One flew over the hamsters' nest

Episode 62 (Wednesday, Sept. 20): In the Wednesday live-banishment extravaganza, Julie Chen wields a mean cue card.

By Jeff Stark - Bill Wyman - Carina Chocano
September 21, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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Julie Chen looks commanding tonight in a sleeveless orange shell -- sort of like an Intrepid Pumpkin.

She sure is in shape, though.

But why does she hold that card that says "Big Brother" on it all the time? Is it like a CBS hall pass? Does she sometimes wander off the set and onto other shows' sound-stages? 'Cause we've heard rumors.

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Anyway, it's the Wednesday live-banishment extravaganza, and Julie launches into her usual routine. Her captive audience greets her with its customary enthusiasm, applauding on cue as if on an infomercial.

Chen greets the hamsters with her usual elan.

"George, George, George," Julie chides her cherished manchild. Oh, she can't get enough of his antics!

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George has bleached his hair platinum and is decked out in a toga, with some sort of faux laurel on his wrists and on his head like a crown. He looks like Hunkius, the first Roman transvestite emperor.

We'll be seeing a lot more of George tonight than we ever wanted to see. Especially after he gets emotional and starts raising his arms.

His back is a luxuriant carpet of comfort.

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The Intrepid Pumpkin asks Jamie how it feels to be marked for banishment for the first time. Jamie describes it as "part of the experience."

We know what comes next -- a rousing entreaty to "live life." Our thoughts trail off as we wonder why no one has thought to throw Jamie a thesaurus, preferably an unabridged one expertly aimed, when we hear something that makes our ears perk up --

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A follow-up question!

The merciless Chen has gotten Miss Maybelline to admit to a feeling!

"I'm a little nervous," Jamie concedes, tentatively. "I haven't eaten much today."

There may be a future for Chen after all on "The Early Show," the second worst TV show of all time. The chops she's learned on "Big Brother" will allow her to take on tougher interviewees in the future, like Martha Stewart, or Jeff Probst, or maybe even some people not employed by CBS.

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George is a little nervous, too. He thinks he's getting 86'ed tonight. He's posted a few signs around the house in an effort to jump-start his career.

"Chicken George needs a job," reads one.

"For sale: '92 Ford pickup, see Chicken George," reads another.

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"The Chicken Man's got that feeling that he's going to fly the coop," he tells Julie, who fails to point out that chickens don't fly but asks instead how he felt about getting nominated by every last hamster.

George assures Julie that he "loved it."

The real reason George was nominated by everyone is that Brittany blurted out to Josh that George's wife had all of Rockford involved in a scheme to target the other guests for banishment.

In the low-IQ world of the "Big Brother" house and its network environs, this exaggeration was inflamed into a much bigger one. So the other hamsters naturally went after him.

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This elementary explanation isn't discerned by George or Julie.

"I'd had a really bad time the week before," George goes on, "and this is the first big laugh I laughed all week."

"OK," Chen chirps. Oh, well, nothing she can do about it now except introduce the next "very interesting challenge."

One of the former houseguests will be allowed back into the house. Didn't they already do this?

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Oh, yes, of course -- we forgot this was the only live show in television history where "live" feels a lot like "rerun."

"As you know, the banishment process sends someone out of the house," says Julie slowly.

Uh-huh.

"Well, we want to send someone in -- and that someone is -- Will Mega!"

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Is Julie feeling a little friskier than usual, or have we had too much caffeine? We read somewhere (OK, Vogue) that orange is the color of insanity.

Turns out it's another masterful bit of Chen teasing!

But hamsters should not be strung along. They are not stouthearted animals. They need love and guidance.

"-- Jordan," Chen drawls, continuing, "Karen, Brittany or Cassandra. This will be your chance to talk to one of them, ask anything you want to ask. You can even ask that person about the outside world."

Why not bring Henry Kissinger into the house? Or the Dalai Lama? How about the makers of Flo-Nase? Oh, wait, we know! Farrah Fawcett could come over and tell them what it's like to be hot and superfamous. That would be useful.

