Reality Remixed: One Man's Journey Inside the 'Big Brother' House
Over the past nine years, I've lived with an ever growing obsession with "Big Brother," the CBS summer stalwart that sticks twelve people in a house and lets them duke it out for a half million dollar prize. Each passing season has seen my devotion to the show increase monumentally, and in many ways, my life and "Big Brother" have become surprisingly intertwined. I've met the cast members, I've crashed the wrap parties, I've gone to the live shows, I've toured the control room, and I've even come face to face with hostess Julie Chen. Pretty much the only thing I haven't done is play the game itself. Unfortunately, I'm simply too insecure to expose myself to millions of people on national TV (and the internet) week after week; so auditioning for the show has really never been an option.
Imagine my delight, then, when I received an email inviting me to the "Big Brother" house for Press Day. At last, my dreams would be realized! I would get to experience "Big Brother" firsthand without making the multi-week commitment of actually being on the show (assuming I could get on, which, I understand, is a major assumption).
For the uninitiated, Press Day is when CBS invites various members of the media to spend a day inside the "Big Brother" house and experience one week of gameplay in twelve hours. As such, the run-through allows the producers to test out camera angles and other technical stuff while giving us media types a sneak preview of what's to come for the season. The entire thing is reality show immersion unlike anything else, and the opportunity — especially for a lunatic fan like me — unparalleled.
I must admit that the allure of actually seeing the "Big Brother" house from the inside was positively intriguing to me, but honestly, I was even more excited to test out all the strategies that I've theorized about for years on my couch (not to mention my blog). How would I fare in this social game? Would I be able to properly hatch my plans? Would anyone catch on? Would I be able to switch tactics if necessary? Would I overdo it? Would I under-do it? Would I be liked? Would I be ostracized? Would I dominate? Would I be evicted? Would I be a star?
With all these questions racing through my mind, I happy trudged over to the CBS lot on a fateful Friday morning for my day of "Big Brother" mania. My plan was to emulate the successful strategies of former contestant Will Kirby (a.k.a. Dr. Will). His machiavellian approach served him well not only on season two, which he won, but also season seven, which saw him reach fourth place amidst a cast of "All-Stars." Like Dr. Will, I believed the best way to advance on "Big Brother" was to be sociable, gregarious, and totally underhanded. The question was whether or not I could successfully follow in his footsteps.
Well, as I arrived at the "Big Brother" soundstage, I took a seat amidst several other members of the media recruited for the event. None of us were allowed to talk before entering the house, lest a mysterious "Enforcer" threaten us with yet-to-be-determined dire consequences. There were a few occasional remarks muttered here and there, but I stayed mostly silent, quietly stewing in self-conscious anxiety. You see, the night before, I had broken out with a severe case of acne that was most definitely NOT camera friendly. Could it be that my big moment in the "Big Brother" house would be ruined by dermatological woes? And let's not talk about the veggie burger I'd consumed the evening prior. I don't know what was in that thing, but I can tell you right now that I spent the entire day with my gastrointestinal tract offering up many unsavory sounds that required various levels of suppression. My body, it seemed, was working against me.
Nevertheless, I pushed past my physical ailments and refused to let them derail this glorious day. We all headed into the house, and as I stepped through that front door, I had one of those jaw-dropping, head-spinning moments. I was actually <em>inside</em> the "Big Brother" house — the place I had observed and studied for so many years. It was as if I had stepped right through my TV. I'm sure there's some sort of postmodern philosophical theory to describe the experience, but I'll just whittle it down to one simple word: crazy.
I scampered around quickly, trying to soak everything in while simultaneously claiming a bed that would be all mine. Unfortunately, the "cool" bedroom had been taken; so I wound up in a room that was designed to resemble some God awful public swimming pool. In this brightly-lit hell space, the beds had no blankets — only foamy plastic rafts under which future house guests could maybe hope to find some comfort. And let's not overlook the pillows. They too were fashioned out of the same plasticine material as the rafts. I fear that some poor people will be waking up many a time with their face severely stuck to these ghastly things.
