CBS’ inaugural run of Celebrity Big Brother ended this week. We didn’t recap it, partly because of the super compressed time frame and partly because I honestly wasn’t that interested when they announced the lineup. Between Dancing with the Stars and Celebrity Apprentice, I’d recapped almost all of them in the past and I wasn’t super interested in trying to come up with more things to say about Mark McGrath.
But Spunkybuddy Nancy convinced me that we might see some interesting gameplay since it wasn’t going to be a house full of superfans for a change. I mean, Season 19 was a disaster – the fans get overwhelmed by any returning players and an average at best player like Paul can get to the end just by being Paul from TV. And sure enough, this abbreviated edition turned out to be really fun to watch.
It’s not clear to me exactly how long they were in the house – the whole series aired over two and a half weeks and they were in the house for a few days before it started airing but it’s less than a month no matter how you slice it. With the speedy eviction turnover, old strategies (for the fans in the cast) didn’t work. There was an immediacy where they couldn’t let anything fester for a couple of days because there was going to be one or two evictions in that time. They had to act fast.
Moreover, it was refreshingly gimmick-free. There was that gift bag nonsense at the beginning, a twist that was seemingly designed to be dispensed with in the first episode, and then a special Power of Veto later on which didn’t really disrupt the gameplay since it ended up being used like a regular Veto. It was pretty straightforward, all things considered. Hopefully somebody in the Big Brother organization developed a taste for that and we won’t get a million gimmicks again this summer.
In the absence of recaps, I’m just going to offer some thoughts about each Celebrity Houseguest, in the order in which they were eliminated.
Chuck Liddell – The UFC fighter previously appeared on Dancing with the Stars, where he danced with the much-missed Anna Trebunskaya. He didn’t last long on that show either. He was voted out first despite being up against James Maslow, the smuggest human being I’ve ever seen. I think there was a fear that Chuck was going to be great at competitions, but maybe also that he wasn’t super fun to have around. I mean, I don’t know anything about Chuck as a person, but he didn’t exactly seem, oh, present. That’s the nicest way I can put it. His biggest contribution to the show was a rambling speech before he cast his vote in the finale.
Keshia Knight Pulliam – The second person to ask to be voted off, and this time the house obliged. She made it one elimination farther than she did on Celebrity Apprentice, at least. This wasn’t clear from just the TV episodes, but she has a baby (not a baby baby, but one who’s still breastfeeding) and she was pumping while she was in the house, and part of her reason for wanting to leave was that she started to run dry. And that’s fine and all, but she knew she had a baby when she agreed to do the show. It’s not like that was a surprise. Aside from that, she seemed to be a smart player and probably should have done better. She was also present for one of the craziest moments of the season. During one of Omarosa’s many fireside chats about the Trump Administration, she compared her loyalty to Trump to what she assumes Keshia feels for Bill Cosby. So what she was really saying is “Despite everything, I’m still loyal to him. Sort of like you and that serial rapist.”
Shannon Elizabeth – I remember her being kind of flaky when she was on Dancing with the Stars, and sort of dreaded seeing her again. Turns out, she was great and I was really sad when she was voted off. I think she made the mistake of being too smart about the game, and Omarosa’s whole M.O. whenever she’s on a show is to turn everybody against the strongest woman. She did a good job, she seems normal, and she cares a lot about animals. I like you Shannon Elizabeth. I’m not going to go and watch an American Pie movie again, but you’re pretty cool and I wish you well.
Metta World Peace – The guy who changed his name from Ron Artest one episode into his Dancing with the Stars run knew less about Big Brother than any contestant since the first season. Think I’m exaggerating? In Week One, he voted incorrectly because he thought he was voting for who would stay. And then in the finale, he picked a key without looking to cast his vote. When Shannon mentioned “backdooring” somebody, he was genuinely perplexed because that’s a weird term that we all just accept for a strategy that nobody explained to him. And yet, he was fun to watch. The aforementioned Nancy said it “was like watching a baby deer learn to walk”, and it was so endearing to see him, for example, start talking directly to the camera. We’ve had years of people who know that you’re going to get your own segment if you talk to the camera, and Metta just happened upon it because he was lonely. He wanted to be voted out and during a live show he asked Julie if he could nominate himself. The guy missed his family.
Brandi Glanville – I’m largely unfamiliar with the Real Housewives franchise, so I know her mostly from Celebrity Apprentice where I had a weird affection for her. She wasn’t very good at challenges and never quite seemed to fit in. But she comes from a show where they encourage drama and outrageous behavior. You aren’t going to get on Watch What Happens Live if you don’t throw a drink at somebody, you know? I think that’s her default setting for the cameras, and it’s not especially conducive to being stuck with the same people for weeks. You can’t storm out if there’s no place to storm to. That might just be how she is, but I’m going to chalk it up to a TV persona because I’m charitable.
