Who is the "Big Brother" saboteur?
That's the question that will no doubt consume contestants on the 12th edition of CBS' voyeuristic reality TV series that confines a group of strangers — or houseguests, as they're known on "Big Brother" — inside a makeshift two-story domicile for the summer, all while being constantly monitored by over 50 video cameras and 95 microphones.
This season, executive producer Allison Grodner and her team have planted a mole among the houseguests to do viewers' bidding and disrupt the players' lives during "Big Brother 12," which debuts July 8 at 8 p.m. EDT. Grodner said the saboteur, who will be revealed to viewers on the July 15 episode, isn't eligible to win the $500,000 grand prize.
"For the first time ever, we have someone in the house who, in a way, is playing their own game," said Grodner, who stressed that the operative is not an actor but a real person who was picked alongside everyone else. "They're playing for a cash prize, if they make it a certain amount of time in the house. If they don't last, they're out, and their cover is blown."
Such surprises are a staple of the "expect the unexpected" franchise. The traitorous twist is similar to the eighth season introduction of "America's Player," which allowed one contestant to complete viewer-voted tasks for cash, unbeknownst to his house mates. This time, however, the cast will be made aware of the trickster's existence beforehand.
Among the suspects is Andrew Gordon, a 39-year-old Orthodox Jewish podiatrist from Miami. Gordon will be taking his own cooking utensils into the house and will observe Shabbat, not using electricity from sundown Friday until Saturday night. Grodner said no special exceptions will be made for Gordon's religious beliefs when it comes to the game.
"It's already going to be tough in that house, so it's going to be even tougher dealing with these extra little things," he said. "People are probably going to look at me as an outsider and wonder what I'm doing and why I'm not eating their food. It's something I've had to explain my whole life as a practicing Jew. Whatever happens, I'll deal with it."
Before meeting their competitors or entering the house, the houseguests were individually interviewed by The Associated Press while voluntarily sequestered — no TV, newspapers or telephones — from the outside world. (This season was originally slated to feature 14 contestants, but one person dropped out before the contest and will not be replaced.)
"I live my life full of adventure," said Annie Whittington, a 27-year-old bartender from Tampa, Fla., who dyed her platinum hair brunette at the insistence of producers because there were too many blondes this season. "I never thought I'd actually make it on the show. I love the social experiment, throwing in random people where they can't escape."
Kathy Hillis, a 40-year-old deputy sheriff from Texarkana, Ark., doesn't think competing and deceiving on "Big Brother" will be tougher than fighting crime or battling ovarian cancer. Hillis, who has been cancer free for 11 years, lied to her 23-year-old son and told him she was going on an undercover assignment in another city, not on reality TV.
"I wanted it to be a surprise," said Hillis. "He knows I've applied in the past, and he thinks it's funny."
Others hoping to outlast the rest include tattooed 32-year-old Mensa member Matt Hoffman from Elgin, Ill.; 34-year-old slam poet and assistant professor Ragan Fox from West Hollywood, Calif.; 24-year-old oil rig salesman Lane Elenburg from Decatur, Texas; and 32-year-old insurance adjuster Enzo Palumbo from Bayonne, N.J.
"My strategy is to go in there and hustle them," said Rachel Reilly, a 26-year-old cocktail waitress and chemistry graduate student from Las Vegas. "I'm not going to let them know at first that I'm an intelligent girl who is into chemistry. I'm going to let them think I'm just this ditzy cocktail waitress from Las Vegas who doesn't know anything."
This season, the Florida-themed "Big Brother" dwelling, which is located on a Studio City sound stage, features several beachy touches, including an indoor room resembling a cabana and a pair of colossal fake palm trees. Grodner said the "have not" bedroom, an uncomfortable enclave where players who lose "have not" competitions are relegated, will return.
"It's sort of the dark-side of the decor this year," teased Grodner, who said the nightmarish space would be revealed during the July 11 episode. "We have a very fun South Beach kind of vibe going on throughout the house this season, and this room is the opposite of all that. I would venture to say it's worse than last year, which was pretty bad."
The "Big Brother 12" houseguests are:
— Kristen Bitting, 24, boutique manager, Philadelphia
— Lane Elenburg, 24, oil rig salesman, Decatur, Texas
— Ragan Fox, 34, assistant professor, West Hollywood, Calif.
— Andrew Gordon, 39, podiatrist, Miami
— Britney Haynes, 22, hotel sales manager, Huntington, Ark.
— Kathy Hillis, 40, deputy sheriff, Texarkana, Ark.
— Matt Hoffman, 32, web designer, Elgin, Ill.
— Hayden Moss, 24, college student, Tempe, Ariz.
— Enzo Palumbo, 32, insurance adjuster, Bayonne, N.J.
— Rachel Reilly, 26, cocktail waitress, Las Vegas
— Monet Stunson, 24, model, Glen Carbon, Ill.
— Brendon Villegas, 30, high school swim coach, Riverside, Calif.
— Annie Whittington, 27, bartender, Tampa, Fla.