Weaver's Week 2023-11-19

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Big Brother

Here we are again.


Big Brother

Initial (a Banijay company) for ITV2, 8 October – 17 November

According to the legend, Big Brother was created on a damp Thursday in September 1997. It took two years to come on air. In the 24 years since, Big Brother has circumnavigated the world.

Over here, Big Brother was shown on Channel 4 from 2000 to 2010, then took up residence on Channel 5 from 2011 to 2018. Taking a bit of time to move up the Freeview EPG, Big Brother landed on ITV2 this autumn. How good is it, was the programme worth watching, did it tell us anything new, and how long until the inevitable move to BBC Choice?

Big Brother Cameron's five-year reign as Big Brother champion is now over.

The basic idea of Big Brother is quite simple. A group of strangers are put in a special studio, built to look and feel like a house. The studio has cameras everywhere, and the contestants all wear microphones throughout the day. They're given things to do by the producers, including tasks to determine their shopping budget for the next week. From time to time, "housemates" are required to nominate each other; the contestants receiving the most nominations are voted on by the viewers, and the least popular are eliminated from the game. The most popular player in the final wins.

Big Brother A contestant enters the studio.

Sixteen contestants entered the new "house", a specially-constructed edifice near Neasden. Sixteen contestants was a lot for the opening episode, and many of them seemed to be chosen because they embodied stereotypes. The Welsh one. The Chinese one. The one who uses a wheelchair. The gay Welsh one. The posh one who grew up on a council estate. The actually posh one who thinks he should be Emperor of Blighty. The one with the dodgy moustache.

Lots of new people, lots of new faces. As the days ticked by, we began to find out more about the players. The Scottish one was up for eviction, until she managed to avoid winning a "most boring housemate" contest. The blonde one turned out to be a trans woman, not that any of the other contestants gave a flaky Twix about this fact.

And there were things to do, some of which made good television. And there were tasks to complete, some of which were arbitrary and capriciously judged by the producers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Big Brother The contestants sit on the sofas.

You are live on ITV2, please do not swear.

Like all previous series of Big Brother, highlights shows were narrated by Marcus Bentley. The Geordie announcer has become synonymous with the programme. There were new hosts, AJ Odudu and Will Best, both have been doing youth television for a fair few years, and are rising talents within ITV.

Throughout their days, contestants hear from the character "Big Brother", who is usually played by whichever producer is in the chair at the moment. For viewers, the producers' lines were redubbed by a consistent voice, the "voice of Big Brother". We're not convinced that this represented any improvement on previous years, and reminded us of The Lift on Rise and Fall a few months ago. The dubbing worked on Rise and Fall because lifts speak in strange ways, an advantage they don't have here.

Big Brother The diary room chair is made to look a bit like the stylised eye.

It's been said that nobody controls a series of Big Brother entirely. The contestants can attempt to play a game, give the producers and/or viewers what they think is wanted, but will this convince? The producers can influence the series, through editing and the choice of tasks; they can attempt to influence what viewers think of contestants. And the viewers influence the series, by removing contestants from time to time.

Previously, the viewer vote has been conducted through premium-rate phone lines, through premium-rate SMS messages, through websites and social media. All of the eviction votes had been charged, we had to pay real money to vote against Jimbob. That's real money to go into the broadcaster's pocket, fund future programmes or be extracted by Channel 5's private owner.

Big Brother Contestants appear to be in the wild west.

This year, the viewer vote has been conducted through the ITV application. Viewers download the app to their phone or device, and get to cast a handful of votes on each question. There's no direct charge for this app, or the votes. Viewers no longer fund ITV's habits; viewers no longer need to put their money where their mouth is.

Big Brother scholars note that, in 19 previous civilian series, precisely one (1) featured a man evicted first. This year's series continued the established pattern, evicting a woman first. Farida – an Asian woman who wears a headscarf – was followed by Zak from Thailand, and then Hallie the trans woman we mentioned earlier. To lose any one of these contestants was unremarkable; to lose all three, from minorities always under-represented on television, makes us uncomfortable. ITV might want to ask itself if it has inadvertently encouraged racist and discriminatory behaviour.

Big Brother For this task, they're dressed as foxes and chickens.

There is always a risk that the viewers will vote out all of the interesting characters early in the series, and that we'll finish with a bunch of boring people. Call it the Scott and Cameron problem. This year, most of the early boots were interesting, but there were enough developing characters to make the final weeks watchable. It's not like the cricket world cup, which happened in the same weeks; a fortnight's matches were staged for the record and had no chance of affecting the result. On Big Brother, everything could matter, and often did.

