01 September, 2007

... and the Winner is...

The bookies had the twins down as favourites to win, but last night's result for Brian Belo on Big Brother was a really important moment for the show. While the whole Shilpa Shetty incident on the celebrity edition this year led to both an examination of casual racism on TV and the first win for a non-white contestant in the series, Brian won through by just being a nice guy. Painfully, painfully thick, but a nice guy whose response to the question 'what will you do with the money was 'give it to my mum' because he knew she'd look after it.
Davina announces Brian Belo as winner, BB9

Reality TV gets a hard time from elitists who think it's low-brow entertainment. It can be, but only if that's how you choose to view it. Ever since it first started, I've watched it as a psychological experiment - even when the producers had clearly given up on the notion of this being anything remotely educational. The situation is as fake as some of the contestants, but you can't live through a character all that time and not be exposed. With one exception, the winner of BB tends to be the simplest, most straight-forward, slightly dim player. Only one woman has won the series (not counting celebrity editions), and Nadia's win was mainly because she was by the most entertaining - and the best headline - even if the producers bent the rules by not evicting her after her part in the infamous Fight Night where she struck another housemate and provoked the carnage that ensued.

This year, the subtle psychology returned with nominations often being open to just a few players and the game largely involving a love-hate Stockholm-syndrome-dependent relationship between the faceless Big Brother and the contestants. There have been arguments, fall-outs and tantrums, but generally the house has managed to avoid the factionalising that made BB8 so difficult (where the house unconsciously divided into white and non-white teams). Although there were a few 'freaks' in the mix, they've managed to keep it entertaining by getting interesting-but-normal people and keeping them entertained with the changing of rules and making them more involved in the way house dynamics play out (for example, putting twins in and then allowing them to choose whether to be counted as individuals or two-as-one player, or creating temporary privileged teams who choose which other contestants receive perks).

One of the most interesting twists was when they asked three of the housemates to choose one of the others to receive 'the prize-fund' of £100,000. So early in the game, none of them knew if this was the prize fund or an additional prize, and the reaction of newcomer Liam McGough at being selected to receive the prize was heartwarming. It mixed things up a bit, because some of the housemates might have decided to quit if the ultimate prize had already been won, but more importantly, Liam was your perfect final winner - good-looking, blokey but sweet and good-natured. Confident enough to stand up to a house bully and not so bright as to alienate the majority of voters. But the fact that he'd already won the prize meant that he was effectively removed from the pool of suitable winners, leaving the floor open for the twins or Brian to scoop the jackpot at the end.

Now, I got all this despite not actually watching an entire edition of the show this year. I used to be an absolute addict, and after BB2 I even considered entering, but bottled out (and later found out that professional writers were barred from entering). I've caught the odd half-edition, and my flatmate has updated me on the gossip, and I found the final last night to be truly awe-inspiring at the sportsmanship and general good nature of the contestants, genuinely happy at the results and al in support of the overwhelmed Brian. And this is why I get a bit defensive of the show when people who don't even watch it attack it for being moronic. Big Brother works on so many different levels that it can attract people from all walks of life to take part and has a relevance to today's TV audiences that shouldn't be under-estimated by anyone in the industry.

Last night, when Davina asked Brian why he entered the contest, Brian blurted 'what other show is there? It's the best thing on TV!' It speaks to people with low intelligence who like the gossip and bitching, to people who like the gameplay and the competitive angle ('what's her gameplan?' 'Ooh, he's blown it now, the girls won't vote for him') and also people who like to examine the psychological reactions to the players under pressure. The producers make mistakes and we get to judge them on it. In many ways, it's one of the most important TV shows on at the moment, simply because it's a great leveller. You might be smart, you might be talented, but if you're not coming across as genuine, the public won't like you.

I'm glad I didn't go into the house for BB3. That's when it changed and became more of a scramble for celebrity. It also became the point where the housemates were teased, abused and denied the luxuries that had been available to previous contestants, which also made it the most captivating as one by one they cracked up. I know I wouldn't have been able to cope with Jade, who apart from being painfully stupid, was also a nasty, vicious bully - something that most of the viewers forgot when she won sympathy after her affections were spurned by PJ after a drunken fumble one night. I also know that the very nature of the nomination and eviction process would have left me traumatised. The rejection's the cruellest thing in that show, and you have to be one of two types of people to survive it - either hard as nails, or so bloody lovely that you don't get nominated.

I know I'm neither. I'm happier being an armchair psychologist, wincing and gasping at the antics the real housemates put themselves through.

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