Big Brother 15

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After Celebrity Big Brother 13 turned out to be a surprise big hit, how would they follow that up? With a civilian series that was completely bonkers!

The signs weren’t good at the start, with those naff promos featuring hosts Emma Willis and Rylan Clark in glittery purple dictator uniforms like they were part of some kind of disco dystopia. Having said that, I liked the Power Trip theme. It at least seemed like it was actually a theme and it ran throughout the series, unlike last years meaningless “Secrets and Lies” theme when they were just doing the same old twists they do every year. The Power Trip theme encouraged even more game playing and paranoia than you usually get in Big Brother.

Each week there would be a Power Housemate, and the first was decided via a public vote via the App on launch night. They chose Pauline, who had previously been rapper Jazzy P on Kylie Minogue’s 1991 top ten single ‘Shocked’.

Pauline managed to go from being the most popular housemate to the most hated in one week. That takes some doing. In her introduction video it looked like she was going to be fun, which is probably why viewers voted her to be the Power Housemate. However, after being given that power she turned into a tyrant. It was a bit like Carole in BB8. Like Carole, Pauline was a mother figure, but an overbearing My Beloved Smother sort, ruling the kitchen with an iron fist. Unlike Carole, who was very passive-aggressive, Pauline was just plain aggressive. She was like some sort of cult leader, with many of the other housemates practically worshipping her. It was interesting, but very strange, to watch.

Most of the decisions Pauline had to make were which housemates would be rewarded and which would be punished, which established very early on who would be the haves and have-nots in the house. Her two biggest decisions, which would remain in place even after she had been evicted, were which housemate would get a free pass all the way to the final, and which housemate would get The Killer Nomination, meaning they would be up every single week until they left.

The housemate she chose for the latter was Jale. The level of hostility Pauline had towards Jale was quite something. One particularly nasty scene saw Jale calmly asking what the problem was, and Pauline angrily ranting, shutting Jale down and walking back to the bedroom saying she was done with Jale, very strongly implying the other housemates should be too if they knew what was good for them. I think Pauline probably saw Jale as competition, or at the very least someone who wouldn’t fall into line, so she wanted rid of her. After Pauline was evicted, Jale managed to have a much better time in the house and made bonds with the others. It has to be said, it’s a good tactic on Big Brother to play up to being an underdog or a bully victim for public sympathy, and what I admired about Jale was that she didn’t do that. She had a sensible, calm attitude. I think she just wanted to go in the house and have fun, and never wanted to be seen as a victim, she just had that role thrust upon her by Pauline. I liked that Jale spent time with whoever she happened to get on with regardless of whether they were popular with the public or not, though of course that isn’t a good gameplan. Jale did eventually get evicted in week 5, mainly as a scapegoat to save Ashleigh who had more of an internet stan fanbase.

Of all the choices Pauline made, who would get the free pass to the final was the one which had the most impact. Pauline decided to give it to Helen. Getting the pass to the final on day 2 meant Helen was in a very strong position in the house, as she was immune from ever facing the public vote for eviction, and she could nominate even though she couldn’t be nominated. That Helen was already very strong-willed and fairly charismatic meant she’d probably have been quite powerful anyway for a short time, but the pass to the final cemented and gilded that position.

She was certainly one of the big characters of this series. She was a massively controversial housemate, which is why I’m pleased she got the pass to the final. All too often, especially in a “vote to evict” series interesting housemates get voted out early, especially if they are as abrasive as Helen. I’d rather a housemate like her got the pass than someone who was going to coast all the way to the final anyway. I also liked her “what you see is what you get” nature, that she showed so many different sides to her personality, even if it was mostly bad. She was extremely angry and foul-mouthed, but she wasn’t totally unsympathetic, she showed a lot of vulnerability and a sense that she was damaged. She could also be very funny. Once in the middle of the night she got out of bed to spy on Steven and Kimberly, and ended up banging her head on the side of the bed. When she won a task that saw her named as “the strongest housemate”, it included her being slapped on the face by a fish, and she quipped “I’ve got teethmarks in my nose off a fish to get where I am now!”

