Thursday (July 9) was Get To Know Your Guinea Pigs Night, as the 11th installment of "Big Brother" began on CBS. It's a new season of "Hermano Grande," and as with every new season of "Hermano Grande," it promises to be the season where the rules have all changed, where the strategy is brand new, where anything can happen.
But beloved host Julie Chen left no doubt from the beginning why this season of "Big Brother" is different from all other seasons, teasing, "Whether you're expecting the unexpected or just... expecting...." Then she coyly glanced down at her own midsection.
That's right, America. No matter who actually wins "Big Brother 11," Julie Chen is going to make sure that we remember this as the season she expanded before our very eyes and she wanted to make clear that if we notice her clothes becoming increasingly ill-fitting, she isn't letting herself go. No, she's expecting a child and as befits her newfound status, the Julie Chen we saw tonight was more modest and, dare we say it, "maternal," wearing an outfit that covered one of her shoulders, shattering her previous record for "Most Unexposed Shoulders," which had stood at "zero" since the show's inception.
These recaps will take more structure once the season actually begins and episodes establish a common pattern. Thursdays, with results and Head of Household competitions, will probably go with a minute-by-minute format, allowing me to get the recaps and results into the ether in record time. That was too difficult for this week, both because nobody was eliminated and because I had to keep going back to the CBS website to see how many l's are in "Michele" (one), the correct spelling of "Chima" (C-H-I-M-A) and which of the otherwise unremarkable slabs of beefcake are Braden (Spicoli-esque surfer-dude), Jeff (Chicago accent) and Russell (would probably beat me to a pulp if we ever met).
[Recap/reflections on the "Big Brother 11" premiere after the break...]
As has already circulated the Internet, this year's "Big Brother" theme has something to do with high school cliques, but just in case the contestants weren't avid viewers of "Mean Girls," "10 Things I Hate About You" or "Gossip Girl," the casting directors eyed stars whose memorials of secondary education were still fresh. While "Big Brother" has been known to occasionally cast the odd crotchety grandpa or wacky great-aunt, this season's most geriatric shut-in is Casey Turner, a teacher from Florida. Almost before anybody had learned his name and certainly before the contestants had been regaled with his stories of being a trailblazer in the early days of hip-hop, Casey was begging his comrades not to target him because of his advanced age.
Casey is 41.
The only other shut-in over the age of 30 is the aforementioned Chima, who has found the perfect venue for her freelance journalism skills, especially in this economy.
As if it weren't bad enough that most of the houseguests missed the Carter Administration, 24-year-old Natalie Martinez decided her best strategy would be to pretend to be 18, fresh out of high school.
The gimmick for the season goes like this: The players were divided into four traditional high school cliques, the Athletes, the Brains, the Popular Crowd and the Off-Beat kids. Personally, I went to a high school where the popular kids *were* the athletes, but this tautology was lost on the "Big Brother" producers. The teams will still be completing overall as individuals and Head of Household will still be and individual read as well. The catch is that the Head of Household's entire clique is immune from elimination.
It might have been interesting for the players, with only minimal information at their disposals, to vote each other into different cliques, make a statement about the way people respond to first impressions. Instead, the producers assigned the players themselves. Since the producers decided nearly identically how how the players doubtfully would have divided themselves, it was an opportunity missed. Almost none of the splitting was surprising.
Athletes: Russell, the MMA fighter, Jeff, the former college football player, and Natalie, who had hoped to avoid admitting to being a martial arts powerhouse, were probably the only choices for this group and they swiftly fulfilled all manner of stereotype. Beefy Russell sneered at nerdy gamer Ronnie and seemed only able to relate to guys on a biceps-to-biceps level. Jeff had all of the gals swooning and fanning themselves like sweaty Southern belles in a John Grisham potboiler. And Natalie, who tried so hard to be unassuming in her early introduction, proceeded to get a hormonal rush in the night's challenge, taunting all of her rivals, causing even Russell to shy away and call her "wild."
Popular: Not-so-bright waitress Jordan, easy-going Braden and silicon implant display model Laura were all the easiest bets for the popular group. Bubbly and blonde, Jordan fits a mold that the producers have used to guarantee a showmance in recent years, even though she insisted that there would be no hanky-panky, or "booger," saying "No booger, cuz people are watching." I liked how Braden explained his name as "Braden, like Braid-in-your hair," as if he had the world's most exotic appellation. I'd expect when he first wins Head of Household, his luxury basket will include his favorite bong, a glass contraption he called Conchita. And Laura? She's going to be one of those contestants who sees the show as an excuse to sprawl, bikini-clad, in front of every available camera in the house so that, at the very least, Hustler might come calling (she isn't pretty enough for Playboy).
Brains: Michele, the neuroscientist, and Ronnie, the gamer, have dark hair and glasses. What other clique were they going to be in? Chima is the third brain and she was one of only two contestants to display an iota of confusion or disappointment at her categorization. Seeing her place in the "Hermano Grande" hierarchy, she pouted, "I'll have you know that I was also popular. I wasn't a dork."
Off-Beat: Hmmm... Kevin's flamboyantly gay and loves scarves. Lydia's a makeup artist willing to hook up with men or women to get ahead in the game. They bonded immediately, with Lydia crowing "He's kinda like my Ducky and I'd be his Molly." It's no wonder that after one episode, they're the only two contestants I like. Yes, Kevin's a walking stereotype, but he also managed to simultaneously mock Laura for her fake boobs and Christina for lying about her age without seeming unlikeable. They're joined by The Old Guy, Casey. He's off-beat because he's old, though he also acknowledged being a clown. Nothing he said in the premiere was funny, but that doesn't mean he won't get funny, especially if we get to see him rap.
But there was one last twist. The original CBS announcement had 12 contestants and one blank space. As the four cliques began their challenge, The Wedgie, they were told that the winning team would get immunity, but nobody would get HoH. Instead, one of four new players would enter the game.
As we were told, the four players were "favorites" from past seasons representing each of the archetypes. Muscle-bound Jessie, even huger than last season, represented the Athletes. Brian, first out last season after basically masterminding his own demise, represented Brains. Jessica, who fell for America's Player in "Big Brother 8" was Popular. And Michael "Cowboy" Ellis from "Big Brother 5" was the Outsider.
The Athletes won the challenge, which was about endurance and strength, and Jessie's back in the game. For reasons I don't quite get, everybody made a good show of being enthusiastic at his return. Me? Meh. I'd have preferred Brian's hubris, Cowbody's eccentricities or Jessica's willingness to hook up.
So that's the report form the "Hermano Grande" premiere.
Which guinea pig is your favorite? Which clique are you rooting for? And how long do you think before Jordan and Jeff are boogering up a storm?