Luckily, I wouldn't be spending the night; so choosing a bed was not a major concern for me. Once I had plopped down my bags, I then waltzed through the rest of the house, happily internalizing the lay of the land. I was first impressed by how large and open and airy the whole place was. I had known that the house was two stories high and loft-like, but on TV, everything had always seemed so low and oppressive. Quite the contrary in real life. The space felt shockingly breezy, yet despite its size, it was also inviting. Helping this along was the interior design, which thankfully strayed from the intentional tackiness of previous seasons. Save for the swimming pool room, the entire house had a very modern, well-appointed look to it — sort of like a best-of from Ikea and CB2 (both brands were well represented throughout).
We were told the theme for the season was "Going Green," and this was reflected by the presence of compost machines, recycling bins, an Aero-garden, and several fresh herbs growing in the window sill. The backyard even featured a mural of windmills, which I found rather pleasant to gaze at from time to time. What can I say? I like windmills.
Dovetailing with the whole environmental shtick was an Asian motif that permeated the house. There were plenty of Buddhas and sake bottles about — the latter of which featured real sake. Not a smart idea. Around dinner time, we all helped ourselves to a shot from the bottle before producers reprimanded us for drinking from a prop. Technically we were at fault, but I'd say it's not a brilliant idea to have actual alcohol on the wall for decorative purposes. Something tells me that by the time the season airs, the bottles will either be gone or filled with water.
As for the Head of Household room, it proved to be one of the best yet — if not <em>the</em> best. It had a very swank, trendy look (I believe I used the words "sweet pad" in the Diary Room. I'm already embarrassed) with a very cool trickling waterfall behind the bed. One side of the room had exposed wooden beams leaning inwards with a seaside mural behind it, thus giving the impression that we were in some awesome mansion in Malibu. I heartily approved.
Nevertheless, the whole Asian-meets-sustainability thing gave the house a definite New Age, Eastern Mysticism feel — a look that won over all the assembled house guests. In fact, during those first few minutes there were plenty of oohs and ahhs amongst us before we got down to the business of introducing ourselves. And who were we? Well, there was Rosanna (TV Guide Channel), Stella (CBS.com), Melissa (CBS Mobile), Carrie (the Johnjay & Rich radio program), Dennis (National Lampoon), Reagan (People Magazine), Jen (MSN and "Big Brother 8"), Katie (welovebigbrother.com), Ann (Fancast), and Jay (freelance writer, who afterwards revealed himself to actually be a manager and publicist).
Also present was Chris, a.k.a. Gunther, from "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson." Apparently Craig Ferguson himself had charged Chris with spending the day in an S & M outfit (and going by the name Gunther) — something he did with grace and aplomb. It certainly made for an odd moment when he first emerged from the bedroom in all leather, but the outfit turned out to be a great and much-needed icebreaker in the household.
Soon, we were all gathered together in the kitchen, engaging in general small-talk and quietly feeling each other out. My plan was to be friendly and make connections with people — which, for the record, were all totally sincere. At the same time, I also wanted to fan flames where I could and perpetuate conflict in order to divert attention from me. It was all part of my plan to make the people in power feel like I wasn't the biggest threat. Not saying I was aiming to be a "floater." I simply wanted to adhere to the policy of divide and conquer.
Well, from the outset, I had my eye on Reagan, who had famously been portrayed as the "bad boy" of last year's press day. He very quickly separated himself from the group, opting to sit at the dining room table instead of huddling over the kitchen island with everyone else. I couldn't tell if he was sizing us up or simply in need of coffee (as he had claimed), but I felt that people might start gravitating towards him — and that's when the scenarios began running through my head. I could already imagine it: a little clique would develop around Reagan, who'd use his quiet dining room observations to form some sort of unstoppable power faction. He looked like a gamer, and I didn't want to be on the receiving end of his scheming.
As such, I was sure to quietly meander over to Reagan and make conversation where I could. He seemed to like things such as literature and architecture, and over the course of the day, I was sure to drop as many intelligent references as I could to let him know we were academic peers. When he mentioned Mother Earth in the context of Greek Mythology, I was happy to ask "That's Gaia, right?" When he whistled a suite from "Carmen," I made a joke about Rossini (although, truth be told, the composer was Bizet — so that just goes to show how good MY strategy was). It seemed like we were getting along quite well, and to that end, I was pleased with my progress.
