News Article

'Big Brother' and September 11th's Grim Reality

How the Sept. 11 tragedy changed all the rules for CBS' "Big Brother 2"

The final three Big Brother 2 contestants—including Monica Bailey, whose cousin was listed as missing in the World Trade Center collapse—were likely the only Americans deprived of almost all reports of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks until the show's Sept. 20 finale. ''We knew a tragedy had taken place involving planes in New York,'' says Will Kirby, the $500,000 winner. ''That was really the extent of it.''

BB2 broke the show's news-blackout rule and told the trio the day of the attack because of Monica's personal connection (her sister called to alert producers that day), but decided not to show disaster video because ''that would have meant putting a TV in the house [for follow-up reports],'' says exec producer Arnold Shapiro. ''No one inside asked for that.''

Viewers, however, got to see tape of producers telling Monica about her missing cousin on the Sept. 18 episode, which some critics said was exploitative. But since those watching BB2 online—via 24-hour Internet cams—were speculating about what CBS was not airing, Shapiro says he felt the need to show how the news was delivered. ''If Monica had become hysterical we wouldn't have shown that,'' he says. ''But they [all] took it, with shock and concern, but very maturely.''

Monica never asked to leave the house and nixed an offer to speak with her sister. ''She said it would probably unnerve her,'' he says. ''She's a stoic person, and she deals with things in her own way.''

Will, meanwhile, struck a nerve when, during the show's finale, he said he'd ''waste'' his winnings rather than give any to charity—which came off as particularly heartless amid the national charity drives. Now fully cognizant of the news, Will says he will ''absolutely'' donate some of his prize.

Ultimately, any beef about the way things were handled is moot, insists Shapiro. ''What you think, what I think, what the Internet thinks, is irrelevant. It's what [Will, Monica, and third houseguest Nicole Nilson] think,'' he says. ''All three are out, and [not one] has chastised us for the way we handled it. They thanked us.''

Originally posted Oct 05, 2001 Published in issue #618-619 Oct 05, 2001 Order article reprints
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