Big Brother.



TV For it's first four years on Channel 4, I was a massive fan of Big Brother and unashamed to say so. Then it still retained some vestiges of being a social experiment and while the edited highlights programmes were slowly developing into high impact scream fests, the live feeds, still run on E4, were often fascinating. So I was very pleased when Off The Telly asked me to fill in for usual recapper Matthew for a couple of weeks, the first installment of which is below. I picked an amazing fortnight, in many ways (though admittedly the following doesn't indicate as much) my favourite couple of weeks in the show's history, and the reason I still say BB4 was the best.

Jon Tickle is scrubbing the floor of the kitchen in the Big Brother house. Anyone who had been away on holiday for a few weeks and tuned in could have assumed that a technical fault had led to E4 showing footage from an earlier week. But then Tickle turns looks up into the camera, and nonchalantly says: “Particularly interesting … is Steph’s method of communication …” The Vulcan was back in the house and this time he had license to do all the things he’d wanted to do before. As he couldn’t win he was going to have tremendous fun not trying. And this included breaking the third wall for the first time in series history (barring Chris Eubank’s unsuccessful attempt at doing the same during the first Celebrity Big Brother).

This was the week which would arguably save Big Brother 4, but on the Sunday after the evacuation it certainly didn’t feel that way. Clearly the producers really were trying everything they could to do something memorable this year, to get at least one barnstorming argument out of the group. But it’s abundantly clear that no matter how many surprises they threw at the remaining housemates, nothing was going to change. I was with OTT’s usual BB correspondent Matthew Rudd – the series as it stood was lacking personalities. Gaetano was fun, but he’d only been there for a week. Lisa seemed to have been built in a petrie dish and injected especially for the job, but the virus of boredom eating away at the house was too much and it fought her influence.

The week’s gimmick wasn’t even new. After a live task, someone became the head of the household. It was used before in the first series of Big Brother USA and ultimately failed to increase the ratings. The producer’s fingers were crossed that it might help as the series wound down. In previous years ratings and votes have increased as the tension mounts to see who would win and whether romances would blossom further. In week six, voting hit an all time low, even with the extra day added on because of the evacuation. BB USA eventually resorted to offering suitcases full of cash to the more boring housemates to leave prematurely so that they could inject more life into the house. Were our producers that desperate?

Unfortunately what might have been a monumental change in house politics in previous years petered out rather quickly. Perhaps the execution didn’t help. Whereas in previous weeks, the task had been a genuine game of skill (in a Crystal Maze sort of way), for the second week running the outcome was mostly random. Each house mate selecting for themselves a battery operated toy animal which would take part in a race: Lisa was a dog, Nush a pig, Ray a sheep, Steph an elephant, Scott a rabbit and Cameron a rather limp looking giraffe. As the housemates slipped on their “cute” accompanying supporters t-shirt this felt like perfect fare for a Sunday afternoon. Although worryingly this was supposed to have gone out the night before – perhaps the evacuation had not been such a bad thing after all – an eviction was certainly preferable to this (and the viewers thought so to – Gos saw a greater audience than anyone had seen in weeks – outside of Elstree anyway).

Watching the little mammals trundle up their little holding troughs had a certain excitement quotient if only because part of the viewers’ brain was willing Lisa’s scottie dog to win (livening up the show for the next week at least) or for her to come last (because frankly having her in the house at the end would be a travesty). Digital Spy takes up the commentary: “The race began soon after, with every animal being on almost an even footing until the halfway mark, when Cam’s giraffe began to pull back. It was a tight finish between the pig and sheep, but the sheep just edged it, meaning Ray will be the HoH for the week. Cameron came last, meaning that he’ll miss out on the reward room for the week.”