Of course, I feel it's important to mention that none of these interactions were necessarily fake. I genuinely liked Reagan as a person, and had we met at a party, it's highly likely I would have said the exact same things. What makes "Big Brother" unique, however, is the degree to which social interaction is self-consciously calculated. It's not enough to merely chit-chat with people. It's about perpetuating an agenda via social means. To that end, I was incredibly careful about what I shared and what I hid. For instance, Dennis revealed unwittingly from the beginning that he was an über-fan of the game. He recited various obscure facts and incidents from seasons past — so much so that I felt he might be putting a target on his back. After all, if he knew the game so well, he might be a threat. I, however, chose to keep my fanaticism under wraps. I didn't want people to think I was a gamer. Plus, I was afraid my encyclopedic knowledge might turn people off of me.
As such, I was more than happy to highlight in passing comments the degree to which Dennis knew the game. I would make subtle jokes like "Wow, Dennis knows everything!" or "Dennis, you must be in heaven right now," with the hope that maybe this might disturb my fellow house guests. I don't know the degree to which it affected things, but when Dennis was later put on slop by the HOH with the reasoning being "You seem like such a fan, I want you to experience this," I felt that a) I had dodged a bullet by downplaying my "Big Brother" love and b) maybe I had somehow influenced the decision-making process on a subconscious level. Or maybe not. Who knows?
I wasn't the only crafty person in the house, however. Jay proved to be quite sneaky from the outset when he played dumb about ever having seen "Big Brother." Over the course of the day, however, he mentioned more and more details about the show, suggesting that contrary to prior claims, he did have a rather large knowledge about the show. When he announced at a certain point that he had taken a psychological exam before entering the house, I knew he was lying (no one else had taken such a thing). He was playing the game hard, and as such, I sensed that he might rub people the wrong way. This was something I'd have to exploit. I just needed to wait for my moment.
At around eleven in the morning, the producers ushered us outside to play in the Head of Household competition, the winner of which would be safe from eviction and would receive all sorts of special perks (a special bedroom, snacks, etc.). Of course, the Head of Household would also have to nominate two people to be kicked out of the house; so this was a much coveted title. I was ready to bring my A-Game and dominate.
Like on the actual show, we all took places in little stalls which isolated ourselves from the other competitors. We were told we'd be playing a game called "Majority Rules." The host (a.k.a. a producer) would ask us questions, and we'd have to answer with how we think the majority of other people would reply. It was all about perception and observation. I was gonna kick ass.
Long story short: I was out in the second round.
Yes, in a crushing blow, I picked the right answer — but the wrong letter. I meant to choose B. B!!! But alas, I made the amateur mistake of showing the letter A, and soon I was ordered to sit on a nearby bench of shame and regret. I'd seen contestants on the show make similar errors for years, never understanding their incompetence in letting such a thing happen. Now I knew. It was both embarrassing and humbling.
Ultimately, it was Reagan who took home the title of HOH, causing me to feel a certain amount of alarm. In the short time I had known him, I had perceived that he was smart. He was very smart. I didn't know how I was gonna play this. I wasn't even sure if he liked me. I decided I would just be calm and friendly and social... and wait for someone else to mess up.
After the competition, Regan was given the responsibility of putting half the house on the aforementioned slop, which meant four unlucky bastards could eat nothing but a bland oatmeal concoction for the rest of the day. We all gathered in the living room, and Reagan — at the orders of the producers — requested that we all make our pleas for being spared slop duty. I really didn't know what to do. In the real game, one could promise loyalty — or threaten bad times to come. But seeing as this was a one day affair, pledges were ineffective, and paranoia worthless (after all, Reagan was safe for the duration of the day. There would be no way to rattle him with fears of consequences).
Making matters worse was that a lot of people were really doing a great job with their begging. Carrie pulled the mom card and also claimed she wouldn't be able to cook dinner effectively for the house if she were on slop. Jen said she'd already been on slop during her first "Big Brother" tenure and that others should be given the opportunity to try it. Ann revealed that she was a vegan, and such a punishment might be super cruel. (Dennis, fyi, didn't even get a chance to make a plea. Reagan just stuck him on slop). How was I gonna compete with all this? I decided to appeal to Reagan's subversive sense of humor.
