Weaver's Week 2011-11-13

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"Always yell with the crowd, that's what I say. It's the only way to be safe."


Big Brother

Endemol for Channel 5, 9 September – 11 November

Big Brother One for sorrow, two for joy ... what's twelve for?

Once again into the lab reports for the great social experiment of Big Brother, now over eleven years and still telling us something. The format: fourteen volunteers are isolated in a studio in north London, given tasks to do, and daily reports are compiled by Big Brother's staff, who we'll be calling "the Party". As time passes, the volunteers are voted out by the public, until just one remains. This column's thesis: the experiment is on society as a whole, exposing a generation of young people to the Party's values, which do change over time.

Unlike previous years, the national newspapers have almost entirely ignored this year's lab rats. There's been a smidgeon of local coverage, usually predictable stuff along the lines of "Neville's family are hoping that their son isn't evicted from Big Brother tonight" / "Neville talks to the Local Reg about his time inside". But in the show's great champion and leading publicist the Daily Mail, not a flicker.

Could this be because Big Brother is now transmitted on Channel 5, which shares ownership with that paper's traditional rival the Daily Express? Could the downmarket taboids have ignored it because the same company owns the Daily Star? Very possibly. Certainly, both of those organs have been saying how this is the "best series ever" and the show is "more fun than ever", often before the programmes have been made.

With approximately no independent newspaper coverage, we have to draw our own conclusions about what's been going on. The previous lab report noted the decision not to air any sort of live feed of events in the laboratory, making it more difficult to question the narrative selected by the Party.

Big Brother Ever-present lab rats Alex (left) and Tom.

Viewing figures settled down at about 1.5 million each night in the 10pm slot, about 40% above Channel 5's regular performance. The Thursday performance was affected by Channel 5's commitment to European League football: on four nights, the highlights started at 10.10, viewers switched over to ITV2's Celebrity Juice in droves. Digital channel 5* was under-used, the only new Big Brother coverage was late-night waffletron Bit on the Side, typically seen by 250,000 people.

We didn't hear many complaints about this year's studio experiment dragging on, or ending too soon – it may be that nine or ten weeks is the right length. Richard Desmond went all-out to cross-sell Big Brother into his other media brands, especially OK magazine, only to be tripped up when lab rat Tom expressed his frustration at the inane and vapid questions of the interviewer. The programme's resident clown is above this trivia.

"All they go on about in bb is "what is you type" and "who would you bang" ... Getting boring now!" – Lady Sovereign.

The Party's chosen narrative this year revolved around sex. Not so much the actual doing of it, but the prospect of some people possibly doing it, at some unspecified time in the near future. However, the Party seemed to forget that the lab rats are a product of their social upbringing, having all been subjected to the strictures of the Junior Anti-Sex League, and will not go beyond a chaste smooch without pulling a duvet over their head.

Big Brother The John James and Josie memorial duvet.

Couples formed, couples split, couples re-formed, couples rowed, and viewers who expected something other than coupledom were going to be disappointed. There was much time for Aaron and Faye's bizarre coupling, which mostly consisted of them slightly offending each other and having a mini row, but making up later. There was much time for Jay and Louise's apparent coupling of convenience. And for Tom and Alex's glorious goofball friendship.

The Big Brother experience inevitably involves nominating other people to face a public vote. The public continued the tradition of always having a woman out the door first, choosing to eject Tashie after just a week. In twelve series of civilian Big Brother, the first evictee chosen by the public has always been female. This quite clearly says something about the voters, and about the contestants, and quite possibly about the lab rats themselves. Our tentative conclusion is that viewers (mostly female, mostly in their early 20s) don't like women who are too much like themselves, and will vote for those to go first. Further experimentation is needed.

"If you kept the small rules, you could break the big ones."

Another tradition is that lab rats are not permitted to discuss their nominations with each other. This rule was introduced a few weeks into the experiment, when it became clear that lab rat Nick Bateman was indirectly and subtly influencing others. It's been upheld with increasing rigour as time passes, but has been suspended from time to time. In this run, the rule had been violated with such vigour that the Party deliberately suspended this law for a week. It was the series' pivotal moment.

Big Brother Finalists Jay and Louise. The cupcakes were so famous they didn't need naming.

