The Tuesday meeting of Rodents Anonymous

Episode 61 (Tuesday, Sept.19): "My name is George, and I'm a hamster!"

By Jeff Stark - Bill Wyman - Carina Chocano
September 20, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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It's Tuesday night, one night before Wednesday's live banishment show, one night before the second-to-last "Big Brother" contestant bites the dust. And yet, the mood in the house tonight is chipper, unconcerned. Relaxed, even.

Here's why:

Jamie, Josh, George, Curtis and Eddie are TV stars now. Face it. Your denials won't make it go away. How long can we cling to the deluded hope that the spongemen and spongewomen of the "Big Brother" house will get nothingfrom all this?

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Not promos, commercials, public service announcements? Not QVC? Not even a D-Snore ad like Doc from "The Love Boat"? Come on!

We'll tell you who's going to get nothing and like it. That's right, suckers! Us!

We've been kidding ourselves. These people aren't going to suffer for what they've done. They're going to be rewarded. And they will continue to plague us for years to come. They will haunt our insomniac nights with infomercials and their psychic friends endorsements, the way Debbie Matenopoulos does on the TV Guide channel after getting chucked off "The View." So what if they have no talent? Who on TV does?

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Anyway, we digress. Tuesday night's show begins with the weekly challenge: "In the News or Not?"

Our malcontestants will be given 25 news headlines each day and asked to guess which of them are true and which are false.

Considering how many of the "news headlines" involve "Big Brother," we think it's another (yawn) ploy on the part of CBS to boost lab-rodent morale and keep things lively 'til the bitter, wrenching end. The challenge also yields some interesting answers to questions based on actual news events. It's fascinating to see people disbelieve things we already take for granted. On the other hand, we wonder if most of the houseguests wouldn't be responding in the same way had they been sitting in an Associated Press newsroom this whole time.

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True things they thought were false:

"Karen moved to L.A." "One presidential candidate picked a Jewish running mate." "George W. Bush called a reporter an 'a-hole.'" "Nude photos of 'Big Brother' houseguests on Internet."

False things they thought were true:

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"Daily Variety: U.S. 'Big Brother' cast most boring to date."

(We have to note here that this is false only in the technical sense that Variety just hasn't gotten around to that particular story yet.)

Question that inspired the liveliest debate:

"Zookeeper suffocated under 200 pounds of elephant dung."

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In the next scene, Eddie rolls on the floor with the dog.

Meanwhile, on NBC, the Olympics are on.

We then watch as George whips up a costume for the "Big Brother" recording session. It's a sleeveless T-shirt with "Free Bird" printed on it. On one arm, he paints a "Teresa" tattoo.

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The tattoo on his other arm produces what may be "Big Brother's" most poignant moment thus far.

A few weeks ago, George tacked a message to his wife on a wall in the backyard. "Happy Anniverarsy," it read.

He misspelled -- Curtis quickly corrected him -- but it's no big deal. "Anniversary," like "delicatessen," is a big word. Toss in performance anxiety, and a guy with no pretensions to, say, the vice presidency is allowed to misspell something.

The word George misspelled on his left bicep, however, is smaller than "anniversary." It's smaller than "television."

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It's also smaller than "George," "house," "cat" and "dog."

It's smaller than "the" and "and."

On his left arm, George writes:

"U.S.S. Big Brother," and, above it, "AM."

Jamie, after "wowing" her supportive approval, asks, "What does that say?"

"Ma," says George, looking at the "AM" on his arm curiously.

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Josh squints at it. Wait. "Ma"? Then everyone nearly falls off their chair laughing.

"Did you by chance write that in the mirror?" Curtis says.

Lucky for George America loves a Gump. If this were the former Soviet Union he would have been hauled off the show and shot for crimes against self-respect and ratings.

"Aw, that's stupid!' laughs George, who has been behaviorally conditioned to laugh at himself when everyone else does.

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This rare moment of genuine hilarity is cut short so that the "Big Brother" producers can force us to watch the Feckless Five sing their sorry guts out in the Red Room "recording studio."

They were challenged to write words to the "Big Brother" theme song. Now they have to sing them.

Which brings us back to our original point: What's the difference between TV stars and the people who play them on TV? Are the hamsters the simulacra or the simulation? Are they live or are they Memorex? Butter or Parkay?

Who are we to say? They could be a rich, creamery tub of "I Can't Believe It's Not TV Stars!" and it would still all be a Country Crock of shit.

The mood is glum here at the Center for Savaging "Big Brother" tonight. After the show, we caught a few seconds of women's gymnastics (the very few seconds we could spare), and as we watched the tiny death-defying teens hurtle through space like thick, sinewy rubber bands, bouncing around the stadium through sheer force of will and determination, we thought: Why? Why bother? Why work, when total mediocrity can land you on cereal boxes, too?

