Kent Blackwelder Takes Us Behind the Scenes for the First Few Days of 'Big Brother'by Kent Blackwelder -- 07/10/2002
It's June 25, 2001, and I'm looking at a gold key lying on my kitchen table. My wife is screaming and my kids are grinning. The white oval attached to the key says, "Welcome to Big Brother 2 Houseguest Kent." (You can see my daughter holding the key in the picture above.) It's at that exact moment where my life was inexorably altered. I was told that I had two hours to complete packing and we were off to Los Angeles. Say goodbye to the wife and kids, you may not see them for three months. I was told that I could spend some time with my wife before I left… wink… wink. I told them YES we would need three minutes alone.
With video camera rolling, I said goodbye to home and family. I boarded the flight to L.A. and knew I was in for some serious stress and excitement. We arrived at the Universal Sheraton and I was introduced to a production assistant and ushered quickly into a room. I was assigned "handlers," folks who would be with me 24/7 until I entered the BB House. The televisions had been removed from all of the rooms of the houseguests so we could not see any of the promos CBS was running featuring us. Great pains were taken to make sure I saw none of the others and they didn't see me. Instead of a TV, each room had an Apple Mac for watching DVDs. I was told that I could order any movies I would like to see from the list I was given. I was then told we would enter the house on July 1st, five days away.
I was never unescorted. I was given a schedule of when I could go to the pool, restaurant, and weight room. All of the handlers used radios and headsets to make sure no two houseguests ended up in the same place at the same time. The producers were even afraid of allowing us to go anywhere like Universal Studios or Disney because the promos with our pictures on them were being aired and they were afraid we'd be recognized. So we sat… and sat… and sat. We were then delivered a pretty thick document entitled "House Rules for Big Brother 2." We were told to read and understand all of the rules in that book.
One day we were told to expect a visitor at a certain time. There he was at my door. Arnold Shapiro arrived with Allison Grodner and another production assistant. They congratulated me on becoming a houseguest and got down pretty quickly to explaining the rules of what would occur as I entered the house and during my stay there. He answered all of my questions and was very polite. He then put slips of paper with numbers on them in a cap and asked me to pull three out. I pulled out a 9, a 6, and another 9. He would not tell me what that meant, but I later learned that was how they decided who would go into the house with the first, second or third group. The lower the number, the sooner you went in. My high numbers ensured I'd be one of the last to enter the house, and enjoy the creature comfort of a sleeping bag on the floor.
Arnold Shapiro did not fool around on a couple of points. I was to NEVER play games with the producers nor damage any of the recording equipment used to track our days and nights. He said I could be myself, do anything I wanted while in the house, but under no circumstances was I to "mess with the producers." He said that is one thing that would not work and would get me kicked out of the house. He seemed overly concerned that someone would violate rules by trying to trick those running the show. He then outlined how the insertion of the houseguests would be accomplished. He told of us being shuttled to the lot in limos one at a time, of waiting in dressing rooms until everything was set up and everyone was ready, then actually going onto the "stage."
We all went over the actual BB2 rulebook (which I still have and got Arnold and Allison to sign) which is quite specific about just about every aspect of living in the house. It tells of the chores that must be done on a regular basis: the windows must be kept clean so the cameras aren't obstructed, the shades must be pulled down for the live show, the yard must be watered, the entry card must be used to enter the storage room, no one can sleep in the living room area, only the bedrooms, etc. It also detailed what would occur if an intruder were to break into the compound and rules relating to the use of our microphones.
He explained that I was about to embark on an amazing time in my life that very few people would ever get to experience. He wished me the very best of luck and said he'd see me on the day of our entry into the house.
And then I sat… and sat… and sat. I was bored out of my mind but broke up some of the boredom lying by the pool, using the weight room, and watching movies. My dayside handler mentioned that I could take a Bible in with me if I liked (religious books being the only reading material allowed) and he presented me with a book on Buddha that he had gotten from one of the maids. I laughed and said I didn't think they'd let me keep it but he reminded me that it was religious material so I put it in my suitcase. I was glad to have it once I was in the house.
Then the day arrived, July 1st. I was the fourth houseguest to be taken to the CBS Studio Lot. I was taken with my handler by limousine. I was taken onto the lot and we pulled up to a row of trailers with a lot of people standing around gawking at the next victim to be inserted into the little waiting rooms. I got out of the car, Arnold met me, and I shook hands with what seemed like 100 people before I was ushered into a tiny trailer room with my name on the door. A sign inside said "Welcome Kent" and there was a basket of snacks and cooler of drinks. I was told not to leave the room for any reason until I was called. I was told the security people would be in shortly to check my luggage and frisk me for contraband.
