‘Big Brother’ double play

Competition skein's jackpot being increased to $1 mil

CBS summer staple “Big Brother” is getting a million-dollar facelift for 2005 — in more ways than one.

In addition to the skein’s new digs (Daily Variety, May 6), exec producers Arnold Shapiro and Allison Grodner have engineered a twist to the game that could result in the contest winner walking away with $1 million. That’s double the game’s usual $500,000 jackpot.

Getting the coin won’t be easy, however.

As part of their annual effort to reinvent the game of “Big Brother,” producers have come up with a scheme in which every cast member of “Big Brother 6” will walk into the house with a ready-made alliance — a best friend, co-worker or significant other.

However, each pair of players will be told they’re the only two participants coming into the house with a partner — even though there will actually be seven teams of two playing the game. Teams also will be told to keep their alliances secret — at least if they want to win the big money.

“The incentive is (for partners) to get to the end of the game sitting side by side,” said Grodner. “If they do, the winner will get $1 million and the second-place person will get $250,000. It’s in their best interests to keep it a secret.”

If a twosome doesn’t make it to the finals, winner will get the usual $500,000, while the runner-up will snag a measly $50,000.

Viewers won’t find out which players are partnered until the season’s third episode (skein returns July 7). But Shapiro and Grodner already are expecting plenty of what latter calls “soap opera stories” to emerge from a house in which everyone already knows someone.

“These are people who already like each other, but the question is, will (the friendships) last until the end when money’s involved?” Grodner said.

Producers are planning myriad mini-twists throughout the season as part of what they’re calling “the summer of secrets.”

“Every year we do something exotic,” Shapiro said. “Last year it was a ‘twin twist,’ the year before it was the ‘ex’ factor. This year, there are a number of secrets involving the cast, involving the new house and involving the game. And like an onion, they’ll be peeled away week after week throughout the summer.”

One early twist will come early in the game when houseguests discover there are only 10 beds for the 14 of them. That’s because the new two-story house contains a secret bedroom.

There also have been rumblings that producers might allow each week’s “head of household” to maintain a blog, likely via CBS.com– a first for a network reality show. But the Eye declined to confirm speculation about Web content related to the show, which has traditionally included a pay-per-view Web feed component.

Extreme makeover of the “Big Brother” house includes a second-level master suite (complete with balcony and private bathroom); a full-sized gym; and a new studio for host Julie Chen.

New digs were created by set designer Scott Storey (“Surreal Life”), who was charged with making the house “a character in the show,” Grodner said.

Shapiro also credited “technical genius” Gene Crow for making sure the new house’s control rooms and edit bays worked. “The fact that we’re getting a signal (to CBS Television City) is a credit to him,” he said.

New house boasts five extra cameras (for a total of 47) and 10 new mics (for a total of 76).

The 14 cast members are a particularly young lot: 10 are under 30, and the oldest is just 36.

“Big Brother” is from Shapiro-Grodner and Endemol USA.

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