I liked how the Power Trip theme changed slightly each week as to how it was applied and what it entailed. In the second week the public voted for Chris to have it, and his power was to be the sole nominator that week. Unlike Pauline, he had to be the Power Housemate in secret, and just like being an authoritarian dictator suited Pauline, being sneaky and deceptive suited Chris. He played the Greek Chorus role in the first half of the series, commenting on events and the actions of the other housemates in the Diary Room. While many of his observations were spot on, it did feel like he was sucking up to the public a bit, as if he was going “I’m on your side, I hate them all too!”. He came across as quite smug and superior in the Diary Room, which is one thing, but things he said were revealed to the other housemates he made sniveling apologies, practically begging for forgiveness. He reminded me a bit of Joplin, a housemate from Charlie Brooker’s Big Brother parody zombie movie Dead Set.

Chris’ role as the Power Housemate wasn’t kept a secret for long, as someone shouted over the wall in the garden. I don’t know if it was for this reason, but after this week no single housemate ever had the sole power ever again, it was always shared. Still, week 2 saw Pauline evicted, which changed the house dynamic dramatically. Like many dicatorships, once the despot is ousted there is utter chaos, and the house became a pigsty as the housemates didn’t clean up after themselves, ate all the food and the groups changed.

In week 3, the Power Housemate variation was The Power Couple, who were Toya and Matthew. They were given the power to veto some housemates nominations. The housemates who they vetoed weren’t best pleased when this was revealed, and Toya lost her temper. In her own words, she vowed to “blow like Hurricane Toya” and “fuck them up with my power”. Toya was good for quotes, slating Winston for “pissing all over the toilet seat like a barbaric animal” and once saying of Jale “She thinks I was distant before, she’s going to think I’m in outer space now”. She certainly bought a lot of drama to the show, so it’s a good thing she was immune from facing eviction as a Power Housemate… but the producers decided that week that a nominated housemate could swap themselves for one of the Power Housemates. Predictably, Toya was chosen to go up, and equally as predictable, she was evicted.

Week 4 became Girl Power Week, which was a fairly obvious attempt to try and redress the gender balance. All the female housemates, including Jale, were immune, and all the male housemates were at risk from facing eviction. The housemate who really shone in this week was Ashleigh.

Most of the times on Big Brother, when you get a blonde living Barbie doll type, they tend to come in one of two varieties. They are either like Sam and Amanda, the Marchant twins in BB8, who were sweet and innocent, or they’re like Karissa and Kristina, the Shannon twins from CBB9, who were bitchy schemers. What was different about Ashleigh was that she zigzagged between the two. She’d be hugging her toy dog, or painting her nails with sparkly glittery nail varnish, or sucking a lollipop one minute, then bitching and plotting the next. The girls had to choose which of the boys they would put up for eviction in week 4. Ashleigh organised a secret meeting with all the girls except Helen to discuss who they would put up, and when the final choice was to be made she took charge by holding all the cards to discuss one by one who they would put up. She got the housemates she wanted up, and said she was proud of herself for making an “Evil plan” and that Helen didn’t get her way. She would later become the head of the Power Alliance in week 7, and she loved that role, saying she’d like to be “sitting on a money throne, eating strawberries, thinking of decisions”.

While I think Girl Power Week probably started to ball rolling for Ashleigh’s popularity, the “Evil plan” itself backfired spectacularly, as one of her allies, Matthew, ended up being evicted. Matthew had been content to sit back and let Toya take all the heat from the Power Couple’s decisions, and he only lasted a week longer than her. There had been a big argument between him and Helen during a game of Truth or Dare. It started because Matthew thought it was getting too dirty and Helen thought he was being a snob, but it got out of hand from there. Helen shouted how Matthew saw himself as “Always in the right, always in the right, always in the right!” over and over again. Later on, Matthew made a comment about Helen’s “saggy boobs”, and she called him a “fucking skinny scrawny pale plucked fucking pigeon-chested twat!” and a “carcass”. Considering how unpopular Helen was at the time, and how vicious she was in that argument, it says a lot that Matthew got evicted, but frankly he came across as pretentious, bitter, smug, elitist, bitchy, effete and having an inflated sense of his own importance most of the time, so it’s not that much of a surprise that he wasn’t popular in his own right.

