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Big Brother Australia vs. Big Brother on CBS

I expect to miss #BBAU 2014 after its season finale a lot more than I have missed #BB16. These two shows share the Big Brother name and the concept of putting 16 people together in a house for three months with weekly evictions until a winner is selected -- but that’s where the similarities end. Big Brother Australia and the American version of Big Brother on CBS are wholly different shows.

Big Brother Australia logo. Catchy animation on TV, too.As you know, I’m the Newbie Desk writer here, and to date I have watched only three Big Brother seasons: #BB15 and #BB16 on CBS, and Big Brother Australia 2014 (via this YouTube playlist). #BBAU 2014’s season finale airs in Australia's prime time about 30 minutes from when I’m writing this (at about 4:00 AM Eastern). I’ve been promising to write this post since #BB16 ended -- no spoilers here if you’ve been watching #BBAU.

The obvious up-front disclaimer is this: Reasonable people will disagree on matters of taste. That said, here’s my judgment: Big Brother Australia is by far the better show. I’m told that #BB1 (that is, the first season of the CBS show) used a format very similar to #BBAU’s but that CBS judged it needed to be tweaked (*cough* ruined) to be more palatable to American audiences. And then even the revised format devolved over the years into the formulaic #BB16 debacle about which my fellow contributors on this site wrote so much.

#BBAU's auditorium is huge, colorful, and full of excited people. The host and housemates enter through the "eye" in back and walk the catwalk through the audience to the stage. CBS, pay attention. If you're going to bother with a live audience, do it the way #BBAU does.Even if you don’t agree that #BB16 was predictable and boring, perhaps you might think it worthwhile to learn about an alternate Big Brother format which viewers in other English-speaking countries seem to enjoy. So here’s a #BBAU primer. First, let’s talk about the rules of the game. Later, we’ll discuss the content of the show’s TV episodes.

In Australia, the viewers cast eviction votes, not the house guests -- who are actually called “housemates” there. Actually, I’m not saying this correctly. Viewers vote to save housemates every week, so the housemate receiving the fewest viewer votes is the one evicted. During the season’s final week, viewers decide the winner. In this, #BBAU is fundamentally different (and, in my view, better) than the American version. Viewer participation directly affects game outcome each and every week. Contrast that with CBS’s #BB16: Viewers voted on silly “Team America” tasks which gave certain house guests unfair prize money advantages; viewer participation had no meaningful direct relevance to game outcome, and many of us perceived it only as a total waste of time.

Example of a nomination. Here, Sam, as Head of House, has used points to reveal a few house mates' locations on the nomination board.Back in #BBAU, housemates nominate their peers for potential eviction. In private Diary Room sessions, Big Brother gives each housemate five points to split among two nominees, asking “Who do you nominate, for how many points, and why?” The week’s Head of House is the last one called to the DR during nominations. Big Brother gives him or her 10 or 12 points; the HOH may spend points to reveal the positions of housemates on the Nominations Table and may split remaining points to nominate as many housemates as s/he’d like.

All housemates who received at least 5 points are nominated for potential eviction (while those who received 4 or fewer points are safe). Big Brother informs the housemates of who the nominees are and how many points they received (but who nominated whom remains secret). Then, voting is opened. Over the next few days, viewers cast votes via text message and Facebook to save their favorite housemates; during the next one or two live shows, with her characteristic flair and with the backing of an engaged, vocal audience, host Sonia Kruger delivers her signature lines to housemates, telling them who is safe (“The nominee who received the most votes to save them is [dramatic pause] ... Skye!”) and, later, who is evicted (“It’s time to go ... [dramatic pause] ... It’s time to go, Leo!”).

Another stark difference: In #BBAU, discussing nominations is strictly forbidden. Big Brother considers such talk to be collusion; housemates are not permitted the competitive advantage that they’d achieve by talking and strategizing about who they’d like to nominate and evict. And he’s not afraid to meaningfully penalize housemates for breaking that or other rules. For example, on Day 66 this season, Big Brother gave 3 nomination points each to Priya and Skye as punishment for trying to get Travis to reveal information about his Head of House “power play.”