Work shift begins

As ever, the Big Brother show involved tasks and secret missions. Some of them made for entertaining television – chasing each other around the barn while wearing chicken costumes is just daft. Some were compelling, like a school task where some contestants delivered an impromptu lecture on their specialist subject. Some were mean and boring, such as the one where they hid a key inside a giant block of ice and asked the contestants to melt it. We have many better things to do than spend half an hour watching people try to melt a giant ice cube.

Big Brother Ice ice, Henry.

Some of the tasks were predictable. With this Big Brother series taking place over Hallowe'en, a few days of horror and the macabre were inevitable, and done in a compelling manner. There was a task themed around The Hungry Games, promoting a new film in the franchise; this would have done well to stretch over more than one day. And shock pants and secret rooms and hidden earpiece tasks. There's a fine line between familiar tasks and over-played tropes, and our producers crossed it.

Too many of the tasks were self-contained, with no repercussions from one day to the next. We never wanted to compare Big Brother to Seinfeld, a comedy programme where the characters get into all sorts of silly scrapes and never ever learn anything.

Big Brother Hallie will host the revival for Top of the Klass.

ITV's Big Brother had new hosts. AJ Odudu and Will Best co-hosted the launch show, and one or the other hosted the gabfest after the highlights – Big Brother's E4um now goes under the name of Layton Live. By the end of the series, we got the impression that AJ wanted to ask more probing questions, to delve a little deeper, but the producers didn't want to go too far beyond a "light and frothy" programme. The interviews immediately after eviction stuck rigidly to prepared lines of questioning, we would have welcomed some follow-up questions based on what had actually been said; it is possible that this inflexibility is part of ITV's stringent aftercare. Will was at his best on E4um, working the crowd and getting points across with great skill and dexterity – BBC1's venerable Question Time could learn from him.

Big Brother AJ Odudu (left) and Will Best.

As well as the nightly highlights hour, and Layton Live, there was some overnight streaming on ITV2. To help keep this going, the producers shifted the contestants so they'd wake around 10am and go to sleep after 2am. Tired people can be cranky; tired young people can be snappy; tired young people who have been given alcohol can be the worst. A row between contestants Paul and Trish took place during the live streaming hours, was concealed from the live stream, and we can almost understand why – the highlights looked edgy, and we worried that it might tip over the edge as happened in previous years.

To give credit where it's due, ITV have tried to do something different with their evictions. The crowd was under instruction not to boo contestants as they went into the studio, and there was an effort to dampen jeering later in the series. It wasn't terribly successful, the EBU did better in Vienna.

Big Brother Why did the llama go into the Big Brother garden?

Other "backdoor" removals were inventive, a Hallowe'en eviction put a contestant in a coffin, two others were left in jail, and one was taken out during a "letters from home" segment. For this column, none of these worked – the optics of asking a contestant to step out of her wheelchair and into a coffin were horrible. To hear another contestant – already teary from her own letter – announce "your time is up, you have been evicted" felt like a cowardly copout from the producers.

"Due to recent events, we have come to the inescapable conclusion that Big Brother does not, in fact, see it all."

The contestants were required to make their social media accounts private during their time in the series. After emerging from the studio, one contender unlocked their account. It emerged that they had made some really pungent posts (racist, homophobic, ableist). These were about ten years ago, and there was a short-lived outrage in the media, confected by the usual suspects.

Endemol said that they'd trawled through social media, and evidently missed this really old guff. If they had found it, could Endemol have concluded this is too much to be in the contest? Absolutely. After all, ITV would never knowingly hire anyone with a history of racist behaviour for their reality shows. Has the contestant changed since then? Absolutely; we all change over the course of our lives, and many of us have pasts we'd rather forget. It's only a microscopic minority who believe that sins are irredeemable, and who lack the generosity and grace to permit redemption.

There was a romance story. Of course there was a romance story, almost ripped from the pages of Heartstopper. Jordan fancied Henry, but Matty fancied Jordan. Could anyone's head be turned? Who will Jordan choose? Would Henry want to share space with Matty and complete the love triangle? The original feelings came from the contestants, they were authentic; once it became clear the viewers were interested in the romance, it crowded out a lot of other character development from the show. All members of the love angle survived to the final week, with lynchpin Jordan voted the winner.

Big Brother The final five: Henry, Noki, Yinrun, Olivia, and Jordan.

Although the tone of most episodes was upbeat, Big Brother is always a negative show. Contestants are voting each other out, there's no "nominate to remain". Viewers are asked to vote for the person they want to evict, not the person they want to save; we reckon this is inauthentic, people cheer for their favourite contestant far more than they jeer against any other.