Armageddon Week was one of the most ridiculously overhyped things ever, even by Big Brother standards. Dramatic trailers were made for it weeks in advance, and all it amounted to was… that they were sending in three new housemates. Well, there was one big difference between this week and other weeks. Two of the housemates were evicted without a public vote, and it is one of the key elements about Big Brother UK that the public vote decides the ultimate fate of the housemates. I think the public vote should continue, I would not like to see the housemates being evicted by the choice of the other housemates becoming a regular thing like it is in Big Brother USA. Having said that, I can’t say I wasn’t pleased with which two housemates who were evicted as a result of this twist.

Marlon was evicted because he received the most nominations from his fellow housemates. He left unceremoniously in a surprise eviction late on Monday night via the Diary Room wearing only his pants. A harsh eviction for sure, but to be honest he was a bit of a waste of space as a housemate. He had been in there for six weeks and had done nothing of note, and what he did do wasn’t exactly appealing. He said he wished there was a “slutbucket” in the house and spent most of his time either posing in front of a mirror or scratching his nuts. His big mistake was in week 5 when the nominees were given a chance to save themselves from that week’s eviction by pressing a button, at the cost of the shopping budget. Marlon pressed it after just two seconds, and while he saved himself from the week 5 eviction all it really got him was the whole house turning against him and three extra days before his backdoor eviction. “Pressing the button was a bad choice” would be an understatement.

The other evictee, who was chosen by the new housemates, was Danielle. She had her moments, telling Jale she wouldn’t be evicted as “You’ve got the best shoes out of everyone here” for example, and declaring that she “wouldn’t swallow unless [she] was married”. But her whole persona was contrived. She had a facade that she was an innocent, virginal religious proper lady who never swore, but she quickly showed herself to be a hypocrite within the first few days as she launched a Cluster F Bomb after she was nominated for eviction. It was revealed that she had posed for provocative magazine shoots and had sold a story to the tabloids with the help of BB14‘s Dexter, who was one of the most contrived housemates the show has ever had. I thought I’d miss Danielle after she went, but as it turned out I didn’t miss her at all, neither did her other housemates much, not even her biggest ally Ashleigh.

The three new housemates who entered in Armageddon Week were Biannca, Zoe and Pav. Essex girl Biannca packed a lot in just a few days. She said to Winston “I want to ride your cock”, did a topless lapdance for Helen and fell naked into a pool of sewage. So of course the public didn’t vote for her to stay in the house. Her exit was memorable as well. There have been many housemates where people have said “She’ll get her tits out as soon as she’s out of the house”, but Biannca did literally that. She got them out the instant the doors opened to the crowd on her eviction night. The producers clearly hoped Biannca would stay longer. Why else did they make that one eviction a vote to save? I can’t say I blame them for trying to keep her in longer, she did more in a few days than some housemates did in months. The producers kept bringing to the main house for brief cameo appearances, and she jumped out of a cake for Emma Willis’ 250th show on Big Brother’s Bit On The Side.

Zoe Birkett had previously finished 4th place on Pop Idol in 2002. It was a surprise to see her on this show, she could easily have got into Celebrity Big Brother. Hell, half of the other housemates this series had more of a claim to fame before they went in the house than some who’ve gone in Celebrity Big Brother. Zoe had become a West End singer since leaving Pop Idol, and it showed. She was extremely perky, and was given a lot of song-and-dance tasks. She has a good voice, I liked her belting out Celine Dion’s ‘Think Twice’ in the bedroom and making up a song on the spot to soundtrack Biannca’s lapdance. Zoe was popular with viewers at first, being the first housemate ‘saved’ in the first two evictions she faced, and getting cheered by the crowd. Then she ruined it all by making a daft comment about how she’s glad not to be in a house full of people who work in supermarkets because she has “too much life experience”. Her popularity evaporated immediately and she was evicted the following week. That’s showbiz I guess, Zoe.