Sonia Kruger, #BBAU's host, is natural and charming. She knows it's entertainment and does it well. Julie Chen should take some pointers from Sonia.By forbidding talk about nominations and by giving viewers all the power as to who stays in the house, the content of all housemate conversations is wholly different in #BBAU than in the CBS show. I find watching their interactions to be much more enjoyable. Because they have been freed from directly discussing the game, housemates often talk with each other as they would in the real world. Friendships and romances emerge; differences, conflicts, and controversies emerge as well. Over the course of the season, we are afforded the opportunity to get to know each housemate as an individual person; viewers grow more attached to their favorites and are thus, at least in theory, incentivized to keep watching and to keep participating.

Big Brother gives housemates a special “task” each week to test their skills, memory, teamwork, and/or endurance. These tasks vary greatly. Just a few examples: They had to run a live radio station; they were split into hotel servants and guests; they had to physically obey commands of a giant VCR remote control (pause = freeze in place; rewind = walk & talk backwards; slow-mo, fast-forward, etc.). These tasks provide interest and humor for viewers and conversation fodder for the housemates. If they pass the task, Big Brother gives them a higher budget for food; if they fail, supplies of luxury food items (and sometimes staples) are constrained. Although these weekly tasks have little relevance on game outcome, they are far more effective than the CBS version’s “haves & have-nots” at providing entertaining content for each week’s TV episodes.

Sonia shows viewers the point spread between their "votes to save."This brings me to the episodes themselves.  I find #BBAU’s episodes to be far less formulaic than the CBS show’s episodes. Although live episodes do have a predictable structure (recap, save some people, evict some people, interview the evictees), I have generally found something surprising and entertaining in each of this season’s 50+ episodes. Each episode unfolds organically based on the events of the day or days covered; the people are real and unscripted; moments of pure joy happen regularly.

I could not say the same about #BB15 or #BB16 on CBS. Episodes focus on competitions (most of which are predictable retreads of those used in previous seasons), ceremonies (nomination, power of veto, eviction, even HOH room reveals), and interpersonal conflict caused by artificial game-based situations. Diary Room sessions are highly scripted; there, house guests serve more as program hosts than players; rare is the genuine personal moment.

The #BBAU house is at the very top; the auditorium is in the middle left; the rest of the Dreamworld theme park is at the bottom.#BBAU’s live shows are a visual feast! Hosted by the effervescent Sonia Kruger, most live episodes begin with a unique, custom-produced open before the up-tempo theme music rolls while Sonia strolls down a catwalk to the cheers of hundreds in the audience. The broadcast originates from the Big Brother auditorium at Dreamworld, Australia’s largest theme park. Dazzling computer-generated graphics surround the audience. Sonia and the housemates enter through an elevated Big Brother “eye” and walk through the cheering fans to the center of another “eye” embedded in the floor of a huge stage backed by a giant screen used for video playback, graphics, and live views of the Big Brother house.

Live shows air twice weekly; there are two to four additional non-live shows each week which summarize what happened in the house since the last episode. It is through these “daily shows” that viewers get to know the housemates so well. Since Australia is 16 or more hours ahead of every U.S. time zone, I could count on every new #BBAU episode being ready for me to watch on-line as soon as I got home from work. It became my daily habit to watch it while making dinner. #BBAU does not offer live Internet feeds, so the four to six weekly episodes became the equivalent.

Although I do not dislike Julie Chen, I find Sonia Kruger to be a far more entertaining host. She handles the large audience with ease. Every interaction with the housemates comes across as natural and conversational. I’m not sure whether this is due to pure talent, the use of a teleprompter (rather than Julie’s cue cards), both, or neither. Sonia’s simply better in this role. (Sorry, Julie.)

Big Brother (and by this I mean the “person,” the all-seeing disembodied voice who controls housemates’ lives) is highly interactive, too. He talks with the housemates, not just at them. He is quick with humor and sarcasm. In the Diary Room, he asks probing questions and responds directly to what the housemates say to him. Big Brother talks to housemates in groups or individually wherever they may be, not merely in the Diary Room. He’s cheeky and highly entertaining. This interactivity is a huge part of what makes #BBAU so fun to watch (and so different, in a very positive way, from the CBS version).

