by Susan Schechter and David Bloomberg
A reader recently asked about how the U.S. Big Brother compared to other versions. Using the British version as a starting point, we take a look at the differences to explain what has changed and how that has affected the game and strategies so far.
Recently, RealityNewsOnline received an e-mail from an Australian reader who asked about the differences in the Big Brother formats between the U.S. and everybody else:
Hi, first of all congrats on the website, it's one of the finest I have seen in a long time. Big Brother Australia is in it's last week here and having checked out BB USA I can't help feel confused. BB Aus is modeled on the Dutch and English BB's but it looks to me that BB USA has its unique set of rules than any other BBs. Would you explain the nomination rules? I have never seen this before and I can't believe that you can talk and collude the nomination process. There was a guy in England who was found to have written names on a piece of paper and he got thrown out and we nearly had a girl here thrown out for (jokingly) offering to bet chocolate for name of the next nominees. … Once again your site is wicked.
First, thanks for the compliments! Getting to your question, Reality News Online is lucky enough to have Susan Schechter on board to help answer this question. As noted in her bio line at the end of the article, Susan covers the UK and other Commonwealth countries for her day job, and so is familiar with the rules – and plots and schemes – of the different Big Brother varieties.
“Two households both alike in dignity…”, Susan can still remember having to memorize that quote from Shakespeare in 9th grade. And as friends tell her what is happening round for round in the Big Brother household in London, she can’t help but wonder which of the houses can earn the title of more dignified.
Yes, the U.S. version of Big Brother definitely has a different set of rules than the European versions. As you have probably gathered, it has a different set of rules even from last year’s U.S. version. Many of these rules were changed in the hopes of getting respectable ratings – if not respectable contestants. Unlike in the U.K., BB in the states was not a smash success.
The contestant mentioned in the question is "Nasty" Nick Bateman. He was booted out of the UK BB1 house and became a minor celebrity, sort of like Kato Kaelin. He was all over the news for a couple of months (and even got his own poster – shown at left), seen with the model that is the flavor of the month, etc. His banishment was quite tame compared to Justin’s. It seems safe to surmise that part of the U.S. rules include: "Do not urinate on windows, or other places outside the bathroom," and "Putting a knife to another houseguest's throat is not cool."
Obviously, the U.S. version does not have the restriction on discussing votes. Indeed, the U.S. version of BB has two alliances going on , the “Chill Town” (or “Brat Pack”) alliance of Will, Shannon, and Mike, and the “Real People” alliance of the remaining players. There are a couple of players in the Real People alliance who are on the fence, but that is the way it is. Wait a moment. Alliances? Is this BB or Survivor?
Yes, Susan says she is “gobsmacked” about the Alliances going on here. (David is figuring that must be a bad thing, but he’s not entirely sure.) She doesn’t think they have a place on the show as of yet, not in the first month anyway. Imagine staying in a house where every movement you see is photographed on camera, and even the bathroom gives you no privacy. Imagine feeling like every move you make might be your last. Autumn seems to be falling apart from the pressure, and frankly, Susan says if she were in the house she would be developing her first ulcer.
It seems amazing that the contestants in the U.S. version are discussing among themselves who they would vote out. To a non-U.S. viewer, this is totally wrong; indeed, it is no doubt is adding to the paranoia in the house. If CBS wanted controversy, well now they have it. Basically, the contestants compete to be Head of Household (HoH) each week – kind of like a Survivor immunity challenge, but without the bug-eating (well, so far). The HoH one week cannot compete for HoH the following week, so it always changes (no Colby-like domination of challenges here). That HoH has the task that was formerly held by all of the contestants (and still is in other versions) – he or she must nominate the two who will face an eviction vote. This decision is totally in the HoH’s hands, though he or she is free to discuss it with any and all of the other houseguests (as Krista did before ignoring the majority of them and nominating Kent and Autumn). This allows for some interesting strategies. For example, Mike thought he’s outsmart Nicole and put her up for nomination against Sheryl, the most popular contestant. Problem is that the other houseguests rejected this scheme and he ended up being responsible for Sheryl’s ouster!
By contrast, the British version has stuck to the rules that were also used by the U.S. BB from last season – they nominate two of their own, and you, the viewing audience, pick the one you want out. CBS, on the other hand, either still recalling the Britany/Chicken George fiasco, or realizing after the last presidential election that voting has, um, problems (you can draw your own parallel here), feels the new nomination process is better. Susan says she doesn’t think so – alliances do not belong here in this house this early.
Let’s consider how the two recent nominations would have gone if the HoH didn’t exist. Nicole might have ended up being nominated by the other houseguests, but we can’t really say who else would have been. Maybe Autumn or Kent (Will and Mike and Shannon weren’t quite so annoying yet at the time for the first nominations). In all likelihood, Nicole would have been voted off because, while she could use strategy to help her convince the other contestants, viewers aren’t at all concerned about that aspect when they vote. Now, looking at the next set of nominations, we can say with virtual certainty that Will and Shannon would have been nominated by their peers. And Will would almost certainly have been given the boot by viewers. But instead of losing Nicole and Will, we lost Sheryl and will lose either Autumn or Kent. Quite a difference.
The British BB is winding down. According to the Ananova web site, voting for the final houseguests will be different from last season’s. Say it’s not true, Channel Four! According to Ananova, viewers will begin to vote for the Big Brother winner from Friday July 20. Apparently, the folks at Channel Four are making arrangements for the final week’s shows, which will end with two hour-long specials.
After Friday’s eviction of either Helen or Paul, viewers can start voting for their favorites to win from the remaining houseguests. And a spokesman for the show revealed today that the person with the least votes will be evicted on Thursday, July 26, although the houseguests do not know that yet. Voting will continue until the following day, which I am assuming is Saturday, when the winner is announced.
The British BB may be on to something, They spiced up their show this season by having a new houseguest brought into the show after Penny, the first casualty, got booted off. They have also brought in a little white dog, which showed that even though he is the same breed he certainly was not related to this years Westminster Dog Show winner. Susan is waiting for an animal to be thrown into the US BB house. But seeing who they have in there, it may not be a good thing. Animal rights groups are already protesting against Mike Skupin and the pig-killing episode from Survivor 2.
The differences extend past the rules. The BB house in London does not have a hot tub or a big back yard. The houseguests there are therefore closer together and can really get on each other’s nerves (of course, in the U.S. they get on each other’s nerves, too, but they at least have more recreational space). Of course, the TV standards in the UK and elsewhere are different than they are in the U.S. Bubble, a British contestant, had to frequently switch hats to avoid endorsing one particular brand over another; meanwhile, in the U.S. commercial endorsements have become more integrated into reality TV. Also, some of the things being censored in the U.S. (most notably some nudity) would be shown elsewhere. Damn our luck!
We won’t say which BB version is better – that would be fruitless. It’s like comparing an automatic car to a manual one, or a Mac to a PC. Both versions of the show do what they are supposed to do, namely provide entertainment. And they make the viewer appreciate their own houses. At the end of a 12-hour work day, isn’t that the important thing?
Susan Schechter works for a multinational Financial Markets/News company as a Research Analyst/Biographer covering the UK, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. David Bloomberg is the Editor of RealityNewsOnline.