Sunday's 'Big Brother': Why this episode worked

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Image Credit: CBS

Reality TV shows usually go to extreme lengths to ensure that each episode is as suspenseful as possible.  Every challenge is edited to be a nail-biter; every strategic conversation is underscored by tense, frantic music; every contestant interview promises the audience that “anything could happen” at the next vote.  Even when the outcome is ultimately unsurprising, there are typically enough twists and turns in the narrative leading up to that endpoint that viewers are left feeling satisfied that they’ve just watched a complete story.

That’s what makes Sunday night’s episode of Big Brother so peculiar. In a good way. From the moment GinaMarie (pictured) won the Head of Household competition, there wasn’t any question that McCrae and Amanda would be up on the block by the end of the show. Big Brother made no effort to conceal that fact, either.  Instead, the entire program became a showcase for Amanda’s hubris, self-victimization, and aggressive behavior.  Because viewers knew what Amanda didn’t – that she would be nominated – we were able to appreciate the dramatic irony of her outlandish claims and inappropriate actions  While having to endure more of Amanda’s relentless bullying of Elissa was decidedly unpleasant, our awareness that Amanda’s comeuppance was just around the corner made it easier to stomach. Indeed, the only suspense in the episode came from wondering exactly how Amanda would react upon finding out she’d been outsmarted.

Yet, despite this lack of suspense — or, more likely, because of it — the episode worked, and was one of the more entertaining and gripping shows in what has been a pretty bizarre, uneven season. 

Looking past the goofy chicken suit punishment and manic balloon-popping segment, what emerged in Sunday’s Big Brother was a fascinating character study of Amanda. Amanda, who was once the show’s most reliable narrator, has practically transformed overnight into unquestionably the most deluded and hypocritical of the remaining houseguests. It’s almost poetic how easily Amanda’s venomous attacks against her fellow houseguests can be applied to Amanda herself.

“I don’t know why you’re so happy,” Amanda hisses at Elissa, following GinaMarie’s HoH win.  “Wipe that smile off your face.” (“If only Amanda knew what was coming,” says all of America, tittering). Amanda is such a joke this episode that even GinaMarie gets a chance to mock her.  After Amanda meets with the new HoH to confirm that Elissa will be this week’s target (hehe!), GinaMarie hams it up for the cameras. Twirling her index finger next to her head, GinaMarie delightedly whispers “She is going up! Shh!”

I don’t know how it happened, but GinaMarie has somehow ended up being one of the more likeable people left in the game.  That doesn’t excuse her nasty comments and behavior earlier in the season, but I have a sufficiently short enough attention span (and there is such a lack of pleasant personalities in the house) that I’ve grown to enjoy GinaMarie and, dare I say it, almost root for her.  I mean, how can’t you pull for someone who, upon seeing her HoH gift basket, exclaims “We got some sausage, hey how ya doin’!” and practically combusts when she discovers teeth whitening products?

Our other great heroine, Elissa, has a different approach when it comes to Amanda. Fed up with silently accepting Amanda’s ridicule, Elissa opts for some passive-aggressive retaliation. “I love Jessie,” Elissa tells Amanda. “Her butt was hotness. I think Jessie was the only 10 in this house.” This really strikes a nerve with Amanda. The insinuation that she is *not* a 10, and that her butt is *not* hotness is too much for Amanda to bear. She erupts: “You are such a bitch, what’s wrong with you?” Amanda then falls back on her old reliable collagen and Joker smile routine — insults that seem odd given Amanda’s very obvious predilection for surgical enhancements.

This isn’t just about Botox and boob jobs, though. Amanda truly hates Elissa: “She’s a mean, disgusting person… She’s so f—ing mean and evil.” On top of all that, Amanda adds, “Elissa has a God complex… She always thinks she’s right.” Those are strong words from Amanda, who has really established herself as a model of humility and self-effacement throughout the season. As hard as it is living with a tyrant like Elissa, however, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Amanda: Judd and Elissa are almost certainly going to be nominated, with Elissa being evicted. (America giggles again.)

When nomination time finally arrives, Amanda is on top of the world. “I feel happy. And safe. And glorious.  And triumphant.” We know better, though, and so do the other houseguests. With an impish grin and mischievous wink, Judd assures the Big Brother audience that we’re “not going to want to miss this one!”

And Judd is right.  Not only are McCrae and Amanda nominated, but Amanda must suffer through the indignity of having her nomination speech delivered by GinaMarie, who, according to Amanda, “has no brain.”  Channeling a Staten Island Porky Pig, GinaMarie tells the nominated duo that they are “a huge dymanic… dyman… dymani… a huge power couple.”  GinaMarie blames Amanda for causing McCrae to lose his “focus and fire” in the game, and claims that Amanda “tops the cake” [sic] when it comes to unhinged behavior.

Given how obvious this end result was a mere five minutes into the episode, how is it that Sunday night’s show nevertheless proved to be one of the best of the season?  I might be alone in feeling this way, but I think it was a welcome change of pace from what we’ve come to expect from “Big Brother” and, really, reality TV in general. The show’s producers and editors did not attempt to present drama and suspense where none actually existed. Knowing what would happen did not detract from the viewing experience, but rather contributed to it. Turns out that on a show that’s always warning its players and viewers to “expect the unexpected,” sometimes it’s more powerful and rewarding to stick with the expected.


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