It was only now that the duties of the head of the household were revealed. Ray would be determining the budget for the week. “I thought they were going to say nominations then,” Scott joked, as Big Brother added in sit-com fashion, “As Head of House, Ray will not be eligible for nomination this week,” BB continued. “As head of house, Ray will nominate three housemates on Monday. These three housemates will face the public vote.” The uniformly emotional Ray nearly burst into tears. He perhaps wouldn’t have been so emotional had he known that he was second favourite to win behind Scott and that it would mean that he was almost guaranteed to be in the final week. One of the real dramas for the week ahead would be whether he would realize that his best friend in the house was his greatest rival and tactically nominate. As usual the mood was broken by Lisa joking. “Give me a chance, I’ve only been here a week.” Not since Glen Hoddle’s statement about the disabled have a few words sealed someone’s fate.

In week six, when asked on RI:SE what he would say to Lisa if he was still in the house, evictee Federico was candid: “I’d tell her to lie down so that I could drop kick her.” Although it isn’t entirely clear what he meant by this, it did underline the general hostility which the new housemate had engendered since her appearance a week ago. As the programme entered week seven, she’d done little to increase her popularity. Suspicion still followed her. Inside the Elstree fortress, the housemates were overly aware that in their midst they had someone who appeared to be an expert in them, who had knowledge of how they were being perceived on the outside world and more importantly who had nominated who. She could actually tell them anything (despite their jokey attempts) but the “subtle” behaviour towards each of them gave them nondescript clues. The acute divide which the producers had been trying to develop for weeks was finally occurring in the house, but it seemed to be between the lifers and the newbie. And this comment didn’t help matters one bit, especially considering she’d said something similar to Steph a few nights before.

Just moments after the live task had drifted by this interpersonal divide become glaringly obvious. Over the following half an hour Steph and Nush stopped at nothing to try and avoid her, leaving room after room as she appeared. They were particularly uncomfortable that Lisa seemed to have started to replicate the clothes they were wearing, something which hadn’t gone unnoticed by Cameron, who on one occasion thought he’d been looking at Nush until the Welsh lass turned around. “It’s like Sleeping with the Enemy, or Single White Female,” Steph said, muddling her film references but making her point abundantly clear. The new woman’s attempts at friendship were weird and driving everyone away. This became more symbolic, later in the evening, as the girl told what she no doubt thought was her best story about being caught half naked by the parents of her boyfriend. Rather than bonding her housemates to her, it just drove them away. As the entire group drifted out of the room, all she could say was “Alright leave me alone then.” The divide would undoubtedly grow if she wasn’t hauled into to see Big Brother and given a warning for trying to influence nominations.

Outside that house, some attention was being paid to the first evictee Anouska. The best housemate Big Brother never had really, was brushed down and flown over the Australia to liven up their show. She entered the house with much fanfare from the press over there, with a mission statement to spice up their house. The tabloids in the UK had been patiently waited for something interesting to write about her, and in their eyes she didn’t disappoint, within days she was walking around topless and flirting with all of the men. Despite all of this the most shocking revelation was that the Oz Davina, actually chatted with the housemates while they were in the house, which somewhat missed the point of the format which is supposed to cold and isolating. The disembodied voice in the diary room should be the only place the housemates can go to vent spleen, and it shouldn’t be that welcoming. Introducing this to next year’s UK show would be a very bad idea.

RI:SE also continued to leech off the show looking for content. The Big Brother Monitor was looking increasing listless and some evictees had become permanent fixtures on the big couch. Tickle had gained his own slot “Tickle TV” where he told viewers what television programmes they should be watching that evening (an improvised and less interesting version of the not so popular “Route to Midnight” slot from The Big Breakfast). For a man who supposedly wasn’t interested in being famous he seemed to be doing an awful lot of television. In Australia, Anouska wasn’t impressed: “He thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread as well … We’ve been doing these interviews since we came out and he’s going to the makeup person ‘Erm, need some makeup over here’; demanding things. Go back to your little office job [Jon] where you shall live and die forever (sic). Destined for life in your little office.” Taking into account the reporter, had the fame gone to Tickle’s head?