Producers do clearly steer the show in Australia. I get the impression that CBS wants us to think they’re hands-off, but what happens instead is that we see them interfering at exactly the wrong times and for the wrong reasons. #BBAU episodes usually strike me as fresh; significant changes to the game, such as the introduction of “intruders” (new mid-season housemates), are obviously producer-controlled but I felt like such things happened at the right times.

By the way, unlike the CBS house, the #BBAU house itself is not physically connected to the auditorium; it’s about a quarter mile away down a wooded road through the back area of the Dreamworld property. I’m not a good judge of square footage, but I think it’s bigger than the American house —- perhaps significantly so. There’s a large swimming pool (perhaps three or four times the size of the CBS house’s pool) and hot tub in a large astroturf-covered front courtyard, and it’s flanked by a private “treehouse,” gym, laundry room, and outdoor grill. The kitchen and large dining room are in their own annex.

Inside the house, there’s a “lounge” (living room), two bedrooms, a huge bathroom with a 4-person communal shower and several sinks, an adjacent “parlour” (a luxury spa with two soaking tubs and numerous makeover tables), the “Power Room” into which Big Brother invites housemates for special rewards and projects, an adjacent task room which producers repurpose several times throughout the season, and, of course, the Diary Room (which for 2014 has been moved to a newly-built second level, the first time #BBAU's house has had two stories). Connected to the main house via a corridor off of the outdoor courtyard is the Sanctuary, a luxury apartment with its own pool, living/bedroom, and bathroom with soaking tub; Big Brother rewards the Head of House and his/her choice of guest, or some times other housemates, with overnight stays in the private Sanctuary.

Just because I find so much to like about Big Brother Australia does not mean I won’t tune in for #BB17 on CBS next year. But I think CBS could borrow some ideas from #BBAU to improve its own product without making it unrecognizable. How? That’s what I’ll write about next time.

Have you been watching Big Brother Australia 2014? What do you think of it? In what ways do you think it's better (or worse) than Big Brother on CBS here in the States? Comment below or @uselesstraffic.


Big Brother Gossip Show #414: Finale

Thankfully, this season comes to an end this week, so tonight's show is our big finale. We talk about the evictions of Frankie and Caleb, the first two of three final competitions, along with some overall thoughts of the season.

While all three of us are disappointed with the season, we feel that this is the best season of the Big Brother Gossip Show. For that I thank Colette and Mike, along wth Ash for her help with audio. We all thank all of you for listening to us this season, and we hope we entertained you.

Grab this via my The Ledge app, Stitcher, or iTunes...and leave us a review! You can also grab a direct download HERE


Big Brother Season 16, Episode 38 Recap

Today was such a beautiful day! The reason for such a perfect day? It really has to be the fact that today is Day 1 AF (After Frankie). Last night, our summer long nightmare finally ended as Cody and Derrick finally had the guts and smarts to eliminate the most annoying presence in Big Brother history. Good job, boys, even if Caleb’s big mouth threatened to ruin the evening.

So tonight we narrow the field down to this season’s final three. Who will survive? We know that Derrick has a place in the finals thanks to his HOH victory last night. Will Cody have called somebody out for the last time this year? Wait, he’s only threatened to do that. Will Caleb go beastmode on somebody’s ass? Will Victoria pull out the most shocking veto win of the season? Let’s find out!

After Julie’s intro, tonight’s episode commences with a look back at the moment Frankie left. They all kind of make fun of him, and Derrick explains that “it was tiem to let him go”. We then see Frankie ask Derrick about whether he’d stay 5 ½ hours before the taping. Derrick tells him that he’s going, and adds he can’t lie to him. Hmmm, complete with “tragedy” music. Frankie begins crying, and thanks Derrick. When told he’s “the best player in the game”, Frankie replies, “I know.” Ugh.