I got up in front of the group and said that truth be told, I could go on slop, but I wouldn't be particularly entertaining. I'd just be average. I then proposed that other people, if on slop, would be HILARIOUS in their cranky state, and wouldn't that be fun to watch some people flip out?
But then Reagan challenged me to name names.
Uhhh.... huminah huminah huminah. This was a problem. I didn't want to call anyone out because that might undermine my whole friendly thing. But Reagan kept pressing me on this. I had to throw someone under the bus. I said that Gunther would be funny — but only because he was already in an S & M outfit. I think I may have made some comment about Jay or Dennis, but I don't remember. Reagan wanted more names though, and all I had left were the women. I really didn't want to incur any of their wrath; so I just stammered for a few moments before declaring that I was a GENTLEMAN and would not throw ANY lady under the bus. Reagan smiled and said he liked that. I felt like I had earned his respect and also saved myself — at least for the moment.
Amusingly, after I just did this whole spiel about how funny it would be to see someone go crazy on slop, Melissa then stood before us and announced that if she were put on slop, she'd turn into a RAGING BITCH. That was a total selling point to me... and Regan too. It's like she was just ASKING for it. Sure enough, Reagan ultimately put Melissa on slop, as well as Gunther and Stella (and Dennis). Again, I'm not sure the degree to which I had influenced Reagan's choice of Melissa because honestly, the guy was very shrewd and may have had Melissa on his list all along, but either way, I survived this first hurdle, and that's all that mattered. Now I just had to skirt nomination.
That's where Jen and Jay come in. The two of them got into it (slightly) over some stupid discussion about whether or not they had met each other before. I can't even relay the details of this tiff (if it can be called that) because they were so silly, but all I knew was that there was now mild tension between Jen and Jay. And when I say mild, I mean really, really mild. However, all I wanted was a crack to wedge myself into. I happy fanned the flames of this rivalry, often chirping in with comments like "You guys are really going at it!" and whatnot. When alone with other people — which was rare — I'd often marvel at how Jay and Jen were snipping at each other, hoping that maybe this miniscule hiccup could escalate to something destructive. In a perfect world, the two would go at it and maybe cause some ancillary damage — perhaps offending one of the neutral parties enough to the point where he or she might talk to Reagan and demand that either Jen or Jay go up on the block.
Specifically, I really tried to stoke Jay wherever I could. He was really going crazy about Jen (or at least pretending to go crazy), and every chance he got, he would talk about how awful she was. Above all else, he seemed particularly annoyed by how frequently she changed clothes. I nodded empathetically and again attempted to egg on his anger without being obvious. Everything seemed to be working out perfectly.
Yes, Jay was playing the game more aggressively than ever. When we all gathered in the Head of Household room to chit-chat, he frequently directed the conversation away from playful banter and towards strategy. He and Dennis happily discussed "game" while all of us quietly watched. I kept my mouth shut, hoping that the two of them would come off as threats — although, I seem to remember making little quips such as "Wow, you two are really playing the game" or "These guys are dangerous." You know, more of the usual pokes and prods from me.
Eventually, the entire group minus Reagan, was ordered into the pool room where we were instructed to sit silently for forty-five minutes while Reagan prepared for the Nomination Ceremony. The wait felt endless — and let's not forget my gastrointestinal issues. Needless to say, it was quite uncomfortable for me on more than one occasion.
After what felt like an eternity, we were finally summoned into the kitchen where we proceeded at last with the surprisingly nerve-rattling and surreal Nomination Ceremony. I'd seen this ritual hundreds of times on TV, but actually taking part in it was a whole new experience. First of all, the lack of music felt totally alien to me. Where were the throbbing tones of suspense I had grown so accustomed to? The ascending notes of trepidation? The twinkling sound of treachery and deceit? The silence just didn't feel right.
Don't get me wrong though: the lack of music certainly did not detract from the suspense of the situation. I found myself more nervous than I should have been considering this was essentially fake "Big Brother," but hey, I didn't want to be evicted. As person after person was revealed to be safe, I started to wonder if Reagan had been onto me. Had he sniffed out my crafty little ways? Was I about to be blindsided? Thankfully, no. I was safe, and I can't describe how shockingly wonderful it felt to see my key come out of that box. In the end, the nominees turned out to be Jen and Jay — as hoped. Again, I won't take credit for this because honestly, they were the obvious choices, but I was more than happy to have perhaps contributed to their situation.
