SLICE - Meet Your Houseguests Canada!Guys, this might blow your minds. Ready? I’m starting to think that Big Brother Canada might be even better than its oh-so-good American counterpart. That never happens! There was a moment there when I felt like the Canadian dancers had the Americans beat on So You Think You Can Dance but then the disparity in choreographic excellence dragged us back down. Canadian Idol never stood a chance against the massive population down south. But this time, at least this season, Big Brother Canada is as good as the absolute best seasons of the American original (when I say original, I mean with this particular format; I know the first version was Dutch but only we and the Americans use the Survivor-inspired rules of eviction and the HOH-Veto format). I’m talking season 2, season 7, season 10, season 14 here people- the big ones. Who knows if they’ll get this lucky again but Big Brother Canada has stacked their first season with players both good enough and interesting enough to make the Canadian show an easy rival for those legendary seasons of American Big Brother.

There are a couple reasons the show’s been this good. I could talk about Arisa Cox’s human being-resembling hosting skills (she’s still pretty shaky but all my complaints feel like things that will be fixed with practice) or the fantastic claustrophobia of the 90% indoors house design (even the backyard has a ceiling!), but what all real reality TV fans know is that a season lives or dies by the contestants it showcases and Big Brother Canada has one of the best casts I think I’ve ever seen in a single season.

Here’s the lowdown on who’s left and some thoughts on the most recent evictees.

Big-Brother-Canada-Live-Feeds-1816Suzette, AJ, and Jillian:
These three people walk that rare line of being both incredibly annoying and very boring. The least offensive is AJ, a classic BB “floater” who contributes nothing at all strategically to the game but at least has a little bit of a personality to make up for that. Trouble is, his personality is about 45% bizarre is an amusing way and 55% off-putting in a “talks in the third person” way (also, there are some leering issues). Suzette, on the other hand, is pretty much just baseline annoying. For some reason Canada finds her less offensive than AJ and that’s the only reason she’s still in the house over Aneal (an early favourite of mine who had tons of strategic potential but played a horrific social game that got everyone suspicious of him early). The twist that gave Canada a veto was a great idea in theory but it needed to happen earlier in the week. As it was, Canada was given a choice between two unpopular houseguests not worth saving and Aneal was unfairly “double backdoored” with no chance whatsoever of saving himself. I’m not saying he definitely could have saved himself, but a handful of really great players would have been able to if they’d had even ten minutes in his position. Aneal wasn’t given even that much of a courtesy to see if he might have had it in him to survive. Point is, I honestly don’t think Canada would have saved Suzette over anyone in the house other than AJ because she’s flouncy and whiny and contributes very little (thus rendering the twist useless and unfair instead of fun and clever). The final person I don’t like At All is Jillian. Also because she’s flouncy and whiny and contributes very little but mostly because she comes off as awfully dumb and that makes me like her showmance Emmett less (that and comments like “it had nothing to do with physical ability At All!” as his response to plus-sized Suzette making it through the glass maze without looking like a blind gorilla).

Big-Brother-Canada-Live-Feeds-427Emmett and Quattro:
I’m going to talk about the other members of Quattro in a moment but I want to tackle Emmett first because I have the least to say about him, by a lot. Sometimes he seems to not have a lot more going on in the head than Jillian (his glass maze performance was Hilarious), but last week he made some serious strides towards seeming like more than a farmboy who’s mostly concerned about ridiculous words to bring into the Big Brother house like “integrity” (though I did appreciate how he handled losing his HOH when it was revealed that he broke the rules). Not only did Emmett recognize that Liza was his biggest problem in the house, but he recognized when she was too big an obstacle to overcome and he’d have to sacrifice Tom (his biggest ally) alongside her. He also thought it through enough to know that the only scenario in which Tom wouldn’t melt completely down and betray the alliance would be if he took the blame for Gary’s nominations. At this point he’s the odd man out in his former alliance of four (the only non-Shield member) and his showmance doesn’t have the power of Alec and Topaz’s, but he does still technically have both those things, he’s a strong physical player but not an overwhelming target and he seems to have his head on relatively straight going forward (though his veto speech was both weird and misguided). He might be a little lost without Tom but at least he doesn’t have a stick of dynamite tied to him anymore. I liked Quattro as an early alliance because it was really smart numbers-wise. Every guy in it controlled at least two votes (them plus their girl), giving them easy control over the house, and it had a good balance of competition-winners and strategists. I liked that it had two duos within it and that the smarter of the two duos had themselves set up to use the other one as a meatshield to both do their dirty work and take all the heat should the alliance be discovered. It was like the Brigade if there were two Matt Hoffmanns and no idiot called “Meow Meow”.

