Last year, I got to live the dream. I spent a day in the Big Brother house and loved every single second of it. The entire experience was like a reality TV fanboy fantasy come to life. At last I could realize what it felt to walk through that famous front door. I could gaze upon the living room (and its surprisingly high ceiling) with my very own eyes; I could roam about the backyard (despite its shockingly small confines); and I could imagine life around the giant kitchen table, what with its pleasantly comfy chairs and annoyingly obstinate Lazy Susan.
Yes, it was all a dream to me, but I spent much of that day in my own head. This was the moment I had dreamed of — the chance to not only exist in the Big Brother house, but play the game too. For years I had pontificated on my blog about the best strategies and methods to win the game, and now I had this one shot to put it to the test. As a result, I played a quiet game. I stayed under the radar and subtly turned people against each other (or so I thought). It was totally fun, but I somehow became a neurotic mess over the course of the day. After all, I couldn’t wind up on the nomination block. That would prove my strategic theories wrong, nullifying years of pompous know-it-all moments. No, I had to survive the day, and ultimately, I did. However, as I returned to normal life, I had to ask myself a question: who cared if I got nominated? Who cared if I even got evicted? Why was I so scared of these fates? Nothing was ever on the line. It was just a one day experience. Even worse, when the media was sent a DVD of the day, my presence had been whittled down to a mere cameo. How appalling! I’m too much of a fame-whore to be stuck in the background. This was no good.
And so when I received the invite to return to the house this year, I knew I was going to play differently. I wasn’t going to play the way I would had I been cast on the actual show. I had already done that. Instead, I was going to play for fun, even if that meant backstabbing, lying, and throwing myself in harm’s way. And yes, all three happened.
First, let me introduce you to all the players. We had a varied bunch:
- Derrik, AP
- Andrea, Zap2It
- Alan, local CBS affiliate online correspondent (or perhaps producer?)
- Matt, welovebigbrother.com
- Matthew, Yahoo! / OMG!
- Reagan, People
- Claire, CBS.com
- Brian, Fancast
- Megan, Hollywood 411 (TV Guide Network)
- Me, here.
As it turns out, Reagan was also in the Big Brother house the last year, and since then we’d struck up a friendship (he was actually the one who put me in contact with CBS so I could return this time around). This was very significant for me because Reagan is much cooler than I am, and as we all know, I rarely co-exist with such people before they realize how awkward I am. Furthermore, I am something of a goody-two-shoes, despite my best efforts otherwise, and Reagan, well, he’s sort of gained this reputation over the past two years of being the “Bad Boy” of Media Day. He’s the guy who shows up in the Big Brother house with a motorcycle helmet and swagger to spare, sort of like the second coming of Kenickie — as much as one can be Kenickie during a press junket at CBS. Nevertheless, in many ways Reagan and I are different, but we do share one thing: a desire to win, and on Media Day, there’s $500 up for grabs for whomever the “cast” votes to be the best player of the day. Reagan won last year, and this time around, it was my turn. So what to do?
It was obvious, really. Reagan and I decided to secretly team up and manipulate the house into giving me the money (which the two of us would then split, natch). The whole scheme was hatched on the drive over to CBS. I picked Reagan up at 7:30 in the morning, and as we motored over towards Studio City, we decided on a plan of action. Reagan was going to be a total asshole. He was going to make the house hate him. I, meanwhile, was going to champion a revolution against him, clearly earning the loyalty and love of my fellow members of the media. Oh, and along the way, I was going to win Head of Household and control every single element of the game. Easy, right?
We finally arrived at CBS, and our subterfuge commenced. Reagan hopped out of my car while I parked so that no one would see us arrive together. Very crafty. Very crafty indeed. The assorted members of the media then convened in a small green room where we all engaged in genial conversation (as opposed to last year when we were ordered to be silent). It was hard to gauge people’s personalities; although, there did seem to be one standout chatterbox: Alan.