Well, not long after the ceremony, Jen and one or two others headed into the exercise room (which curiously housed a couch and two light bulbs powered by bikes). The rest of us stayed in the kitchen where Jay got to work campaigning for votes. He asked us all if he had our vote, and I said "sure." He did not, however, actually have my vote. Why? Well, I for one had no problem with Jen. I found her to be pleasant and enjoyable and totally winsome. Plus, I'll admit it: I was a big fan of hers from season eight of the show. I wanted her to go all the way then, and her eventual ouster was nothing short of heartbreaking for me. I had felt she'd gotten the shaft then, and I wasn't going to let it happen again. I'm just valiant like that. (Although, if it was between her or me, I'd be sending her packing). Jay was cool and all, but he was playing too hard for this stage in the game. I didn't trust him (note the aforementioned lies he had told), and for that alone, I wasn't going to keep him. Besides, I couldn't let my reality show experience end without a blindside. Jay would be the perfect victim. And so I told Jay he had my vote, knowing full well that pending the outcome of the veto competition, I would then pull aside Rosanna — with whom I was getting along very well — and tell her my plan to keep Jen.
I must admit that I was really happy with my sly manipulations — even though I really had nothing to show for them as of yet. I was only confused as to why the producers had yet to actually call me into the Diary Room. Didn't they see how hard I was playing the game? Couldn't they tell how crafty I was? Didn't they want to ask me question after question about my devious plans? Evidently not. I'm not gonna lie — it was a little frustrating. I had so much to get off my chest! I wanted my moment.
But alas, I was playing a "longform" game — one that isn't particularly dramatic and instead unfolds over the course of many days and weeks. Jay and Jen, however, were a bit more showy. They were getting called into the Diary Room nonstop, and despite my best efforts to the contrary, I found myself yearning for screen time. My inner reality star was slowly taking over like a lame version of The Hulk. I needed attention. Wonderful, glorious attention. But I only had a day in this house to make an impact, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice my personality or core ideals to reach this goal. In other words, I wasn't gonna turn into a raving lunatic and yell at everyone just to get called into the Diary Room. There was really only one last major chance to make a splash: the veto competition.
I decided I wanted to win the veto — a power that lets a houseguest remove someone from the chopping block. But not only did I want to win the veto competition, I wanted to save Jen. Why? Just because. It would be a great twist. Everyone would be shocked. Jaws would be dropped!
Of course, it would also run counter to my sly manipulations, but hey, we were only in the house for one day. Why not pull a brash move for the fun of it? There wouldn't be any long term consequences. All I had to do was win the damn veto.
Well, eventually the producer informed us that it was time for the veto competition. We were all given bandanas and beanies and told to pair up with someone we trusted. Since I was sitting next to Stella, we decided to join forces — even though her slop diet may have put her at risk of underperforming (she also was suffering from a phantom case of e.coli, thanks to some pre-recall cookie batter she had consumed the night prior).
We were then allowed to step outside for the veto competition (we had previously been in "lockdown" inside). The first thing I saw were fake clouds. And pies. Lots of pies. Everywhere. My stomach sank. Was this going to be an eating competition? I have a profound dislike for berries — strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries — and they all seemed well represented in the backyard. This was a moment I was dreading: I was gonna have to eat my least favorite food in the entire world.
Or not. Turns out the competition had nothing to do with that. Disaster averted. Instead, we needed to merely carry four pies from one side of the yard to another, balancing on little buckets the whole way. If we were to fall off the bucket, we'd have to go back to the start. This alarmed me slightly. Stella had previously shown herself to have dubious equilibrium (she had fallen on her butt during the HOH competition, which I should remind you was a STATIONARY experience). Nevertheless, we worked out a nifty strategy. We would hold pies in specific hands and furthermore, while everyone else would be balancing the baked goods on their palms, we'd just stick our thumbs in the tins and grasp the damn things. It was brilliant.
