CBS’s Big Brother 25th Anniversary Celebration was benefitting of the show it celebrated: a complete mess.
The worst TikTok videos I’ve seen are more thoughtfully edited than this thrown together bag of clips, which if you told me had been just assembled from old pre-season promos, I’d believe it.
It was just a crummy ad, of course—though a pretty terrible one for season 25, in that it revealed nothing except some glimpses at the house, which is normally the kind of publicity work I expect of Entertainment Weekly, not Entertainment Tonight. Julie Chen Moonves’ teasers consisted of nonsense such as “we’re pulling out all the stops” and we’ll “see some old, familiar faces” and “cameos.”
Besides promotion for next week’s premiere, who was this Anniversary Celebration for? Five minutes in, the special was showing quick clips of fights and throwing around names (“Keesha’s birthday party,” “Brett vs. Rockstar”) without any context.
Later there were explanations about things like slop and the have-nots room, which even the most casual, CBS-watching fan knows about.
Some clips were clearly designed to make fans shriek when they saw something they remembered. I sure shrieked when I saw Shannon using Hardy’s electric toothbrush in the toilet, a Major Scandal I’d forgotten about.
Was there any chance this one-hour special would somehow capture and explore the nuances of 23 years of a voyeuristic game manipulated by producers and rabidly consumed on social media?
“Big Brother is more than just a competition show, it’s the building of a community—bringing strangers together, and making them family.”
Whatever it was, some things made me laugh, like Julie Chen Moonves’ lack of knowldge about the show she hosts. Other parts were genuinely surprising. Anyway, here are 15 highlights. If you’d like to simulate the experience of watching the special while reading this, just spin around 25 times first.
They gave the hosting job to someone else
So this was announced as “CBS presents BIG BROTHER 25TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION, an ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT special.” So Entertainment Tonight’s Nischelle Turner hosted.
While Turner was barely on screen, and only sometimes narrated, I wondered: Was someone sending a message to Julie Chen Moonves that she’s replaceable?
Nischelle hosted from the Big Brother set, and literally did the Julie Chen Moonves’ signature move: a pivot and a “but first”! And she ended by saying “expect the unexpected.”
What could that overused, underdelivering catchphrase mean? After all, the only thing Big Brother could do at this point that would actually be unexpected is replace Julie Chen.
Ugh TV critics suck
“I don’t think it was cast very well, to tell you the truth. I think when you compare the cast of Big Brother to the two casts of Survivor, they’re night and day… I think the game being played was not as well thought out as the Survivor game. To just give you a couple of instances, I don’t think they followed up on some of the more interesting things that were going on in the house. In reviewing some of the tapes later on, there were more provocative storylines that could have been followed that were dropped.”
Twists get all the credit
Nischelle Turner told us that, on Big Brother, “It’s the twists in the game created by the show’s producers that really drive the drama.”
With this kind of blatant pro-producer propaganda, I was truly surprised to see Entertainment Tonight producers in the credits, not Big Brother’s own producers.
No mention, by the way, of the twists that are dumped immediately.
If only there was a thing that already exists
“How we found these people, I don’t know. I just think if there were Emmy awards for casting, the Big Brother casting department should get Emmy award after Emmy award.” —Julie Chen Moonves
There is an Emmy award for casting reality TV, and has been since 2017. This will be the sixth year it’s presented.
Big Brother has never been nominated. Perhaps that is why no one seems to be aware of this?
Or perhaps Julie meant if there was a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting of Reprehensible People and A Handful of Bores for a Reality Program?
No opening prayer
Julie Chen Moonves, who gave Bibles to the cast and crew in the past, did not start her comments off with a prayer as she did with Variety’s Emily Longeretta. Or maybe an editor saved us from her attempts to save us by cutting that out?
No time for felony stalking
We saw a clip of Will Kirby and Mike Malin in the Diary Room together and reflected on Chilltown.
Despite Big Brother’s love of violence—the special began with fights, after all—there was not a single mention of how that alliance ended with Mike making violent threats toward Will and his family, for which Malin was convicted of felony stalking.
Black players—and women!—actually got credit
I did a double-take when Frankie Grande appeared—just kidding, he’d show up for the opening of an Amazon box.
No, I was jolted awake when he said the “most-successful alliance in Big Brother history—for Derek—was The Hitmen,” because I first missed the “for Derek” part.
After listing some alliances, such as The Brigade, The Quack Pack, and Level Six, the special actually gave credit to The Cookout for being “the most historic alliance,” as Nischelle said. Danielle Reyes summed it up perfectly: “Y’all didn’t have a chance in hell.”