It’s now four hours before the eviction, and all of the boys are telling Frankie why he’s being evicted. Wait, why are they showing this? Our national nightmare is supposed to be over! As always, Frankie makes it about himself and says that by evicting him they have “created the most powerful person in this game”. Oh Lord. He’s being “reconnected with his millions of followers” (wtf?), and the jury. “Let’s face it. Whose the most convincing speaker in this house?” Victoria? Oh, it’s Frankie, who will “singlehandedly pick the winner of this game”. Caleb tells him to shut up, and Cody also disagrees. “You’re not Jesus in this house.” Caleb points out that everybody in the house has also been playing, and thinks he’d “smoke him” if they were the final two. Ok, now this is getting good. Derrick perks up, and says that he respects all of them as players.

We jump ahead to Derrick’s HOH win, and he’s (obviously) “ecstatic”. Back in the house, Cody is frustrated that he lost due to the last question. He just has to win the POV.

Derrick is upstairs, and the hollas begin playing again, including some from his wife and daughter. Cue the piano music! Obviously, he’s a proud papa, and it’s actually a nice moment.

The boys leave, and Derrick tells Victoria that she doesn’t have to campaign to him. He then talks in the diary room about how he has to say the right things to all three of them, as he’s promised final two deals with them all. Derrick reminds her that they still have to pretend to hate each other, and that she has to go on the block again. Victoria is proud of her work as an actress, and is confident that she’s not going anywhere.

Cody then comes up, and Derrick decides to let him decide if he goes up this time. He’s reminded that they have to win the veto to ensure they are final two. Caleb is going to be the target.

Caleb comes up, and he has to convince him to go up this time. “It doesn’t matter who I put up.” This is an unfair meeting of the minds, and Derrick talks circles around Beastmode’s feeble brain. “I don’t care, man”, he finally says. “Put me up if you want.” Ha! That didn’t take long.

With that, we move to the nominations ceremony. Yep, it’s Victoria and Caleb, who pretends to be mad and gives a fake karate chop to Derrick. There’s some dumb speeches, and Derrick tells Caleb to “crush” the veto. Let’s move on to the important stuff.

After commercials, we get some filler idiocy about Caleb. You know, the usual stuff about how he is going to be famous. We then go meet his family. Fast forward time.

More commercials, and we then get the veto competition. Oh wait, it’s the “most important veto comp of the summer”. You know, more important than last night’s, or the week before. This comp is a promo for the upcoming terrible show, Stalker, so it should be a natural for Caleb. They all have a “crime board puzzle”, and they have to match the clues to pictures of the cast. The first to put all the photos in the correct spot wins.

One doesn’t even have to really watch to know what happens here. Derrick is going to throw it, while Caleb and Victoria don’t have the brains to complete it. Yep, this is Cody’s to win...and he does. (BTW, the diary room voice overs are painful to endure.) Caleb, though, still believes he’s safe.

Then there’s another wait to promote the horrific CBS fall lineup before we get to the veto ceremony and eviction. Wait, we get more house footage before that??? Come on, let’s get to it!

The boys jump around in celebration, and Caleb is convinced that he’s staying. Derrick is starting to feel guilty, but he says that the “loves his family a bit more”. Caleb continues to babble on about loyalty after Derrick walks away. Cody says in the diary room that he’s not really paying attention, as Caleb is “no longer needed”.

And there’s even more commercials!!! Hey Ms Chen, can we hurry this along? Ok, here we go. Hahaha, they have audio issues and can’t hear Julie! This is awesome! It’s fixed, and it’s clear that Caleb now understands what’s happening. He’s not happy.

There’s no actual veto ceremony as there’s no replacement nominee available. Victoria is asked if she has anybody left to thank after nine nominations, and she doesn’t quite get that it’s her turn to stand up. It’s her typical useless speech. Caleb starts off by thanking God, and the troops and family. “At the end of the day”...blah blah blah. He talks about loyalty, and how they’re safe because of him. Victoria shoots him an evil glance when Caleb says that she hasn’t had a chance to show loyalty as she has yet to win anything. POW!!!

Cody is then asked to make the sole vote, and he says that both of them have been loyal to him. He then says that Derrick made a final two deal with him on day two called the “Hitmen”, and that they’re decision on who to evict is to help make them get to final two. Caleb is then evicted.

