The latest series of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5 performed so well they extended it by 5 days. I doubt anyone would have betted on that happening!
When the series was announced, there was the usual comments about how the people going in were not celebrities. They can scrape the barrel sometimes, but at the end of the day celebrities who are still in the limelight have more to lose than gain from going on reality TV. It’s going to be has-beens, wannabes and never-weres. Also, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the bigger the star the better the housemate. Jackie Stallone is one of the most memorable CBB housemates of them all, and her main claim to fame is being Sylvester Stallone’s mother, and she was only picked to go in the house because she was Brigitte Nielson’s ex-mother-in-law.
I think this series showed an example of this. Evander Holyfield has more of a claim to fame than most of the contestants, being the World Heavyweight Champion in boxing 4 times, but as a housemate he was one of the most forgettable. He didn’t really do very much, and a lot of what he did wasn’t appealing. He made comments that he viewed being gay as something which should be “cured”, and he mentioned punching his horse. Neither of these incidents made him come across well. The only ‘fun’ moment he had was doing some dad dancing to ‘Men In Black’. And that’s about it for his time on the show. You can see why he didn’t get many votes to save him and he ended up as the first evictee. He also didn’t turn up on the final night. It looks increasingly like he didn’t know what sort of show it was or what he was letting himself in for.
In contrast, Jasmine Waltz had the most tenuous claim to fame of the cast, which was she may or may not have fought with Lindsay Lohan once. OK, Jasmine is also an actress and model, but she’s hardly well known. But she proved to be a great housemate, getting drunk on launch night, providing many of the raunchy scenes throughout the series, and being part of its major storyline, that being a love triangle.
Time to refer to TV Tropes yet again. Many love triangles follow a similar formula to Betty and Veronica, a love triangle in Archie comics. In a nutshell, it’s when someone is torn between two love interests, one sweet and nice but dull (the Betty) and one sexy and adventurous but risky (the Veronica). It’s not often a glamour model is going to be the Betty, but Jasmine could only ever be the Veronica. As well as that, the glamour model in question, Casey Batchelor, was quite different from most. She seemed much more like a girl-next-door type. In a task, she became “Racy Casey” playing up to the stereotype of glamour models as gold digging bimbos, which was a big contrast to her actual friendly and down-to-earth personality.
But who was the man they both wanted? Lee Ryan from Blue of all people! OK, Lee Ryan’s not unattractive. He’s a handsome lad, he has a good singing voice and he likes animals which is always a plus in my book, but he’s hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer, and the way he behaved in the house must have put a lot of people off him. He spent a lot of time kissing and cuddling up to Casey, then would say to others she was getting too clingy. Then he flirted with Jasmine, and told both women he would consider a relationship with them when they bought the subject up. When he and Casey were evicted together in the secret room he said that Jasmine was definitely the one he wanted. Then after Jasmine was evicted Casey went back to him, and he let her. Lee seems very immature for a 30-year-old man, and doesn’t take responsibility for what he does. He mentioned at one time going into a club meeting 5 different girls on a Saturday night, having sex with one of them for each day of the week, then the following Saturday all the girls met and found out. The problem with Lee I think is that he wants to have his cake and eat it. He wanted to be with Casey, he wanted to be with Jasmine, he wanted to the player and he wanted to be seen as a nice guy, all at once. But his preoccupation with how he looked to the viewing public above how he was actually behaving just made the viewing public think he was a bit of a bellend.
Casey was seen sympathetically to begin with, as she seemed to have genuinely fallen for Lee, and the way he had messed her about made many viewers want to root for her… however, she kind of ruined it by running right back to him soon after Jasmine had gone. She had seen what he was like, and went running back to him anyway. While Casey didn’t become anything close to a hate figure for this, it lost her some popularity. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”.
As has been the case for a while, many of the tasks were rehashes of ones that have come before. There was a fake eviction where they went into a secret room to spy on their other housemates, which has been done so many times nobody bats an eyelid anymore. I did think this one might have been a last minute decision, like the producers realised they had a good cast that were working well together, and didn’t want to lose anyone this early. Anyway, unlike the other fake double evictions, where usually the two who go into the secret room are both allies, this series it was Lee and Casey at a time when they had fallen out because Lee had become interested in Jasmine. The best thing about the twist this time was the awkwardness of locking a couple who had just broken up together in a small room for a few days.
The other key twist which played a part in the love triangle storyline was the For Who The Bell Tolls task, a modified version of BB11’s Ignore The Obvious task/BB14’s Remote Control task. For this incarnation of the task, a grandfather clock “stopped time” meaning the housemates had to freeze in their positions. Then people would come out of the clock case and they’d have to ignore them. It was used very well, with the rest of Blue coming through singing ‘One Love’ and trying to get Lee to sing along. They then bought Jasmine back, where she confronted Casey and Lee on how they had behaved since she was evicted, which was ace. She kissed both of them as she left.