Let me just get this out of the way. Alan was a remarkably nice man. Truly, he was lovely. He also would not shut up. And he prefaced every sentence with one of the three following phrases: “As a black man,” or “As a gay man,” or “As the only man here in his fifties.” It was a bit… how do you say… intense? Let me remind you that the game hadn’t even started yet.
Also in the group was Matthew Whitfield (who normally goes by “Matt” but couldn’t because of the other Matt). I actually am friends with Matthew outside of the house, and upon seeing each other, we exchanged subtle, silent nods, not sure if we should reveal our friendship to any of the other house guests. Already I was sensing complications. Should I let my friend in on my secret alliance with my other friend? I kind of wanted to, especially because at that moment it seemed like Matthew and I had our own secret thing going, but I decided I would keep my cards close to my chest. After all, loose lips sink ships, and we’ve seen it happen a million times on Big Brother. I remained silent.
Soon, our group was taken into the little corridors where the cameramen live and record the house guests. The front of the “house” (which is really a soundstage) was still under construction; so we didn’t get to walk in grandiosely from Julie’s studio like we did last year, but that’s okay because the effect was still the same. We stepped inside, and immediately, I was overwhelmed by the surreal-ness of it all, or at least the tackiness.
This year’s theme is — for lack of a better word — Florida. Everything looked like excavated remains of the Golden Girls set — pastels, palm trees, sea-themes. It was very 1980s Boca Raton chic. And I kind of loved it. The whole thing was campy and chintzy (with a few CB2 and Ikea flourishes for good measure). Outside in the backyard, the Florida theme continued, but with a decidedly more South Beach bent. The back wall featured a giant mural of a Miami-style hotel pool scene, and I gotta admit: I dug it. The look continued upstairs in the Head of Household room, which opened up a few hours into the day. Much like last year, the space featured faux-windows, but instead of a fabricated view of the Hollywood Hills, we had another South Beach scene. Gone this time, however, was the neat water feature behind the bed’s headboard. Alas.
Nevertheless, as we all settled in around the kitchen nook, the gabbing quickly turned to gameplay. Reagan fulfilled his role of being abrasive, and I happily fanned the flames by privately rolling my eyes at him to the other players and informing them that he was just like this last year. It was amazing how quickly people started turning against him. Matthew gave me his patented “Well OBVIOUSLY” look (as in “Well OBVIOUSLY we’re voting him out”), and Brian, well, turns out he’d been in the house with Reagan two years ago, and he was ready to get some sort of revenge (Brian had been voted out).
Yes, this was a cakewalk so far, and I was already playing much more aggressively than I had been the year prior. But then things took an interesting turn. I was talking to Derrik, and it turned out he had some dirt on Megan of all people. He didn’t want to talk about it in front of everyone; so I implored him to come with me upstairs to the balcony, all under the auspices of touring the house. I should have known better. I’ve studied the game way too much to know that such moves can be dangerous so early on, but what can I say? My desire to hear gossip trumped all.
Well, Derrik didn’t want to separate from the group, but I really wanted to hear the dirt on Megan (which was really a big nothing actually). We went upstairs, he told me that he had once had a tense interaction with her on a red carpet, and then I told him that Reagan was an ass. The two of us then headed back downstairs about two minutes later, and immediately we were met with jeers, led by BRIAN of all people. He announced that we were now the two biggest targets because we had been scheming. Even worse, Brian had now totally cozied up to Reagan — as had several others. What the? Had everything gone crazy in the two minutes we were upstairs? Apparently so. I felt bad for Derrik because he hadn’t even wanted to go upstairs, and now because of me he had a giant target.
As for my new target, I didn’t really care. I was out to have fun this year and make a splash. If that meant getting kicked out of the house, so be it.
Not too long after, the producers implored us to sit around the couches and introduce ourselves. We all shared a little bit about who we are, and when it got to Reagan, he announced that his goal was to take me out. I happily shot back that my goal was to take Reagan out, and from that point on, our war was on. All I had to do was win Head of Household.