Prior to this, there had been a clear Inner Party clique: lab rats Jay, Anton, Aden, and Louise made it their mission to target Aaron, and then Faye or Harry; Tom and Alex would be the useful idiots, allowed to survive until late in the series. With nomination talk allowed, the clique's members lost their self-control. Anton in particular lost his inhibitions, intervened early and often in other people's thoughts, and came across as controlling and obsessed with getting rid of Aaron. The already-unpopular Aden went, Anton followed a week later, dismissed as the most rubbish super-villains since Dick Dastardly and Muttley. The plot had failed, failed miserably: in a five-way vote, Aaron and Faye proved more popular than Jay, in turn more popular than the rest of his clique.

Afterwards came a week in which the remaining lab rats were spared the torture of nominations, it was passed to their friends and familes. It's almost as if the Party didn't trust the rats to deliver the vote they wanted to have, and had to use external people – whose opinions will be directly influenced by the Party's transmissions – as a proxy for their own wishes. The following week had face-to-face nominations, and Faye's exit interview contained the line, "We had to restart nominations so many times." Did the Party not want everyone to go up in the penultimate week?

"Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."

By assuming total control of footage from the lab, the Party was able to twist the story; by not being honest, viewers were able to detect bias. And once a viewer has seen the machinations, they quickly lose faith in the Party. Early in the run, Jay deposited some faeces into a cigarette box, and put it in the freezer. This was intended as a prank. It was not broadcast by Channel 5, perhaps aware that it's the sort of thing children could easily imitate, and certain to have the show slapped around by OFCOM. But nor was it mentioned anywhere until lab rats Heaven and Maisy mentioned it in their unscripted exit interviews.

Big Brother Superfluous caption.

As has become traditional, the show had stupendous technical production. Cameramen were able to get the shots to tell a story in one look, or with one shift of focus, and editors were able to use this footage seamlessly. But it was clear that the Party had decided no-one was going to watch this show all the way through. Even in the final week, we still got name-tags appearing over the contestants, there were tasks chopped up and shown out of sequence, there was a montage of the best bits of a for-show relationship. Complete with soft-focus colour-drained shots, and the soundtrack of Christina Novelli. Ack, if only it were.

There were the occasional throwbacks to other television works. The opening weekend included a guest appearance by Pamela Anderson from Baywatch. Later on was the Amazing Rowing Challenge, a simple endurance test of continuing to work on a rowing machine. Scheduled to last about three hours, it was still going after 9, and could well have lasted all night. The Party had clearly forgotten the lessons of Survivor's Amazing Standing On A Log Challenge, which began just off the coast of Panama in 2001 and is probably still going on as we speak.

And then there was an attempt to replicate the incredible success of Divided, by splitting £50,000 amongst the finalists in five unequal chunks. This fell flatter than a pancake that had been under a steamroller, then sat on by the Stephen Nolan Appreciation Society. The lab rats had five hours to make their choice, and spent five minutes pulling paper from a hat to decide, having promised to split it evenly afterwards.

Big Brother Emmanuel Goldstein.

"What was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less."

For the second time this year, the voting public didn't follow the script laid down by the Party. The model from Manchester, the Normal Bloke from Newcastle, the dippy northern lass, all fell to Aaron Allard-Morgan. He was only supposed to be in there for a month, the token Old Bloke who would get increasingly riled by the young contestants, and then be eliminated about halfway through. Aaron isn't in the Party's target audience, he was actually being booed after being announced as the winner, and this jeering continued even after a word from host Brian Dowling. We expect the Ten Minutes' Hate as a weekly feature of the television programme; we don't expect to see faces contorted into grimaces of displeasure for the final.

But Aaron showed a wicked sense of humour, he was able to work out how to rile the other contestants, and allow them to play their own weaknesses. In the final week, a single sentence – "I think you played that for the cameras" sent Jay spiralling into a two-day sulk, and we reckon that made the difference.

The Party's next chance to under-estimate the Grate British Public comes with Celebrity Big Brother, scheduled for January next year, as in about eight weeks.

Countdown Update

In the last five weeks, Jayne Wisniewski completed her octochamp run, scoring a total of 705 points. She could be dangerous in the finals week. Wayne Chadwick won one game, then Nikki Roberts won seven, accumulating 655 points. She was beaten by Anne Haley, who only managed one win, beaten 91-90 by Tom Brooks in one of the best games of the series.

