Big Brother UK Jumps The Shark
I’ll start by saying I’ve been a huge fan of Celebrity Big Brother for years now. It is one of the many incarnations of the voyeur-centric show that emerged from the original Big Brother, created by legendary producer John De Mol, that debuted first in the Netherlands, way back in 1999 as a televised social experiment. Since then, the franchise has gone on to appear in some variation in over a dozen countries, including the UK, Canada, Brazil, United States, Africa, Spain, Scandinavia, Norway, Germany, Australia… the list goes on and on. They all have the same premise, but they vary widely in execution.
The most successful in the franchise has indisputably been the UK version, which three times a year debuts a new set of houseguests to parade in front of the cameras- and defend themselves in the court of public opinion. Even countries that have their own homegrown version of the series scramble to watch Big Brother: UK. This, despite the license limiting it’s availability to other countries. However, thanks to the internet, scores of eager viewers livestream the series, or post recorded episodes for non-UK residents nightly.
What makes the British version better than nearly all the others in the fray? The answer is simple: It stayed closest to the original concept. It introduced a handful of strangers to a unique coed residence and let the world watch as their relationships developed or crumbled. There were challenges that posed moral, ethical or interpersonal dilemmas, expediting the bonds that formed between real people in a surreal situation, exiled from the outside world.
While the rest of the adaptations of the franchise heavily deviated from the original formula, often becoming more like literal game shows with an emphasis on competition rather than reality, Big Brother UK had avoided that pitfall, instead opting to allow characters to shine, emotions to be provoked and viewers to feel very much invested in the people gracing their screens.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. Falling in line with it’s far weaker companions in the franchise, Big Brother UK has resorted to scripted storylines, a cast of 20-something, pseudo-reality stars willing to shed their clothes for ratings, and who behave like caged apes with no intention or interest in the program or it’s context. All they care about is being on television and grabbing headlines. A far cry from the original series which dealt with real people, most who had never even been in a neighborhood newsletter.
Perhaps most embarrassing is the complete lack of concern on the part of Channel 5, the producing studio. The last series boasted a pair of lovebirds, Lewis and Marnie, each who claimed to have never met each other until arriving for their incarceration in the house. However, photographs that were leaked revealed a long, pre-existing friendship. Not only would it be unlikely the two hadn’t met given both star in UK MTV shows aimed toward the same demographic and run in the same circles, it was also revealed they have the same agent who bartered their deals with Channel 5 to appear on the show.
It’s become customary for Big Brother: UK producers to pluck their 20-something stars from a trio of popular MTV Europe shows; Geordie Shore, Ex On The Beach and The Only Way is Essex. The last three winners of the Celebrity Big Brother series have all starred- often simultaneously- on these shows.
We’d be remiss not to point out that Viacom is the company that owns both Channel 5 and MTV, thus they are heavily incentivized to cross promote their stars and programs in which they feature.
And maybe this is all well and good, except for the increase in speculation that the series in far more produced and the results predetermined before anyone steps foot in the iconic bungalow in Elstree Studios. The fact that thousands of people pay fees to cast a vote for their favorites in order to save them from being evicted is also disturbing, if indeed there is less reality involved than audiences are led to believe.
Punctuating this was a major mistake that occurred in the production room during a nightly broadcast called “Live From The House” in which viewers at home get an extra hour observing the fishbowl. A rogue shot captures the cast going to bed just prior to the final show of the series and the voice of Big Brother telling them goodnight before turning off the lights. Suddenly, the lights ignited once more; the cast jumped from their beds with one of them declaring “Good take, guys. Good take.” Big Brother proceeds to direct them.
It begs the question: How many takes is one episode composed of? How much is manufactured like just any other loosely scripted reality TV series. We know Lewis and Marnie were revealed to have met long before entering the house, yet consistently made statements like “I’m so glad I met you in here,” whilst their photos together were being heavily circulated on social media.
Not the first time. Not at all. In the most recent civilian series- a term which I must use loosely because it, too, was comprised of spotlight hungry industry parasites. From a girl who claims she bedded Justin Bieber to James Bond’s butt double, they were all seeking to raise their profile, and as such, more than willing to perform.
The son of famed Chef Marco Pierre White came into the house and immediately began an intensely graphic sexual relationship with Justin Bieber’s sloppy seconds, Laura Carter. She choked him with a belt while she straddled him, and he aggressively suckled her bare breasts while the nation sat in horror. The two claimed to have just met… photos revealed during the course of the show illustrated the two “strangers” at a party together with their arms around each other.
