The escalating tension between the contestants of the CBS "reality" series "Big Brother" and its producers took a surreal turn over the weekend, as the six remaining "house guests" vowed to leave en masse during this Wednesday's live broadcast--more than two weeks before the program's scheduled finale.
The revolt is being spearheaded by George, the oldest contestant, who is upset about producers manipulating the contest rules in addition to a campaign by his wife that may have contributed to the ouster of another contestant from the temporary quarters in Studio City where the group is sequestered.
Encouraging the mutiny, George said during a group powwow on Saturday, "Don't you know what kind of point we could all make? We could all go out winners."
The debate played out on the show's official Internet site as the other members of the house eventually agreed, saying they would all walk out during Wednesday's telecast. Under the rules of the contest, anyone can leave the house voluntarily but cannot return and will be immediately disqualified.
CBS had little response to the threat Sunday, with a spokesman saying, "This is unscripted television. We will just have to wait and see what unfolds." However, one source said the network already had contingency plans in case the participants exit. The show airs six times a week and is scheduled to continue through Sept. 30. Last week, CBS announced plans to expand the finale--scheduled opposite NBC's coverage of the Olympics--to two hours.
Still, the "Big Brother" experiment increasingly appears to be spiraling out of control, engendering hostility toward the network and producers among the show's die-hard viewers. There have been several security breaches, including a woman dubbed "The Megaphone Lady" who has sought to yell warnings to the house guests. Unconfirmed reports, posted on the Internet, say CBS security officers chased the woman through a residential neighborhood in the last few days after her latest effort to contact the occupants over the complex wall.
Hostilities Brewing for Weeks
Ten contestants entered the "Big Brother" house July 4 and have had their every move recorded while mostly being denied access to family or the outside world. Every two weeks, the participants vote two of their own to be banished from the house, with viewers making the final decision on who leaves in a call-in poll. The winner of the game will receive $500,000.
Three of the six remaining contestants--Cassandra, a United Nations official; Eddie, a one-legged college student and basketball player; and Curtis, an attorney--are the latest marked for banishment, with the viewers' decision to come on Wednesday.
Hostilities between the contestants and the network have been brewing for several weeks and reached a crescendo last Wednesday when they all rejected an offer on live TV that would have paid one of them $50,000 to leave the "Big Brother" house. The producers had hoped to introduce a young woman in the house in an attempt to heighten tension in the mostly harmonious environment.
Chat rooms on the Internet have featured angry correspondence about CBS and the production company, Endemol Entertainment, with many postings calling the show a "train wreck" and accusing the producers of unfairly manipulating the process.
The "no outside contact" provision of the show has been violated several times, with contestants being allowed to talk to family and former occupants. One contestant, Curtis, was allowed to attend Sunday's Emmy ceremony as a reward for winning an in-house contest.
Discomfort among the contestants has grown since last week, when Brittany, the most recently banished from the house and one of the most popular contestants, told Josh, a civil engineering student, in a brief talk sponsored by "Big Brother" that George's wife had staged a call-in campaign to have her banished, since she was probably his greatest competition.
After a few days, Josh told George about his wife's strategy. Upset by the news, and feeling that his colleagues felt he was the front-runner, George said he would walk out Wednesday. Then he encouraged the others to join him.
"This show is trying to prove a point to the world," he told the group. "This show isn't about who is the most popular guy or the most popular woman. . . . If people move together as one, they'll win. If they've got one stray, they'll lose."
He added, "Look at it! We've got a black woman, an Asian, an old-timer, a playboy, a basketball star and a beauty queen. Look at what we've covered."
Although there was some dissent--particularly Eddie--they eventually came to agreement.
Said Josh, "It would be the greatest statement a group of people could make."
Times staff writer Brian Lowry contributed to this report.