Mr. Brooks managed just the one win, with Beryl Upshall and Sam Weissman both taking two wins. David Butcher managed seven wins, mostly with scores in the low 80s, and a very low octogame total of 620 points. Clive Barham had a run of four wins, Julie Davies won one, and Paul Keane's won two so far.

As things stand, the seedings for the finals look like this:

Mark Deeks8 wins824 pts
Graeme Cole8813
Carl Williams8708
Jayne Wisniewski8705
Dave Taylor8691
Nikki Roberts7655
David Butcher7620
Matt Croy5538

There's likely to be at least one newcomer before Finals Week begins on 8 December. Whether they or anyone will be able to do anything to stop the likely Deeks – Cole final, we'll have to see.

University Challenge

Second round, match 3: Durham v Homerton Cambridge

"You don't watch University Challenge to acquire information, but to enjoy the distress of the contestants who can't get the right answer," wrote Peter Conrad in last week's Observer. Speak for yourself; this column watches to test the limits of its own knowledge, a process by which we'll absorb a few factoids by osmosis. And we're particularly impressed by young people with encyclopaedic knowledge of subjects we know nothing about, or who can organise the information they have in ways that machines cannot.

Carllalala is on her sofa, "cuppa peppermint tea and university challenge is on! nice" Where are we? Durham trounced Portsmouth on 15 August, and Homerton came through the repechage, defeating the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. And thank goodness we won't need to type that again.

Durham get the first starter, Homerton the second, and it's going to be one of those nights. Thumper defines a Jansky for anyone's elucidation; we didn't even know that such a metric existed, but now he mentions it... The captain from Lincolnshire gets a question about divisions of Lincolnshire, which is useful. The first visual round is on the flags of combatants in various wars. The scores are 35-35.

Homerton go on to get the next couple of starters, and do well on bonuses of cities in Bavaria. Yes, there really is a plaque to remember Scotty off of Star Trek, even though he won't be born for two centuries yet. Durham are perfect on questions about time, and we assume that they didn't get them wrong, then build a time machine to get them right at the second attempt. Homerton get this week's set of Words That Look Like They Should Rhyme, But Don't, like "protein" and "Frankenstein". Another perfect round, and all the Homerton side have answered at least one starter correctly.

Corradostorm notes, "I think university challenge is the only place on tv where you will still hear 'golly gosh'" Might we introduce the correspondent to Mayor's Question Time from the London Assembly, where the interlocutor will say that, and "cripes!" and "crikey!" and "pendulously perpendicular piles of piffle". The audio round is on the performers of famous sporting themes, and Homerton leads by 115-75.

The conclusion of myotic cell division was a first-round question on Only Connect. It's a second-round question on University Challenge. Durham takes the lead, and then they get Unexpected Transmission Tie-in of the Week:

Q: You may answer in English or Newspeak. In "1984", Oceania is ruled by four ministries. One of them is the Ministry of Love; what are the other three?
"The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs. Their names, in Newspeak: Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty."

Durham have got a couple of starters in a row, and are visibly slapping each other on the shoulders. Johnzilla09 says, "I would love to see a team from University Challenge take on The Chaser. That would be epic!" True. So would The Chasers forming a team to take on a guest Quiz Great, like the Brain of Brains. Self-portraits of 20th-century artists are the second visual round, after which Durham has extended its lead to 180-115.

Far too large for Homerton, who blast back with novel trilogies, and the ruling party of the former DDR, and would-be countries beginning with "North". Loam allows Homerton to pull level with five minutes to play, and Roger Tilling is already getting excited.

Iamkatefoley has a question. "It's weird how the contestants whisper to each other on University Challenge when they're conferring. What's that in aid of?" By tradition, the bonus questions are answered through the team's captain, but the host is allowed to take any answer offered if it's sufficiently clear. By keeping their voices down, the team indicates they're not offering an answer, but are talking amongst themselves.

Durham take the lead with one starter, then Homerton draws level. But only for a moment, because they guess "rhythm" for a six-letter word with no vowels; then Durham picks up a missignal of their own. Homerton ace a set of bonuses on love triangles in literature, and because there's likely to be some teenage girls on the team, no mention of the Twiglet saga. Human dentition is the unlikely subject for bonuses, and when Homerton picks up the starter about the newest national park, "The South Downs", we think the game's won.