Worse, racists and transphobes and other assorted bigots are allowed the power to destroy, not to build. And they're given the power to knock people down without paying any money, from behind the anonymity of the app, and without facing any consequences. This is a decision ITV has made, a decision this column finds regrettable, and a decision ITV might care to reconsider. ITV claims to stand against racism in all its forms.

All things considered, this was a curate's egg of a series: parts were exciting, parts were as dull as dishwater. This column is old and jaded enough to remember Big Brother from first time around. We find little novelty in "clean up the mess made by spoiled producers", electric shock underwear is a tiresome gimmick, fake evictions are almost to be expected. Romance will be hyped to high heaven, even when it's a one-sided crush. The day-to-day minutiae, the little interactions as people prepare for the day or wind down away from the tasks, that is the most interesting, and the first to be chopped from the edit.

Big Brother Blinking and dazed, Jordan emerged to a cheering crowd.

ITV had a vision of how they wanted this series to be, and while they didn't achieve it, we could see and appreciate what they were aiming for. This year's Big Brother was an entertainment series – at six weeks it didn't outstay its welcome, there wasn't too much mean-spirited grousing. This bonhomie may have helped some of the more unpleasant contestants conceal their nature, but the truth will find its way out eventually.

Do we regret watching half of the series? No. Will we watch future years? Also no; it became a chore from time to time, the innovations weren't sufficiently novel, and we have other shows to watch. There's an audience for Big Brother, and it doesn't include this column. We wish the producers well in the forthcoming Celebrity and probable Civilian series.

In other news

Roses d'or Nominations for the EBU Television Contest are out. What are we rooting for?

  • Studio Entertainment – I Can See Your Voice 10, The Wheel (BBC), Raid the Cage Mexico, RuPaul's Drag Race (BBC), The 1% Club (ITV), plus Late Night Lycett
  • Competition Reality – Bestemming X (Destination X, coming soon to BBC1), Stars on Mars (Fox in Australia), Tempting Fortune, The Devil's Lot So Help Me Cod! (Corus in Canada), The Piano, Wedding Fighters (Korea)
  • Children and Youth – Dome 16 (Tordenfilm NRK), and four others
  • Comedy Entertainment – Taskmaster series 15, and five others

RTS Craft and Design Awards, we've got quite a few to cheer.

  • Costume Design – Non-scripted – Shereen Shimmin, Abbie Williams, Jackie Young & Jonathan Skinner Saturday Night Takeaway; Plunge Creations / Bandicoot Scotland The Masked Singer; Zaldy & Eve Collins RuPaul's Drag Race
  • Lighting for Multicamera – Tim Routledge, James Scott & Morgan Evans Eurovision Song Contest; James Tinsley The Traitors [and one other]
  • Make Up Design – Non-scripted – Nicola Coleman Fantasy Football League; David Petruschin, Julie Cooper & Sam Regan RuPaul's Drag Race; Lisa Armstrong & Lisa Davey Strictly Come Dancing
  • Multicamera Work – Camera Team Eurovision Song Contest 2023 [and two others]
  • Production Design – Non-scripted – Catherine Land & Caroline Berry-Reid Strictly Come Dancing; Mathieu Weekes / Bizibot Productions The Traitors [and one other]
  • Production Management – Production Management Team Eurovision Song Contest 2023 [and two others]

Winners to be named next month.

Popmaster Ken Bruce's back!

Sixteen to the top More4 has ordered another set of Popmaster episodes – 16 in total, including a couple of celebrity editions. We'll be interested to see if they address some of the problems from the pilot run in the summer.

Thirty to the finish BBC1 has teed up another 30 episodes of The Finish Line, the Sarah Greene and Roman Kemp name-that-thing quiz.

Two daily winners?! Richard Osman declared joint winners on Friday's House of Games (3). The noise you may have heard was the House of Games Research Unit having to re-program the Osman-o-tron.

The Finish Line Six more weeks with Sarah and Roman.

Quizzy Mondays

BBC Brain has reached the semi-final stage, where the heat winners and high-scoring losers come back for more quizzing. Winner goes through to the final, losers can come back another year, and the host will get Hard Stares from Channel 5 viewers for revealing the winner of World's Strongest Man before it's televised over Christmas.

Halfway through the first semi-final, things looked like the start of an England bowler's over: 4-4-6-6. Colin Kidd moves four points clear in the next round, two on his own and two bonuses. He clinches the win with the short-lived cheese Lymeswold, with the final margin of six points in a staccato game where there was only one run of three right answers.

