Thursday, July 10, 2008

Big Brother 2008 - Review

The lead up this year’s Australian Big Brother boasted that the show would be different from those gone before. The ‘I don’t think so” catch-cry declared that there would be a diverse selection of housemates, new hosts who were prepared to ask the hard questions and a new set of Big Brother rules.

This review will attempt to find out whether these claims have been fulfilled or whether we have bee fed a load of Channel 10’s bulls**t.

Let’s start with the first claim: diversity of housemates. This year’s housemates included a loser who believes in flying saucers and little green men from Mars, a grandmother, an Aboriginal Australian, a person of limited physical stature (a midget), a church going virgin with a voice like Mickey Mouse on helium, a spoilt blonde bombshell, a skimpy barmaid, a bricklayer who can’t decide whether he’s Rastafarian, a wannabe lawyer, an animal doctor, a token Asian with a name that perfectly describes his personality, a cult escapee (that still thinks religion’s a good idea), an (almost) thirty year old virgin, a country girl who speaks exactly like the man who always manages to fall off his bar stool at the local pub, an old man with crap jokes and undies up his crack, an “Italian princess” who probably wouldn’t have such big boobs if she’d drop twenty or thirty kilos, a caring young single mother who cared so much she abandoned her child to get it on with the first man she saw in the house, a blonde tool so in love with himself he can’t take no for an answer and to top it all off, a pimply-faced cretin who probably can’t spell Big Brother and, if he could, would be too busy pulling up his filthy pants to try.

So the diversity is there but diversity doesn’t mean entertaining. Having twenty different versions of ‘wanker’ doesn’t make for quality television programming. By the time the Australian public had weeded out the worst of them, we were left with only three types of people:

The spoilt brats: Bridgette, Ben, Bianca
The Ego-maniacs: Cherry, Rory
The Nobodies: Travis, Alice

Since only Terri was left, it is assumed she will win. So instead of watching a show with different age groups sharing different opinions and intelligent outlooks on subjects discussed within the house, we have a show that resembles Saved by the Bell. Will Zach, (Cherry), win the heart of Kelly, (Bridgette), by spraying her with the hose and running away? Will Screech, (Travis), get laid? By a woman? By a man? Or perhaps to some sort of primate who is turned on by excessively hairy things? Does Slater (Rory), still pine for Jessie (Rhianna)? With painful stories like these it’s no wonder Mr. Belding (Terri), gets upset from time to time.

Same old, same old.

New, exciting characters, (however diverse in appearance), “I don’t think so”.

Maybe we’re being a tad unfair. The midget provided a huge scope for entertainment in Friday Night Live but unfortunately, (and hilariously), injured herself first night out. Now we’ll never know.

Now onto the second claim: that the new hosts wouldn’t pull punches, that they would be hard hitting and ruthless. By the fifth week, the fans were missing Gretel Killeen and the valuable contribution she made to the show. Not only did Kyle and Jackie O avoid confrontation with housemates, they backed off when housemates issued the challenges. When Corey, (apparent party-boy despite all reports that most of his guests crashed his party after their first choice had been busted up by the police), belittled all of Kyle’s achievements in the house by stating that he gained his fame through a similar party, we watched the television waiting for Kyle’s response. However, despite being able to call a spade a spade, (or a midget a midget), Kyle was disappointingly quiet.

Jackie O was equally meek when Nobby was evicted, leaving the dirty work to Mike Goldman who, as always, poured his heart into the job by asking the harder questions.
Meanwhile, Jackie O was making it perfectly clear to anyone watching that eviction night was her show, often ignoring the chance for banter with Goldman after the hard questions had been asked.

The management of Big Brother evictions this year was appallingly bad. On one occasion, (the eviction of Rebecca), the housemate’s reaction was not shown to audiences. Also, the original concept of the revolving door, involving three housemates leaving through the doors and only one returning was a dismal failure, with Big Brother at one point re-introducing the wrong housemate to the house, ruining the final reaction. The system also failed because housemates were unable to farewell their friends who had been evicted.

