The banishment after the rebellion that wasn't

Episode 56 (Wednesday, Sept. 13): Question: Are we allowed to vote to banish Julie Chen?

By Jeff Stark - Bill Wyman - Carina Chocano
September 14, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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It's the Wednesday live show. Cassandra, Eddie and Curtis are up for banishment. Time again for those thrilling words:

"Hiiii, I'm Julie Chen."

Don't you love how she says, 'Hi'? She makes it last for two syllables and ends it on a downbeat, giving it that sad serious newswoman feel that usually precedes stories about bunnies getting caught tragically in threshers and ancient, drunken, long-forgotten entertainers passing away.


If this were "E.T.", they'd slow down the theme song.

Anyway, time to find out "officially" whether any of the hamsters have finally decided to band together in solidarity and scurry out of the "Big Brother" house, paw in paw, like tiny rodent Lech Walesas.

Chen is, as always, as cluelessly hyperbolic.


"The big news of the week is the 'Big Brother' rebellion!"

She doesn't mean, of course, that it's bigger news than Chase Manhattan acquiring J.P. Morgan. She's just trying to remind us that she's a serious newswoman, and serious newswomen are always thinking about news, especially if it's big. Then, after determining the size of a particular news item, they investigate it.

"Let's find out if the houseguests still mean business," she resolves, not seconds after showing us clips of furiously back-peddling hamsters and of a rapturous (yet totally unconvincing) George reiterating his intention to walk.


"You all changed your mind a few times," Chen points out. She asks George why he bailed on his own revolution.

"Well, my decision influenced two others in this house. Okay? I had no right to do that. The chicken man's stayin'."

These are fateful, final words.


No Cuban freedom fighter, looking up anxiously over his shoulder at the Bay of Pigs, waiting tragically for the air support that never came, felt as abandoned as we do right now.

"Well, George," drones Chen, like a Thorazine-munching Daria impersonator, "it was originally your idea for everyone to walk in the first place. Are you disappointed with everybody's decision?"

"Not at this point, no," says George, looking awfully disappointed. Close to tears, actually.


"Okay," Chen says, cheerfully moving on.

Uh, Julie? In our Intrepid Newswoman Handbook, which we have a copy of right here, it says that when you're questioning someone, and that person says, "Not at this point, no," it actually means "Yes."

And it says here that a follow-up question is in order.


Julie's not listening.

She reminds the hapless malcontestants that they all willingly turned down $50,000 the week before to leave the show. (The hamsters turned the cash down on the shaky premise that it was somehow immoral to take cash from a game show.) Chen informs them that there's another suitcase in the Red Room.

Guess what's in it? Not a dime. But guess what else? The chance to fly a plane with their very own message over the house. Yippee.

The hamsters are duly thrilled.


A "Brittany, where are you now?" sequence ensues. Brittany, it turns out, is at "Cuzzy's." As her dad, Don, explains, "We're here at Cuzzy's bargain night to welcome Brittany home, and also because it's her birthday."

At least we think he said "bargain night."

Julie sends her warm regards, then mentions, "f.y.i.," that the houseguests have given her their message. "Right now, it's being transferred to a banner, and later we'll see it flying in the sky."

In a awoplane! TV doesn't get better than this!


That is, of course, if you don't count the following montage of Curtis getting ready to go to "one of Hollywood's grandest affairs" (as Chen describes the Emmys, with a proud head toss).

We see Curtis in varying states of deshabille; Curtis in a sleep mask; Curtis being ministered to by a stylist; Curtis breezing past Jamie, who looks as though she'll hurl, on his way out; Curtis startling himself with a champagne cork in the back of the limo; Curtis holding a glass of champagne in the limo and surveying his surroundings with his tongue pressed elegantly to his palate; Curtis waving; Curtis -- you get the idea.