Pav managed to survive 5 evictions in a row and make it to the final, but he was never particularly popular. He ended up finishing last in the final, in 6th place. The reason he was in so long was mainly that the voters had bigger fish to fry. I’d even say that for him surviving a vote to save. He and Biannca’s vote looked close in the online polls, so voters knew if they wanted to evict Biancca they had to vote to save Pav. He was a pretty boring housemate, he never contributed much other than banging on the shower door to make music. He ended up getting the nickname “Pointless Pav”. But he seemed like a decent guy, and you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him being constantly told he was an irrelevant also-ran. That’s before you even get to how ridiculously demonised he was by bitter ex-housemates as part of a task and by Chris. For all his talk about how horrible the “cool kids” were, Chris was never above kicking someone who was below him in the pecking order. He nominated his namesake Christopher in the week he was the Power Housemate. But it was even worse with Pav. He actively tried to discredit him and turn other housemates against him. During that time, Chris also seemed to feel threatened about anyone else getting close to Ashleigh. Whether it was because he had a crush on her, he liked her as a friend or because she was his closest ally, he came across as a bit jealous and clingy. The whole thing was probably the cause of Chris’ fall in popularity, he was the favourite to win at one point, but ended up in 5th place. He and Pav were evicted together, which was somewhat ironic, but fitting really.

It goes without saying there have been some awful showmances in Big Brother, but Steven and Kimberley really took the biscuit. Neither were very likeable individually. Steven was a smarmy cheeseball. He gloated about how many countries he had visited and said his parents worked for him, which seemed to be a CV-spin way of saying they had passed on the running of the family business onto him. He was a spoiled brat, shown no better than his reaction to being nominated. He sulked and cried, saying it “should have gone to someone less significant”. Kimberly became known as “Kimbot” by fans because of how robotic she seemed.  She had a constant blank facial expression, a dull monotonous voice where she said little that wasn’t cold technical jargon. Despite her once saying she was “a-mul-ti-di-men-sion-al-per-son” she showed no personality traits whatsoever.

But as a couple they were really, really, really uncomfortable to watch. Steven came across as controlling, plucking Kimberly’s eyebrows, saying he’ll never leave her and planning on moving in together and getting married when they’d only known each other a few weeks. It turned out Kimberly was already seeing someone, and frankly seemed deliberately evasive as to the status of that relationship. Steven told her she should cut up photographs off the boyfriend. In one argument he said to Kimberly “Do you know how bad this is making me look?” which said a lot about his priorities. But that wasn’t all. There were the cringeworthy scenes of them having sex, one with Steven saying “Open it”, and one played on an eviction night which caused the crowd to loudly chant “Two second Steven!”. The whole saga was as watch-through-your-fingers car crash TV as anything that has gone on Big Brother. Ultimately, Kimberley had to quit the show for medical reasons, later revealed to be an ectopic pregnancy, and Steven was evicted the week after.

We’ve never really had a gay showmance on Big Brother before, at least not one that amounted to much. This year was the closest we’ve got, with Mark and Christopher, though even then all that happened were a few snogs under the duvet and lots of bickering. Mark was a bit of a jerk to Christopher really. He treated him like something he could pick up and drop as he pleased, and often took the piss out of him, sometimes to look good in front of the house in-crowd.

Mark was popular at first, and he couldn’t really have asked for a better start as Pauline chose him as the housemate to receive £5000 on launch night. He could be amusing, but people started to go off him. It was partly how he treated Christopher, but it wasn’t just that. He increasingly seemed disingenuous, shallow, bratty, two-faced and pretty much the definition of a fairweather friend. He was everyone’s best mate as long as it was convenient for him. He had a lot of annoying traits, like obsessing about how his eyebrows looked,  saying unconvincing malapropisms like “escape goat” and “conservatory party” and demonstrating his “psychic abilities” by asking “Think of a number between one and four” or “Think of an animal with four legs that lives in India. Is it stripey?”. He had appeared on other reality TV shows before, such as Shipwrecked and had auditioned for The X Factor, which added to existing suspicions that he was playing up to the cameras.