Changing the eviction process from public nominates, housemates evict to the reverse halfway through the show without warning also proves false another lead up claim: “the rules have changed”. Perhaps, “temporarily” should have been added. Changing mid way nullified the anticipation felt by the viewing audience to this year’s show and made evictions a somewhat arbitrary proposition.

Although perhaps evictions should be of lesser importance this year since the prizes, when compared to previous years, are miserly at best. How is it fair that a contestant evicted in week 6 in 2007 was awarded a vehicle, a mobile phone and a holiday, when a contestant evicted week 12 2008 is awarded a mobile phone, a holiday and broadband access, (without a laptop)? Regardless of whether the housemates signed a release, it is unethical to allow people to miss work or school for a large period of time, to be held up as the subject for ridicule, to have their behaviours analysed by thousands of armchair psychologists, or, in the sake of Terrance, to be ambushed national television into having a spat with another adult, without issuing just compensation?

While we’re sure that Big Brother lost some sponsorship due the media beat ups over the last couple of years, one still has to wonder whether the huge amount of money paid to Pamela Anderson and Carson Kresley to appear on the show would have been better spent on prizes.

Why prizes?

The value of any reality show goes directly to the prestige of the prizes. Nobody would watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” if it was changed to “Who Wants to Win a Tenner?” especially if the prize value dropped during the sixth season.

Friday Night Live prizes were designed as a reward but also as a catalyst for entertaining in-house stories. The Rewards Room was an excellent way to bring the opinions of housemates who had previously been ‘flying under the radar’, out into the open. Since alcohol was also involved, inhibitions were lowered even further, creating bubbling conflicts or latent crushes to spill over.

While the power to change nominations has been retained, the Rewards Room has been replaced by what can only be described as product placement: a Big Brother cinema where housemates can watch the latest movies before they are released to the public. This is not only a transparent attempt to make money in Truman Show-esk fashion; it is also counter-productive to the show. In contrast to the Rewards Room, a cinema discourages conversation or deep discussion. Even if there was deep conversation occurring, the nature of the movie being shown disallows any public viewing, resulting in Channel 10 censoring most of the content.

Perhaps to compensate, a ‘head of house’ armband was created; a garish yellow band worn by the victor of FNL. However, while the housemates may know what the armband actually enables the wearer to do, the viewing public has largely been kept in the dark.

FNL prizes and BB prizes generally have gone backwards.

The next Big Brother 2008 experiment was a panel-style show called ‘Big Mouth’, serving as a diversion from the bad press received by predecessor “Big Brother: Uncut”. The panel, while entertaining at times fell foul to the same trap that all panel shows fall into: that of mob mentality and selective political correctness. While Terrance was ambushed and abused by the panel and by Bridgette’s father by phone, Nobby endured no such vitriolic attack, despite the panel criticising his every move while still in the house. The panel spent an entire episode bemoaning the evils of bullying then refused to take Nobby to task over it and then committed the same crime against Terrance. Such inconsistencies do not win over new fans or retain the diehards.

2008 should, hopefully be the last year of the Big Brother ‘strike’ discipline system. Not one housemate has yet to be removed from the house after receiving three strikes, despite Ben blatantly breaking the rules a total of five times, (televised), in a single week. The only time that housemates have been removed from the house, during the infamous ‘turkey slap’ incident, involved Big Brother skipping the strike system due to the nature of the offence. The strike system has no teeth and it has categorical failed to deter poor housemate behaviour. It’s time to let it go.

In a poor year for Big Brother there has been one shining light. FNL continues to go from strength to strength. With its simple and unchanged format with entertaining hosts it has been the saving grace of Big Brother this year.

Simplicity is the key element missing from Big Brother overall. By trying to shake up the show’s format, the producers have lost site of the original concept. Therefore they have lost the fan base. The confusing and over complicated format has also served as an effective deterrent to any new fans.

A return to the original format with emphasis on prizes rather than special guests may see Big Brother 2009 revive the brand in Australia.

Why do we care? Well…we love BB!

1 comment:

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