Hey, whatever happened to that show on TV in which a bunch of people were going to be entirely cut off from the outside world? At this point, CBS, horrified at the great sucking boredom of the residents, is peppering the hamsters with outside stimulation almost continuously. The "Big Brother" house now features a sensory bombardment only slightly less assaultive than Times Square's.

We think that CBS should take a different tack. Keep the hamsters isolated, remain true to the tenets of the show, but put random electric shocks around the house -- light switches, chairs, the beds, the toilet seat.

Julie Chen's voice interrupts this pleasant reverie.

"Before you ask what's the catch" -- they weren't -- "here it is: You must choose which of your former houseguests will be allowed back in.

My what a wrenching decision. And why must newscasters use that annoying inflection?

The former houseguests plead their case on video. The current inmates must pick one. Wild guess: They're going to opt for the least explosive option.

Karen tries to bribe them with food, saying she'll cook the food of their dreams to last them through the rest of their stay.

Will Mega, long-forgotten, asks, "Why me? Because I've been out of the house the longest." He sure has. And out of mind. "So bring back the Mega man," he concludes.

Next, Jordan, knowing full-well she will never be picked, takes the opportunity to goose Jamie for all the folks at home.

"Hey, you guys," Jordan says. "I've heard you talking about the show, and how huge you think it is? You have no idea how out-of-control, over-the-top huge this show is."

Jamie just about falls out of her seat. Her jaw dangles from its powerful hinges. She can almost taste the Hollywood ass she'll soon be kissing.

"Three words describe my status right now," a gleefully cruel Jordan continues. "V.I.P. It's amazing."

Jamie's eyes flash.

"I'm in the next 'Mission Impossible 3,'" Jordan continues mercilessly. "I met with Tom Cruise last week, he's a die-hard fan."

Curtis laughs. Jamie wrinkles her nose and waves Jordan's image away as the rest of the room bursts out laughing.

"I'm getting my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next week," Jordan goes on. "So, don't worry about the prize, because we're all major celebrities, we're set for life."

The housemates are entirely lacking in the irony gene. They think she's exaggerating a bit. They don't fully appreciate that she's really sending them a code that spells the letters f-l-o-p.

Brittany comes on next. She has information. She has messages from their families. She knows who's flying the planes. She tells them they're boring us.

"You people need my help so bad that I tried to break back in and got busted!"

But laboratory tests have shown that hamsters don't respond well to negative reinforcement. If you squeeze them, their eyes pop out.

Bad kitties! Mean kitties!

They choose Cassandra, who promises no compelling arguments, no food-bribes, no juicy gossip, no brutal appraisals of what their futures hold. In fact, we later learn that despite her assurance that she has the "freshest" news, she has refused to watch the show since she's been out of the house.

So basically, what we have to look forward to is a round of earnest comfort. That's going to be some compelling TV!

"You don't really think she's doing any of that stuff, do ya?" asks George about Jordan. He's still not clear what the joke was.

"No, she's totally yanking us," Curtis says, gently sketching reality for George. "She's funny," he explains.

The hamsters are then informed that Cassandra will be joining them next week. And just in case we got any funny ideas at home, Julie informs the viewing audience that Jordan really wanted to go back into the house, "so she took a little bit of artistic license when she pitched her campaign for going back in."

That's called responsible journalism.

Next, "Big Brother" profiles the man with the airplane, whose business has gotten an unexpected boost from the show. An amateur anthropologist, he makes a comparison between ancient tribal communications and what he's doing.

It's persuasive, except for the fact that tribes communicated important information. In Studio City, it's just one groups of nuts trying to communicate strange information to another.

Speaking of which, Jamie's mom comes on to tell us that the cheery message she sent her daughter really worked, because "her reaction when she saw it -- the excitement, the smile -- if you know Jamie, you know she was in seventh heaven."

The rest of the time, if you know Jamie, she's a big phony.

Later, the plane guy says it's great to "be part of the never-ending tale, if you will, of 'Big Brother.'" It certainly is never-ending.