And so it proves – the gong goes a little earlier than we expected, and Homerton has won it, 245-190. How good were these sides? Durham were right in the majority of questions they faced, 30/58; Homerton in 38/66, and the overall accuracy was 68/96. Over 70%. Wow. Random Punter o'the Week is AmberRoth: "Should blates be on university challenge – getting 10 questions right makes me feel like a mad champion."

Next match: The Queen's Oxford v Worcester Oxford. Our money's on Oxford.

Only Connect

Semi-final 1: Listeners v Antiquarians

One of these sides is certain to win some sort of medal, or would be, if Only Connect dished out medals. Which they don't. "We only gave the contestants chairs from series three", says Victoria. Actually, in these days of BBC cutbacks, might the host's seat be the first to go.

The Listeners get the first question, and buzz for three points. "It's the Hermitage in St Petersburg". The Amber Room and Vermeer's "The Concert". But no, clue four the Jules Rimet trophy's still missing, and the Wick o'Twisted Flax o'Doom has delivered a point o'bonus for the Antiquarians. People with initials that don't stand for anything get two for the Antiquarians; one of the clues is Russell T. Davies of "Why Don't You" and other children's shows; he added the T to avoid confusion with Russell Davies of "Brain of Britain". Or, as Victoria puts it, "someone else".

The Listeners have some words in Spanish, which turn out to be Beatles song titles, such as "When I've four and sixty years". One point. The Antiquarians have some audio, including "Spanish Flea" and "Flight of the Bumble Bee", so the connection is insects for a point.

The Listeners have some products of a vague medicinal purpose: they turn out to be the original uses of street drugs. Oh, that is the other use of amyl nitrate Victoria alluded to some weeks ago. A point there. Pictures for the Antiquarians, with things like eclipses and black cats and a crypt and gypsys. "Fortune telling". "Inventions – cat's eyes." Or is it Turkey? No, this isn't a famous Family Fortunes outtake, but words that can be spelled without any vowels; the alignment of stellar objects is a syzrgy, which cost Homerton a missignal not twenty minutes ago. The Antiquarians don't need vowels for their V points, the listeners have I.

Only Connect (2) Listen hard.

Listeners get one of the famous rebus questions we've not seen this year: they're completely foxed, but the Antiquarians have it. It's pre-decimal coins: farthing, ha'penny, penny, thupenny bit, sixpence. Bonus to the Antiquarians, who get some signs of the zodiac, and reckon it's in reverse chronological order. No, it's the right way round, finishing with Aquarius; the feint is to include Ophiucus, which isn't known to Russell Grant, but is a constellation on the ecliptic. One for the Listeners.

Archbishops of Canterbury who crowned a monarch, there's a "nobody" as no-one ever crowned Edward VIII, and two points to the Listeners. Pictures result in the most soggy answer we've ever heard. "A red squiggly bit around the green bit in the middle of the first and third pictures" is the Antiquarians' guess at the next question. But no. *This* is why they don't have dolphins on Only Connect, they would be jumping through a hoop backwards with annoyance at such a response Nor is it India. This is coastlines, and the world's longest is Canada.

"Ten equals, something, probably a word with ten letters." Cripes, these Antiquarians aren't doing well. If 7 is wipeout, 8 is puppetry, 9 is etiquette, then 10 would be something like typewriter. Words typed using the top row of a typewriter keyboard, see. Like "top row". We have absolutely no clue where the final question is going: apparently, chefs with the most Michelin stars, leading to someone we don't know from Adam. Bit of a tennis score, the Antiquarians lead 6-4.

Only Connect (2) Young people, old tastes.

Grid 120 should be online, unless the Wick o'Twisted Flax has twisted itself around the BBC Model B ("beep!") powering the corporation's website. The Antiquarians play first, they reckon there's a set of characters from Moby Dick, but it's so not coming out for them. After about a minute, they do, and then the team picks up a set of liquid containers. They pause to work out what the last set might be: there's glassware found in a chemistry laboratory, and food chains named after fictional characters. A perfect wall. Ten points!

