The revolt flops

CBS talks the residents out of leaving the show en masse.

By Martha Soukup
September 11, 2000 6:03AM (UTC)
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The revolution didn't last long.

CBS had a chance to make its strangely bland show, "Big Brother," into something strangely interesting.

Faced with a walkout from its six-night-a-week reality TV offering show, the network could have just followed what reality offered it.


Instead, CBS -- in the form of the TV producers who talk to the residents in the so-called "Red Room" -- went on the offensive. By Sunday evening, some hard sell had fractured a house-guest rebellion 36 hours after it had begun.

The odd story began Saturday morning when George, the Rockford roofer, found a nearly religious way to resolve the stress of anti-George banners that have been flying over the house while not actually sacrificing the prize. He came to the conclusion that the secret point of "Big Brother" was for a house full of contestants to stop competing against each other and all walk out together. "It all fits," he marveled.

He was wrong, and everyone else knew he was wrong. But the idea of revolution appealed to most of his housemates. Curtis, the Stanford-educated lawyer and natural diplomat, said he'd found the competitive aspects of the show increasingly "distasteful." He'd also had a taste of turning down big money in favor of principle on the last live show. (Big Brother had offered the housemates $50,000 to leave; unbeknownst to them, the producers planned to replace the resident who left with a curvaceous, self-described "bitch.") He liked it, and he liked the idea of all going out together.


Josh, the rudderless young jock who has told everyone he just wants to be understood, felt viewers were getting the wrong impression: That they were seeing a group of greedy graspers instead of the great friends they are.

Cassandra, the African-American U.N. worker and the group's other natural diplomat, is always up for something that brings people together and shows them in a dignified light.

Jamie the pageant queen and Eddie the one-legged college athlete -- well, they didn't really want to forsake camera and prize money, respectively. But they didn't choose to go against the group.


The next ten or 12 hours of live feed on the Internet were giddy business. The housemates were excited to have taken their fates into their own hands -- to be doing something. So were their viewers.

Suddenly the show was the talk of the Net again. Suddenly, the show was entertaining -- to those watching from outside, because it looked like it was entertaining to those locked inside.


During all that time, however, the producers bided their time and said little to the houseguests.

At 9:30 last night, the group went into the Red Room en masse to announce their intention to leave.

An hour later, CBS had apparently decided that two and a half weeks of dull "Big Brother" -- that's how long the show is scheduled to run -- was better than half a week of exciting "Big Brother," and Big Brother went into full throttle to quash the rebellion.


A producer who introduced himself as John talked to Jamie alone in the Red Room. She told the group later that she suggested that he talk to everyone together through the microphones in the living room. But John flattered her by talking to her alone and having her pass his "thoughts" on to the others.

Jamie said that John was "intrigued" at the houseguests' making such a large decision on such "limited data."

He said the residents couldn't know what people in the outside world thought from a few airplane banners and some quick words from Brittany. He urged them, as someone from outside the house, to stay.


He told the would-be actress that the show had fans who loved them, and they'd be letting those fans down if they left. And, if they worried about being seen as competitive, why did they think the public thought that was a bad thing? He told the beauty pageant winner that the public can hardly blame anyone for winning a vote by the public.

Others of the housemates filed in, to hear arguments tailor-made for each of them.

Josh was assured that the show was not edited to make it look like they were competing with each other.

Fair-minded Curtis left the Red Room impressed with John's "intelligence." John told Curtis it wasn't reasonable for him to make a decision based on partial information. John asked Curtis if he really wanted to be part of a group instead of thinking for himself, and if he wanted to base his decision on things outside the house instead of what he could see inside the house. (Curtis noted later that John was from outside of the house, an inherent contradiction in his argument.)


Cassandra said she didn't need to go in and talk to John. He'd already convinced her not to leave weeks ago, when she wanted to protest a back-stabbing competition, telling her she would be committing an affront to her own dignity; she knew what he'd have to say.

And Eddie simply told everyone he didn't know what had happened to him. He hadn't been himself. He slept on the decision, but in the morning he told the others (and later a camera he thought his mother might be watching) that he'd somehow changed from the single-mindedly determined young man who'd gone into the house.

"I fixed it last night. I'm back to normal." He said to his housemates, "I'm here for me."

Sunday morning, all that was left of the rebellion was the housemates' individual efforts to convince George that he didn't have to walk by himself, that he had nothing to apologize for even if a campaign was on that would win him the competition.


George even took Cassandra aside to let her know that his plan was to walk out with her if she was banished Wednesday, but she insisted he shouldn't do it.

In the creepiest moment of all, Josh told George he really should go and talk to John: He'd feel better.

Curtis and Cassandra pointed out to Josh that John might be a very nice man, but he wasn't an objective third party.

Curtis and Cassandra are both perfectly willing to walk, still, but with Eddie, Jamie, and probably Josh out, there is no group to walk with.


Talk to John. You'll feel better.

And then each went back to being one of the dull on a show where nothing actually real can be allowed to happen.

Martha Soukup

Martha Soukup is a Nebula-award-winning science fiction writer. Her new short-story collection is "The Arbitrary Placement of Walls." She does her daily eavesdropping in San Francisco.

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