As "Big Brother" grinds toward the entropic finale of its first -- and what would, were it not for a looming writers strike in Hollywood, be its last -- season in America, the Saturday night shows are going live. And it says a lot about the ineptitude of the "Big Brother" producers that now, two months into the program, with less than three weeks left, they are still revamping the live broadcasts. Sure, Julie Chen is still around, having mastered her Intrepid Newswoman stance. Dr. Drew Pinsky and the pathetic "Internet Advisor" pop by the studio. The stream of inane video features continues unabated.
But now the show is running the actual banishment nominations live. Dr. Drew Pinsky thinks that the idea will allow for more honesty, but the houseguests seem as polished as ever, telling white lies and dodging questions.
But first, there's a combination challenge and reward. Chen explains the rules to them as they all sit around the sofas.
George is in wacky mode. He's wearing a spaceman outfit, fashioned from printed sheets and a lot of aluminum foil. He looks like something out of an Ed Wood movie. As Julie talks, he places a large space helmet on top of his head. The audience laughs at him -- not with him.
Julie Chen tells the hamsters they have five minutes to make calls. The catch is that they must all use the phone in that time, which gives them a minute each to get into the room, dial the phone, get permission from whoever it is to broadcast their voices and chat.
Curtis goes in first. He calls his mother, who tells him that he's doing fine and that it's "fantastic" to watch him. "Keep your integrity," she says. He says that he'll see her in either three days or three weeks. Curtis, one of the first to go up for banishment, always thinks he's about to leave. His bags are still packed from last week.
Eddie's next. He calls his mom, who tells him he has "lots of fans" and that they all miss him. "You're getting soap in your mouth when you get home," she says. He's somehow raised money for the wheelchair basketball league that he competes with on Long Island.
So fine, so normal. Then George bursts into the room wearing his bed sheets. He dials his wife, Lady MacGeorge, in a fury. He's panicked. He slurs out a question asking her consent to be recorded. He looks like he's about to give birth.
You would not want George on your side in any sort of stressful situation. If you were sinking in quicksand, he'd take two whacks at a tree branch, stop to yell, run around looking for help and then attempt to thicken the sand with dirt.
After, of course, making an Indiana Jones costume out of pine cones and leaves.
"Am I being trashed?" he blurts out.
Lady MacGeorge says no.
He cuts her off. "Do I have your permission to stay?"
Yes, of course. This is a woman touring the country, hiring P.R. firms and getting out the vote for her husband. She tries to continue, again, but George cuts her off, hangs up and runs out of the room.
Elapsed time: 15 seconds.
The studio audience hoots.
Jamie is next. She calls her mom, whom she jilted for a Hollywood casting agent some weeks before, and has a nice, leisurely conversation. Her mother talks cryptically, somewhat like Jamie. "We watch the show 24/7," she says. "Trust CBS, hang with Curtis and Josh."
We note that Jamie's mom bought Josh's "I'm a lonely guy" pitch hook, line and sinker.
Basically, her mom just said, "Trust the unscrupulous international media conglomerate and the horndog."
Call us old fashioned, but we think that's odd mother-daughter advice.
"I love you, Mommy," says Jamie. "I miss you so much."
Jamie tosses out a statement that is kind of a question at the same time. "I'm doing OK," she half asks/says. She has only a minute, and she's going passive-aggressive.
Mom doesn't pick up on it. She tells her to "stay strong" and that they need a woman to win. "You're still Miss Washington," she tells her.
Whew! She'll still be able to appear at the grand opening of car dealerships when she gets back.
Josh calls his stepdad, but there are some problems with the phone. Stepdad doesn't answer right away and the two have 10 seconds or so. "You're doing great," stepdad says. "Hang in there."
The cameras cut back to the living room. George is back in his aluminum-foil helmet. He's added a pair of glasses made out of toilet-paper tubes. (The houseguests ran out of toilet paper this week.)
George gets all serious. "We're being treated OK," he announces. He goes on and on about it. Teresa only uttered about seven words, and three or four of those were her shrieking "George!" but he acts as if she's given him extensive direction. "Just rest assured these people are doing a good job."
Everyone ignores him.
This is followed by more conversation around the couch, which is classic "Big Brother." We have a challenge against a clock -- something spontaneous and kind of exciting, something with at least a little potential to blow up -- with a slow, mind-numbing conversation about what happened.
Stuff like this is why picking scabs is more fun than tuning in every night.
Julie breaks in on them. She asks George what's up with his costume. "I'm afraid that when I leave here that I'll be living on another planet, so I'm getting ready," he says.
Now it's time for the banishment votes to begin. Eddie is first. He nominates George and Jamie. He's playing strategy now, as he's told everyone inside and outside of the house. "I believe they are both very positive people and I would like to see the viewers battle it out for who gets to stay."