By the end of Day 46 in the Big Brother house, the burden of responsibility had been getting to Ray. After venting spleen about what he thought of Lisa’s comment after he had found out about the nomination twist, he basically said he would be nominating her, with the gestures to match. Drink was involved, but he knew immediately he’d done wrong. However the sight of him slipping into the diary room to be reminded of the rules seemed a bit innocuous considering it had been Lisa’s words which had prompted him in the first place. Why hadn’t she been warned as well for trying to influence the new leader? Only BB knew and Ray was too far gone to point out the inconsistency. He ended the day in bed and in tears. Or as Tickle would comment the following morning, the second best bit of acting he’d seen after Cameron being surprised that he was going to Africa.

The nomination process has never been a completely forgone conclusion. Even in the heady days of the first Big Brother, when Craig, Mel, Darren and Anna glanced at each other furtively before entering the diary room, no one knew who would actually be up. How times change. Even with a single person nominating, everyone knew who Ray would be picking (especially Lisa who heard it in her own head before they were read out). Of course he wouldn’t be tactical and vote for his best mate Scott and he wasn’t going to nominate Nush over Steph. And the only person who wouldn’t have nominated Lisa was going to be Lisa. Funnily enough it genuinely looked as though Ray had put a lot of thought into it and much soul searching. Cameron was worthy of going because he’d already had an exciting time in the house, going to Africa and everything. Steph’s card was marked on Saturday night when she’d hugged Nush and told her that she was really sorry that Gos had gone, the implication being that she would have been happy to get shot of Ray or Nush instead (well she had nominated the Phoebe from Friends of the house …) No soul searching for Lisa. “Where do I begin?” he wondered. Where indeed?

The story for the “edited” highlights shows from that night onwards became the increasing isolation of Lisa. It was difficult not to shout “yes we know!” at the screen. The viewer was getting far too close to the Big Brother experience as each day was frankly beginning to look like all the others. So we had shot after shot of the newcomer on her own. Doing things alone. Reading in bed, sleeping, sitting on the couch, even boozing. Sharp focus on her face as the pasta Bolognese she’d spent five hours cooking was dished out, the disappointment that her housemates were only for God’s sake eating it, plain to see. Nevertheless, at points the housemates were shown displaying a bit of sympathy for her. Cam was seeing something of himself in her, questioning how Christian he was being about it. Ray was identifying with Lisa’s predicament of only being in the house for a week and not being about to make her mark, regretting even taking the comment too seriously. But the more telling moment was later in the Tuesday night programme when Lisa and Steph made an agreement to cook an Indian together the following week (funds permitting). Steph agreed, but she’d obviously twigged that for that to happen, Cam would have to leave on the Friday, at which point she would no doubt be hugging Lisa and telling her that she was sad to see the Scotsman go …

So she continued this self confessed game player, wanting to win, but playing the game extraordinarily badly. On the one hand moaning that she wasn’t getting the full Big Brother experience because she hadn’t got to nominate or take part in any tasks really, but on the other seeming to forget that the public decide, that the public had decided that they liked the current housemates enough to keep them in, and that the best policy would be to keep quiet. As part of the Wednesday night show we were privy to a chat with Big Brother in which she gave the slightly old line that individually they were nice people but get them in a group and they were like a pack of wolves. She was right of course; unknown to her we saw on Sunday night what Ray continued to describe as the “slating”. But the vitriol on display here wasn’t going to help her case at all. Neither was her self affirming statement that she’d been in the house longer than Anouska (Cameron cuttingly reminded her that it was only because she was exempt from nominations the week before). Yes, but Anouska was the only first evictee to make any kind of a mark on her housemates (in week seven of previous BBs can you remember the players even mentioning Sada, Penny, Lynne … does anyone even remember the last two?), and despite the quick eviction a mostly positive attitude from the public.

Lisa might have been a bit more humble if she’d known that the usually correct RI:SE poll had predicted her to leave with 70% of the vote and the bookies were offering odds of 1-15. When your only pundit supporter is Alison from Big Brother 3 trying to be controversial you’re really in trouble. On Big Brother’s Little Brother, Dermot O’Leary was trying to be diplomatic about the onslaught of negativity from guests and callers, most of whom just wanted her to stay for the arguments which might ensue, possibly hoping for a repeat of the barnstormer between Jade, Alex, Johnny and Kate in week nine of the third series. But Lisa is no Jade and O’Leary was looking increasingly nervous at the prospect of having to spend the following week humouring the newbie.

