When this, the first full week of “Big Brother 11,” started, I wasn’t feeling the cast. In Sunday’s episode, they weren’t doing anything. No big fights, just some moping and sucking up by Lydia. No one was popping out as the crazy person that “BB” needs to make a memorable season. If I have so little going on that I can sit here three nights a week watching “Big Brother,” I clearly have my own dull house to see, I don’t need another. But I shouldn’t have been so impatient, because by Tuesday we were getting some delightful dysfunction.
On Sunday, the houseguests clung loyally to their clique stereotypes: Russell stormed around like a shirtless bully, stopping just short of handing out swirlies. (Hey, it’s only the first week!)
And the Brains bonded over how humiliating their high school years were. Ronnie’s clearly were unpleasant. I mean, the guy works really hard to be the dictionary definition of a nerd, dotting his conversations with things right out of Nerd 101. After secretly allying himself with the Athletes, he giddily told the Diary Room, “It’s like the Evil Galactic Empire of the Athletes and the awesome rebel alliance of the brains are teaming up to make a huge front on the universe!” “Star Wars” reference: Check! He couldn’t be a more blatant geek if he wore a shirt that said “DORK” on it. Oh wait, he does that.
As for the Popular kids, they just tried to be gregarious and lovable to all people. Jordan said nobody has ever had anything to fear from her: “Just because someone wears glasses and may look nerdy, or somebody smells, I try not to be mean or pick on 'em.” So take comfort in that, you stinky four-eyes.
Her teammate Casey continued to be the life of the party, though the elementary school teacher did make you fear for your children’s education as he said, “I’m envious (of Jessie’s HOH room), especially the fact that he didn’t have to do nothing for it!” Yep, I’m sure his principal couldn’t be prouder of that elocution. Oh, wait: maybe he got a little prouder when Casey donned the T-shirt reading, “Welcome to Jook City.” Does Casey begin all of his classes by handing out glow sticks?
Then there’s Laura, who qualified for the clique not because of her own nonexistent personality, but because her boobs are popular. Although not as popular as she thinks. “I’ve given everybody the chance to speak to me,” she said, wondering why she doesn’t have many friends in the house. “It’s not my fault I have huge boobs.” If that seems like a non sequitur, wait until you see her order at a restaurant: “I’ll have the turkey burger, but what else would I have, what with the big boobs?” Her mentioning her chest is tied with Ronnie’s “DORK” T-shirt as most redundant thing in the house.
Ronnie becomes the king of incomprehensible strategyBut by Tuesday, people really started “playing the game.” Ronnie and Russell emerged as the self-proclaimed biggest masterminds, even though both are wildly overplaying their hands. For example, Ronnie made a secret deal with the Athletes; so why did he betray them by telling Braden that Russell, Jessie and Natatlie wanted him out? He was the only one who knew that information outside of the Athletes, so wouldn’t that make him an obvious suspect for traitordom? There was no reason to make that move that early in the game: Now Russell doesn’t trust him. (The moment when boss Russell sat at the table glowering into his salad bowl as double agent Ronnie kept aggressively lying to him made me think I was watching an all-bonehead production of “The Departed.”)
And then, when everyone thought Ronnie was going to vote to keep Braden in, he double-crossed again and was Braden’s downfall. So if, in the end, he was going to stab Braden in the back, why go through all the work of warning him the nomination was coming?
People’s wariness of Ronnie could have been avoided if he’d just kept his mouth shut in the first place. His strategy seems to involve taking the longest distance between two points, crapping in everyone’s luggage along the way. Perhaps it’s just a way to test his skills as national champion for persuasive speaking. (Shhhh, don’t tell anyone! Only Chima is to know!) But wait, is there really such a championship? That sounds like an award your mother gives you, right after you’ve been made Gold Medalist in Cleaning Your Plate.
And then there’s Tussling Russell who Hustles with Gussle the field-goal kicking mule. A more arrogant specimen you’ll never find — and I’m talking about a house that includes Jessie. Here’s what I don’t get: the name of the game on “BB” is not putting a target on your back. Russell is all but applying one to himself in water-resistant paint.
After realizing that his teammate Jeff (or as I like to call him, studly Jason Bateman) was not a trustworthy ally, he decided that the best move would be to turn the house against Mr. Technotronics. Now, that was a dumb thought, because this early in the game you’d want as many members of your own team to stick around, because it only multiplies your odds for immunity. But for the sake of argument, let’s say it was a good idea. So if you wanted to turn people against Jeff, why randomly and publicly make a mockery of him? If you’re sitting around a pool, and you see a glowering mountain of a man suddenly tear into an unsuspecting guy on an elliptical machine, where are your sympathies going to go? I can’t remember the last time I saw a nature film of a lion tearing into the neck of a zebra and thought, “Thank goodness for that lion, because that zebra sure looked shifty.”
And what of Lydia? For the first couple of days after being nominated with pawn Chima, she played the Offbeat martyr role well: Targeted by a cocky brute, she could weep into her tattoos about how nobody accepted her, and it made sense. She sucked up to the Athletes to save her, at first without much enthusiasm: When Jessie asked her for a massage, she said, “Dude, let me just go get the lotion, we’ll make a party out of it” with the kind of sad, resigned tone that a prostitute who really needs the money might use when a kinky client asks her to change his diaper.
But then things got ugly. As she ingratiated herself more with Russell and Jessie to get herself taken off the block, she seemed to embrace them as beloved allies. And then she threw Braden under the bus, which led to the season’s first all-house blowout.