Yeah, that didn’t work out so well.
I managed to get eliminated in the second round of the game, which sucked quite a bit, but hey, all the questions required estimating, and I’m a terrible estimator. As it turned out, the Head of Household turned out to be… Reagan. This angered the anti-Reagan camp, particularly Andrea, who had quietly proven herself to be very smart and very competitive. In fact, when Reagan won the HoH, she made a little remark, which I can’t remember now but was something along the lines of “Shut up.” Nevertheless, Andrea wound up with a big target on her back from that alone, which was too bad because I was hoping to ally with her and Matthew to target the likes of Brian (sorry, Brian).
Meanwhile, I should note that my gameplan to lead a revolution against Reagan had suffered a significant blow with him winning Head of Household. How was I supposed to sweep him out of the house if he was now immune? It made things tricky, but I’d have to just improvise. After all, that’s what makes Big Brother great: the constant need to shift strategies on the fly.
Well, after the HoH competition, Reagan needed to assign people to slop for the day, and I can assure you this was one serious drawback to our fake rivalry. I indeed was placed on slop, as were Andrea, Derrik, and Matthew. Last year I avoided this dreaded fate, but this time around, I was clearly not so lucky. That was okay though. I kind of liked the idea of experiencing the hardships of the game, and the truth was that Andrea, Matthew and I were such big fans of the show that we were on board. Plus, we wanted to prove that it was possible to go on slop and not complain about it.
And so while the rest of the house lunched on what looked to be the tastiest food platters of all time, we got to work hot rodding some slop for consumption. The flavor really wasn’t that bad. It had notes of peanut butter hidden in the blandness. However, I could easily see how eating it for an entire week could become tiresome. Nevertheless, we decided to make slop cookies. Couldn’t be much different than oatmeal cookies, right? We added butter and sugar to a bowl of slop, and honestly, I swear to God, it tasted really good. So good that people kept coming over to try it. As for the cookies, they wound up looking more like parmesan crisps, but again, they were surprisingly tasty.
Nevertheless, we slop eaters formed a certain brotherhood, and soon we became Team Slop (which was part of the new plan — Reagan and I could only strategize in brief, thirty-second encounters, and he told me he put us on slop so that I could have an alliance of people who would vote for me later on). I was actually a big fan of Team Slop, but before I could really decide how to mobilize the alliance, a strange development occurred. The Head of Household room had opened up, and everyone was up there hanging out. After about ten minutes, the girls found some nail polish, and all three of them stepped out of the room to do some mani-pedi action out on the balcony. All the guys were alone (except for Alan, who had been called to the Diary Room), and somehow or another, a strange little plan emerged. We decided we would shake things up. The plan was to put Andrea up (because she was a threat) and then have a pawn go against her. We all know what they say about pawns: they always go home. Naturally I volunteered.
I didn’t want to get evicted, but I didn’t want to spend this day on the sidelines either. The plan was therefore that I would go up as a pawn, and whoever paired up with Andrea in the veto competition would throw it. Then I would win the veto (or have it used on me), and then we’d put up either Alan (who was driving everyone bonkers, especially Matt, who Alan seemed to have a small obsession with) or Megan (who didn’t seem to care about being in the house and had already spent an hour napping). Yes, it was all a delicious plan. And my head was totally spinning.
I was in a secret alliance with Reagan.
I was in an overt alliance with Matthew, Andrea, and Derrik.
But Matthew, Derrik, and I were in a secret alliance with Reagan, Brian, and Matt (but a secret alliance that wasn’t as secret as my deeper alliance with Reagan).
Plus, I had an implicit loyalty with Matthew because we were friends.
This was getting tricky.
Scheming / confusion.
