Now in its 15th year, Big Brother has become an internment camp for fame graspers. But it’s the nasty ones that keep it watchable
For those of us still clinging to the Big Brother dream like drowning sailors to floating detritus, summer doesn’t mean extreme frisbee or dancing in the sun to Duke Dumont. Instead, blind loyalty condemns us to the tattier corner of terrestrial TV, settling in for 10 weeks of bubbling passive aggression, hollow showmances and violent boredom. Bliss.
At the time of writing, Big Brother: Power Trip (nightly, 9pm, Channel 5), still has enough despicable people in the house to just about make it interesting. BB thrives when it becomes a death battle between unintentionally hilarious loons, backstabbing narcissists and the viewers’ own tolerance for full-body cringes. If only the voting public could see, though, that they’re not electing to go for a friendly pint with these people. The tide of good contestants flowing out of the house on the whims of a public too stupid and/or incensed to allow “strong characters” to stay is my biggest problem. By week eight we’re usually left with a limp handful of pleasant bores sitting around like mouldering loaves of bread, too sick of the sight of each other to make eye contact, never mind meaningful conversation.
That Helen has been granted a pass to the final comes as a great relief. Helen is a dermal-fillered gob on long, spray-tanned legs. A mean drunk with a voice like a sexy chainsaw, honed by years of fags, booze and taking a loud and detailed inventory of anyone foolish enough to cross her. I love her. Britain doesn’t agree. Helen is booed each week on account of a heavily injuncted backstory involving her, a public figure and some transactional goings-on that would make you blush. Sometimes she’s also a bit of a see-you-next-Tuesday. Fortunately, this year’s twist – an ever-changing roster of power housemates – means she’s still clinging on.
Helen’s biggest enemies in the house include drearily moralistic Scottish glamour model Danielle, AKA Miss Drone Brodie. Danielle, who is so anti-fun she adopts the grimace of a war widow whenever someone threatens to crack a smile, is also a strict Catholic, grimly opposed to premarital sex, contraception and same-sex marriage, which is apparently a greater affront to all things holy than Danielle gaffer-taping her boobs and posing with comedically oversized sausages.
With each passing year, BB feels more like a punitive interment camp for fame-graspers. But as ever there are a couple who stand out as inoffensive enough to be possible winners, like psychic Mark or fellow crystal-botherer Jale (sample exchange: “I’ve just had a paradigm shift…” “Ooh, bloody hell, are you OK?’ “Yeah, it’s back to normal now”). Jale spent the first two weeks being what is known in polite circles as the prison bitch, until her cohabitants realised that bullying a popular housemate might affect the media career that awaits them the second they step out on to that bit of scaffolding round the back of Tesco’s in Borehamwood. Meanwhile, somewhere in the world, Brian Belo is warming up a CostCutter cheese pasty and dabbing away a tear.
For most of these housemates, Big Brother has been an annual fixture for over half their lives. They know that nice idiots generally win and awful bastards generally lose. They’ve watched every instance of snide plotting and whispered bitching. And now, each one of them is an angry paranoid mess, peering suspiciously at one another across lime-green cuboid furniture – the vestigial remnant of the original Big Brother and its continental exoticism. There’s barely even any mention of the prize money, which probably means it’s a £50 River Island gift card and a two-for-one voucher for Mahiki’s. Instead, behind the scenes, producers ramp up the housemates’ collective loopiness with divisive tactics lifted straight from The Bumper Book Of Dodgy Psychological Experiments.
This, IMHO, is no bad thing. Mark my words: during that last drag towards the end, you need all the entertainment you can get.