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‘Big Brother’: Ain’t that a clique in the head

This season the houseguests have been broken up into four groups that reflect high school cliques and, as Julie Chen promised, “this will take the game to a whole … new … level.”
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

Can you believe it’s the eleventh season of “Big Brother”? Before we begin the season’s recaps, let’s take a moment to make a mutual promise, shall we? Repeat after me: “I, (your name), vow never to add up just how many hours I have spent watching this show over the last decade, for this would lead to calculating how many books I could have read, hugs I could have administered to my children, or meals I could have knitted for the less fortunate in the same amount of time.” Okay, everyone done repressing the urge? Good, then let’s get started.

Cliques ahoy! This season the houseguests have been broken up into four groups that reflect high school cliques — Athletes, Brains, Popular and Offbeat — and, as Julie Chen promised, “this will take the game to a whole … new … level.” Because as we all know, without this forced divisiveness the housemates would randomly intermingle, casting aside all preconceptions about looks or quirkiness. Damn it, producers, why must you disturb what would otherwise be a Utopia!

First on the show was my favorite part of the “Big Brother” season: the discoveries of the keys! I do so enjoy watching the contestants feign surprise at finding they’re in the game, as if the surrounding camera crew wasn’t a tip-off. Nerd Ronnie got so fake-excited he almost made fake blood drip out of his nose and had a fake coronary.

But even better than the simulated surprise are the personalized battle cries, i.e. “I’m Jeff, and this Chicago boy’s gonna tackle the competition.” You see what he did there? He tailored some braggadocio to fit his own love of football. Now you try it, Kevin! “I’m Kevin, and this designer is gonna drag, click, and crop the competition.” Great, and … wait, what? Are you describing your strategy, or just giving a tutorial on iPhoto?

Okay, enough of the preshow, let’s get to the players, team by team.

The athletes
Natalie: She’s a 24-year-old bronze medalist in Tae Kwon Do from the Junior Olympics, and she’s also a poker player. Which means she can read people, bluff, and tip waitresses who bring complimentary drinks to her table: a triple threat! She already made her first bluff, telling everyone she’s only 18. It’s brilliant! This way, people won’t really treat her any differently than if they knew she was 24, but when they find out about this nonsensical lie, they’ll be annoyed and will assume she’ll lie about anything. Nice work, Annie Duke! Oh, she’s also unnecessarily cocky, which came across in the Wedgie HOH Challenge.

(I should take this moment to address the Wedgie game: I thought I’d hate it, but it ended up being pretty amusing, and appropriately immature. Everyone was dangled in oversized underpants, and the last team to have someone still clutching onto a toilet seat won. I did take issue with the “Superwedgie” twist. Everyone knows they’re called Atomic Wedgies. Come on, Allison Grodner, if you’re going to bring back high school’s humiliations, get them right! What next, calling a swirlie a twisty?)

Russell: Or “Russell the Muscle,” as he calls himself. (So did he start lifting weights just so he could get a rhyming nickname? I suppose it was either that or be a disco dancer, but “Russell the Hustle” doesn’t have the same currency.) He’s a commercial real estate broker and a mixed martial artist. That’s a good combination, because a good chokehold will do wonders in getting someone’s price per square foot down.

Jeff: The women drooled over this ad salesman from Chicago, and Jordan said he wasn’t just hot, he was soap opera hot. He also said he wasn’t much for reading books. So in conclusion, he’s “Days of Our Lives” attractive, but “Passions” dumb.

The popular crowd
A Southern belle, she works at a hair salon during the day, and “I serve at night, and I love it!” We don’t know much more about her personality than that, but I think that’s probably about all there is, anyway. We also know that her “Grandpolly,” which is either her grandmother or a really old frog, told her not to have any “booger” on TV. “Booger” is her term for sex: well, I wouldn’t like intercourse either if I was using my nose. Someone needs to straighten that woman out, orifice-wise.

Braden: Braden’s a surfer. He introduced himself on the show saying, “Surfing is my business and business is good.” Some would argue that the surfing business is actually quite bad in the “BB” house, and that’s not so much the recession talking as it is the lack of ocean. Braden is more of a caricature of a surfer, saying things like, “Words can’t describe (this house), it’s superpaloaloicious!” Is it that words can’t describe it, or he can’t use words? Time will tell.