The next day of the task Casey’s mum came through the clock case to tell Casey to keep away from Lee. She told Casey what he had been doing. “He’s mugged you off, darling”. Finally, there was a surprise eviction with “time stopping” and the show’s presenter Emma Willis coming through the clock case to announce that Lee had been evicted, and he was taken back with her through the clock case. That must have been quite surreal for the housemates, that it was a surprise eviction, they had to freeze until Lee was gone and then carry on as normal.
The love triangle storyline in this series was a good one, and they managed to use the twists effectively, and I think it helped that all three participants had enough flaws and enough flashes of likeability to make viewers be interested in them. It’s a good thing that storyline worked so well, as the other showmance in the series was a complete non-starter.
Two of the contestants were from scripted reality TV shows. Ollie Locke from Made In Chelsea and Sam Faiers from The Only Way Is Essex. Ollie claimed he fancied Sam, which would have allowed for the show to have a narrative of a reality TV show crossover love story. However, they couldn’t do that because nothing really happened. Sam clearly wasn’t interested. But they couldn’t even get a “friendzoned” storyline out of it, because Ollie didn’t seem all that interested in Sam either. If he had any feelings for her, he didn’t show it, either eagerness to be with her or sorrow that he couldn’t. The only time anything happened was when it had been manufactured as part of tasks. Another task they had was dedicated to them both sitting on the fence, and challenged to have an opinion on something. Ollie seemed more upset about having to do that than Sam probably not fancying him.
Ollie was a pleasant, posh camp prettyboy, and Sam, well what can we say about Sam? She got barely any screentime throughout the whole series, and when we did see her she showed very little personality, if any. If Ollie was so wet he was practically all water, Sam was about as visible as air. Now in fairness, this might not have been entirely Sam’s fault. It was revealed that Sam had been very ill for most of the series run so couldn’t take part in some tasks and was edited out of a lot of the scenes. She had to go to hospital soon after the series had ended. But this empty storyline was the weakest one of this series.
[Edit: On the 20th of February it was announced that Sam had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is a very serious illness. So it was unfair for me to be snarky about her not doing much in this series, and I wish her well in getting her condition under control.]
By far the best housemate of the series was Luisa Zissman. She was the runner-up in last year’s series of The Apprentice, where she mainly had a role like a bitchy popular girl straight out of Mean Girls, and she took that even further in the CBB house. Many housemates will say they tell it like it is and they aren’t bothered whether people like them or not, but Luisa is one of the few who seems to mean it. She was also very opinionated, arguing with a lot of the housemates. I personally found a lot of Luisa’s observations spot on, like when she took the mickey out of Ollie after he did a big melodramatic speech after getting nominated, Luisa made up a song about it and told Ollie she thought he was acting like a politician addressing the public and it was an attempt to get votes to win.
A notable Luisa argument was with N-Dubz rapper Dappy regarding his gender double standards. That old classic, “a man sleeping around is a stud, a woman sleeping around is a slag”. Dappy kept following her around arguing with her for hours and ranted about his GCSE results and how well his albums had done, and said if they took an intelligence test he would beat Luisa. The show provided a general knowledge test, and Luisa got 63%, an above average score, while Dappy only scored 6%. It was hilarious that he had to wear a dunce’s cap. Dappy really wasn’t my cup of tea I’m afraid. I found him annoying. He was like one of the meerkats from the Compare The Market adverts dressed in chav gear. He threw strops at the slightest criticism, including a time just because he got ONE nomination.
If you ever wonder why the Mean Girl types are so popular in the first place, I suppose Luisa is a good example why. While she can be bitchy and elitist, most of the time she’s fun and gets on well with everyone. Even if she’d clash with people she wouldn’t hold a grudge indefinitely, she’d be chatting with them like BFFs later on (Dappy, Jim, Liz and Ollie are examples of this). All of this made her a controversial housemate, but it’s the beauty of a vote to save that she lasted all the way to the final. In a vote to evict I think she would have gone early.
Many were surprised that Daily Mail journalist Liz Jones did so well in the vote to save. For one thing, it was expected she’d be hated. For another, she was quiet and in the background most of the time in the house.
But if Luisa and Jasmine were the Mean Girls, Liz was the intellectual Goth girl who didn’t fit in. I imagine Liz finds it difficult to fit in generally, but the fact she is deaf wouldn’t have helped her, the winner of BB14 Sam Evans was also deaf and spoke of similar problems keeping up with conversations in the house. While she was in the house Liz mentioned the numerous psychological and self-esteem issues she had. Overall she seemed very fragile, which I think made viewers want to protect her. The way she stood up for animal rights probably endeared her to people too, even if they don’t feel quite as strongly as she does, we are said to be a nation of animal lovers.
The highlight of this series for me and many others was during a task where Luisa was told she had to get the other housemates to react in certain ways, the real task was for the others to make sure Luisa failed. Her task for Liz was to get her to laugh, and she tried it when Liz was in the bathtub. Liz talked about missing her poor, dead cat, and how she wanted to try and drown herself in the bath and that her bottom looked like Vienetta, with Luisa trying in vain to cheer her up. The best line from Liz was “Well I’m on a downward spiral you see, this is what happens if I don’t get enough nuts and nutrients. If I had a car I’d drive into a tree”. For someone who seems so unhappy, Liz can be very funny with her gloomy outlook, I’d like to think she has a dark sense of humour in there. I’d quite like to see her make use of that raincloud following her everywhere and play Eeyore in a version of Winnie The Pooh with Tigger being played by bouncy Tim Stillwell from Luisa’s series of The Apprentice.
