By Jarod Todeschi
11 celebrities entered the Big Brother House on Feb. 8 for the first ever American edition of “Celebrity Big Brother.” The franchise, which traditionally airs June through Sept., locks an array of people into a house, leaving them to compete for power and control over weekly evictions. It wraps up with a jury of nine bitter, evicted peers choosing the winner between the final two.
For nearly 20 years, the show has presented a unique social experiment. Each season compactly exemplifies the dynamics and interactions that can occur between people with trace amounts of similarity. Though the challenges are mostly mental and physical, the show usually revolves around the moral and ethical questions that are raised with money on the line. For the celebs, $250,000, half the grand prize of the traditional installments. The pay cut could be due to the shortened, three week time frame, or the problematic optics of awarding wealthy people with more money.
The residents weren’t A-listers or household names, by any means, but all were notable figures in their own right. The final five ultimately came down to TV host and entertainment contributor Ross Matthews, Ariadna Gutierrez who was wrongly announced as Miss Universe last year, Tony Award Winning Broadway performer Marissa Jaret Winokur, singer songwriter Mark McGrath and Omarosa Manigault.
The most controversial houseguest was perhaps Omarosa (known mononymously), who ended a year long stint in the Trump White House as a communications aide just last month. No stranger to reality television, Omarosa first rose to fame as a villainous figure on the flagship season of Trump’s own reality program, “The Apprentice.” She was not shy about commenting on her experience in the White House while under the surveillance of the 94 cameras and 113 microphones of the “Big Brother” House, making headlines for her statements on the president and his administration, as well as how she felt working in the administration as an African-American woman.
Seasons of reality television, “Big Brother” included, have served as cultural time capsules throughout the development of the new millenium. They have proved to have far reaching social implications. This season, featured female contestants plotting against the men of the house, naming the Times Up movement as inspiration, likely in reference to the shows long list of white male winners.
Omarosa and Keisha Knight Pulliam, a child of “The Cosby Show,” bonded over and reckoned with their complicated relationships with disgraced mentors. Upon eviction, Host Julie Chen asked Pulliam about Omarosa, to which she responded, “I’m grateful I went in with the spirit of allowing people to show me who they are and allowing her to show me her heart.”
She continued on the broader importance of their television platform, “It is very important for little girls out there to see that example. As another black woman, I wasn’t going to tear her down.”
The final two came down to Winikour and Matthews, who had earlier expressed his desires to win it all. “I know it’s so silly but I get emotional when I think about having a real shot at winning this thing,” he explained, “you know, the fat gay kid from a farm town,” he tearfully described himself, continuing, “If I can show that someone like me can come in this house with UFC fighters and NBA players and rock stars and supermodels and hold my own, people out there will think that they can do anything too.” Winikour ended up taking it six votes to three.
Whether competing for charity, fun, their families or reputation rebuttal, the real guilty pleasure spectacle charm of “Celebrity Big Brother” came from a sense of ease and humor that the famous faces brought to the classic competition. There may not be an obvious moral lesson to come out of a pop culture event like “Celebrity Big Brother,” but the take away could be in the mutually misunderstood celebrities searching, and finding, the redeemable qualities in one another — even as they were stabbing each other in the back.