bbcan-episode-11-hoh-winAndrew and Talla:
I lump these two together because I feel the same way about both of them (well, as of right now I mostly do, but I feel like Andrew’s not far from his big moment). They’re both super adorable with that beautiful combination of big-hearted enthusiasm and vanity-free goofiness. This is the case with most good reality shows but, particularly in Big Brother, the best players are villains. They’re not villains in real life (you’ll never find me calling Evel Dick a great player, he was just a bad guy who got lucky in a weak season) but they have to do things like vote out their showmances and make their proteges cry and most of the time there’s at least some of the audience who just can’t condone such (I would argue necessary) tactics. That’s why you need Andrews and Tallas in the house. 602120_367186716727662_611753032_nThey’re not completely useless game-wise the way a Jillian or an AJ is useless (Andrew’s HOH reign in last week’s double eviction was swift, decisive, and effectively eliminated a massive player without any of the dubious strategists whispering in his ear) but their focus (at least editorially) isn’t on the game. They’re just really fun people to watch. People who seem nice and make for funny interludes like Andrew’s attempt to cook the grossest pasta in history (which Tom loved!) and Talla’s spontaneous DR wipeout. I just like having them on my TV three times a week. They’re adorable. Meanwhile, Andrew definitely has his head in the game and can step it up at any moment. I think he may have read a bit too much into Alec throwing him the HOH (I think it mostly came down to Alec really wanting a whole week where he definitely wasn’t a Have-Not) and his paranoia might bring him down before he can make his big moves, but the fact that he has his eye on Alec shows that he can see strategists clearly. And if you can see them, you can stop them.

Oh Gary. Oh Gary Gary Gary. I don’t know what to do about Gary because, on one hand, he’s playing a Fantastic game. He’s a strong physical player, has a decent sense of judgement when it comes to who to trust, who to listen to, and who to fear, and he’s not afraid of big moves (it was his game-shifting nominations that flipped the house this week in the most productive HOH reign of the summer so far). However- and this is a big However- he’s about as subtle as a peacock. He is just annoying enough to remain a pretty constant social underdog and he can’t resist the urge to rub a win in the faces of the people he beat. He seems to have a good hold on his temper- as all great players do- but it’s incredibly hard to power your way to the end on big wins and bigger moves if you don’t work the subtle angles as well (just ask Janelle). If Gary can lay low enough that the power players forget about him a little bit he’s set up to really impress, but I don’t think Gary’s really in the market to be forgotten.

487406_319366204833783_2128020362_nTopaz and (the recently evicted) Liza:
I was pretty sure I didn’t like either of these girls one iota when they first moved in. One’s a dental hygienist whose name is “Emerald” but likes to go by “Topaz” (hey chica, don’t you know that that’s a dramatic downgrade in gemstone value?) and the other owns a tanning salon (and is not passive about that particular passion). But Liza really won me over pretty quickly by clearing her path as the smartest girl in the house (mind you I’m putting a lot of faith in Peter’s assessment here, since we didn’t actually get to see all that much of Liza in action. But Peter seems like the sort of guy who would only be partly blinded by looks, right? If he were completely shallow he’d be all over Jillian instead, right? Whatever, I get to tell myself whatever I want). Liza seemed to be thinking, which is more than most of the girls in the house can say (Aside: I’ve got to say, as much as Survivor has a lot of female all-stars, Big Brother seems to be a man’s game. Why aren’t there as many great female players? *End of Aside).Big-Brother-Canada-Live-Feeds-414 Liza had Tom wrapped around her little finger and she had Peter protecting her as far as he could- that’s a powerful one-two punch of brawn and brains in your corner. Unfortunately for Liza, she didn’t think through how public at least one of her two major alliances was and the men around Tom wanted her influence far away from the highly emotional powerhouse (and Peter wanted her all to himself). It’s too bad because I really did like that Peter had a safety net alliance to match Alec’s so their dependence on the Shield was equal. Alas, Liza was too influential to stay. Topaz, on the other hand, seems to be in the safest position in the house. As Quattro and Shield plus one, the central power in the house likely won’t be going after her unless Emmett starts to get paranoid about her like he did Liza (and even then, Emmett likely wouldn’t put up Alec so he can easily rally the votes to save his girl). But, more tellingly, Topaz is the only person in a particularly strong position with Gary who isn’t a target for the rest of the house (like Suzette). Topaz went out on a limb with Tom last week to save Gary, showing guts and some serious persuasive skill, not to mention loyalty. I definitely underestimated her and if she and Alec can keep the house from seeing their relationship as a threat that needs to be split up (and if Peter doesn’t take it upon himself to axe her quickly), she could make it really far.