And then I sat… and sat… and sat. Then the door opened and in walked Ed, the security guy. He was huge – filled up almost all the room – and proceeded to search me and my luggage. He confiscated the wine I brought from the hotel, my lighter fluid (Fire Marshall orders) and a bag of chips. He frisked me and declared me clean. I was glad to hear it. Then in came the casting director Jacqui Pittman to wish me luck and congratulate me. Then in came a production assistant to take my lunch order; it appeared it was going to take a long time to get into the house. My handler and I sat in this little 8 x 4 foot space for approximately four hours. We were given last-minute instructions on how this would work, staging, etc. and a makeup lady came in to try to make me look unlike a tired, old 46-year-old. It didn't work.
Then, the moment of truth. Four people, including the stage director, knocked on the door, opened it and said "Let's go." We then walked a gauntlet of about another 100 folks and my handler fell away, said goodbye, and I was on my own. The stage director and I walked through security and a maze of walls and came out at the edge of the lights illuminating the front of the Big Brother House. I had nothing with me but my green canvas BB2 bag with my name on it. I was told that the men would enter into the front of the house area from this side and the women would enter from the other side. We would walk single file and find a spot to stand on the steps in front of the house and remain silent but SMILE.
I was placed behind a guy with the name Mike on his bag. He was all smiles and seemed real friendly. We were told we could not speak with each other. And there we stood while, slowly, the others were ushered into the offstage area to stand with us. I glanced around and saw this balding guy standing behind me with a big grin on his face and the name Bunky on his bag. What the hell kind of name is Bunky?, I thought.
We were told by the stage director that we should find a spot on the steps and once there, stay in that spot, do not move. We were all there fidgeting and grinning for over 30 minutes when the music started and we were told to "GO"… I followed this Mike guy and walked to the front of the house and into the spotlight that would shine on me for the next seven weeks. Just offstage you could see all of the curiosity seekers standing in the shadows and watching quietly. I was told later they were all of the production folks who would be working on the show. Someone yelled CUT and still photographers came in and posed us for publicity pictures but we were told to return to the spot we were in before the pictures were taken. Okay, back in our spots, everyone high-fiving, grinning, and waving, and then, Julie Chen came over the PA and said for the first time "Hello Houseguests." She started, stopped, then started again several times. CBS wanted to make sure all of the cues, video, and audio fell into place correctly and then we got to the part where we actually enter the house.
We were told by Julie that we'd be entering the house in three groups of four and I stood there while everyone's name was called and I realized that I was gonna be one of the last to enter. Many folks have asked me why I didn't run in and try to grab one of the beds instead of letting the gals have them. I just figured all of the really good beds were already taken and wasn't comfortable knocking a lady out of the way to grab one of the last ones. I was quite disappointed to see the sleeping bag but figured things would change quite quickly and the most I would have to sleep on the floor would be one week until someone was evicted.
So, we're now in the house and everyone is running around looking at stuff, yelling, hugging, and generally acting like little kids in a candy store. Then, Julie comes over the PA and starts telling us about things in the house, kinda describing rooms and the like. Then we all notice the big lump under purple velvet on the basketball court in the yard and know that it's an automobile. And we were all abuzz with adrenaline and excitement as we sat down in the living room as each proceeded to tell the group about ourselves.
We all understood that we would not be "live" or "on air" until July 5th. That was the understood premiere date. So, we knew that everything that happened for the next four days was simply video fodder for the kick-off show. During that period, we all got familiarized with the house, the diary room procedures, and supply room etiquette; the producers came over the PA a lot with various updates on competitions, live times and dates, chore assignments, and general procedures. Julie Chen only arrived on the lot during the live shows and otherwise we heard nothing from her. No show was aired entirely live or entirely taped. There were always various taped segments within the one-hour live period where we were all sitting around the living room or in the yard for the HOH competition. We were always reminded to assume during the live show that we could be on the air at anytime so we had to watch ourselves and our language.
When there were preparations for competitions either in the house or in the yard, we were locked down. We would be locked up in a bedroom while they set up an event or competition in the house or we were locked outside with the shades pulled down. It would sometimes take over an hour to get everything in place so what did we do? We sat… and sat… and sat.
I won a car, got accused of snoring, got accused of trying to set up an alliance against the women, got accused of hating the gay guy, and won Mike's HOH room through default so he could snuggle with Chilltown, all before America ever saw us. The only thing I got accused of that was accurate was, okay, I snore a bit. But, hey, thanks to my snoring, I practically lived in the HOH room in luxurious privacy except for Bunky sleeping on the floor. And oh, by the way, he snores too.
We did tons of stuff before the premiere show, so we all thought it would be real successful since there was plenty of drama and high jinx. The producers provided us booze and party favors for the 4th of July so we would all be in great spirits for our first live show. And we were, we were sky high, off and running.
So the next batch of BB characters will enter the house on July 6th but we won't see them live until July 10th. But don't worry, they'll be plenty of action for that premiere show, I can assure you.
There will be T. There will be A. There will be lots of laughing, crying, yelling, hugging, and scheming.
And then when all of the hoopla dies down. They will sit… and sit… and sit. And we'll watch… and watch… and watch.
Kent Blackwelder was a Houseguest on CBS's Big Brother 2. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his family and works with the Humane Society of America through his website, www.kentblackwelder.com
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