The producers seemed determined to create a romance. Despite some shared duvet action Cameron and Steph seemed to be lacking bite since Africa, as had the audience reaction to it. Some hardliners live in hope, but they really are too different. So rather like Tom and Mel in the first series, every moment Scott and Nush spent together with any kind of personal contact was being offered up as evidence that something was going on between those two. Nush is touching Scott’s hair – better include that. Scott’s wiping Nush down. Nush and Scott with a flag wrapped around them as he attempted to pee. Scott looking on jealously as Nush flirted with Ray (many times). That’ll be in the highlights.

On Wednesday night the formulae was almost right. Housemates + booze = massive arguments and recriminations (well, at least in previous years). This being the love-in that is Big Brother 4, there was a game of truth or dare in which everyone snogged each other. Steph kissing a slightly bemused Cameron in the least sexy kiss of the series – he didn’t want to be there and didn’t wait all that long before dashing to the bedroom to wipe the green make-up from his face, torpedoing any suggestion that they would be the couple of the series. Even Lisa got some action though Channel 4 decided not to show that in the 10pm show. Predictably she was the one who decided she would say her piece, telling the group what she thought of them. But it was very difficult to take her seriously dressed as a leprechaun. “My words were, ‘they don’t want me here any more than they want a hole in their head’. At the end of the day, they’ve been a clique or been close for six weeks. I actually said that I would have a conversation with you in the next couple of days, and I’m doing it now.” She continued with some self awareness of her place in the series (ie, no actual chance of winning) and repeating that she could have screamed and shouted at all of them at one time or another. This might have been the most exciting night of the series, with plenty of water cooler moments, but it felt utterly contrived. It was the summation of the producers’ plans which began with the introduction of the new housemate, but other than the fun of watching people get progressively drunk, it was an utter damp squib. The housemates didn’t argue back. They were too drunk for that. The most Nush could say was “whatever” under her breath when her new best friend Scott was attacked for not being completely welcoming at the start. The highlights show kept cutting back to Cameron reading and dozing in the garden. Had this year’s Big Brother lost its final chance to shine?

The following morning no one could remember any of it. Actually they remembered sections and I was reminded of all times I’ve watched other people drop out of blackouts. Nush was looking utterly embarrassed and going over the implications of what she’d been doing when she left the house. For me this was more entertaining television than the night before. Nush couldn’t get away from Scott and there he was reminding her moment after moment. Steph was in the garden washing their leprechaun costumes. Could Nush put everything she did down to being another species for the night?

Elsewhere tongues were wagging. Eagle eyed viewers had noticed a slight schedule change to the Friday night eviction interview programme had been increased to 50 minutes. For the first time, all of the evicted housemates other than Anouska were crowded onto the RI:SE sofa, even Sissy who had been noticeable by her absence. Since Lisa was a dead cert for the white stairs to the exit, they couldn’t all be in town to welcome out a housemate none of them had met. Anyone with better things to do than watch the slow career decline of Iain Lee found out that everyone was back at the end of Big Brother’s Little Brother. Dermot O’Leary was excited. We were too. What was up?

But this was Lisa’s eviction night. It was characterized that way even before Davina read out the results. On the pre-watershed Friday night show, everyone, including the families were going through the motions. Ananova were reporting that bookies had already begun to pay out as the betting had risen to 1-33. There wasn’t a question. A better punt might have been the margin of the vote. Online and texting revenue boosters had solidly predicted something in the early 70 percents. In the event, a staggering 82.25% (913,164) voted for Lisa, 12.5% (135,025) for Steph and 5.6% (62,067) for Cameron. Someone had finally polarised the nation, and the steady drop in the numbers voting had been curtailed, at least for a week.