Sure enough, Reagan nominated me and Andrea, and I had to feign disgust with Andrea, even though I knew she was a target in all this. And yet, I didn’t want her to go home. I wanted my replacement nominee to not be Alan or Megan but instead someone else. Why not blindside someone? That’s the most fun. Clearly I had Brian in my sights because he put the target on me in the beginning. However, I was also thinking it might be fun to go after Matt. Why? Well, here’s the thing with Matt. He was flying totally under the radar, which was fine, but furthermore, if he had been put on the block, I suspected that he might have flipped out (which is ultimately all we wanted to see). You see, in the morning, Matt had been composed and polite and utterly demure. Sort of like a local anchorman. However, as the day went on, he got kind of crabby. He even admitted it. First he started to get snappy with Alan (who had evidently spotted Matt at a McDonalds that morning and wouldn’t stop talking about it), and then at one point, we were ordered to stay in a room and be silent for an hour, during which time Matt went stir-crazy, sighing and moaning about this boring interlude. It was hilarious. Clearly he would have been hilarious on the block. If I could save myself, and then if Reagan blindsides the whole big alliance, thus revealing that the two of us had been working together, that would be the sort of gameplay that anyone in their right mind would reward. Clearly. All I had to do was save myself.
Well, the Veto Competition arrived, and I immediately paired up with Matthew, who was not only my fellow Team Slop cohort, but a previous game partner of mine (we played Super Pyramid at a party once and destroyed the competition). I knew we could kick everyone ass at the Veto. Or so I thought.
This year’s game was a tricky sumbitch that required me to throw eggs through “jail bars” to Matthew. Each egg had a letter on it, and Matthew would then use those letters to spell a word. The team with the longest correctly spelled word at the end of ten minutes would win. Immediately, we decided we’d go for “ENCYCLOPEDIAS.” Yeah, we had this.
Too bad I couldn’t throw the eggs for the life of me. I swear that every other egg hit those bars, and poor Matthew was covered in yolk in no time. Making matters worse was that it was damn near impossible to find the letters I needed, and when I did find one, either Matthew or I would break it (usually me). And did I tell you how fast the time flew by? Soon I was just chucking letters over, hoping for the best. When the clock did ultimately expire, we were left with the pitiful entry of “BREAKS,” and ironically, as Matthew covered the word up with a cloth — as per the instructions — one of the eggs fell from its spot, and indeed broke. This also caused us to have a misspelled word, and alas, we were disqualified.
The good news was that Derrik, who’d been paired with Andrea, had successfully thrown the challenge. Sort of. Considering he was supposed to be sabotaging her, they certainly had quite the long letter spelled out. But it didn’t matter. In the end, the duo of Clair and Megan won the round, and then they had to decide between themselves who would get the Veto (the other girl would have to spend the rest of the day in an egg costume). Amusingly enough, Megan volunteered to be the egg (this after she had complained earlier about always being made to look like an idiot on TV), which meant that Claire now had the power of veto. One problem: Claire wasn’t in our big alliance, and thus she was a question mark.
I immediately did a big sell on Claire, saying that she had to take me off the block because it would be such a great blindside to Reagan, especially if she told him that she was going to take Andrea off. I told her that this was personal — I had to get retribution from last year. I couldn’t let Reagan “get his way and have me voted out of the house.”
Luckily, Claire and Matthew had grown close, and he also put in a good word for me. Heck, all the guys did. Except, apparently, Matt, who I later heard was plotting against me. Hmmm. Either way, it looked like everything was still going according to plan. I just needed to get off the block, reveal my hidden alliance, and collect the moooolah. Another problem though: somehow through this all, Matthew had become the leading contender to win the money. I’m not sure how or why, but everyone liked him (he is a nice guy, after all), and I think people appreciated how he was working Claire and helping the guy alliance. This clearly put a complicated wrinkle in my plans because, ahem, the whole plan was for me and Reagan to win the money and split it. But now Matthew was talking about winning the money and spending it all on a fancy dinner for the group. I chimed in that I would do the same; although, clearly this meant that if I did win the money, I would be stuck between screwing the group out of dinner or Reagan out of his share. OY.