Miss Carter was also later revealed to have a beautiful, torrid romance with a Chilean male model whom she only met once, while engaged to another man in Miami. He stated he had crossed an ocean to see her again. Their reunion on the show was like a scene from a Nicholas Sparks novel. Entirely fictitious. Turns out, Bernardo Belmar is actually Bernardo Arriagada. While he has agents in Montreal, New York and London, his home is in the UK. Not Mexico. Once source suggests the two had been living together off and on in the Burngreave area of Sheffeild since September 2013.
What has happened to Big Brother? Where was the turning point? When did it begin this bleak departure from social experiment to teenage reality fare? The last celebrity series that wasn’t saturated with kids from MTV was in 2013, the year current host Rylan Clark won. There was a distinct lack of breast implants, bloated lips and antics designed specifically to land on the front page of The Mirror. If you watched that series today, you’d think you were watching another show. It was genuinely funny. The Hot young heartthrob who slept all day went home second, not last. The young glamour model from page 3? She went home right after. The cast was accomplished talents rather than fame hungry spectacles from other reality shows. The setup tested their loyalties to one another and through their conversations we learned who they were beyond the threshold of flash bulbs.
The series that introduced Perez Hilton changed all that forever. He claimed he had been coached by producers; That he was their favorite character and great for ratings. “The producer’s won’t let me leave, I’m TV gold.” he boasted. He humped windows while making sexual chortles, cried in the diary room every day, tormented his housemates mercilessly and paraded around for the attention of the cameras- All of which were on him. He consumed the entire show
In the following civilian series, they recognized that was an asset, so in a major twist, they add Marc O’Neil, a rambunctious, Irish reality TV star known for going nude on camera in the popular series Tallifornia on TV3- The same channel that airs Big Brother in Ireland. In his introductory tape, he promised to go in and “Fuck things up…” and he certainly did. He was a polarizing figure who the kids loved and those with an IQ above 25 loathed. He also casually implied he had been paid a fee to be a part of the series, which isn’t supposed to happen in the civilian series. Although he was favorite to win by bookies, he was ultimately evicted just before the program began introducing the prize fund and the games they were going to play with it. Many believe it was organized this way because it had been agreed prior that Marc was there to incite drama and not actually play the game with the cast, thus was ineligible. He was there to do a job.
Each year since, the cast of characters has gotten younger, more outrageous and detestable, and someone is always a villain. Stephen Bear, star of MTV’s Ex On The Beach, played the villain this year. Throughout his stay, he was given 6 formal warnings, a record number, for his behavior, which included dumping rationed food all over the floors and beds; Shattering one of the two-way mirrors of the camera run with a porcelain coffee mug; squaring up to fight with a fellow housemate; Destroying the property of his fellow housemates and in unseen footage that was conveniently left on the editing room floor, even going so far as to injure Pop singer Samantha Fox in a prank gone wrong. Yet, while many believe he should have been removed for his vile antics, he not only stayed, he won the whole thing.
Which of course sets a new precedent. The more horrific a human being you are, the more likely you are to win. Like trained monkeys, these shills are given a task even before the game starts, and that is to create drama, chaos and dissent between the rest of the housemates. Interestingly, Bear was paid a mere £12,000 for his stint, the least amount of any participant in the history of the celebrity series… yet the studio also offered him his very own spinoff show starring his entire family. If one is to believe the speculation, Bear was paid little with the promise of his own show if he made a proper fool of himself for the sake of ratings. He did well.
Ex-Housemate and former presenter Brian Dowling has come forward to admit the show possesses certain produced elements like any other show, stating it would “Otherwise be very boring.”
Well, it certainly isn’t what I would call boring. But it’s not Big Brother anymore. It’s a herd of anxious starlets and shirtless studs wanting to grace the pages of magazines and develop a career. Big Brother is their foothold. They get viewers and fans for their other series and expand their fan base. This increases the ratings and the parent company, Viacom,which reigns over both Big Brother and these reality shows, wins.
It’s a train that has gone off the rails. Big Brother is no longer a simple social experiment or an observation of people from different walks of life cohabiting in an enclosed space. It’s no different than the other MTV series that are loosely scripted to progress toward a result or plotpoint, be it an explosive argument, a sexual act, or even a winner.