What if you gave a reality show, and the participants were actually, unpredictably -- real?
Some weeks ago, the remaining residents on the CBS reality show "Big Brother" contemplated walking out en masse. They were mad about the seemingly capricious ordeals the show producers were putting them through, and irritated by the producers' obvious attempts to introduce conflict into their obstinately comity-minded household.
The subject was dropped -- until early Saturday morning, when the residents made a pact to walk off the show on this Wednesday's live episode.
The plan was shown on the 24-hour live Internet camera feeds from the house.
In other words, the dry run for the Revolution of the Houseguests has turned into the real thing -- unless CBS can, or wants to, abort it.
George, the affable middle-aged roofer, is at the center of the crisis. Each week, two or more of the residents of the house are up for banishment, by audience vote, via 99-cent phone calls. Two weeks ago, CBS made a special trip to his home town of Rockford, Ill., to show a tavern and a phone company teaming up to offer free calls to vote out another resident, the zany "cuddle slut," Brittany.
Brittany was indeed voted out that week.
Some viewers, outraged at the Rockford plot, raised money to fly planes with banners over the household to warn the residents dark deeds were afoot.
On last Wednesday's show, Brittany, allowed to talk to one house resident for a few moments, told her chief cuddle partner, a stolid jock named Josh, that George's town was targeting residents. "It's mean out there," she squealed.
Josh, not wanting it to get mean in the house, kept this information to himself -- to the frustration of his housemates.
A reporter in Rockford pretty much established that the calls from Rockford would probably not have affected the result; sources at CBS told him that Brittany outpolled George by some 20,000 votes.
Still, another plane flew over the house Friday: "Josh knows why we fly anti-George banners," the message said.
Matters came to a head Saturday. George decided there was not only a secret, but a secret Big Brother riddle, which this Saturday morning he announced he had solved.
Big Brother cut off the live Internet feed for about fifteen minutes, from 10 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. PDT -- shifting all live cameras to the chicken coop. By 10:15 they gave up, and feed viewers listened and watched as:
George told everyone he thought the secret Josh had learned, and that was causing the anti-George messages, was that his wife Teresa had organized a voting campaign in his favor. (It's not clear how he deduced all of this.)
He said they hadn't preplanned it, but he thought Teresa was resourceful enough to have done it. (Or, as it probably happened, to have gone along with the plans of local DJs and other people making Rockford hay of their local hero.)
Josh confirmed that Brittany told him there was a campaign to vote out George's most popular competitors.
George vowed he would not turn the people in the house against each other. His plan: He would walk with whoever was banished -- Curtis, Cassandra and Eddie are the current nominees -- on Wednesday.
Shortly after, everyone had agreed to walk. Even one-legged basketball player Eddie, who has never made any bones about being in this for the "ends" -- the $500,000 payoff to the single winner of the contest -- agreed to follow George's revolution this time.
George, it must be said, is hoping this really isn't a revolution. He spent hours with the "Big Brother" contestants' manual, looking for clues. He seems to have come to the conclusion that if all the residents decide to leave together, they'll all get the prize money!
He's convinced no one else of this unlikely premise.
"Big Brother" producers, since then, have called Eddie into the Red Room and confirmed there's no game within the game -- if the residents walk, they get nothing. By mid-afternoon, George still hadn't dropped the theory, though.
What everyone thinks was nicely captured by the young lawyer Curtis, somewhere in the giddy hours of conversation that followed the decision to throw away the grand prize money in favor of banding together:
"It's a game. But guess what? After a while, it's not a fun game."