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Big Brother 2

It was apparent from the first moment of CBS' "Big Brother 2" that all 12 of the new contestants were well educated in reality TV warfare. The houseguests of "BB2" are louder, bawdier and meaner than the comparatively tame folks of the first "Big Brother."

Just so we are clear on the rules for reality TV: You can gut a pig on camera. You can severely burn yourself in a freak accident and use the footage for on-air promos. You are expected and even encouraged to stab people in the back. But wielding an actual knife at a teammate is way, way over the line.

It was apparent from the first moment of CBS’ “Big Brother 2” that all 12 of the new contestants were well educated in reality TV warfare. Justin the bartender from New Jersey just happened to take it a little too far and got booted the second week.

But he wasn’t far off the mark. The houseguests of “BB2” are louder, bawdier and meaner than the comparatively tame folks of the first “Big Brother.” This group was barely in the door of the newly spiffed up house before it was divided into the Chill Town and Real People alliances. As it stands three weeks into the show, just about everyone’s loyalty appears up for the bidding.

The reality TV craze has endured long enough for the concept to turn in on itself. All those viewers who claim to enjoy the “sociology” of it can now just admit it’s the catfights and emotional outbursts that reel them in. And it’s all too apparent that the participants are aware that to get noticed, it’s best to turn it up a notch or three. In fact, “BB2” doesn’t even seem like reality TV. It’s more like performance art — or the art of the performance. And therein, if anywhere, lies the show’s appeal.

The best thing going for “BB2” is that the producers have assembled a group of the most unlikable and insincere people outside of Capitol Hill. This fall, college dormitories around the country will be populated with freshman more mature than this odd lot. And don’t be surprised if before long somebody decides to film them as well.

Until then, you have Nicole the personal chef who doesn’t eat meat but would gladly chew up a fellow housemate, preferably Will. Will is the doctor with unfortunate hair who is trying to work his “magic” with ice princess Shannon. Shannon has the eyes of a shark but is keenly aware of the adage “sex sells.” She flaunts and taunts, keeping close company with Will and fellow Chill Towner Mike. They all sleep in bed together, kind of like snakes in a pit.

There’s Bunky, the self-esteem-impaired nice guy who came out of the closet the first week. It’s just a thought, but maybe his self-esteem issues may be related to the fact that his housemates shaved his initials into the massive fur that covers his back. Monica is the motivational speaker who is working the house with her feel-good advice. Hardy is the hunk who may win on good looks alone. Krista is the downhome girl who plays a no nonsense game and Kent is the good ol’ boy who simultaneously grates nerves and works the crowd.

First to go, aside from the naughty Justin, was Sheryl, the seemingly inoffensive interior decorator, followed by the emotionally fragile Autumn. Basically, “BB2” has been remodeled into a sort of “Survivor: House Arrest.” Instead of an immunity idol, becoming Head of Household is the only way to spare yourself from eviction. More games are played for luxury prizes and food is denied and rewarded.

Host Julie Chen has cut back her onscreen time to the live Thursday broadcasts only, and still it’s painful to watch. Gone is the studio audience, the chicken coop and gender segregated bedrooms. The deliberate and calculated editing including the heavy-handed use of freeze-framing is in keeping with the show’s over-the-top approach. Other tech credits are fine.

Big Brother 2

CBS; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed on location in Los Angeles by Arnold Shapiro Prods. in association with Endemol Entertainment. Executive producer, Arnold Shapiro; co-executive producer, Allison Grodner; supervising producers, Lisa Levenson, Don Wollman; creator, John De Mol.

Crew: Music, John Thomas, Marie Maxwell; casting Jacqui Pitman; host, Julie Chen. Running time: 60 MIN.

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