeats itself

On Big Brother, an ugly CBS reality show pattern repeats itself

A few years ago, I wrote about how, on Survivor, early votes against people of color were increasing. Black women, especially, were targeted at exponentially higher rates.

The only black woman on Big Brother was among the first targets this season, and so were three other people who were not young white men. This is an ugly pattern, and was the end result of a dumb, pointless twist created for the sake of having a twist.

The person targeting them was Jackson, who was elected “camp director.” Upon learning he had to banish four people, he no longer wanted to be camp director.

“I didn’t ask for this,” said the guy who literally asked for this, campaigning for everyone to vote for him.

So who did the white guy from Tennessee choose? Let’s see:

  • Kemi, the only black female player
  • David, the only black male player
  • Jessica, the Latina plus-sized model
  • Cliff, the oldest player

There’s always a flimsy “reason” for white people targeting people of color early in CBS reality competitions, because nobody is going to say, “They’re different from me.”

But of course, they may not even recognize that, because racism or sexism or ageism don’t have to be explicit, conscious choices. As Sarah Channon wrote when analyzing Survivor’s early votes against people of color:

“I believe this is due to implicit stereotype, a subconscious cultural bias to which we are all susceptible, including members of the race in question. Unlike an explicit stereotype, which we consciously believe, we are unaware of what implicit stereotypes we hold—and they may be in direct opposition to the principles we consciously endorse.

When you hit the beach on Survivor, with all the paranoia of needing to be ‘in’, you go for people who look like you, because they are the most likely to share your experiences, the most likely to relate to you. First impressions don’t always last, but they are key in those early votes.”

Jackson’s “reasons” for his Big Brother banishments had to do with the others also running for camp director. Except he also chose Kemi, who didn’t run for camp director. His flimsy reason: She didn’t campaign to save herself.

So which is it, Jackson? Could we at least have some consistency? No, we can not.

Jackson’s reason for choosing David had nothing to do with David’s candidacy for camp director, at least according to what Jackson actually said: he told David that he was putting him in the competition as a pawn.

Jackson Michie on Big Brother 21 episode 1
Camp director Jackson Michie on Big Brother 21’s premiere. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS)

That was bullshit on so many levels. Jackson said David would definitely win his way back in, but they had no idea what the challenge would be, so this confidence was idiotic. And David himself was like: fuck that, pawns always go home.

Because Big Brother is, at its core, a shitty show, the challenge given to the four people banished for no reason other than to fuel the network’s craving for some kind of artificial drama in the first episodes ended up being completely random, not based on any kind of physical skill or mental ability. Just random.

The four contestants were in total darkness and had to crawl through a hole that led back into the house. There were holes that led to themed rooms instead of the house, however.

Ultimately, it was David who was last and didn’t return to the game. He was devastated. “I don’t want to go home,” he said through tears. “I want to be the first black person to win Big Brother. I wanted to represent African-American culture in a different light,” he said. “I wanted to show that.”

Big Brother 21 houseguest David Alexander
Big Brother 21 houseguest David Alexander

Julie Chen strongly suggested that David isn’t out for good, or may have a way back into the game next Wednesday, with some kind of unprecedented blah blah blah.

Also there’s a new competition called “‘Whack’tivity” that will change the game forever blah blah blah.

But why should I care about any of that? If the Big Brother producers cared so little as to create the context in which people who are different can be targeted immediately, and then dump one of their contestants immediately based on a random challenge, why should I become invested in this game?

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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. Learn more about Andy.

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