Another one of the best moments from this series also involved Luisa. She had to spend the night in The Most Annoying Room In The World with Lionel Blair. The room was full of alarm clocks going off and clicking. All the furniture was wonky, including the beds with mattresses shaped like a chalk outline and pillows which squeaked if you rested on them. There were also things like a dummy’s arm putting its nails on a chalkboard and carpets full of Lego pieces.
Perhaps most annoying of all was that the room contained a cage which had a comfy bed along with champagne and chocolates, and the key to it was on a chain which would stretch just out of reach of the lock. Luisa decided to climb into the cage, temporarily getting stuck, then she got the champagne, glasses and chocolate box.They also received phone calls which featured automated messages, one of which Lionel answered by saying to them “Go fuck yourself”.
That task was probably the best thing of Lionel Blair’s contribution in the house. He mainly was just an old bitchy showbiz luvvie namedropping all the famous stars he worked with over the years. That said, I suppose you have to cut an octogenarian some slack with how much they can do in the house. He had one of the best exits anyway, leaving the house with a magician’s handkerchief which turned into a cane.
They are doing a good job with the tasks recently, even if most of them are recycled. The production values seemed higher this time. A UFO task had some good make-up for the aliens, and had the housemates dressed in silver clothes very like the “quasi-futuristic clothes” in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Another was when the housemates were split into two party rooms, one rated U, and another rated 18. The U rated party room was multicoloured with the housemates dressed like toy clowns and someone dressed as a purple monkey, rather like a theme park mascot, shoving custard pies in their face. The 18 rated party room had the housemates dressed in BDSM clothes, pole dancing, listening to heavy metal and telling gory horror stories.
One of the best tasks was a North Pole themed shopping task where the housemates were split into explorers and huskies. The huskies had to eat dog food and sleep in kennels overnight… except the kennels turned out to be a pub called The Mutt’s Nuts where they could order food, and watch the other housemates on a TV screen. They just had to keep their luxury a secret. This was again a bit of a recycling of the Prison Task in BB7 and the Museum Task in BB13, but it worked well here. I also liked that they used the tiara wearing Polar Bear statue which was part of the main house decoration as a prop for this task.
The winner of the series was Jim Davidson, who was due to appear in last winter’s Celebrity Big Brother but had to pull out because he was arrested during Operation Yewtree. Ultimately no further action was taken, and he was able to appear in this year’s series. I can’t imagine he would have done as well in last year’s series, as anyone who wasn’t Rylan or “Speidi” was hardly shown in most episodes. Also Brian Dowling was still hosting the show back then, and Jim was kicked off Hell’s Kitchen after making homophobic comments to Brian. But Jim is probably the most well known celebrity to British audiences from this series, so therefore would have the biggest fanbase. He had more of storyline than he would have had last year as Linda Nolan was also a housemate in this series. Her sister Colleen Nolan appeared in Celebrity Big Brother 10 finishing as runner-up. Linda didn’t do as well, to put it mildly. She and Jim had various run-ins in the past, and she still very, very much bore a grudge from them. Linda as a housemate was dull and joyless, but she didn’t really do anything to deserve to be the series hate figure other than the fact she disliked the one with the most public support. Personally, I think she had a point at times. Jim made a big deal about going on “hunger strike” during the North Pole task because they thought the huskies weren’t getting proper food. But when a task challenge came which meant if one of the explorers ate dog food the huskies would get a breakfast, he didn’t bother doing it. He seemed much more concerned with making himself look like a great, noble guy than being altruistic. I very much think Jim was playing a game to improve his image with the public. But hey, Big Brother is, after all, a game.
His grumpy old man role was mildly amusing, other than that I found him oddly bland in his own way. There’s a lot of tutting from left wing people about his win, and a lot of cheering from the sorts who will drop the sentence “political correctness gone mad” into conversations at least once a day, but to be honest I think putting political implications on the fact Jim Davidson won Celebrity Big Brother is a bit overdone. It was one of those series which had interesting but deeply flawed housemates, so you end up with a default winner.
It’s rare any series of Big Brother, celebrity or civilian, is as well recieved as this one is, it got higher viewing figures than Channel 5 is used to. Big Brother always seems trial and error production wise, but I think slowly but surely it’s run on Channel 5 has improved, certainly with the Celebrity version, they have produced two excellent series, this one and CBB9 in 2012. I still think it’s a bit of an overkill to have two celebrity series a year, but they’ve breathed new life into a franchise which in it’s last few years on Channel 4 was seen as flogging a dead horse. There are rumours that Channel 5 may be getting a new owner and that the contract for Big Brother is up soon, but considering how well it’s been doing recently I’d be surprised if they decide not to continue it.