The "Big Brother" producers never tell the audience that the original plane banners were paid for by disgruntled viewers.

We think we're gonna fly a plane over Julie's house.

"QVC is hiring," it's going to say.

Health and relationships expert Dr. Drew Pinsky is, as usual, too kind. George, he says, really grasped the irony of being nominated by all of his housemates.

"It was a moment that could have been much more intense," he says. This is a statement that could be said of every moment this show has broadcast since it began, back in the Mesozoic era.

Then Julie asks about their picking Cassandra. Amazingly, Dr. Drew had predicted this decision, noting, "They've been making choices that tend to stabilize the house. And Cassandra is the person they go to for stabilization."

Julie tells us that Cassandra has not watched the show, or tapes of the back episodes. What does the doctor think of her decision?

"I think I'm in love with Cassandra."

Of course, given "Big Brother's" ratings, CBS could pretty much pick people off the street randomly and be fairly certain they could get someone who hadn't seen the show.

It's kind of sad, however, that someone who was on the show wasn't watching it either.

Saucily coiffed AOL "Internet Advisor" Regina Lewis returns. She tells us fans are "getting creative" with their new-fangled "homepages."

Lewis tells us all about the great things we can learn on the Internet, like that bubble gum-flavored ice cream is Jamie's favorite dessert; and that an AOL poll reveals that 40 percent of respondents believe Brittany has a shot at a showbiz career, but only 20 percent believe Jamie ("who of course has her heart set on Hollywood") does.

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents say they think the "Big Brother" chickens are talking to them.

Lewis' expertise segues into a "laughter" montage. At home, we put together a "pain" montage.

And then it's banishment time! But first, what is it with Julie tonight? Badinage, jokes, big, infectious smiles ...

If we didn't know better we'd think she just got -- promoted or something.

Jamie got 32 percent, Curtis got only 4 percent, Eddie got 14 percent and George got a walloping 51 percent.

A lot of people react to tragedy with laughter. We used to go out with someone who did that. Death, in particular, cracked him up. He couldn't help it. It was a nervous reaction. It caused a nervous reaction in us, too.

When George is deeply upset he just repeats the same inane thing over and over.

"You guys have all been cool. You guys have all been cool. You guys have all been cool. You guys have all been cool," George says, looking and sounding like Teddy Ruxpin.

He doesn't say anything else. Then he laughs until he chokes. He's still wearing his toga and laurel crown.

Outside the house, his daughters hurl themselves at him. They clutch at him and weep.

Say what you will about George. His daughters love him.

Soon they will become teenagers, turn sullen and go out with boys who are trying to grow mustaches.

George asks the crowd assembled outside, "How you guys all doin'?"

In the studio, George, in a toga, hair sprouting from every inch of his exposed torso, is met by a hysterical Teresa, blubbering uncontrollably.

Julie looks like she's about to start dancing.

Since we last saw her, she's definitely gotten a few pointers from Barbara Walters. Watch Julie as she probes the Pillsbury Doughman! Watch him recoil and giggle!

Chen asks him some tough questions. Turns out that in one of their quick phone conversations, someone said something about "a plan." "Big Brother" thinks this is the smoking gun in the Great Rockford Phone-in Caper controversy.

George reveals the plot: It was just a plan to keep the grass cut and the bills paid!

"A guy who comes out in a toga does not have a plan!" laughs George.

We have to say we think this is a persuasive point.

Julie asks George all manner of fascinating questions, most of which elicit laughter. George directs every reply to "you guys."

Responding to a question about the hard times, George replies cryptically,

"I got waxed many different times."

How come they never showed that?

The show closes with a living embodiment of an American Dream.

George never went to college. He demonstrated last week that he was unable to spell the word "Ma."

"Ma" is one of the harder two-letter words, but it is a two-letter word nonetheless.

George, understandably, wants his daughters to get the education he didn't. Julie Chen tells him that the Southern Vermont Cooperative College has offered one of his daughters a four-year scholarship.

George and his family weep unashamedly.

(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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