The next segment on the show is a priceless featurette from Kemah, Tex. Apparently this small town has "adopted" George and given him, in absentia, the key to the city. There's a celebration in his honor. George's milk-fed family smiles for the cameras. There are cheerleaders, a mayor ("Big Brother" loves small-town mayors; they'll do anything for a TV camera) and two stoner-looking guys who tell George to "take it all the way."
We suspect that the fete was originally designed to honor Jim Varney, but then the Kemah town fathers discovered he was dead.
In a way, this segment is sadder than what happens on the show every day: Sure, we waste our time watching "Big Brother," but we get paid the big Internet bucks to do so. Don't people in America's heartland have lives?
We cut back to the Red Room. Josh nominates George and Curtis because they "both have strong support systems" outside the house. It's a bullshit excuse for nominating, but rock solid for keeping him from looking mean or venal in front of the 1-900 jury.
Out in the studio, Julie brings on Dr. Drew, who, as usual, has very little to say. Now, it's more about winning the game, he says, although the only person who's been talking about winning is Eddie.
The highly paid consultant of the obvious also points out that since Cassandra left the house, the four boys have devolved into howling Neanderthals. Yep.
Then there's another video segment. This one is a guide to all of the "underground" -- as the show describes them repeatedly -- Web sites devoted to "Big Brother" on the Web. You can play PhotoShop with George's face, assemble a puzzle with Curtis' face or play Jamie-Brittany tic-tac-toe for who wins Josh.
The segment confirms a suspicion we've had that the Internet has now reached its fullest human potential.
This segment leads into Regina Lewis, the AOL Internet Advisor. (Hahahaha.) Lewis says the site did a poll of whom viewers thought would win. The four boys are pretty much tied at about 20-something percent. Jamie comes in a distant fifth.
Lewis says it's a "horse race." But the poll was asking about whom the voters thought would win, not whom they'd vote for. And a few weeks back, the Internet Advisor gave us the figures of a poll of the outright popularity of the residents. Brittany came in first.
And was banished a week later.
And, uh, Julie? We hate to keep bringing up our Intrepid Newswoman's handbook, but it says here you should always explain carefully how polls were conducted. And their margins of error.
And that on the Internet, the margin of error is always 100 percent.
Back in the Red Room, Curtis nominates Eddie and George.
Out in the house, George has already lost his alien outfit. Maybe even he knows when a joke is dead.
Another video segment. This one is of Jamie talking to the cameras and peering through two-way mirrors. She flirts with "Bob," which is her name for any silhouette she can identify. She flirts, she smiles. She, amazingly, seems real and kind of fun. It makes her usual caring, sensitive, persona -- and even the conniving passive-aggressive persona -- seem like a big act. Maybe Jamie does have a future in Hollywood.
Julie Chen, who is dressed like a plum, introduces yet another video segment. It's Eddie's teammates in his wheelchair basketball league. Interviews are cut with clips of Eddie swearing like a sailor. If the players who know Eddie had to describe him in one word, it would be "obnoxious." We have a lot in common.
George is next in the Red Room. He nominates Jamie because she hasn't been nominated yet and Curtis because he's been dinging Josh too many times -- and he can't vote for buddy Eddie. His allegiance to Eddie, who only wants to see him go down, is kind of charming, if suicidal.
Then, it's another video segment. This one is of a "Big Brother" parody. A radio station has installed 12 people in a glass house at the Puyallup State Fair in Washington. They will stay there for 17 days. One person will be voted out each round, and the last person there wins $10,000.
There are twists that make the game seem a lot more fun than "Big Brother." There are no showers and all of the shut-ins are fed only fair food. There are also no cameras -- instead, fairgoers peer through the glass as if the people inside were zoo animals. We hope this catches on as a nationwide trend. There are lots of people we know we'd like to see put into little glass houses where they eat each other for fun.
We can think of five people we'd like to stick in right away.
Back in the Red Room again, Jamie nominates George and Eddie. She said she rolled dice to decide. She blabbers on to show how nice she is, warning Big Brother not to edit out what she's saying. She doesn't realize she's live.
In the final scene, the hamsters have moved into the kitchen. George chops some chicken with a knife. (Does this make "Chickenhead," as Eddie calls him, a cannibal?) Julie announces the results. Josh escapes the round with nary a vote. In what universe?
Curtis, Eddie and Jamie get two votes each. George racks up four.
That means that all four shut-ins voted for George. We've never seen him process information so quickly, and he doesn't take it well. He starts laughing maniacally.
"You guys smoked me," he says.
He laughs a maniacal, unhinged laugh.
"I think it's great!" he says.
He laughs, obviously compensating for real pain.
"It doesn't bother me at all," he says.
He goes on and on and on. The other hamsters exchange worried glances. He's making such a scary fool out of himself that the others have mercy on him. Maybe if they leave and distract him he'll forget it. Eddie excuses himself from the table. Josh points out, wrongly, that there was no challenge today. (He's already forgotten about the phone call.) Curtis asks how they're going to prepare dinner that night. Will they bake or barbecue that chicken?
We're hoping that they barbecue the hell out of him.