Christopher had a sort of lamb-like innocence about him, and he was very socially awkward, which made him endearing to viewers, and sadly an easy target in the house. He got picked on a lot in the early weeks. He seemed sweet, albeit desperate to be liked and an extreme doormat. He was given the nickname Christmas in the house, to differentiate from the other Chris. Big Brother made use of this by having Christopher do a task where he would have to dress up as Santa Claus and decide which housemates had been nice and would receive a candy cane, and which housemates had been naughty and would receive a lump of coal. In later weeks he seemed to be the first to go stir crazy, doing stuff like sticking his head in a bowl of soapy washing up water as a game to try and retrieve a spoon, but the bottom line with Christopher I suppose is that he was a nice guy. He made it the final, finishing in 3rd place.

The best couple this year was Helen and Ash. It was surprisingly popular, with even people who didn’t like them as individual housemates being interested in it. It looked more like it was developing naturally from a friendship, not just for the cameras and the magazine deals, and people seemed to like the “will they won’t they” feel to it. They were also well suited. You could imagine Ash as the bass player from a short lived indie band on the cover of NME, all leather jackets, laddishness, smoking and drinking lager. He was laid back and chilled out to point of laziness, but he seemed fairly down to earth, and to be shallow, he was nice to look at, the best looking guy this series anyway. I liked Ash’s normal look, but I liked him even more when he dressed more smartly, such as when he was a magician in a task and in a suit for a Vegas themed party. He finished in 4th place in the final.

There was something of a bookend feel to the first and last eviction. The first evictee was Tamara. I thought she’d be the first out on launch night, mainly because in her introduction video it looked like she was going to be “The Bitch”. But as it turned out she was mostly in the background, sitting in the sun, getting drunk, giggling and getting into a showmance with Winston. But it was so refreshing to have a first evictee who was nominated fair and square by the other housemates, not because of some crappy launch night twist, who had a full week in the house, not turfed out after a couple of days in another crappy twist, and who was the most boring of the people who were up. I can’t even remember the last time that happened!

Winston’s eviction though, the last before the final, was a bit of a shock. The housemates were convinced it was a fake eviction. To be honest, he probably went because there were social media campaigns to get rid of him as he was a favourite to win. It might have been quite funny if Winston won, as Winston is the name of the protagonist in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which Big Brother takes its name from. That said, it’s probably a good thing Winston didn’t win, as he would have been a default winner, popular because he was perceived as being hunky and loveably dumb. Muscle-obsessed himbos are never all that interesting. I can’t think of much he did as a housemate really. He claimed to have fought a shark before he went in the house, and an episode of EastEnders he was an extra in was broadcast while he was in the house.

The tasks were generally quite poor this year. I hated all the I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! style ones which saw them trying to make the housemates vomit. They made feel me a bit queasy myself. My least favourite task this year was the Farm Task. The housemates had to “make an egg omelette” by sucking egg yolk and spitting that into a bowl, then chewing cheese and spitting that into the bowl. Gross. Then later they had to shovel manure. Not exactly great TV. Then there was the Ultimate Task, which was a mash-up of various Big Brother tasks (chilli eating, gunge etc). Given that everything on Big Brother is recycled these days that one really looked like they were running out of ideas. I actually quite liked that Chris couldn’t be bothered to do it.

There were some tasks I enjoyed though. One was the Dressed To Kill task, which was a murder mystery themed task. All the housemates looking good in their costumes. Winston became Inspector Winston (the moustache suited him!) and  Ash, Jale and Steven became assassins. They had to ‘kill’ other housemates, usually by throwing red gunge on them, and then the ‘deceased’ housemates had to walk through a coffin door which led to a morgue. There was some black comedy there, such as Helen hiding in a bodybag and jumping out to scare other housemates, and Christopher wearing the bodybag like a onesie. The ‘dead’ were allowed to spy on the ‘living’ housemates and during a masquerade ball could communicate via the medium of Mystic Mark (and an earpiece). This resulted in a bitching exchange between the ‘dead’ and Ashleigh.

The best part of Armageddon Week was the task which saw the housemates in a post-apocalyptic setting, and usual allies Danielle and Ashleigh having to lead opposing teams to scavenge material. One memorable moment when the teams had to collect fish from a sewage pipe saw Ashleigh wrestle a fish off Danielle. Then the two teams had to build a raft using material like barrels and pipes, with the leader riding on it in the pool. Ashleigh’s raft floated brilliantly, and she waved at her team while riding it. Danielle’s raft however sunk immediately. I liked how that was soundtracked to the theme song to Titanic, Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’.