The special just ignored the fact that it took 21 years for a Black person to win. Yet while it acknowledged Xavier Prather as the show’s first Black winner, it allowed credit where credit is due.
“Who came up with the name? Xavier,” Azah Awasum said. “Who came up with the strategy? Tiffany.” Yep!
Meanwhile, Big Brother season 3 runner-up Danielle Reyes got credit for being robbed from her Big Brother 3 win, with the special basically admitting the producers fucked that up.
“Because houseguests could go home and watch it, that’s why I probably, most likely, lost the game,” Danielle said, after we saw clips of her talking in the Diary Room about jury members. “That’s why the producers had to have the jury. So, you’re welcome.”
“House secrets revealed”
The network and producers let us TV critics walk around and look at Rachel’s hair extensions in the house, during filming, back in 2010. Since then, there’s not been a shortage of behind-the-scenes stories.
So I was curious: What secrets remain? Here are the “secrets” “revealed”:
- Janelle: “You’re living on set.”
- Rachel: “Well it’s a stage, right, it’s not an actual house, which a lot of people don’t realize”
- Janelle: “Sometimes you can here people sneeze or, if they wear high heals, you can hear them walk”
- Nischelle Turner: “When the crew preps for competitions, the houseguests have to stay inside.”
Team Ants got attention but not screen time
“The house has an ant problem. Ask every houseguest,” Danielle said.
Taylor Hale said, “Can we talk about the ants?”
Yes, the house is infested with ants, and has been for a long time, because #TeamAnts are the real winners of Big Brother. Alas, they didn’t get coverage of their relentless attempts to steal the houseguests food.
Julie Chen admitted she has no talent
Before a too-long segment of houseguests heaping praise upon Julie (Derrick Levasseur said, “She’s the captain of the ship,” and I LOLed), Julie had some tea to spill.
“I was second choice,” she says, noting that The View’s Meredith Viera was first offered the job of hosting Big Brother season one.
Julie told us, “Here’s the dirty little secret that not everyone knows: I was offered the job and I turned it down. I was like, Why don’t you ask someone with talent?“
Friends, my jaw dropped. (Later, during a brief Chenbot segment, she said, “Critics, fans, you know, my whole family—they were like, You’re terrible on Big Brother. You’re good on the news but you’re terrible at night. I love being the Chenbot now.”)
My jaw also dropped again when Julie said she tried to turn down the job, because she actually wanted to work her way toward 60 Minutes and was worried about this disrupting her career trajectory. The president of CBS News told her that refusing would be considered “an act of insubordination,” and so she took the hosting gig. What a healthy corporate environment there at CBS.
Also breaking news: Apparently, J.C. was cast by J.C. himself: “Thank you, Jesus,” Julie said.
The live feeds made money when they were free
Nischelle explained that, in season one, “While the premiere dominated in the ratings, critics panned the show for being dull. What saved it from being canceled was a whole new concept in TV: the live feeds.”
There was an immediate cut to Julie for this explanation: “There was a lot of money to be made by different parties involved: AOL, CBS. So yeah, maybe the ratings weren’t great, but people were paying money to watch the houseguests live in the house.”
- No one was paying to watch the houseguests live in the house in season one. They were free.
- AOL hosted the free live feeds.
- When they started charging in season two, after a few days of a free trial, it was no longer AOL hosting them, but RealNetworks
The chyron text
At first, I thought the chyron text that identified players’ season(s) was small to hide the fact that there were so few people interviewed, and nearly everyone was from recent seasons.
But maybe it was, to fit all four of Janelle’s seasons, they had to shrink the type size.
Jeff Schroeder forgot the biggest gift he was given
“Big Brother’s given me everything: my wife, my career, my kids,” Jeff Schroeder said.
Challenges Games are planned sometime
“The games department starts thinking about the games,” Julie Chen Moonves explained, “probably 6, 8, maybe even 12 months before we have premiere night.”
That’s a heck of a range. I guess we’ll know next week if, on premiere night, the games department is too busy to do any games because they’re planning the next season’s games, which is what Big Brother has never before called its competitions.
What are the chances that Julie could identify any of the games department members by name? And what are the reasons why this special couldn’t talk to a single person from production instead of relying on Julie’s lack of knowledge?
Julie finally got one right: “We’ve had more successful marriages than The Bachelor.” That’s eight couples, 11 kids, and I lost count of how many times I dry heaved.