But as soon as the roomies hit the "studio," and another outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalitis strikes the compound, our spirits bounce back. The mad cows are back and funnier than ever!

Don't
Mess up our lives
By voting us out
Out of "Big Brother"!

We Can't Believe It's Not a Chorus!

Come
Into our lives
See how we live
Under "Big Brother"!
Come
Into our lives
It's us versus them
Versus "Big Brother"!

The visual effects, meanwhile, would strike you as daring, if the only TV show you'd ever seen was "American Bandstand."

There's a split-screen of Josh and Josh; zooming in, zooming out, in, out, in, out, rack focus! In, out, in ...

Curtis is the only one who can sing. The show producers agreeably mask the voices of the others with electronic treatments -- just like Britney Spears!

George, in "rock" getup, is playing a broom. The guitar solo is swell.

Jamie sings:

We hope you'll learn by watching
You'll make it through anything

We've learned. We promise we've learned. Can we please go?

Nope! Not until we've figured out, is it "In the News or Not?"

"'Hillary Clinton files for divorce,'" reads Curtis. The "Big Brother" pundits weigh in on why it's false.

"Brittany has been signed to a major talent agency."

"I think it's true," says Jamie with a little smile on her face. She's right, of course.

The next three questions are in order of mounting importance to the housemates:

"Anne Heche found wandering around Fresno in a daze after breakup with Ellen DeGeneres."

Feh.

"'Big Brother' fans thwarted in attempt to throw toilet paper over the wall."

Laughter. Lively discusssion.

"Jordan has her own show."

Jamie's mouth sets into a tight smile, but not before her eyelids flap in amazement. As the boys argue over the answer, she casts her gaze downwards and meditates on how much she hates Jordan.

"Let's say false," she says.

(It's true -- sort of. We think we heard Jordan's now on a radio show somewhere.)

Why is a girl who is on network prime time six nights a week (and not because she murdered somebody) jealous of another girl who "has her own show"?

For the same reason that the prize for winning a game show challenge on TV is reading the weather on TV. And not just on TV, but on the same show on TV.

In other words, we don't know.

Josh won a contest the other day. The reward was said to be giving a weather report "live on CBS."

We smelled something fishy. We know CBS is owned by Viacom and all, and we're sure Tabitha Soren's going to be sharing an anchor desk with Dan Rather some day.

But had the CBS news department sunk this low this fast?

Nope! Turns out Josh is going to give the weather on the local Los Angeles CBS affiliate, one of those places with an "Eyewitness News Team!" and an on-air news staff whose chief duties are manufacturing playful banter on air and looking serious in promo ads and who do neither convincingly.

In the event, the Tiffany network's SoCal outpost has Josh stand without a shirt on out by the pool, banter a bit and read off a few temperatures.

Josh proves that he can read while standing muscularly.

Next the hamsters up for banishment are given 30 seconds each to plead their case for staying in the house to the American people.

Zzzzzzz ... Wha?

Oh. Curtis says earnest things. Jamie, lips shining and mugging furiously, talks about paying off her student loans, paying for her six-year-old half-sister's college, paying for her parents to retire "and maybe being less poor of an actress in Hollywood. Ha, ha."

Has anyone told her how much prize money there is? Because she sounds a lot like Dr. Evil with half the information.

Eddie is honest and up front about wanting to stay and win. Then George comes on with a frozen grin on his face.

"Hi. This is Chicken George from the 'Big Brother' show," he says. "Volunteer with your kids at school. You won't make a dime at it but I guarantee it's gonna be one of the most rewarding experiences you'll ever have."

Um, George? You're still on the show, man. There's no rainbow or shooting-star graphic behind you. This isn't the Jerry Lewis Telethon and you're not the lady from "Touched by an Angel," OK? Not yet. Though we suspect you've been touched by something.

Finally, the potential banishees are asked to advocate for another potential banishee. Curtis roots for Jamie, Jamie roots for Curtis, Eddie roots for George, George roots for Eddie.

Which reminds us, right before George roots for Eddie, he says, "Oh, OK. I can do that, Big Brother. Let me know when you want me to start."

Does this disturb you as it does us? Does George think Big Brother is a single entity behind the curtain? If so, why does the "brother" have a sister's voice? And has he forgotten the cameras are always rolling?

"You guys have followed the path that I've laid with Eddie --"

Whoa. Laid?

"It's been going on for three months now. If you've been watching the show -- if you've been following the show. You know what it's all about. So do what you gotta do."

Um, is George -- gay?

(C.C.)

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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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