Fear not though. Reagan and I decided that if either of us won the cash, we’d use it to buy the group dinner. Dilemma avoided; however, for a few minutes there, I definitely tasted the very real personal conflict that people on these shows experience when money’s on the line. It wasn’t pleasant.
Nevertheless, as the evening wound down, it was time for the Veto Ceremony. This was when things were going to get crazy. I felt pretty secure, but then again, I really hadn’t campaigned too hard for myself beyond one convo with Claire. I suppose that was laziness on my part. Perhaps hubris too. Either way, I didn’t follow my cardinal rule, which is to make the person in power always feel like they have no choice but to save you.
Sure enough, Claire used the veto, but not on me. She took Andrea off the block, and thus I was robbed of my “Ah-ha! I’ve had a secret alliance!” moment. How was I going to convince the house that I deserved the money now? I mean, I was on the BLOCK. That’s not good gameplay. That’s AWFUL gameplay. Even worse, Reagan then nominated Derrik to replace Andrea (as opposed to one of the players I had been angling for in our secret meetings — one of which included me feigning having to go #2 in his Head of Household bathroom so that I could get a minute of game talk in with him upstairs).
Now it was Derrick and I pitted against each other. He wasn’t particularly happy about this, especially since the entire reason why he even had a target on him was because of me in the first ten minutes of the day. Time was running out, and I needed to make a big move. When it came time for me to make my final speech, I decided I would focus less on why I should stay and more on why I should earn the money. I revealed that I had been in a secret alliance all day with Reagan, and that the two of us had been playing the entire house (to what end? Eh, not so sure. But I didn’t focus on that), and therefore, the group should reward my great gameplay by keeping me around.
There was certainly shock around the living room, but no one seemed more flabbergasted than Matthew, who leveled this look at me that was just one slap away from an angry Heather Locklear, Melrose Place era. Derrik then made some speech about how keeping me in the house was the equivalent of rewarding duplicity and villainy, and to be honest, he had a point. I didn’t really know what was going to happen, but I sensed it would be a landslide eviction for me.
Well, we all voted, and then… by a vote… of four… to three…
(omg this was exciting)
Derrik… was evicted!
I had somehow survived by the smallest of margins. How small? Well, apparently when everyone was voting, Megan asked Brian who she should evict, and he told her Derrik. So in an ironic twist, the guy who I thought had been coming after me was actually instrumental in my survival. Who would have thunk it?
Meanwhile, as we all sat around during the voting process, Claire decided to share why she saved Andrea. She revealed proudly that she smelled a rat between me and Reagan, and she decided she was going to shake things up by throwing a wrench into the plans. Everyone was massively impressed. Quiet, sweet Claire had suddenly emerged as a major power player. It was one of those great twists, and honestly, if I hadn’t been in an alliance with Reagan, I would have voted that she get the money.
Luckily for Claire, she didn’t need my vote. After a day of angling and posturing for the money, the $500 didn’t go to me or Reagan or Matthew. It went to Claire! In a way, it was absolutely perfect. She had just gotten married, she was far and away the sweetest of the bunch, and honestly, we all really liked her. Plus, she totally deserved it. The entire household erupted in applause, and Reagan and I were left to do nothing but laugh: we had spent all this time and energy on the most useless secret alliance of all time.
However, just because our little schemes failed at every juncture didn’t mean they were worthless. The fun I had playing aggressively this year (as opposed to quietly in my head last year) has totally been a high point for 2010. Sure, it may not be the smartest way to make it to the end, but it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable.
The only question left is this: how much fun will CBS have making us look like idiots when they edit the footage together? My DVD is forthcoming (a messenger tried to deliver it today when I wasn’t home. Doh!).
Thank you again, CBS and everyone on the Big Brother staff. I had a blast!