James Maslow – The absolute worst. Apparently he was on Dancing with the Stars fairly recently, but I don’t remember him at all. This guy was one of those smug would-be masterminds we see every season. The most entertaining James footage of the season came when he pitched a series of terrible alliance names that absolutely nobody would accept. I think he had it our for Brandy from day one because she had no idea who he was and no amount of explanation helped. I feel her on that one. I have no idea what “Big Time Rush” is supposed to indicate, and I never will. Basically, he was interchangeable with a line of other BB dudes who thought they were the star of the show but ultimately didn’t matter at all.
Omarosa Manigault – There’s a lot to talk about here. Because, you know, she just got fired from working in the White House before the season started. It’s never been clear to me what her job was, but I feel like she couldn’t have been that important if she just immediately went on a reality show. No mandated debrief, no chance Mueller was going to subpoena her. However, she still shared some fascinating tidbits, including indicating that we were probably all going to die at Trump’s hand and telling everybody that Mike Pence is crazy. And everybody acted like this was some kind of House of Cards palace intrigue but there’s not much she said that couldn’t be supported by watching the news.
Also, there’s this weird idea that Omarosa is an amazing competitor and a threat in the house, and while she did mastermind a couple of evictions, she’s appeared three times on Apprentice / Celebrity Apprentice and never really did that well. She’s a reality show villain whose talent is making it to the middle of the show. Can she be trusted? Probably not. Was that asthma attack worth a trip to the hospital? I don’t know. I don’t live inside her lungs. But it didn’t actually benefit her, so let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. I feel like there were rare moments when she seemed more like a person than a character but she always stepped back into doing her bit.
Mark McGrath – One of the final two evictees, and giving the final HOH winner the chance to evict two people is maybe a little much, McGrath is the human version of white noise. I remember recapping him on Celebrity Apprentice but I don’t remember a single thing about him. I’ve almost forgotten him from this season here. He’s gone on to be an entertainment reporter, and that sort of genial blandness is in full effect here. Didn’t love him, didn’t hate him. He’s fine, you know?
Ariadna Gutierrez – Man, I don’t know anything about pageant people. She was the one who was mistakenly announced as the Miss Universe winner a couple of years ago. And you know what? I liked her. I don’t know whether her gameplay was a strategy or if she hung back because English isn’t her first language, but she did a good job of playing a quiet game without making waves. In other seasons, she may have been branded a floater, but here she did a good job of not having conflict with anybody and just generally getting along. I feel like nobody has anything bad to say about her, which is a talent. And despite the pageant stereotype, she seemed very low maintenance. I mean, there was never a time when she didn’t look perfect, but it wasn’t that weird sort of preening that we’ve seen in other seasons.
Ross Matthews – I’ve never been super clear on what Ross is famous for, though he did recently play himself on The Mike Tyson Mysteries. But along with Shannon, he brought some real Big Brother fandom to the house. More to the point, he brought some humor and some solid gameplay. He did a good job of never being a real target and quickly putting anybody at ease who may have had a problem with him. I was hoping for some funnier Diary Room segments, but the Diary Room in general didn’t seem to be used as well as it is in a regular season. Maybe the shorter season meant they weren’t in there long enough to go crazy and need a camera to talk to, but other than Metta nobody really cracked me up in the DR this year. Regardless, I liked him but his second place finish makes sense – he always felt like part of the push to get people out, whether he was or not.
Marissa Jaret Winokur – Our winner played a good game. I was partial to her because she was on Playing House and any friend of Spunkybuddies Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair is a friend of ours. I mean no disrespect when I say she’s the least celebrity of any of the celebrities on the show. Not saying she’s the least famous, I’m saying she’s the one who doesn’t have any kind of celebrity life. She’s refreshingly normal and drama-free. One of my favorite moments in the season was an early DR montage with everybody scheming to overturn an advantage while Marissa informs producers of a possible problem with a propane tank. She did a good job of staying loyal without making enemies, and while that’s not the most fun approach to watch (“Hey, there’s Marissa being normal!”), it worked for her as she cleaned up, 6-3.
I don’t know if there are any plans, but I’d happily watch another season of Celebrity Big Brother. I don’t want it to replace the mothership, but I do hope they learned some lessons for the next summer season. It was fun to watch, and I was only occasionally ashamed of myself.