It started so promising. We had the first season of Big Brother where two gay men were a part of the cast as well as a season where their relationship was put under the kind of harsh light that opposite-sex Big Brother relationships have faced in the past. However, in the end we got a season so ugly that some fans longed to hang out in the HoH room with season six's "The Friendship" alliance instead.
This past season has been mired in scandal. While one of those scandals included the vocabulary challenged Amber Siyavus making an antisemitic rant that got national media coverage, the majority of scandals focused on this season's winner, Richard "Evel Dick" Donato. "E.D." harassed one houseguest, Jen Johnson, for weeks and then later turned on the other houseguests including the remaining gay man, Dustin Erikstrup.
YouTube clips captured ED saying that "all the gay guys in West Hollywood" have HIV and tossing homophobic taunts at Dustin (such as "What is it with your mouth — missing something in it?") in the week when he was evicted.
The majority of those remarks never made it into the full Big Brother show. CBS showed ED calling Dustin "Princess" several times (which you can find Big Brother fans repeating — thanks for giving us a newly acceptable anti-gay slur, Big Brother) but otherwise, the broadcast image of ED was that of a caring father who frequently spoke bluntly and honestly — honesty that frequently led to hurt feelings.
This redemptive view of ED made him the game's most popular player in the "Love 'em or leave 'em" poll and helped him in the game thanks to the "America's Player" twist where viewers could vote for one player, Eric Stein, to be their advocate in the game. Viewers voted for Eric to fight on ED's behalf and Eric was able change a vote that was previously set to evict ED. It can be easily argued that the sanitized version of ED that was presented to viewers was vital to his eventual win.
Sadly, last night's finale emphasized ED's false image. As the jury discussed their choices, Dustin warned that "With Dick winning, we are condoning that type of behavior and sending the message to America that being a piece of (expletive) is great and it'll win you $500,000."
Eric, still playing on behalf of "America" which decided it wanted ED to win, argued that ED shouldn't be judged for his behavior: "Please tell me where in the rule book it said that being polite to people, being honest or trustworthy, being any of these things are a criteria for playing this game." At that point, I wish Jen would jump in. She could have pointed out where in the rule book threats and physical violence are against the rules. After all, she did spend the summer reading that thing over and over again.
"Dick made a clearly defined strategy from the minute he walked in the door… (his) best strategic move was targeting the correct person at the correct time throughout the game," Eric continued. Which leaves me wondering — is that what Big Brother has become, a game where you can do anything if you can call it "strategy" later?
Jen, on the other hand, warmed my heart when she scolded the jury: "I put them up week two because I saw that … they were both horrible people and that they were the strongest competitors in the game. We're all stupid for not voting them out the three times they were up so now we're figuring out who's the worst of the worst." That kind of subtle dig was the kind talk that makes her my favorite reality TV personality in memory. (Not surprising since she reminds me of my favorite sitcom character.) Is there any chance I could see her on The Amazing Race?
Overall, however, there was an acceptance of the slurs — the misogynistic, racist and homophobic comments ED made throughout the game — in the jury's discussion. It was all part of his game, so it was okay to say those things. That's quite a contrast to the past season of the UK edition where houseguests' slurs were aired and then viewers saw them reprimanded for the comments.
Big Brother has always been one of the guiltier reality shows around but this season saw the show hit a new low. When producer Alison Grodner took over this season, it was announced as "a new starting point". If the way Big Brother 8 turned out is a sign of where the franchise is headed, CBS now has the kind of ugly programming that's more commonly associated with the worst of the reality genre.