The boos which greeted Lisa as she left the house might have been the abiding memory of the night if other events hadn’t taken hold. Justine had been booed because she’d said some nasty things behind people’s backs. Federico had been booed for saying some nasty things about anyone he could think of. Now Lisa was being booed for … being herself. Possibly. It was uncomfortable viewing the evictee stepping down the stairs to be greeted by her family, being treated as though she was the most evil woman alive. Sympathy set in. Yes, she’d been loud. Talked about herself a lot. Been negative about her fellow housemates (although she was arguably provoked into that). But no one deserved this.

Davina was at her most uncomfortable when she sat down for the post-eviction interview. She asked Lisa about the reaction: “To be honest with you, I can still hear it and I expected it … I was put in in the sixth week of a show when everyone had already amalgamated and bonded.” But that described what happened inside the house. Why had the nation turned against her? Nothing in the ensuing interview really gave any clues. She just repeatedly reminded us that she had been herself in there: “I wasn’t gonna change,” Lisa vowed, “That’s how I’d react in the outside world. If they don’t like it, they should behave more like adults.” Perhaps it was because of conditions beyond her control. The public remembered the housemates who had joined the house in later stages in previous series. They had entered with the intention of, for the most part, blending in. The public had wanted someone who would stir things up, yes, but at the same time be as entertaining enough to turn the series around. The general question was “why did they pick her?” and because the producers didn’t provide an answer she was a loser before the end of the first week. And unfortunately although she tried to make her eviction the most memorable by throwing a proposal into the mix, other forces were at work.

Every single previous twist had been signposted at least a day or so in advance by one newspaper or another. We knew about the Africa swap and the new housemate days before they occurred. What made last night so delicious was that no one but the production team really knew anything, or if they did they weren’t telling. As we headed into the break, McCall revealed that indeed almost all of the old housemates were there. Curious. The highlights in the pre-watershed show had been over in minutes, and Lisa’s eviction had been announced 10 minutes early. Curiouser. And then the announcement arrived. As the more imaginative viewer might have guessed, one of the evictees (including Lisa) would be going back in. Except Anouska who was busy in a place were the water goes down the plug hole the other way or Tania who had better things to do.

It looked like posters to the E4 ticker would finally get their wish. Just as it had been a forgone conclusion that Lisa would be leaving, the public reaction to Tickle should have made him the obvious favourite. But had his reputation been tarnished since he’d left the house? Had he said or done anything which would turn the public against him and perhaps make them head towards Gos? Not a jot. 62% of the voters on the night (Lisa was amusingly second, although we haven’t been privy to that percentage) wanted Tickle back in the house. Stepping forward to cheer like he’d scored the winning goal in a cup final, he was already plotting his return.

“You’re going to see a very different Jon Tickle over the next two weeks.” He said as Davina led him back up towards the house, the massive cheers from the crowd (marked contrast from half an hour before). “Do you think you could get Nush and Scott together?” She asked, “Oh I’ve got other plans for them.” He said. Davina pleaded. He said he would see. Tickle was milking the reaction of the crowd, who like me couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Was this part of some great master plan. Had he been evicted early in preparation for this return late in the day? He couldn’t win. He couldn’t be nominated, or nominate. And he couldn’t talk about the outside world. But he was going in until the end with all the knowledge of watching the show from the RI:SE sofa for three weeks, knowing what they thought of him and he was going to have fun. Hopefully the viewer would too.

As the doors opened and he stepped into the house, the reactions of the housemates were golden. Suddenly Cameron had his Africa gleam on. They were all happy to see him, screaming and hugging (especially Nush who seemed to cling onto him for an inordinately long time). He sat them down quickly and told them the rules. He couldn’t tell them how he got there, why he was there. He wouldn’t tell them that he was an official housemate again. It was just that he was there now. Big Brother 4 suddenly had its first cliffhanger, and all that was missing was an overlay with the words “To be continued…” This was going to be good. Very good indeed. And of course, controversial…

Well, yes, quite.  

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