Storytelling on Big Brother – that is, the process by which the show’s editors and producers sift through thousands of hours of footage and assemble something resembling a coherent, satisfying narrative for every episode – really fascinates me. Most comparable reality shows, including Survivor and The Amazing Race, are filmed months in advance of being broadcast, with the outcome of the competition already known by production staff long before concrete storyboarding for the season takes place. Producers and editors of Big Brother are afforded no such luxury. Because Big Brother episodes are edited and put together contemporaneously with the filming of the show, BB production can’t be confident that the hero they present week one won’t be gone by week two, or that the villain they’ve shown in episode five won’t have transformed into a frontrunner by episode eleven. The result is a form of storytelling that can be frustrating, inconsistent, exciting, and dynamic, all at the same time.
I mean, at the beginning of this season, who would have predicted that McCrae – the lanky, goofy guy who fretted about not fitting in with the house – would be a part of the cast’s most enduring and powerful showmance? Or that Aaryn – the insensitive, hate-spewing outcast – would become a legitimate challenge beast and member of the dominant majority alliance? Or that Helen – who once seemed to be the only voice of reason and competent strategist – would turn out to be a tragically oblivious punchline? And let’s not forget GinaMarie, who’s courageously transitioned from referring to her housemates as “cock-a-roaches” to now calling them “Chihuahuas.”
Amanda has also undergone something of a transformation, albeit one for the worse. The wisecracking real estate agent, who was once noteworthy for being one of the few houseguests able to step back and laugh at the absurdity of her surroundings, has herself become a part of the freakshow. When McCrae’s throwing of last week’s HoH competition still failed to assist his beloved in securing her first win, Amanda finds herself feeling a little down in the dumps. After chastising McCrae for not being sufficiently consoling, Amanda retreats to the storage room, where she sobs behind a garbage can. GinaMarie is not impressed by Amanda’s treatment of McCrae: “She’s just gonna ruin his life,” she confides to Spencer, while putting the finishing touches on her Nick voodoo doll.
Aaryn’s HoH win triggers a very different reaction from Helen, who uses it as an opportunity to deliver one of her patented transparently disingenuous pep talks to the new HoH. “Do not feel bad for your success. You’ve played an excellent game. If I were watching the show, I’d love you. You are such a bright girl, and you’re so humble. I am amazed by you. You have to realize you’re playing an excellent game.” Aaryn sheepishly grins. Helen continues: “You are a flawless human being. You are capable of both flight and breathing underwater, without the assistance of scuba gear or gills. You should be so proud. The placement of your hand on someone’s shoulder cures them of all physical and psychological ailments. I adore you. The beauty and clarity of your spirit and voice allows people from all around the world to understand and appreciate you, regardless of their native language. You are a human Rosetta Stone.”
Satisfied with her buttering up of Aaryn, Helen decides it’s Elissa’s turn to make nice before nominations. Elissa, however, feels negotiating with Aaryn is a waste of time. “I just want to go and have my husband tell me how much he loves me,” Elissa whimpers. But what about the jury house? “If I am evicted, I will be home.” The news that Elissa would rather quit the game and avoid having to participate on the jury takes Helen by surprise. Her voice wavering, Helen asks Elissa if that means she won’t be there to vote for Helen to win in the finals.
Helen, Helen, Helen. What are you thinking? While it’s understandable that Helen would be dismayed to learn that her closest ally is considering quitting the game, that’s no excuse for what amounts to one of the clumsiest, most poorly handled interactions in BB15 thus far (up there with Howard’s refusal to confess to The Moving Company’s existence). Rather than appealing to Elissa’s own self-interest as a way of convincing her to stay in the game, Helen inexplicably emphasizes the impact Elissa’s departure would have on Helen’s game, and reduces Elissa’s worth to her presence as a vote on the jury. Even worse, Helen again articulates this same rationale for several other houseguests in the HoH room, simultaneously revealing her own misguided belief that she has a shot at getting to the finals, and giving her fellow housemates yet another reason not to let her get there.
Trying to ease some of the tension, Spencer suggests that maybe Elissa is just having a bad day. GinaMarie erupts. A bad day?! “Did she DIE? Did she get run over by a TRUCK?” Quite an indictment coming from GinaMarie, the master of self-restraint and emotional stability, as she gently strokes a Ziploc baggie containing Nick’s tear-soaked toenail clippings.
Despite Helen’s obsequious flattery of Aaryn and Elissa’s flubbed attempt at reconciliation (sometimes a girl just needs a yoga mat, y’all), the inevitable ultimately ends up happening: Helen and Elissa are nominated. There would have been a time when these nominations would’ve upset me, but Helen lost my support when she changed from level-headed game-player to delusional “mastermind,” and Elissa lost me during the whole one-piece bathing suit debacle with Amanda. That said, if there is anything the storytelling of BB15 has taught me, it’s that outsiders can become insiders overnight, and that the people we once loved to hate can become people we hate ourselves for loving. It’s good to be back!