‘Big Brother’ Contestants Being Jerks? Hardly a Shocker

Big Brother Season 15

The network's disclaimer is a nice gesture, but reality TV players know 'the game'

Let’s give CBS credit for trying, but if networks are going to begin taking responsibility for everything reality-TV contestants do and say, we’re going to spend all our time wading through a sea of disclaimers and apologies.

On Sunday’s edition of “Big Brother,” CBS added a disclaimer in response to some of the racist and homophobic utterings of those sequestered in the house. But the network’s discomfort with the situation brings to mind the prefect of police in “Casablanca,” who was shocked, shocked to discover gambling is going on. Or put another way, there’s that old saying about laying down with dogs and waking up with fleas.

Networks look for big, brash personalities to power their reality competition shows. And after roughly a dozen years and thousands of participants within the genre, the would-be stars know being a shrinking violet or wallflower is seldom the way to wind up with your own TV show, or even on “Celebrity Rehab.”

SEE MORE: CBS Slaps Disclaimer on ‘Big Brother’: Beware “Prejudice”

By now, people have learned the language and currency of reality TV, and they show up with an agenda in mind — as eager to be perceived as a certain type of “character” as the networks are to create them.

Let’s not forget the history of the genre — or rules that are pretty clear to everyone who signs up. “Survivor’s” myriad incarnations, after all, including a “Heroes Vs. Villains” edition. If you want to extend those 15 minutes of fame, notoriety can be as quick and easy a path as virtue.

Casting people can do all they want to try weeding out the extremes and finding contestants who appear natural on camera, but all too often these supposedly ordinary folk show up with preconceived notions about what sort of personality they want to convey, talking about “playing the game” and “I’m not here to make friends” and all the other lines that have become clichés, along with “This has been an amazing journey.”

SEE MORE: ‘Big Brother’ Easily Leads Way on Sluggish Sunday at Big Four

In that context, it’s no surprise some would cross lines of civility. The only way to avoid having jerks — or at least people who say and do jerky and offensive things — in the “Big Brother” house is to stop doing “Big Brother.” And since the show not only fills several hours a week during the summer but also has media folk talking about it in the context of this controversy, don’t anticipate that happening.

So while the fact CBS felt compelled to distance itself from the comments exhibits a degree of corporate responsibility in the bigger picture, for the most part it’s window dressing and makeup.

Because if anyone thinks this is the last time somebody’s going to say something outlandish as reality shows throw extroverts and fame-seekers together — all with the intent of making “sparks fly” — as they seldom say on a show like “Big Brother” in the literal sense, “Get real.”

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  1. Danielle says:

    I dunno, I think there’s a difference between a big, brash, outlandish character, someone who may be a jerk, rude, mean, intimidating, just plain dumb, and a “villain” and a racist character. You seem to be downplaying “racist” and replacing it with “jerky” the way Aaryn thinks racists comments are on the same level as blonde jokes. Blonde jokes are jerky. Racist jokes are more than jerky. There’s a deep offensiveness and history that goes along with those statements that simply aren’t there when one makes a blonde joke. So let’s get real, this is more than simply “jerky” behavior. And I think CBS and reality shows in general can find that special kind of delusional, and outlandish person without throwing up their hands and saying, “Welp, we just have to accept this as a part of reality tv personalities now.” Again, a compelling, outrageous personality does not have to equal racist. Even in our current saturated market where every 3rd person has been on tv in some capacity.

    I think, of course, you will get a racist comment here and there from a reality show contestant. What makes this different is the near constant stream of prejudice and depth of hate from more than one “character” on the show. And I think CBS was caught off guard by it. She’s (Aaryn) there now and they have a ratings boost so they are navigating it, but I doubt they will seek out “outlandish racists” in their next casting call, because how oh how will they ever find a compelling person without accepting this behavior.

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