The whole world isn't watching

Episode 54 (Monday, Sept. 11): Revolution! The housemates pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred hamsterness.



Bill Wyman - Jeff Stark - Carina Chocano
September 12, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

So much for the suspense.

On Monday night CBS had its cake, ate it and let out a long, odorous, self-satisfied belch. The network got all the ratings-boosting hype of a full-fledged contestant mutiny without any of the unpleasant side effects.

Not only did the Lords of Inertia provide a solid half-hour of -- yes -- drama, but they also provided evidence that the long-awaited seed of paranoia and mistrust has been planted.

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Josh spilled the beans, Eddie confessed he trusted no one and the Great Hamster Revolution of 2000 was smothered in its crib -- only you wouldn't know this last bit from watching Monday's show.

Tonight was just the setup for total hamster humiliation.

As anyone who has been watching the live feeds or reading the reportage of Salon's Martha Soukup, the "Big Brother" housemates on Saturday resolved to jump ship during Wednesday's live broadcast.

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The decision came about as a result of a lunatic notion of George's; the "chicken man," as he is virtually exclusively known in the house, has been showing signs of strain.

He contends that the point of the show was for the contestants to quit and show the world that some things are more important than money. Having arrived at this conclusion he scoured the game-show rule book. He found no evidence, but George's powers of interpretation amaze and mystify his flock.

Such crackpot revelations have in the past created some interesting events: Judeo-Christanity, Mormonism, the introduction of New Coke and the presidential campaign of H. Ross Perot.

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"Big Brother" lets us watch such a movement take form -- and then fall apart. There's a reason the words "hamster revolution" don't have a familiar ring.

Big Brother has been engaging in psychological skirmishes against the hamsters by doing things like shutting off the hot water and strictly enforcing the housemates' dwindling food budget -- innocent pranks designed to make the hamsters cranky and vindictive.

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But instead of turning against each other, as we know, our bovine neo-Waltons have only bonded together against the producers. The producers, in what can only be construed as retaliation, have kept their own provocations off the air, making the housemates look like milksops. Until now.

George comes into the darkened bedroom where Eddie is lounging in a righteous rage.

"Tell them to turn the hot water on."

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"I don't need to tell them," Eddie points out. "They got cameras all over this place!"

"You're just gonna have to tell 'em, 'Screw it, I ain't moving my ass out of the bed until you turn the hot water on.' Because you wanna know what I figured out, Eddie? This place is a two-way street. You go back to bed, Eddie."

Our lovable tough needs no further encouragement.

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"I'm gonna!"

George is taking charge. He calls a 10 a.m. meeting.

"It's right here and we never figured it out," George tells Jamie as she pensively chews her cud. "I figured it out last night and it's so simple." Jamie chews her cereal and thinks, thinks and chews.

Her lip gloss is impeccable.

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George's revelation is this: "There is more to this show than the stupid banishment, than the stupid challenge and everything else. The show is meant to tell us, and tell the world, that if we all stay together, we all work together as one, we win!"

Yes, George, and there's a Santa Claus, too! What the "Big Brother" producers really wanted was for the show to be a Marxist-Leninist critique of consumer society wrapped in a cute Frank Capraesque, anti-Orwellian package.

And you're Jimmy Stewart!

The next sequence has George hopping around the kitchen, declaiming in the manner of an amalgamation of characters he's seen in football movies, POW-escape movies and after-school specials, all delivered with a crazed, beatific look on his face.

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George confesses that after the first time he got nominated, he had "fun with it." He made up some signs saying "Save the chickens" and "Save George" to flash the cameras with.

"I stepped out on my own," George explains, for those of us who have trouble following him. "But last night when Curtis won the ticket [to the Emmys], it all fell into place. [Not everyone operates at the same speed -- Eds.] What they were trying to do was break us apart. They are trying to pit us all against us."

We are so shocked we promptly fall asleep.

"They need Curtis," he says. "They need him to go on 'Entertainment Tonight.'" (Slow celebrity news day, what with the Emmys and all.)

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(Incidentally, there's no footage on tonight's show about Curtis' trip to the Emmys. We saw him interviewed, briefly and soporifically, by Joan Rivers' pregnant daughter on the E! channel's pre-show.)

"But what it comes down to is this: If we all walk out as one, we're all winners. What we got here is six winners at one time."

Eddie synthesizes the information in no time flat: "So you're proposing we walk."

George whips out the "Big Brother" rules, which, as he says, may as well be used as toilet tissue.

"Eddie, let me read you something."

Wait. George can read?

"'The producers reserve the right to ask you to leave the house and forfeit any chance of winning the money,'" he recites. "What happens if we leave?"

Gee, we don't know. Reruns of "Becker"?

Not according to George.

"We holded the cards in our hands the whole time!"

According to George, defection is victory. This in itself is a very Big Brother-like concept -- he's actually saying "defeat is victory" -- but the whirring of moving cameras obscures the sound of George Orwell spinning in his grave.

Based on evidence that can be charitably described as nonexistent, George is convinced this is the purpose of the show -- to show "the world" that people loving people is more important than money. Simultaneously, George believes this will make them all richer.

