Monday, July 18, 2005

Big Brother UK is a deeply flawed programme. There is no real "game" to speak of - contestants aren't allowed to discuss nominations for example, no real reward (the prize of £100,000 won't buy a house in most parts of the country nowadays). Instead, contestants (who are picked for their immaturity, egocentricism and poor social skills) are forced to carry out a series of silly parlour games that involve "dressing up", while the British public vote off whoever they find most threatening (attractive women generally do badly - while Scottish contestants always seem to do quite well - even the unpleasant ones) - and Endemol gets revenue from all those phone votes. Almost every contestant is booed on eviction (due to editing techniques that depict everyone as monsters) and if the tv footage starts to drag by, the producers attempt to spice things up with alcohol or inducing conflict via food deprivation. It is all rather fruitless, reminding me of a particularly nasty playground.



Fortunately, just as things seem to reach their lowest point, America starts broadcasting its own Big Brother - a much more sophisticated game, where social skills and strategy actually count for something. Here, the public are wisely kept out of things - the least offensive or nicest contestant does not always win. (The Season 4 finale was a Showdown of Hate between two of the meanest girls ever.) There is also a substantial prize at stake, and the games actually mean something - no more dressing up as a chicken in order to win beer - instead the contestants compete against one another and the winner gets to decide which of his/her fellow competitors are up for eviction, which is made brutally apparent during a face-to-face nomination meeting. Footage is sharply edited, no time wasted with the laconic British narrative "Day 56: Kemal is in the diary room..." More happens in 1 episode than in 2 weeks of the British Big Brother. And each series introduces a new twist, so the game doesn't get stale. This year, the 14 contestants are all paired with a close friend from the outside, in secret. My favourite contestants so far are Howie and Janelle. Howie (trainee weather-man) has rather too much confidence in his charms (his party piece is kissing his own, admittedly huge bicep), while other contestants have suspected he's slightly retarded. Janelle - a "VIP cocktail waitress", while appearing to look like a bimbo, is actually Grand Chess Master Janelle, and engages the male players in games of chess so she can gauge how intelligent they are. Other contestants include a hunky Iraqi, a bubbly gay man who keeps lying on top of the Iraqi, a testosterone-soaked fireman and a sharp-talking lesbian. Hurrah for American tv - they really know how to do game-shows.

1 comment:

comatose said...

I saw some of the previous american version and didn't like it - it was all strategy and gameplaying and fast-paced editing. I much prefer the leisurely british version which is more of a study of human behaviour than a gameshow - and the stupid scenarios just an add an extra insight into that...