The Bruvstock Task saw the housemates split into two groups as bands. One Big Voice, which included professional singer Zoe, had to sing Florence + The Machine’s version of ‘You’ve Got The Love’, while Bitch and The Boys had to perform ‘Mr. Brightside’ by The Killers.  The latter group won, which I was pleased with as while none of them were great singers, it was fun, and ‘Mr. Brightside’ is one of my all time favourite songs. They performed it again on the final Big Brother’s Bit On The Side.

The show really upped the manipulation in the last couple of weeks. The penultimate week was the Power Of Money week, which saw housemates trying to earn extra money for the winner, making a pact to share the extra they made, then lying to the housemates individually that they could take all the extra for themselves, then revealing all of that to them all, eventually ending with them losing all the extra money.  Well, obviously it caused huge arguments.

But that’s nothing compared to the final week. Admittedly, usually that week is dull as the housemates are all worn out, don’t really care anymore and are just counting down the days to the final, but they managed to squeeze in a fake double eviction and secret room (seriously, is it mandatory to have that every series nowadays?), a court case cranking up the Ashleigh vs Helen rivalry and loads of ex-housemates returning.

It’s probably for that reason the final 2 ended up as Ashleigh and Helen, becoming the first ever all female top 2 in Big Brother UK history. So many were presenting that rivalry as Ashleigh the angelic golden haired princess Vs. Helen the dark haired evil vamp, and it ended up with the “baddie” winning! By just 1.2% difference too.

This marks the second time a housemate given a pass to the final on launch night has won, the first being John in Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack, but the first time ever that the series ‘villain’ has won. However, I don’t think this series was a “goodies vs baddies” one really. It was one of those like BB6 or BB9, where all the housemates were very deeply flawed so it ends up more as “the baddies vs the baddies”. I suppose you could argue that in a series full of baddies, it was fitting that the main ‘villain’ won this year.

I was shocked by Helen winning, but it was quite nice to see that she and Ashleigh, both great housemates, had put their differences aside and were hugging, crying together, and even supportive of one another in the last couple of days.

Ironically, I think Helen being such a target to be the big series hate figure might have helped her win. After she was demonised so much with all the judgemental, self-righetous high handed and often downright nasty and mean-spirited comments about her online, I can see why they might have been a backlash to that. There was probably also a bit of a backlash to cliquey stans of other housemates getting a bit too smug about organising social media campaigns to vote out inoffensive housemates such as Jale or Winston for no other reason than it would benefit their favourites.

I would have been fine with Ashleigh or Christopher winning, but Helen was by far my favourite housemate this year. There, I’ve said it. I’m not condoning everything she did, but she was a great housemate. You can’t always help if you like someone, and despite her obvious faults, I liked Helen.

It’s the second year in a row my overall favourite has actually won after Sam in BB14! One thing Helen and Sam have in common is that they were both given tasks to make the other housemates laugh by telling corny jokes. In Helen’s case, she also had to dress up as a clown and throw herself fully clothed into the pool. I think the other thing they have in common is that, whatever their flaws, we got to see the real person. They weren’t spending all their time hamming it up to play a role like Dexter and Gina were last year.

So there we have it, the end of a very weird series. A good set of housemates, and I liked the Power Trip theme, but I’d say it was a nomination twist enough. It was not necessary to do twists on top of that twist, such as Ashleigh being nominated by the public to be the Power Housemate and then ending up facing eviction in a last minute switcheroo. The main problem was that there was far, far too much contact with the outside world, with the housemates being let know the public’s opinion of them way too regular and way too often. But overall, it was compelling, and I liked it better than last year’s series.

Just one last thing to mention. I loved Super Cassandra, who appeared before and after the adverts as part of the sponsors Super Casino. She was played by American actress Alexandra Metaxa. I loved some of her comments giving advice to the housemates such as don’t take too long to leave as “No-one likes long goodbyes”, “That thing you once did with a celebrity? We’ll never hear it!”, and “If it doesn’t catch on, it’s not a catchphrase. Stop saying it!”

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