Josh caves and tells everyone what Brittany told him about the mad plot of Lady MacGeorge. He exaggerates it like a 10-year-old boy: "No one in the house has a chance. His wife has organized basically the state of Illinois. And George will win this thing no matter what."

"Can I butt in?" asks the disturbingly beatific George, smiling like an ecstatic martyr. "The sky is friendly."

Yes, George. Time for your pill.

"Personally," says Eddie, "I don't trust the sky worth a piss. I don't trust these people. I don't even trust any of you!"

"Eddie, don't say that!" gasps George.

Eddie says they may all walk on Wednesday, but he isn't walking.

"Then we'll lose!" yelps our man in Rockford. Eddie counters that they'll be losing no matter what. George protests.

"No, we won't! This show is trying to prove a point to the world. This show isn't about who's the most popular guy, or the most popular woman. This show is made to prove a point, that if people join together as -- "

He struggles bravely with his digits.

" -- one! As one! They win. But if they got one stray, they won't."

Cassandra asks Josh if that's what Brittany meant, that nobody could win, so everyone should walk. Josh says no, he thinks she wanted them to know what they were battling.

Jamie, of course, sees it from a more practical side. She sees CBS replacing them with alternates. She sees the ratings going through the roof. (See? She said ratings. She understands the business.)

"There is risk," says the newly oratorical George. "But just think about what you'd be saying in your life." He stands up with a flourish, leans over and bangs the table. We think we saw Steve McQueen do that in "The Great Escape."

Or maybe it was "Chicken Run."

Or "Antz," we forget.

"Do you know the point we could make?" he raves. "You know, if you're looking at the money part of it, I got a feeling there's gonna be so much out there for us, it's gonna be unbelievable, Eddie!"

Jamie's face comes alive. She thinks so, too! It's gonna be great! She's gonna be famous! Just you wait, Seattle! You'll see, Johnny who didn't take me to the prom! She's going to be a big staahrr!

Yeah. But everyone else is with George. They're thinking, contestants of the world, unite!

Josh says he came in thinking that they thought, and the show thought, the show was about how people turn on each other. "But society does work in here. We can make it work," he says.

Curtis says maybe the meta game (then he explains what "meta" means) is "maybe we can win it as a whole."

"And even if George is wrong, he continues, "one thing we've stumbled upon is that we as characters -- we as people -- are bigger than the show."

Honey bear, anything is bigger than the show.

Then Josh has this revelation: "Mankind is bigger than the show."

George recites the motto of hair-brained schemers everywhere: "We got a chance to make history!"

"But are we going down as winners or quitters?" Eddie wonders.

"We did what we're supposed to do," George says.

Josh says, "It's the biggest thing any group of humans could ever make."

Nobody asks the questions that are coursing through our feverish minds: Bigger than the Empire State Building? Bigger than Brittney Spears? Bigger than a huge communal televised turd?

And so it is decided. Eddie says, "If you guys wanna walk, I'll walk with youse. I want to ruin the show anyway."

"If we're doing it we're doing it, though," he says. "We gotta make a pact."

Curtis throws a lawyerly clause in the contract -- you know, in case something comes up -- but otherwise, the deal is sealed.

The group does the special hamster hand-stack that seals the deal in blood. Squint just a little, and you can see Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams pledging all that stuff about lives and fortunes and sacred honor.

This reverie is interrupted by the cackles ringing out from Studio City. Boy, are the hamsters going to look dumb when "Big Brother" efficiently talks them out of it tomorrow.

Later, Josh tells Curtis, and then, hurtfully, Jamie, what else Brittany said -- that he should trust only Curtis and Eddie, and not her super best-friend-for-life Jamie.

There's no reason for him to do this, except to be cruel to Jamie.

Jamie reacts in the even, expressionless voice that is the trademark of a great actress.

"That makes no sense to me at all," she breathes, a sad little contestant smile on her face. "I wish I didn't hear that."

In the last scene, the hamsters discuss the advantages of leaving. Eddie says that if he stays the two remaining weeks he will be changed; and change, for him, is bad.

Jamie momentarily forgets she's not talking about world peace at another pageant. She ends her little diatribe on "our society" with a curt little "and that's it," just like she did in the "Big Brother" beauty pageant!

Josh says he's doing it so his niece will know he didn't stab any backs for money. Even if it does mean she couldn't go to college.

Cassandra, Miss Dignity 2000, says it would allow her to step away from the game and feel good.

Curtis says he doesn't intend to make a huge social statement. Integrity is what matters.

Finally, George, still referring to himself in the third person, a sure sign of psychosis, concludes that he's never, never been before a finer group of people. He's still reliving "Chicken Run." Or "Hogan's Heroes."

Big Brother is unfazed. This scene is followed by the standard reminder to the audience to vote to banish someone before Wednesday's live show.

On Wednesday, no one but the duly named banishee is going anywhere. Big Brother knows it and we know it.

In the last scene, Eddie speaks for the producers as he takes down his girlfriend's pictures from the wall.

"Yes, yes, I know, your boyfriend's an idiot."

(C.C.)

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Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon and National Public Radio.

MORE FROM Bill Wyman

Jeff Stark

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

MORE FROM Jeff Stark

Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

MORE FROM Carina Chocano


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