Reality TV

#BB20: Cruel Cruel Summers

As a mother of four fairly independent sons, I feel a little less atrocious excusing myself to steal away for guilty pleasure TV consumption..

than I did when my youngest two were toddlers.

However, the fascination with the erratically scheduled reality show Big Brother began at an inconvenient period of my life, a time when I was more apologetic about cramming it in.

“Why are you watching this show now?” my husband once asked nearly a decade ago, “Didn’t this take up an hour of your time last night?” Sheepishly, I replied “Yeah, they announced last night that it would continue tonight. It’s a major competition secluding people in a house who rarely see sunlight. The schedule NEEDS to be condensed so people can return to their lives.”

It was as if that could explain it all away. To strike a compromise regarding time allotment, I made the decision to break from all other programs on all other networks. It’s ludicrous how much of a commitment today’s TV shows require (also see: The Bachelorette, 90 Day Fiance, shows that often demand 2 hour chunks of viewing a singular episode).

As I nursed my newborn twins nearly nine years ago, I somehow was rapt by the day-to-day minutiae of polarizing strangers sharing a house with the end-goal of being the last one in it. Alliances form in the process of plotting to overtake the house, but none can truly be trusted as the individualistic objective is to wipe everyone else out.

Astoundingly creative physical and mental competitions are held to secure positioning in the house as well as one’s safety. Far more captivating however, are the social dynamics and inevitable backstabbing that occur on Big Brother. Viewers find those scenarios most relatable as they are metaphorical to everyone’s lives. Consider the themes of: Trust, loyalty and how one maintains dignity while trying to come out on top. How many real life situations can you apply to that symbolic structure?

I’m not one to play underhanded social games, but I’ve been on the receiving end of them. I have had to learn how to combat sneaky people, plotting and competitive coworkers and the like… Ignoring folks is the strategy I most often employ, but that’s far from an option in this reality TV game if your desire is to triumph.

Another aspect of Big Brother that has me glued to the tube? “Showmances”. It is always fascinating to me to observe and note how romantic relationships form either due to boredom (There is a lot of downtime for contestants who are stripped of phones, technology or anything connecting them to the outside world and its news), bonding over shared duress, or legitimate connections that wouldn’t have formed had a bunch of random people not been thrown together under the same roof. More importantly, under the same roof sans outside interference or assistance.

The anachronistic notion of not being able to Google or Facebook- research a romantic interest rings sweeter in today’s day and age. Of course, you cannot help but ponder whether or not a couple will have staying power beyond their seclusion in the dry-aired B.B. House. There, the rare glimpse of sunlight (in limited outside moments restricted to right beside the house and no farther) is a treat.

From an anthropological viewpoint, what’s almost as intriguing as the game dynamics is the way the show has usurped the summer hours of its fan base. It is one thing to be committed to a television program, but quite another to pay for the show’s much-dissected “live feeds.” Many fans do this and what that entails is tuning in to the events of the house as they occur 24/7. With the feeds, fans get to witness a lot of the dramatic happenings that will ultimately be left on the cutting room floor.

The live feeds have also inspired an entire social media subculture: Fans interact with one another and weigh in on occurrences that do not necessarily make it to the televised footage.

From an objective standpoint, you might declare “why would I be interested in the every move of a stranger in a house?” Bear in mind that those in charge of casting have not chosen humdrum, uncomplicated individuals. They’ve selected a deliberately eclectic mix, while foreseeing intense clashes and connections.

Troy McEady tweets about being glued to the Big Brother live feeds each summer.

They have also chosen contestants with a wide range of views, knowing that some of the more conservative notions will garner shock and dismay from the more liberal critics (and vis versa).

The B.B. experience reminds me of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series that was so popular during my childhood in the 1980s.

As this is the 20th season of Big Brother, there was no social media when the show was first created two decades ago. However, from early on, B.B. called upon the audience to impact the game. In the age of social media, it is an exquisitely simple feat, with the viewers choosing game twists and even godawful meal selections (such as what constitutes “slop”) as punishments for the contestants.

Know that watching Big Brother may require a far greater commitment from you than you ever imagined possible. Once you become interested, you’re likely to become invested.

Suddenly, you may find yourself not only choosing players’ adventures…..

but how you spend your summer.

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