Big Brother: the Power and the Public

Being a self-confessed fanatic for reality television, I have experienced my fair share of derision when discussing my TV-watching habits. It’s okay. It’s something that I have come to expect. However, whilst reality television in general carries with it the sour smell of trash TV, nothing provokes quite as much groaning, nose-wrinkling and eye-rolling as my undying love for Big Brother. It arrives on our screens to a chorus of ‘is this still on?’ and ‘I’m not watching this crap’ and it seems that these days there are very few people inclined to defend it. And yet here we find ourselves at the end of Big Brother 15 and, for me and many others, the ship has not yet sailed.

I do, of course, recognise that Big Brother is no longer the social experiment that it originally professed to be. We know how it all works now: the housemates form predictable alliances and embark on equally predictable wars until someone learns a predictable lesson and then, predictably, the underdog wins. But that doesn’t mean that Big Brother has nothing left to give and, indeed, this series was indisputably entertaining.

This year we viewers came face to face with what at first glance appeared to be your average mix of housemates. We had the socialites, the models, the journalists, the whole hog and, despite their varying ages, sexualities and outlooks on life, they could all be united under that one simple banner: attention seekers. However, this year there was another housemate in the mix who, despite being present in all series, usually remains strangely invisible. That presence was the public.

So to whom do we owe our newfound spot in the limelight? Well, this year Big Brother had a twist (surprise, surprise) and therein laid our invitation into the house. The Power Trip theme meant that the housemates were at the mercy of whomsoever had the power at the time. But this year’s bunch was so extremely media-savvy that the power within the house paled in comparison to that of the viewers.

Throughout the series, we met Helen, the former prostitute attempting to make the transition from tabloid infamy to victim of the media. We had the all-singing, all-dancing Zoey who was definitely not in there to raise her profile and definitely was in there just for the experience. Then there was the happy-go-lucky Winston who, having previously popped up with a teensy role on TOWIE and as an extra in Eastenders, had absolutely no television aspirations whatsoever. Not forgetting, of course, Danielle, the devoutly religious and sexually conservative glamour model who was trying desperately to cultivate… something. What exactly she was going for is about as clear as mud and, unless her main aim was to cause me to shake my head and frown in confusion, it’s unlikely that she has really succeeded in her goals.

But regardless of whether or not the housemates managed to portray themselves the way they wanted, the self-awareness present in the big brother house meant that most housemates cottoned on fast to the fact that it was the public they really needed to impress. So given that our presence in the house was so palpable, I think that what made Big Brother: The Power Trip just so special was the opportunity to see ourselves in action. And what did we see? Well, I would argue that we made complete fools of ourselves – perhaps not quite as much as Steven, who revealed himself to be the most intense human being on the entire planet – but fools nonetheless.

The thing is, we viewers cannot seem to grasp that Big Brother is supposed to be there for entertainment.  Normally, we show ourselves up as easily offended by voting out the interesting (aka rude) housemates and leaving behind a group of very forgettable faces. Thankfully, in 2014 the powers that be finally saw fit to counter this problem: they gave Helen a pass to the final and, in doing so, provided the public with a permanent villain. Well, you can imagine my joy. We had the chance to watch her stirring up trouble for the entire ten weeks and then we could kick her out at the final hurdle.

But, alas, this was not to be. In the final few days, the media-savvy Helen managed to undergo an incredible transformation. She shed the hard-nosed skin of the bully and instead played the ‘nobody understands me’ card. All of a sudden, Ashleigh stood accused of bullying Helen and, given Ashleigh’s popularity with the viewers, we were guilty by association: we had become the bullies. Now that simply wouldn’t do. We, the viewers, needed to wash our hands of this mess. So, instead of denouncing Helen’s behaviour throughout the series by voting her out at the first possible chance, we decided to absolve ourselves of our crimes by voting Helen the winner and awarding her £100000. Now there, my friends, is your twist.

It could, then, be argued that Big Brother 2014 followed exactly the same pattern as before: we had the allies, the wars and the underdog sort of won. But we also saw that even though we tune into reality television in order to follow the highs and lows of its stars, our role is just as important. And that’s why I watch Big Brother. It’s not just an experience and a journey for the housemates but for the public too. So if you can’t afford to spend your summers volunteering and building bridges and finding yourself somewhere in the rainforest, I reckon you should give Big Brother a chance instead.

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