A+E: Big Brother’s Twenty-Year Reign Atop the Reality Game Show World
by Aharon Colon, Arts and Entertainment Editor
As season 21 of Big Brother quickly comes to a close, it’s worth looking at the long-standing pop cultural significance of the groundbreaking reality show.
If you do not know what Big Brother is, allow me to explain.
Big Brother is a reality game show that is also treated as a social experiment, where producers put at least 16 random people in a house to compete for half a million dollars. Not only do they have to win challenges to gain immunity from being voted out or gain power ups, but they also have to survive mentally and play the social side of the game. What this means is that they have to have good relationships with the people around them in order to not be on the wrong side of the house vote, where one could be “evicted” from the house. The main goal is to be the last one standing.
There is so much thought that is put into this show that it is second to none. From the creativity of the games to how the show is run, no reality game show is like the genre’s godfather.
Contestants are recorded 24/7 by a vast array of live cameras throughout the show’s house, hence the name Big Brother (a nod to the surveillance state in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984), and cannot have access to the outside world. They do not even see producers or anyone who works on the show, it is only them and the game.
Due to this, the cast is always worn down, images of adults crying like babies, injuries and mental breakdowns are all expected to happen the moment the game starts. No one is safe and no one can be trusted.
The house is also of importance, too. Despite the colorful themes and very nice decor, the house is usually the battlefield for the mental part of the game.
This is where the contestants cook food, get to know each other and share secrets to their trusted allies. Whatever happens in the house always trickles over into the games, where the stakes get higher as the weeks go on.
So, what makes this show important?
First, it is crazy to think that a show like this has been going on for 21 seasons. First airing on July 5, 2000, BB, as it is known for short, has great relationship with CBS. Racking up the ratings is not a problem, and even though this generation might not be into it as much, the show has genuinely good content despite it being a reality game show.
Not only that, but the show has a dedicated fan base. Just like the show The Bachelor, there are super fans and historians on this show documenting its every move and every season. The core of this fan base tends to be in between “45 to 50 years old,” according to an article by the BBC.
This following is mainly fueled by access to 24/7 live feeds via CBS All Access, where views can watch the contestants’ every move and see what they are doing at all times of the day and night. Not only can viewers tune in that way, but voting and “fantasy leagues” all take place as well. Due to this, fans gain more connection to the contestants, thus making them more inclined to watch and see how they do every week.
St. John Bosco religion teacher Mr. Ed Torre has a son, Grant Torre, who actually interned on the show. Due to his contract, some of the information expressed in the interview cannot be published here. However, he did share why he felt the show has had such widespread, consistent success.
“When it boils down to it, Big Brother is a social experiment above all. What happens when you put 16 different people in a house for almost 100 days with no contact with the outside world? How do communities form? How do alliances form? How do targets emerge?” he said.
Coming from a different perspective, Grant explained Big Brother’s psychological aspect perfectly, conveying how these contestants are put in a less than desirable situation and expected to thrive in it.
“Like Lord of the Flies, a book that explores this a long time ago, or a lot of reality shows now, or even the state of American politics, I think Big Brother does a good job of being a microcosm of society,” he said.
Simply put: no show does it like BB.
This season is no different, and the drama and action has continued. The backstabs, fallen allies and all the mental breakdowns that have defined the show to this point are all present in the current season, and it’s almost time to crown a winner. The show has reached episode 39 with only three contestants remaining.
Watch this show from start to finish on Spectrum On Demand or CBS All Access.