An obviously angry Caleb hugs everybody, and heads out to cheers. Julie asks what’s going through his mind, and Caleb says that you “have to expect things of this nature to happen”. He throws out a “Beastmode”, and Julie asks why he’s most disappointed in Derrick. Again, the answer makes no sense. Julie follows it up by asking if loyalty, including volunteering to be nominated four time, “cost” him the game, and Caleb says that’s possible. He’s also asked if he regrets evicting Frankie, and Caleb (thankfully) says no way, and that he “showed a lot about his character that day”. He “tooted his own horn” the whole game.

Goodbye messages are then played, and Caleb is gone. Goodbye, Beastmode. It’s been an experience.

There’s a few minutes left in the show, so we go back to the house one last time after Julie runs through the schedule of the last two episodes. Oh wait, there’s no chatter, just a camera as they open a bottle of champagne to celebrate making the final three.

So that’s it! Are you happy with the eviction of Beastmode? Were you annoyed that somehow they found room for more Frankie footage? Tell us what you think!




Big Brother Season 16, Episode 37 Recap

Hey kids, I’m back!!! I won’t bore you with the details, but I greatly enjoyed my days away from this mess of a Big Brother season.

It’s not just my little birthday vacation that has me invigorated tonight, though. No, tonight is the night where we are finally rid of the season’s biggest nightmare. It’s going to be glorious to see this person’s entitled ass walk out the door.

In case you’re not aware, this is not actually a live eviction. It was recorded last night in real time, as if it was really live. Let’s clear up why this happened. It’s not to protect Frankie. For almost ten years, the reduction from five to four players has been pre-taped. The reason is simple. After this episode’s HOH competition, they have a veto AND the first part of the finale comps to set up. It is almost impossible to do this in 24 hours. This extra day allowed them to film the veto comp today to air on tomorrow’s episode. Got it?

So let’s get going where we left off on Sunday night with Caleb’s nominations of Victoria and...yes, Frankie!!! Caleb explains that while he loves Frankie, this is a game and he has to “knock him out” before he “swings at me”. Frankie tells Caleb that it was a “good speech”, but says in the diary room that he’s “completely shocked...I feel totally blindsided”. Victoria hugs Caleb, who tells her she “has a heart of gold”. She’s suddenly a bit cocky, bragging in the diary room that she’s going to make it to the final four. Derrick, of course, is pretty proud of how he put that scene together. “Now we have to win the veto, and we can send Frankie packing.”

Caleb now walks into the bathroom and asks Frankie if he hates him. Frankie replies that he just doesn’t understand why he was nominated, and Caleb (stupidly) explains that after looking at all of the scenarios this was his best move. Cody has been on the block for a full week, while Derrick hasn’t been able to play in either of the two HOH competitions. “I didn’t feel it was fair to put him up there.” Frankie counters that by saying that Derrick has never been nominated all season, and I must say that’s a fair arguement. Caleb goes on to say that he needs to win the veto, and that Derrick will then be put up so Victoria goes home.

Meanwhile, Derrick and Cody are talking about the importance of the upcoming veto competition. Derrick says if they win, then the two of them will be the final two. Cody wants to keep the plan to boot Frankie quiet from not only him but Caleb. Derrick then walks out, and Cody begins pumping himself up. “I have to fucking win veto!”

Frankie is now seen playing pool with Caleb. He tells Caleb that he knows he’s being tested by the nomination, and Caleb says that’s not the case. “I have no reason to test you.” Frankie then asks if there’s another reason for his being nominated, and dumb Caleb then tells him about his (or Derrick’s) worry that he would pull down Victoria and put one of the boys up. “I could have done that last week”, Frankie squeals. Caleb then adds that this was the scenario brought up, and Frankie wants to know how this happened. “Just me, Derrick, and Cody talking. Who do we think would make a big move like that, and you were the one we thought would do it.” Dumb Caleb. Dumb Caleb.