Our strategy totally worked. We steamed ahead swiftly, earning ourselves a large lead over everyone. But then DISASTER STRUCK. My shoelace somehow came undone. Sure enough — just before we reached a line of safety where we could fall off the buckets with no repercussions — the lace totally got caught, and I plummeted off the bucket. Our lead = blown. I was furious at myself. I'm still mad even now, several days later. In the end, it was Jen who won the veto (with the help of her partner Reagan), which was great for her, but not so hot for me. I wanted the pride of winning — not to mention the safety it would afford me. Sure, this was only a one day experience, but I was so wrapped up in this veto competition, I sort of scared myself. I had to remind myself repeatedly that it was only a game. Nothing was truly on the line.
After the veto, we learned that there'd be a bonus competition for the slop eaters. Four pies had been set aside on a nearby airplane (don't ask). The slop eaters were given the option to select a pie and stick it in their faces. One of the pies would have a "slop pass" that would exempt them from slop for the rest of the day. Whoever wound up with a slop pass on their face would reap the rewards.
Well, Dennis, Stella, Melissa, and Gunther decided to give it a whirl. On the count of three, they all dunked their faces into the pies... Well, not all of them. Stella backed out at the last second, which was too bad because her pie wound up having the slop pass. I can't say that her fellow slop-eaters were terribly pleased by this outcome. I was sure to make a mental note...
We then headed back into the house, and Carrie began the prep work for dinner. Everything seemed relatively calm and benign, but in the back of my mind, I knew that Reagan would have to replace Jen with someone else. Who could it be? I really wanted to talk to him about it, but I feared that if I did, I would come off as too aggressive, and the last thing I wanted to do was make Reagan feel threatened. Plus, there really wasn't a terribly good opportunity to speak to him one-on-one.
It was around this time that I finally got called into the Diary Room. I was extremely excited to finally offload all the things I'd been thinking about and observing throughout the day, but unfortunately this appeared to be a purely perfunctory exchange. I sat down on the couch in the small room and came face to face with a camera staring directly at me. Suddenly, a disembodied voice began asking me questions. What did I think when I first saw the veto competition? How was I feeling about it? Can you describe the HOH room? And that was it. Yeah, pretty mundane. No one really wanted my opinion on the game. Such is the life of a veto loser. (Cue the violins.)
Anyway, after leaving the diary room, my thoughts returned to the nominees. I felt fairly sure that anyone going up against Jay would be safe since he'd been pretty intense throughout the day. I wasn't too worried... That is, until I headed towards the back of the house just in time to catch Jay heading into the pool room with Reagan and Jen for a behind-closed-doors discussion. As I approached the door, I heard names being thrown about, and I could have sworn mine was one of them. The other was Stella, who happened to be napping just nearby. I laid down on the bed closest to the door and listened. It sounded like Reagan was saying he had Jay's back, which alarmed me, and again, I heard my name and Dennis's name and Stella's. Since everyone was in the kitchen, I stood up and listened at the door a bit. I wasn't sure if I should eavesdrop on their strategy or simply bust in and break it up — perhaps even attempt to sway them away from me.
"Are you eavesdropping?" I suddenly heard Stella say. I turned around, and she was awake, staring at me. Caught!
"Yeah," I said. I had to think quickly. "They're mentioning your name!"
Stella jumped up from the bed and headed to the door to listen herself. I, however, walked away, hoping that Stella would either get caught or do something crazy. Whatever it was, I didn't want it to trace back to me.
I then alerted the kitchen that there were backroom negotiations going on and that Stella was listening in (all the better to make her seem a bit untrustworthy, even though she was a total sweetheart). A minute or so later, Stella then rejoined the group and announced cheerfully that she'd heard her name and Dennis's name being mentioned. I could tell this unnerved Dennis, who was still fairly bitter about having been put on slop. Maybe he'd do something silly now. I was really looking for anything I could find.
I then headed back to the bedrooms and saw Jay packing up. I had been quietly plotting his ouster in my head, but now I realized that if he was cool with Reagan — who he knew from outside the house — then I might have to get in with Jay. I asked him how he was feeling and reiterated that he had the votes to stay, assuming his voting block remained intact. Translation: make sure I don't get nominated because I'm one of your votes. Deeper translation: Hey Jay, tell Reagan to nominate someone who hasn't promised you a vote yet. But who hadn't promised a vote to Jay yet? I had only witnessed one person refuse to commit: STELLA.
