Lynette Rice
September 14, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The warning to ”expect the unexpected” is typically reserved for the Big Brother houseguests, not CBS. But the network — already reeling from a wave of negative press for new series Kid Nation — is also facing an unusual amount of scrutiny for its reality mainstay Big Brother. This summer’s installment has featured a nonstop assembly line of controversy: 44-year-old bar manager ”Evel” Dick Donato’s graphic verbal abuse of a female houseguest prompted the California National Organization for Women to urge that the network remove him. Video of 27-year-old contestant Amber Siyavus denouncing Jewish people as ”greedy” forced CBS to issue a statement condemning her remarks. And with the finale approaching on Sept. 18, conspiracy theorists are buzzing about finalist Donato, who admitted that his son snuck him coded messages about the game through a letter. (Contestants are not allowed to have contact with the outside world, except when they receive letters as prizes.)

All of the controversy hasn’t helped the ratings, however: Big Brother 8 is averaging 7.4 million total viewers, down slightly from last year — though it has seen a 4 percent increase in the adults 18-49 demographic. As for calls from bloggers demanding retribution for Donato’s behavior and alleged cheating, don’t hold your breath — the producers don’t think he’s done anything to compromise the game. ”BB is a microcosm of society,” says executive producer Allison Grodner. ”When you put these people together, we’re bound to see extreme behavior. Personally, I don’t like their views, but this is what this social experiment is all about.” That, and making compelling reality TV. Says media buyer Bill Carroll of the Katz TV Group, ”If you don’t have a villain, there is nothing interesting about the game.”

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