There's hardly anything from the actual show though. There's a shot of Curtis waving at something, which we suppose could have been someone who actually recognized him. Also, some agreeable local CBS affiliate interviewer asks Curtis a couple of real live celebrity questions -- well, one, actually, which he repeats, because he nearly falls asleep during Curtis's response.

Fortunately, the Emmys don't give "Big Brother" a statuette for Most Embarrassing and Incompetently Produced TV Show of All Time.


Curtis wishes the night could last forever.

One of the reasons we hate "Big Brother" is because of how dishonest CBS, the producers and Intrepid Newswoman Julie Chen are. You can never trust they're giving you the whole story. They know, for example, by how many votes Brittany was banished over George the week before. But they don't tell us.

What we really want to know about Curtis at the Emmys is whether he talked to people about the show, whether he was allowed to interact with people and so forth. None of this they broadcast. And we know the housemates are going to ask him that as well, and we doubt we'll see his response.

CBS: Putting the fake back into reality!

Health and relationships expert Dr. Drew Pinsky comes on to talk about what a night at the Emmys can do to the psyche of an unsuspecting lab rodent.

"This is the first time we've seen a non-banished houseguests venture out into the outside world," he says. "Curtis went from being cut off from the outside world for 68 days to one of the biggest media events in the country."

Dr. Drew doesn't say what he thinks the effects of the show's having systematically blown off all of its hullaballooed isolation precepts will have on the residents.

Instead, he says he thinks the Emmys "refueled" Curtis, and made him feel more positive about his "Big Brother" experience.

He also says Curtis may start doing some more independent thinking now, like the kind that television people engage in when they bring us a new fall series starring Craig T. Nelson as a guy who likes to hit tables with his hand.

"He can think independently, he can be more positive," Pinsky says. "I think we'll see him confronting his peers more. He's a terrific intellect. He is really beginning to emerge as a leader in the group if he would just assert himself more."

Chen smiles like she's been practicing.

"All because of this trip out of the house?"

"No, no, no," says Dr. Drew.

"Who gave you this job, you moron?" say we.

Julie then wants to know how George could have persuaded the others to leave the show, even if it was only temporary. Dr. Drew admits that it does seem bizarre to those of us who don't have the "perspective of confinement," issues of powerlessness, maintaining boundaries, sharing feelings blah, blah, blah.

Finally, and we mean finally, Julie asks Shrink Pinsky about the plane banners that have been being flown over the house with some regularity.

They both get weird.

"It's interesting," he says, "it's almost like the banners have become another character in the house. They call the banner 'the sky,' they talk about how they feel about 'the sky,' do they trust him, do they mistrust him, do they believe him --?"

"'Who is he --?'" Julie adds helpfully.

"It heightens the anxiety," Pinksy goes on. "They never know when the sky is going to visit; they never know what it's going to say."

Are we being encouraged to believe that two jocks, a beauty pageant contestant, a lawyer and a Gump have been somehow transformed into a primitive Studio City cargo cult, waiting for the next tennis ball to drop?

Sure, why not? We'll buy it. Mainly because we want to move on to the next scene involving Jamie's "friends" back home in Seattle.

But wait: Can we point out again how dishonest Chen is being? The planes began with a group of disgruntled viewers. (From Salon's Table Talk, but never mind.) Chen and CBS both know that, but they don't tell the audience.

Anyway, the Jamie bash is at Planet Hollywood! (This really cool bankrupt theme-restaurant chain where stars hang out all the time!)

"The reason everyone is here tonight," Jamie's aunt tells Big Brother, "is because Jamie is Hollywood [her nickname on the show]; this is Planet Hollywood. We wanted everybody to know that we support her, we care about her ..."

Enough with the aunt. Jamie's friend Yishey says, "People see the makeup, they see the blond highlights, and they think, 'Oh, there's another beauty queen. She must be pretty dumb.' She's not. She's smart."

A ringing endorsement. And most compelling. We think, "Oh, there's another beauty queen" every time we see makeup and highlights. Then we're embarrassed because it turns out it's Hillary Clinton or someone like that.

