July 7, 2011

All Apologies to Chubby Checker

Tonight is the premiere of the 13th season of Big Brother, a show with which I have a very strong love/hate relationship. 

Of all the reality shows out there, it's the most "pure" in terms of generating a winner. There are no judges to impress and, in theory, the viewing audience does not have a say in who ends up winning the whole shebang. The only people who determine who wins each season's top prize are the contestants themselves. 

Now, you could say the same thing about Survivor, but the reason I prefer Big Brother's game engine is because the structure of the show provides far more strategy than does Tribal Council. A competition yields a Head of Household who nominates two people for eviction. A second competition gives one contestant a chance to veto one of the nominations before the secret ballot. 

In other words, there are chances for "dead-in-the-water" houseguests to save themselves, along with the potential to use decoy nominations to throw people off the scent of any secret alliances. 

Unfortunately, CBS does not know how to leave well enough alone, and that's where I get annoyed...

Left alone, the show will generate its own drama and intrigue, simply because the format of the show is built to do so. However, each year, CBS feels the need to inject some element of unpredictability -- a "shocking twist" -- in order to put a so-called stamp of originality on the upcoming season. In doing so, though, the game engine itself is often artificially altered just enough to ruin the competition. 

Past seasons have seen contestants "blindsided" by the inclusion of: secret partners working together, identical twins swapping in and out of the house to see if anyone caught on, former romantic partners being inserted into the cast, one player who America would tell what to do and how to vote each week, and last season's incredibly ill-conceived concept of a saboteur. 

The "saboteur" was not in the house to try and win, but merely to be a nuisance to the rest of the housemates. If the saboteur lasted a certain number of weeks, they would win a cash prize, and then, presumably, be removed from the game. The houseguests immediately tried to vote out the person they thought was the sabotuer -- a stupid move in and of itself, since keeping the sabotuer would actually help their chances of winning -- but somehow, by sheer chance, they got it on the first try. 

The season's "big twist" was rendered moot in Week 1, and CBS had egg on their face, and scrambled quickly to try and come up with a Plan B. Of course, no such second option was needed, because with the lame concept gone, the season actually proved to be one of the more interesting in the show's history. Why? Because the game engine was left to run on its own merits and worked perfectly. 

So now, this season, what have the brilliant minds of CBS done? They've promised the Craziest Twists Ever! Yep, they're going to have 8 new contestants in the house along with returning "pairs of previous houseguests." That will either create an artificial 8-6 split in the vote right off the bat (if the newbies all bond together) or more likely, if the newbies aren't that savvy, a 6-vote bloc of returnees who will likely control the game from the outset, blindsiding the rookies who don't realize the power of working together. 

Live together, or die alone.
Of course, knowing the producers, they're probably going to "shock us" at some point during the debut by announcing that there will in fact be "teams of two" and pair up six of the newbies with a returning player and everyone will say that they never saw this coming -- meaning of course that we'll really have 3 teams of 4 all vying for the love of the lone pair of newbies, who will likely be given some sort of "joint HOH" status for the first week. 

Just leave it alone, guys... you're not helping! And so help me if I'm right, because it means we're headed for a looooooong summer.

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