When Braden (who, I might add, is a dead ringer for Nicolas Cage in ‘Valley Girl,’ found out it was she who got him nominated in place of her vetoed self, he sauntered out — because a surfer never storms, run, or stamps — to call her on it. She started getting wildly defensive and denying everything, and soon Kevin was involved and after a lot of smirking and yelling, Braden threw his drink at the both of them. Then he spat out the ultimate insult: “Go back to Burbank!” You know the casting directors haven’t spread their net very wide when the cast is tossing out insults that are geographically specific to a 10-mile radius from the “Big Brother” lot.
Next thing you know, Lydia is rampaging around the house, telling everyone within a piercing’s length that they have mistreated her. Jordan didn’t cry for her, Jeff didn’t protect her, Ronnie didn’t roll his 12-sided die to save her, the list of grievances went on and on. I’m not saying that Braden should have called her a bitch and a skank (I’ll get into that later), but Lydia also came off badly. She was using her “outsider” image as an excuse to be a jerk to everybody. Sorry, Lydia, you can’t play the aggrieved outcast when you are best buds with the giant musclebound terrors. Now she’s just coming off as a prom queen dressed as a punk for Halloween.
Before we get to the final vote, let’s discuss this week’s challenges. Instead of Food Challenges, this year there are “Have and Have Not” challenges, and the losing team has to endure “the most grueling living conditions in ‘Big Brother’ history.” What, they have to use Bunky’s hairy back as a pillow?
No, it’s not that bad — in addition to eating slop, they also can only take cold showers, and they have to sleep in a metallic room, which, frankly, didn’t seem any more antiseptic then the swimming-pool room. If they really wanted to make it grueling, they’d tie weights to the players’ ankles or taser them every time they said, “The game is on.”
Also, in keeping with the high school theme, most of this year’s challenges are built around adolescent angst or trauma. Last week there was the wedgie game, and for this week’s POV, they had to yank giant Scrabble tiles out of yellowy, gooey zits in “Pop Goes the Veto.” What future teen-confusion challenges can we look forward to? “Second Base Under The Veto”? “Why Am I Growing Hair on My Veto”? “Shut Up, Mom, You Don’t Understand Me! God, You’re So Veto!”?
Ronnie throws a nonsensical wrench in the worksOkay, now let’s get back to the final vote. Jordan and Laura and Laura’s boobs decided to take charge of the game by booting Chima, and they seemed to have the numbers until Ronnie’s nonsensical flip. (He seems to just revel in lying for the sake of lying, and thinking it’s all strategy. I wonder if he ever announces, “I’m off to the bathroom,” and then just stands in the stall by himself, giggling, “Those poor saps don’t realize that I went 20 minutes ago and my bladder’s empty!”)
The big moment came when Julie asked the two nominees to stand and make one last plea to be saved. This is usually the most useless tradition of the show, because who ever says anything but, “I love all you guys, and I really want to stay here to have more good times”? Well, Chima, that’s who. After Braden announced that “each and every one of you guys are incredible people,” she stood and said, “It amazes me how short some of the memory spans are, because my opponent here called…” — and here the volume briefly dipped, ostensibly from a CBS sensor shocked at Chima’s ranty monologue — “So a vote for Braden is a vote for a bigot. Anyone who votes for a racist and a misogynist, you deserve to go home.” Well, as campaign slogans go, it wasn’t as concise as “Yes, we can,” but it did the trick.
It certainly made me reconsider Braden, who had been carefully edited to appear like a harmless kooky surfer. What exactly did he say that was not only racist, but so racist that it had to be bleeped out when repeated by Chima? It all seems at odds with his laconic, Zen surfer image. I now picture him coming out of the water after a day on the waves, turning to his friend and saying, “Pretty rad, dude. I’m just gonna crash out on the sand for a while, mellow out, and think about why I don’t like Mexicans.” I guess nobody ever said that all racists had to be go-getters.
Friday afternoon addendum: Well, thanks to many commenters, the mystery of Braden the Racist has been revealed to me. I just watched the YouTube clip of him calling Kevin a “beaner.” (And considering Kevin is not Mexican, this is not just racist, but inaccurately racist.)Anyway, this clip not only confirms that Braden isn’t the easygoing all-is-love surfer dude who was presented to us, but it also raises the question of why the producers cut out the outburst. Why were they so invested in maintaining his likable image? Leaving it out was unfair: it just made Lydia and Chima’s explosions look deluded and crazy. They have done many deluded and crazy things on the show, but getting pissed at Braden wasn’t necessarily one of them.
So now he’s gone and Chima remains alive to cry about her cold shower and pine to be part of the Popular clique another day. Her teammate Ronnie won HOH in the most obvious challenge ever: Players had to guess which clique a majority of CBS.com surfers picked when posed with questions like, “Which clique would most likely bail on the prom?” The questions were so cliched that even if you’d never watched the show, you would probably join the majority opinion just by having watched one John Hughes movie 20 years ago. Anyway, Ronnie’s victory means we’re due for endless useless double reversals that will ultimately end in him alienating the entire camp. But hey, he is National Champion at Incomprehensible Strategy.
What did you think of the first full week? Do you think Russell can make it far in this game, or has he established himself as too dangerous a meathead? (And would you dare invent a word around him?) And what of Ronnie? Is there a chance he could win this, or will he find himself back in front of his Xbox before he knows it? Before you answer these questions, brace yourself: Julie Chen’s EW.com blog has begun! You’re gonna want to check this out: Not only does the sparkliest host on TV give her honest thoughts about the housemates, but she comes clean about what it’s like to be the Chenbot. “But first” indeed!
And one last announcement before we get to the commenting: I’ve started cohosting EW.com’s “Must List Live!” with Dalton Ross, in which we debate what’s hot in pop culture every week. For our first week, we debated none other than “Big Brother 11.” Why? Because we have our priorities straight. Enjoy!