Another friend of Jamie's says that she "needs to stop worrying about whether or not her lips are shiny."

We feel thankful we don't have friends like Jamie's.

"It's nice to see that Jamie's friends in Seattle are behind her all the way," Julie says. She doesn't even watch her own montages.

A house-cleaning montage follows. If we wanted to see house-cleaning, we'd clean our own. We presume you feel the same way.

Then the shocker: Cassandra is banished. By 46 percent of the vote. Interestingly, Eddie got 41 percent. Curtis must have got the remainder, 13 percent.

It's sad. She expected it, but she's surprised and a little embarrassed. So are we. The drama is considerably diminished compared to the Brittany and Karen departures, and her leaving seems a little deflated and anti-climactic.

As soon as the gate opens, however, Cassandra is instantly happier and more animated than she ever was in the house.

Hmm. Maybe they should have had, like, someone else her age on the show. Just a thought.

The housemates pace the yard morosely again, but Josh spares us his tears.

At the end of the show, we see the plane banner the housemates came up with.

"Live long and prosper GAB," it says.

We're confused, until it's explained to us that "GAB" are George's initials. We finally figure it out -- he's talking back to the guy who's flying the planes. George, as we've explained before, doesn't understand that different people are hiring the plane guy to pull the messages across the sky.

"Live long and prosper GAB," in other words, is basically Rockfordian for "Fuck you -- [signed] George."

Maybe Dr. Drew's cargo cult theory isn't so far-fetched.

Back in the studio, we learn that Julie has learned to hug. She hugs Cassandra, as do her friends, who are so proud of her they say so 50 times.

Cassandra does not discharge the same emotional effluvium that Brittany and Karen did, and so her reactions are a little more staid. We do notice that she's laughing more than she ever did in the house -- but then, we'd laugh too if we were sitting across a table from Julie Chen.

Cassandra expresses concern for her housemates. Chen sweetly reminds her that they are former housemates. Later, she asks Cassandra:

"Do you regret not taking the cash?"

Cassandra says that for her it was a question of integrity. "I didn't want to be bought."

"But is that because you're financially set?"

The United Nations has called for sanctions against Julie Chen, strongly condemning her moronic handling of just about everything in her purview. Financially set?

"Obviously, $50,000 would make a huge, huge difference in my life," Cassandra says. It is one of the hallmarks of her character that she is able to say this to Chen without a trace of derision in her voice. "I am not financially set. But it was not right for me at that moment."

Having just held her tongue, Cassandra does it again when Chen shows her clips of "times when she held her tongue," and proceeds to rerun all household conversations having to do with race, the ones in which someone inevitably says something clueless to Cassandra.

All of the household conversations having to do with race, in other words.

Cassandra won't take the bait, even after being forced to relive the Jamie "You defy stereotypes" natterings and the Eddie "There is no more racism in America" spiel.

Why didn't she say something? Chen wants to know.

This may be Chen's lowest moment yet. We don't know anything about her career, save that she's one of the few people in the industry to have stepped from "The Early Show" to a worse gig. And we will soon forget her. We hope.

But we can't imagine that her stint in big-time TV news has been without quite a few instances of racism and sexism, some of it blatant and deliberate, some of it merely as clueless as the remarks in the house made to Cassandra.

How would Chen like to be questioned publicly about how she chose to handle each of those incidents?

Yet here she is attempting to humiliate another minority woman, all to try to inject something controversial into these tacky proceedings.

Cassandra keeps her cool, again. "With a character like Eddie," Cassandra explains, "you have to wait for a bilateral opportunity to talk to him about those kinds of issues. It wasn't going to be constructive to go at him against the group like that."

"OK, we're going to goodnight the show now," Chen says.

We'll have to wait for a bilateral opportunity to talk to Chen about reconsidering her career choice.


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Jeff Stark

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

MORE FROM Jeff Stark

Bill Wyman

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

MORE FROM Bill Wyman

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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