I liked Stella, but she was looking more and more like someone I'd have to throw under the bus. She was clearly already on Reagan's radar, and she proved no voting threat to Jay. She really was a perfect candidate. However, before I started Operation: Stella Takedown, I wanted to find out where Reagan's head was.
Well, conveniently, he walked by the bedrooms; so I asked him, "Who are you thinking about as a replacement nominee?"
"You, actually," he said. Uh oh.
"Me?" I asked with faux surprise. Reagan then admitted there were two others he was thinking of too, but that didn't matter. He had mentioned my name — this was serious. I needed to get my act together. Reagan was certainly on to me. But how to spin this? I didn't want to now be overly buddy-buddy with him because that would seem insincere. I also didn't want to corner him and make a plea because that would seem not only desperate, but would maybe show a ruthless side of me that would simply reconfirm all the reasons why I should be up on the block. I needed to be sly now. Very sly.
Meanwhile, thanks to what Stella had overheard earlier, Dennis also sensed he was in trouble and was working it hard. He kept bemoaning his slop situation, frequently voicing his sad frustration about having to watch us all eat a giant pasta dinner, courtesy of Carrie. Reagan felt super bad about having to put anyone on slop, and every time Dennis piped up, I could tell Reagan was feeling the guilt. This martyr situation was not in my best interest. If Dennis removed himself from consideration, my chances of being nominated increased that much more.
Making matters worse was that at dinner, Reagan asked me how comfortable I felt about my chances of going up on the block. I said I didn't know what would happen and that I wasn't going to act cocky by any means. I then looked at Jay who was silently watching with what looked to be a trace of a smirk on his face. Or maybe it was just regular bemusement. I didn't know. This game had officially gotten into my head.
Yes, I was going crazy. I was plotting and scheming and running scenarios in my head. And it had only been ten hours. I convinced myself that Reagan was totally on to me, and I gotta say, I respected that. But I also feared it. I needed to distract Reagan's attention away from me. Soon, I found my opportunity.
After dinner, we all sat around the table, and I noticed Stella looking exhausted and unhappy. It was time for me to make a move.
"Bet you wish you had that slop pass now, right?" I asked her cheerfully. Stella smiled and said that no, she was fine — she didn't need the slop pass. I then asked her why she had volunteered to participate in the Slop Pass bonus competition if she'd had no intention of ever stuffing her face in the pie. After all, if she hadn't taken part in the optional challenge, theoretically someone else could have taken her pie and gotten the slop pass. You know, someone like poor Dennis.
That's when Reagan piped up, revealing that he was actually really annoyed with Stella about what she had done. He said it had been bothering him since the competition.
YES YES YES.
I had successfully redirected the wrath of Reagan onto Stella. Mission accomplished!
But then Reagan smiled slyly and said, "Note that Ben brought this up."
DAMN! Foiled again!
"I was just making conversation," I said with a crafty smile. In an odd way, I kind of got the feeling like Reagan may have respected me for showing some game. I couldn't tell. Then again, I couldn't tell many things about Reagan. He was a clever player and near impossible to read. I may have understood what appealed to him, but I really couldn't tell what he would do next at any given moment.
Reagan then got all playful and suggested that maybe he should nominate Gunther for eviction. Poor Gunther. He'd spent all day shivering in his scant leather gear. The kid had been an excellent sport, and the last thing he deserved was to be on the chopping block. Naturally, I then said: "Yeah, Gunther SHOULD be nominated, if only for the visual of seeing a guy in leather in one of the nominee chairs."
Reagan seemed to respond to that idea quite well. I wasn't sure if he had already been thinking of it, but he certainly endorsed it now. We all had a good laugh, and at one point, Reagan told the room, "Hey, I was just making conversation." I couldn't be sure, but it felt like a call back to my earlier comment. Was that a friendly show of respect? Or his way of saying, "YOU'RE NEXT." Again, mind tricks galore going on.
I decided to prepare for a worst case scenario. If I were going up on the block, I needed support. I headed over to the living room and chatted with the likes of Ann and Carrie and Katie. They were all super cool ladies, and I figured maybe if I went up on the block, I could get them in my corner. Again, I was in curious territory. My motives for talking to them were rooted in gameplay, but my conversations with them were totally sincere. Still, I felt kind of like a fake bastard. Thank goodness this game was only a day long because I would have had a severe crisis of conscience had I been in the house any longer.