Frankie then goes on a pity party about how he’s done so much for them. As Caleb continues on about how it was a “spur of the moment” decision, Cody walks out. Caleb fills him in, and Cody is pissed. “If you want to make a big move, you don’t run and tell the person after you do it”, he says in the diary room. “If Frankie manages to pull himself down, he’s going to be gunning for all of us.” Derrick also joins them, and he’s also pissed as he would definitely be going up if Frankie wins the veto. “Thanks, Caleb.” Derrick does his best damage control as Frankie goes on about how he’s “proven himself...I’ve been nothing but loyal and honest”.

Back inside, Frankie makes a show at using a flour tortilla to study the faces on the memory wall for the upcoming “morph” veto comp. Derrick explains that because it’s a rewind week, they know exactly what to expect and can prep for it. Frankie knows he’s the target, so his “entire game is on this veto comp”. Since he won last week, he’s certain to win again. We then hear the other boys talk about how they have to win before we go to commercials. Meanwhile, Victoria looks at a bag of bread.

It’s obviously now time for that moment of truth. There’s really no need to go through everything that happened, especially the awful play by play, so let’s just go to the conclusion. Cody goes first, and his time is 2:21. Caleb has difficulties, though, because he forgot to turn off some names. Victoria starts off well, but then has trouble (as expected). It’s now Frankie’s turn, and he becomes frazzled on the second morph. His time then runs out, and he says “I’m wrecked”. Derrick is the last one up, and he believes that it’s Frankie that has the low time. He races through them, but runs out of time. He’s now worried.

Everybody heads out, and Derrick finds out that Cody won “the biggest comp of the summer”. Aren’t they all? Frankie knows he’s in trouble, but still has hope that the boys will “keep to their word”. Will they?

After more commercials, it’s time for the veto meeting. Yes, this is anti-climatic, despite some rhetoric from Frankie. Cody keeps them the same. Big surprise. Frankie’s not happy, but he’s “going to preach loyalty the rest of the week. Are you going to choose greed, or are you going to choose honor? The choice is yours. You will be judged” WTF?

Frankie is now shown playing pool with Cody, and says he’ll “never make the mistake of keeping (Caleb) safe again”. What Caleb did was just not cool. Derrick joins them, and asks when they believe Caleb is going to decide to keep Victoria. In the diary room, Frankie says that he’s going to convince the two boys that his target is now Caleb. They simply agree to whatever he says, and we head to more commercials.

Here we go with that moment we’ve been waiting for all season! Victoria gets the first final plea, and she says nothing of interest. Frankie dramatically thanks his family, especially his awful famous sister, before becoming even more dramatic about how he knew he’d be a “huge target”. Sorry, i can’t go on any longer with this. Let’s just get to the vote.

Cody is the first vote, and we know he votes to evict Frankie, as does Derrick. As the WWE yells whenever Daniel Bryan enters the ring - “YES! YES! YES! YES!”

Julie announces the great news, and Frankie demands that they all “line up for speeches”. He returns the king chess pieces to Caleb, tells Victoria to “please try to win something”, instructs Derrick to “please don’t kill my fish”, and tells Cody that “I’ve had better”. He says that he loves them all, and is out the door with a handful of glitter. Ugh, that’s reserved for Colette Lala.

Time to fast forward, as I can’t endure an interview with Julie. Seriously, the little I heard was complete bullshit.

Ok, let’s get to the HOH competition. It’s the “before/after” comp, where they have to step ahead or back depending on the answer. There are seven questions, and the person with the most correct wins. Derrick almost misses the second question, but quickly corrects himself. He then falls behind on the third question, but Victoria gets the fifth question wrong. She also gets the sixth question wrong. For the last question, Derrick is one point behind Cody, who gets this one wrong. It’s now tied, and we get a tie-breaker!Only Colette Lala is allowed to have glitter

The tie-breaker is a number, and it’s the number of seconds it took for the luxury competition. Derrick guess 420, while Cody slowly picks 680. The answer was 462, which makes Derrick the new HOH!!!

After a little bit of nonsense from Julie, the episode ends. We’ll be back tomorrow with another eviction. Until then, let us know what you thought about tonight’s episode! Are you happy Frankie’s gone? Well, that’s all I really want to know about, but you can talk about anything!