Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, August 30, 2001

Big Bother

You've got nothing to do for the
next month and are looking for
vapid entertainment?
Tune in to
'Big Brother 2'

"Big Brother 2"
8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays on KGMB/CBS

By Scott Vogel

"THE WORLD TODAY is a bare, hungry, dilapidated place," wrote George Orwell in "1984," the novel in which he coined the term "Big Brother" to denote a tyranny that's a bit more powerful than anything the executives over at CBS had in mind. Nevertheless, the cast of "Big Brother 2," the sequel to last summer's modest reality TV hit, shares more than a name with the vulgar denizens of Orwell's world whose only concerns, similarly, were "petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and, above all, gambling."

If that's the case, then "Big Brother" -- far from a bastardization of "1984" -- may in fact be the terrifying sequel Orwell forgot to write.

After all, could the lives of "1984's" masses -- Orwell called them Proles -- be any more vapid and pointless than the ones CBS has gathered together for our amusement? Think about it. When Orwell says, "They were born, they grew up in gutters," he might have been talking about Justin, the 26-year-old bartender from Bayonne, N.J., whom CBS expelled from the house after he threatened to kill Krista, a hick from a small Louisiana town, with a knife. (The producers had failed to uncover a prior arrest record for Justin that included robbery and assault.)

And when the great novelist speaks of a populace that "passed through a brief blossoming of beauty and sexual desire," his targets might well have included "Big Brother" house guest Will, 28, whose chief goals in life seem to be perfect hair and rediscovering his adolescence, or Hardy, 31, an account executive who goes shirtless in every episode, apparently on the hunch that he might get a modeling gig once his television career ends, less than a month from now.

"The Lottery," writes Orwell, "with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the Proles paid serious attention," and here we come to the crux of the matter. For a lottery is what "Big Brother" is, albeit a musical chairs-type lottery in which one of the 12 contestants is voted out of the house each week.

Hardy: A single 31-year-old account executive from Philadelphia, Pa.
Nicole: A newlywed 31-year-old personal chef from Atlanta, Ga.
Bunky: A 36-year-old technical writer from Harrisburg, N.C.,
who is in a committed relationship
Monica: A single 40-year-old candy store manager from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Will: A single 28-year-old physician from Miami, Fla.

AFTER TONIGHT'S EPISODE, cobbled together from footage captured by 38 cameras, just four house guests will remain with a chance at the $500,000 prize. Hardy, the current Head of Household (and pooh-bah who nominates two house guests for eviction), has fingered both Will and Bunky, the latter a nearly bald 36-year-old who's found a creative outlet in his back hair. The contestant who survives will continue to the next round with Monica (40, candy store manager), Nicole (31, personal chef -- whatever that means) and Hardy.

OK, IT'S fess-up time. Big Brother is watching you, but are you watching "Big Brother"? Sure, it's nothing but a torrent of profanity, soft-core sex, petty betrayals and general mischief (which is why the show was moved from its original 7 p.m. time slot). And sure, it seems like CBS is excreting the show onto the airwaves rather than broadcasting it.

BUT ARE YOU hooked, or what?

If so, you're not alone. The show's ratings have been steadily climbing during the last month, a sure sign that even Orwell-reading, high-falutin' types like yours truly have fallen under the spell of this corn.

And so it is. I am a Prole.

In my defense, I can only say that "Big Brother" is like visiting the clique-bound, looks-obsessed world of high school from a comfortable, 20-year distance. It's all there -- the terror of not fitting in, the resorting to put-downs as one's only defense, the constant threat of ostracism -- even as some of the contestants have long since forgotten the sound of a school bell.

"Big Brother" is a gentle reminder not only that life is like high school with more money, but also that what we experienced in late adolescence really was as important as we thought it to be at the time.

True, the show's about other things, too. It's padded with "Survivor"-like challenges in which the guests win things like gourmet food or the chance to leave the fortresslike compound for a one-hour helicopter ride. But it's the almost three-month period of confinement that's the point -- that, and the strategies and alliances each contestant forges.

SO, IF YOU'VE NOTHING to do for the next month (I can't imagine recommending the show otherwise), consider spending a few hours each week with the castaways and castoffs of "Big Brother." And just in case you're afraid you'll be entering the theater during the final reel, here's everything you need to begin enjoying and loathing "Big Brother" this very evening:

The first thing to keep in mind is that each of the remaining five house guests is evil incarnate, which is no small part of their appeal. Monica may talk about honor and Hardy about trust, but they've all been proved liars before. The mood in the house -- vaguely reminiscent of one of the lesser Greek tragedies -- is best summed up by Will who, just after promising to form an alliance with Hardy and Monica, says he would gladly stab them both in the back and mop up the blood with a dirty towel.

If Bunky is voted out tonight -- or "hunky Bunky" as he is known, thanks to his weightlifting regimen -- the house will lose its one and only homosexual (apparently), a man whose simpering manner likely does nothing to improve straight-gay relations among CBS's loyal viewers.

Bunky won't leave empty-handed, however. He's already won $5,000, after a "Sophie's Choice"-type decision that forced him and the other house guests to eat peanut butter for four days.

If Will is voted out tonight, the house will lose its only articulate inhabitant. (On those rare occasions when his fellow house guests speak in complete sentences, much of the content is bleeped by the network's censor.) While his childish antics and habit of plucking his eyebrows are off-putting, he's the only cast member who realizes that there's a larger court of opinion than the one inside the house.

Saying he cares little for the $500,000 grand prize -- "money is easy to get; I want fame" -- Will is the only house guest with even a chance at a show-biz afterlife. (If so, hopefully he'll run as far away from his former roommates as possible.)

He's no Orwell, but Will's smarts haven't totally gone to waste.

Trapped in an allegory, condemned to perform in a fractured morality tale for our amusement, he's at least trying to have a little fun.

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