Laura: She has gigantic breasts, and referred to herself as a “sweet bitch.” So there’s that.

The offbeatLydia: She’s a special effects artist, and covered in tattoos. In case those signifiers weren’t enough to convince America that she’s extreeeeeeme, she also volunteered that she would hook up with a man or a woman, whatever helps her win. This woman should come with her own whammy bar, just so she can accent everything she says with a heavy-metal screeeeeeee-yow!

Kevin: The Duckie to Lydia’s self-identified Molly (though she’s really more like the Annie Potts character in this “Pretty in Pink” analogy), Kevin is a gay “Blackanese” graphic designer. He fills the traditional sassy gay slot, and he’s doing a fine job with it. Not only has he had a few good lines, like demanding to know about Laura’s “volumptuous” boobs, but he seems a little disgusted by the cliques twist, having no desire to return to the snooty ways of high school. Anyone who’s above the “Big Brother” enforced regression is okay in my book.

Casey: The fifth-grade teacher (and dead ringer for Peter Stormare in “The Big Lebowski”) is 40, which is largely what qualifies him as offbeat. This is a relief to me: having recently turned 40, I thought I was just old. He’s also an ex-rapper and currently a DJ, which means he’s an educator by day, future embarrassment to his children by night.

The brains
Shhhh, don’t tell, but she’s actually a PhD, even though she announced to everyone that she was a lowly research assistant. She doesn’t want anyone to know she’s supersmart. Well, she should have thought of that before she wore glasses: only brainiacs wear such things! And don’t let Jeff catch you reading the side of a ketchup bottle, or your secret life as a genius will be exposed forever! If there’s one thing Jeff doesn’t like, it’s a wordypants.

Chima: A freelance journalist who finds Chima very smart and funny indeed, Chima is a little perturbed to be placed amongst the so-called nerds. She is also apparently not a fan of wrinkling her brow.

Ronnie: Ronnie walks that fine line between A.P. and special ed. He also lives his life by the strictest geek code, as evidenced by this part of his bio on the CBS site: “He is obsessed with video games and often plays more than six hours a day, even to the point of ignoring his wife. Ronnie is a collector of all things sci-fi, especially ‘Star Wars’ collectibles.” That he doesn’t have tape on his glasses or wear a pocket protector must be an oversight. He also says that he’s seen every episode of “BB,” making him the rare player who wasn’t just drafted in a bar somewhere, and who therefore just might have a smart, organic strategy.

And then there were the potential subs: Four returning players showed up — one for each clique — and whichever team won the Wedgie Challenge would get its new player, and the remaining three veterans would be sent home. I was surprised by who the producers chose. With so many memorable favorites to choose from, why pick Brian, who was kicked off after the first week of last season? And Cowboy? He was more a likable mess than anyone who might affect the game — they might as well have brought back Chiquita the pug from season one. Jessica was an okay player, although any strategic skill was overshadowed by her annoying flirtation with Eric.

Which brings us to Jessie. I found that egotistical slab of walking Weight Gain Powder wildly annoying last season, and yet for sheer drama potential, he was the best outcome here. And right away he proved that he hadn’t lost an ounce of arrogance: “I’m bigger and better than last year by 20 L.B.s,” he said, “and almost a whole inch on my guns. Mmmm, oh yeah, that’s nice.”

I was a little concerned he was going to tear his arm off just to make sweet love to it. Thankfully he held off, and with the Athletes winning the Wedgie game, Jessie was back in, free to gaze at himself in the house’s many one-way mirrors. Will he win? Not likely, but hopefully he’ll set off some more screaming matches before he goes.

What do you think about the new cast and the clique twist? Will it change the game forever, or will it just give the players a formal excuse to fall into the same groups they would anyway?

And how do you feel about the return of Jessie? Did it take all your restraint not to kiss his biceps on your TV screen?

I’ll be back here every Friday morning to dissect the week in “Big Brother.” And this season we have more “BB-related surprises for you: Julie Chen herself will be blogging for! Will she use the phrase “But first…” in print? We’ll find out together!

Plus, Lynette Rice will be bringing you video interviews with each week’s evictees. That’s right, we are allowing you all to waste even more time on “BB”-centric activities than ever. Just remember your pledge: DON’T COUNT THE TIME THAT PASSES.