Dan Adler took the second semi-final in the second round – two of his own questions, two bonuses as others got questions wrong. Jude Cole closed to within a point, helped by Radio 2's occasional soap opera Waggoner's Walk. (Can we imagine Jeremy Vine giving up fifteen minutes to fictionalised gabbling? How will we notice the difference!)

Dan Adler comes back with a couple more bonuses, only to blob on the final round, and see Dave Cowan get Five In A Row And A Bonus Mark. Dave will win if he gets a bonus on the final question. Jude will tie if she gets the bonus – and that she does! It's a three-way tie! In all the years of listening to BBC Brain, we've never heard a three-way tie.

The question is about the original name of the Commonwealth Games, Wembley Stadium, and BBC World Service; Dan buzzes in to say "Empire" and wins.

(For the record, BBC Brain used to use bonus points as the first tie-break – Dan and Dave had four, Jude three. A one-shot buzzer question would still have been needed.)

Tom Flowerdew took Mastermind on a pass countback, beating Paul Halliwell by the one pass. Tom took Isaac Newton, Paul swotted up on Billy Bragg, and none of the contestants got a good set of general knowledge questions. Caryn Ellis took the second week, having answered on Exmoor National Park. A very strong general knowledge performance from Anne McElhinney, knocking 13 points; her gap on general knowledge was just too big.

We're into the Final Chance round of Only Connect, teams with one win and one loss try to come back. Suncatchers beat Antiphons, thanks to knowledge of groups with one number one single in a calendar year (Robin Beck 1988, Reg Snipton 1951, The Beatles 2023) and a lovely question about Bobby, Alan, and Lucille Ball. Suncatchers confirmed the size of their win in the Missing Vowels win.

Jude Law proved to be the difference on Only Connect. The Stitchers – already winners of the show's Best Dressed award – were able to remember the common link between four films on their wall. That enabled them to complete it, while the Roadies were stymied by their wall. Proved to be the only gap between the teams, with "definitions of track and field" and films silent for many minutes both falling to the players.

The elimination round on University Challenge is well under way: eighteen teams enter, eight survive. Trinity Cambridge punched their ticket to the group phase, accounting for Warwick by 205-185 in one of the all-time classic games. Trinity were cruising, 90 ahead, and crushing starters for fun and profit. Then Warwick picked up two from three, another two from three, and converted some bonuses. The comeback was on, and Warwick could have drawn level if they'd got "caramel" as the stages of cooking sugar – but "caramelisation" was wrong, and the starter went to Trinity. By such small margins are champions made and lost.

Open were not troubled in their win over UEA, winning 265-130. Open were so eager to score that they interrupted all three of the second bonus set. Open are astounding on the buzzers, know a lot, and dashingly quick on the bonuses. They'll be a danger to any team.

Quiz Digest

  • Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote a Helicopter String Quartet. It's performed by two violins, a viola, and a 'cello, all while flying in choppers. The music does not indicate if anyone gets a good zap, nor where the little pink clue is. (Paul Sinha's Perfect Pub Quiz)
  • The ampersand sign is an amalgamation of the letters E & T. They are the Latin for "and", as even Brutus knows (BBC Brain)
  • Sharks are older than the North Star. Polaris was created about 70 million years ago; sharks evolved approximately 450 million years ago. Even a baby shark is older than Cliff Richard.
  • The music from Super Mario Land was recognised by the Library of Congress as being of immense cultural importance. Other classics in the archive include Madonna's "Like a virgin", "Sweet dreams" by The Eurythmics, and Queen Latifah's album All Hail the Queen. (BBC Brain)

It's back! Autumn wouldn't be autumn without The Weakest Link (BBC1, Sat) and Celebrity Mastermind (BBC1, Fri). There's a new series of Deal or No Deal, Stephen Mulhern invites us into his temple (ITV, weekdays). We expect to review Mulhern's show before the end of the year.

The Finish Line Whoever he is.

Last in the series of Taskmaster (C4, Thu), and Songs of Praise has a young choristers contest (BBC1, Sun). Sorry, I Didn't Know gets a new series (ITV, Sun), because every month is Black History Month.

The ITV network hopes to sell lots of adverts around I'm a Celebrity (from Sun, also VM1), it would be such a shame if nobody watched. There's a special edition of The Masked Singer featuring Survivor host Joel Dommett (ITV, Sun); can it build on last year's 4.25 million viewers? ITVBe offers Love Island Down Under (weeknights).

Pictures: Initial, BBC, Potato and Nice One

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