Why I’m Giving Up on ‘Big Brother’
Hello, my name is Britt and I was a Big Brother fanatic. On the show, a group of men and women must live in a house cut off from the rest of the world, compete in silly competitions and vote each other out one by one. For years, I regularly followed the online feeds and debated the merits and character of the cast members in private online forums. I brought up power plays and showmances to friends and family alike, often during the most uncomfortable and inappropriate times. It took me well over a decade to admit that I was more than just a casual fan of the long running CBS reality series.
But lately, my fandom has turned into something else—shock and disbelief at what the series deems acceptable to air.
Season 15, which ran last summer, may have been the start of the show’s downward spiral. The structure and the archetypes remained the same, but the overt and shocking instances of racism from a variety of different cast members brought attention (most of it negative) to the show.
Big Brother 16, which has its season finale on September 24th, has its own set of appalling issues. And although there is little to no overt racism as there was in season 15, the blatant and rampant sexism and misogyny during the season has made it equally uncomfortable to watch.
“Don’t you watch that show?” my best friend Lourdes asked. Yes, I did. But this was not the Big Brother I knew and loved. It was something else.
Consider the first contestant eliminated from the game, Joey. This outspoken Seattle native tried to form an “all-girls alliance” during the first week of the competition and was quickly exorcised for her decision. Many of the house guests, particularly the men, thought she was crazy and needed to be punished for even attempting to start such an alliance. Nevermind the fact that a group of five men—Derrick, Caleb, Cody, Zach and Frankie—formed an early alliance and were given free reign to bulldoze over everyone else.
Another controversy brewed from the one-sided “relationship” between contestants Caleb and Amber from earlier in the season. Online feed and television viewers were witness to Caleb’s unhealthy and violently-obsessive infatuation with Amber from the beginning. Whether Caleb gave Amber kisses while she pretended to sleep, threw objects at her while she actually slept, built delusions about stolen glances, manipulated her safety in the game or forced her into dates, his feelings were threatening and should have been addressed by producers. Getting voted out of the house was a blessing in disguise for Amber.
And throughout the summer, another unfortunate trend has developed: eliminating women from the competition altogether. The show begins with 16 contestants—eight men and eight women—and yet, the first seven weeks saw six women eliminated. I’ve watched every season of the show as they aired and I’ve never seen such swift sex-based eliminations. Women on the show were often treated as expendable baggage, even if they were strong competitors. And if a woman refused the advances or affections of man who held the ‘Head of Household’ position (like contestant Brittany), she was often subject to even further social isolation.
Christine, a barista from Arizona, might be one of the most hated contestants of all time. Fans are outraged by her deliberate backstabbing of friends in the house, even though that is a core component to winning the game. And many folks are upset for her flirtatious and touchy friendship with another male contestant, even though she is married. Although nothing came of the closeness, it led to a chorus of boos once she was eliminated from the house. Many contestants enter the house in relationships and flirt (and go way beyond flirting) with a fellow contestant. So why were Christine’s actions so much worse?
After watching Big Brother for 14 years, I’m wondering if I should continue watching it at all. As a black woman, the racism of last season left a bitter taste in my mouth. But I had hoped it was a fluke. Now, a year later, I’ve realized that hurtful, shameful, misogynist behavior (not the kind that happens just for game) is the new norm. Now I’m left wondering whether I can even stomach another season of this kind of behavior. Unless things change, it’s doubtful.