Right, what do the Listeners have on grid 121? We're noting Gallowgate, being Antan Dec's production company and an end at a football ground. By the time we've got that thought out, the Listeners have solved the wall: Guardian cryptic crossword setters, nicknames for kings, and demonyms, which are nicknames for people from various parts of the UK. Ten points!

It's 16-14 going into the final round, the Antiquarians have the slight lead. Operas that premiered in Paris is the first category, it goes 2-1 to the Listeners. Wartime poster slogans is more to their liking, the Listeners have that 3-1 and take the lead. Female protagonists in literature, the Listeners gain and lose a point, the Antiquarians have the round 1-0 to tie the game. Metric units and what they measure: the Listeners slightly mis-state "hertz and frequency", it costs them a point, and the Antiquarians have taken the game 19-18.

Next match: It's the Children in Need of Assistance special, a cause that has also claimed Mastermind this week.

This Week And Next

We've got The X Factor on the review pile for the end of this month, but absolutely have to discuss the removal of Frankie Cocozza from the show. Mr. Cocozza was a triumph of style over content, of how some voters will fall over themselves to vote for a rebellious young man however bad his singing. The producers claim that Mr. Cocozza was involved in drugs, drink, and young women; this has not been independently confirmed.

It is worth noting that on the day before Mr. Cocozza was removed, regulator OFCOM said that it was investigating his actions – specifically, if the performer swore on live television. The producers said that he had been removed "for breaking the golden rule" of the show. It appears that this rule is "thou shalt not incur the wrath of OFCOM". Unless thou art in charge of rigging lights that trigger epilepsy (2009), undue product placement (2006 and 2010), advertising in the sponsorship credits (2008), and over-charging voters (2006). Unlike Mr. Cocozza's rubbish singing, these offences have the potential to cause actual harm. What happened to ITV's pledge not to do business with shows that mislead the public?

We also hear that Ant and Dec are to revive Saturday Night Takeaway under their new two-year deal with ITV. It's not been the same since the Jiggy Bank went.

The occasional Brain of Brains contest took place this week, pitting the three most recent Brain of Britain champions in contest. These contests are always nip-and-tuck affairs, decided either by the attrition of bonuses, or by one contender scoring a five-in-a-row and stealing six on his opponents. So it turned out: the first half was almost level pegging, Geoff Thomas shaded Ian Bayley in the opening round, Iwan Thomas a little further back, and these advantages maintained into the Beat the Brains section. Then Ian Bayley answered five on the bounce, picked up a bonus, and he was suddenly six ahead. Both Mr. Thomases tried to claw back the gap, but to no avail – Dr. Bayley won by four points, a clear win in this game. He now takes the first seat in Top Brain 2016.

Ratings for the week to 30 October, and it's getting close. 11.45m saw The X Factor's results show, 11.3m the Strictly Come Dancing performances. Young Apprentice came in third place, 4.75m tuned in for the series-opener, just ahead of HIGNFY's 4.55m. The Cube came back to 3.95m viewers, and The Chase went celebrity to 3.85m. BBC2's biggest was University Challenge (2.95m), Celebrity Juice on ITV2 had 2.67m, Come Dine with Me 1.9m, and Big Brother 1.8m. The Bachelor concluded with 1.6m.

Did we just say Celebrity Juice got 2.67m viewers? That we did, it's only the biggest audience for a digital game show ever. The X Factor on ITV-HD pulled in 1.32m viewers, Xtra Factor Result scored 1.14m, and X Factor Us an agonising 998,000. Of the other digital giants, A League of Their Own was seen by 935,000, Come Dine with Me on More4 scored 865,000, Only Connect 735,000, and Mock the Week (420,000) beat Bit on the Side (405,000). Also a year's best for Family Fortunes on Challenge (185,000 in the 11pm Thursday slot).

Coming up this week, it's the new run of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! (ITV and TV3, 9pm Sunday). There's also ethical discussion Dilemma (Radio 4, 7.15 Sunday), May the Best House Win (ITV, 2pm Monday), and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday). Next Saturday's talent shows include The Chase with Carol Vorderman and Paul Ross, Strictly (6.55), and The X Factor (8.15); there shouldn't be any overlap. And there's a special edition of Never Mind the Buzzcocks for Children in Need (BBC2, 10pm Friday). Do give generously.

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