Well, soon we were shuffled out to the backyard to wait around while Jen stayed in the house to prepare for the Veto meeting. With the exception of Stella and Dennis, who were busy playing pool, we all soaked our feet in the tub and socialized. It could have been a perfect opportunity to plot against Dennis or Stella, but instead, I decided that I would let the scheming rest for a bit and just enjoy people's company. Besides, I felt I had been a bit too chatty and attention-seeking during dinner. I wanted to just relax and remember not to take any of this too seriously. Alas, I failed on both fronts. I was not relaxed, and I was not maintaining a healthy perspective.
When Jen called us inside for the Veto Ceremony, I was convinced that I was going up on the block. I began thinking about what my final speech would be, who I would campaign to, and what I could possibly do to save myself. I also thought about the positives of being evicted. It would be sort of funny, and I'd definitely make that impact I had been seeking out. In short, I was a basket case.
Unsurprisingly, Jen used the veto on herself, which meant that it was time for Reagan to announce the replacement nominee. I tried to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable nomination. Would I crack a joke? Would I look angry? Or would I just smile politely and be silent? But then suddenly, a major twist:
I WAS SPARED.
That's right, Reagan opted to nominate Gunther, citing an irrepressible need to see a guy in full leather gear up on the block with Jay. Huh. Who would have thought?
I felt instant relief, which was followed by instant sadness that I had managed to get so caught up in a reality show run-through. The degree to which I had lost a healthy perspective on this game was nothing short of scary. Nevertheless, Gunther took a seat next to Jay, and as has been seen millions of times on TV, Jen snapped closed the veto box to symbolize the end of the ceremony. However, whereas on television the box closes with a resounding BOOM, in real life I was disconcerted to discover that it snaps shut in near silence. Not even a small click can be heard. Another illusion shattered. It was disorienting.
Well, Gunther attempted to campaign for a few votes to save himself, but after about five minutes, we were soon ordered back to the living room for the Eviction Ceremony. There was a flurry of activity before we took our seats, and amongst the people I chatted with briefly, we all agreed to save Gunther. Jay, meanwhile, was sweating bullets. Up against Gunther, he knew he was doomed. Everyone liked Gunther. He was affable, friendly, and completely harmless. Jay was aggressive, scheming, and dangerous. No surprises on how this would turn out.
One by one, we were all asked into the Diary Room where we gave our votes for not only who we wanted to evict, but who we thought was the best player of the day (that person would win $500). I unsurprisingly voted to evict Jay and unquestionably voted to reward Reagan. I wanted to vote for myself in the latter category, but a) I don't think it was allowed, and b) I had to give credit where credit was due. Reagan was just a really, really good player. Shrewd, dominating, and sociable — he could have been a contender, as they say.
Before we could learn who had won the cash prize, we had to kick someone out of the house. The producer assumed the role of Julie Chen, and after all the votes had been cast, he started, "By a vote of five to four..."
Suddenly, there was hubbub around the living room. Five to four? What happened to the blow out? Who would have thought it would be such a close vote? We all were completely thrown off.
"Gunther..." the producer said. We all perched on our seats in suspense. This was entirely too intense for a fake eviction ceremony.
"You have been evicted."
Yes, in a surprise twist, Jay managed to stave off eviction, and had this been the real game, I would have been totally screwed, what with my false promises landing me in the minority voting block. I still don't know who had voted for whom, but I suppose it's all a testament to the unpredictable nature of reality television. After a day of increasingly intense mental acrobatics, I realized that "Big Brother" might not be an experience I could truly endure for long lengths of time. Sure, I might get used to changing clothes in front of leering camera men (a strange experience unto itself) and sure I could adjust to a pre-ordained daily schedule, but the mental stamina required of me would be too much. My head might just explode.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy my time in the "Big Brother" house though. The experience was totally fantastic — a reality fan's dream come true, even if it was totally humbling. Could I do it for more than twenty-four hours? Maybe. Maybe not. But would I do it again? Absolutely.
See you next year, BB?
Ben Mandelker is a Hollywood-based writer and blogger. Read more of his work at BSideBlog.