Which brings me to “The Shield”…

The Shield

Peter and Alec:
Right out of the gate, Peter was my favourite in the house. Okay, I will admit that Peter was my favourite after seeing the ads for the show* (I’m a sucker for tall white boys with dark hair and glasses; don’t pretend to be surprised) but after his initial moves I was pretty sure he was going to be a standout strategic player in addition to being tall with dark hair and glasses (on a very basic level, his prickly personality and standout social game seem so at odds with one another that he already deserves an Oscar). Alec was my favourite after I read the bios of the contestants. He looks like he’s going to be the dumb playboy of the house (an idea supported by the inordinate amount of time he spends with his shirt off and the land speed record he broke establishing a showmance) but I’m always thrilled when the guy who looks like he’ll be that guy is actually a brainiac and Mr. PhD Candidate (in social psychology no less!) turned out to be a good ole fashioned blow to first impressions. Not only that, I was weirdly impressed by the words he choose in the idiotic “describe yourself in three words” section on the show website. “Complicated, balanced, and confident”. Now doesn’t that sound like an effective human being? (Jillian, in contrast, chose the word “hyper”). As the game progresses, on a personal level, I still like Peter, mostly because he’s cute but also because he amuses me with his hatred of all things and is funny on purpose sometimes (and a Truly Standout veto host. Can he host every competition dressed as a hillbilly?), but I love Alec despite the fact that he’s Always Shirtless. He’s good natured and funny without trying as hard as Peter does (I particularly enjoyed his ironic nominations speech) and when the Have-Nots had to give pedicures to their fellow housemates Alec not only did it with a smile on his face but he sweetly flirted with Suzette and teased Tom, taking whatever awkwardness out of it that he could (three cheers for a complete lack of hetero defensiveness!). He also made an on-air plea for people to support his sports team of choice because “the Marlins don’t have a lot of fans” (Ha!). They had their first joint DR tonight and it was every bit as fun as the famous Chilltown phonecalls, complete with Alec’s deconstruction of Peter’s weird Diary Room radio announcer voice.

BB Legends: Dr. Will and Dan

No one succeeds on Big Brother at this point unless they’re a student of the game, so when players like Peter and Alec profess their love for the likes of Will Kirby and Dan Gheesling right out of the gate, you can expect a lot from them. But when Dan appeared on the Canadian show to share his week-one predictions, he singled out Peter but didn’t put much stock in Alec. His stated reason is a smart one: why would you tell the whole house that you’re getting your PhD in Social Psych? It puts an immediate target on your back and tells them a lot about what kind of player you’re going to be. At first, I more than agreed with Dan (as I tend to do, the man’s a BB genius), but the more I see of Alec the more I think everything he does is calculated (even his massive reaction to Tom’s thoughtless prank; more on that in a moment). The key to success lies in finding the perfect alliance partner (every fan knows that choosing one person to stay loyal to gets you the farthest) and while Alec did score the best showmance partner in the house, he also managed to attract the loyalty of exactly who he needed to win- Peter. Now, I like Peter, I really do (though I would like him to stop shouting in the DR). He’s got a good sense of game and he keeps his emotions in check like no one I’ve seen before (HOW did he get through that Liza eviction so coolly?!). But he’s awfully proud of himself, almost seeming to wear his glasses and skinny arms as marks of superiority over men of lesser intelligence. I get the instinct, it’s just not a particularly enlightened one when there’s a chance that one of those ripped golden boys could turn out to be someone of Alec’s intelligence. Alec’s seemingly dumb choice to reveal his education, I think, is what landed him Peter’s loyalty. I think it was bait dangled in front of someone who needed a physical competitor on his side but might be a little too shallow to want to partner with one he wasn’t immediately sure was his intellectual equal. Because Alec took the risk of gaining a big target on his back, he gained the only ally worthy of his schemes.

And what schemes they’ve been so far. The Shield’s game isn’t flashy, or at least it hasn’t been yet, but they haven’t been put in hot water yet. When someone finally nominates Alec, Peter or even Topaz, that’s when we’ll see The Shield really go to work (after all, no one hosts a funeral if no one’s trying to kill them). In the meantime, they’re maneuvering the house in a way that at least now appears to be perfectly set up in their favour. In the most recent episodes I’ve gotten the sense that maybe this alliance is less on the down-low than it should be but Alec and Peter at the moment seem to have both the affection and allegiance of everyone except Suzette (who hopefully will be ousted this week, giving Alec an HOH reign filled with food and a comfy bed but none of the messy politics) all while having not a spec of blood on their hands. They’ve got deals in place with both Gary and Emmett (Quattro, theoretically, is still in place) and since Emmett’s loyalty begets Jillian’s and the Alec-Topaz duo seems somewhat impenetrable, that leaves very few wildcards now that Liza’s gone. If the Shield is going down, my bet is that it will be at the hands of an awakened Andrew. I don’t think Emmett’s likely to budge from Quattro, having already turned his back on one major ally, and Gary doesn’t have the numbers to move against Peter and Alec considering that his only true ally is sleeping in Alec’s bed. That leaves Andrew, Talla, AJ and Jillian (unless Suzette pulls out a miracle eviction dodge this week), amongst whom only Andrew seems to have the goods to lead a coup. I think if the Shield does go down (and that’s a pretty big If considering that Peter and Alec are both honest-to-god strategists of a calibre usually reserved for one player per season at most) Alec’s in the best position because he does have Topaz (unless that backfires and Peter stays because his lonewolf-ness makes him less of a target). Should they both make it to the end Renegade-style, Alec will have likely had to turn on Topaz (unless they’re nominated against each other) and, as Peter aptly and a little-too-excitedly pointed out this week, will likely be hurt in the end by his $10,000 win this week, making Peter the more likely winner (he’s also more of an underdog and therefore likely to win jury votes).

Either way, The Shield is a remarkable alliance in more ways than just the simple genius of always convening at the top of the stairs (no one can hear them, they can see everything, it’s impossible to get snuck up on- brilliant). Your average two-person power alliance generally has a basic Will-Boogie setup. One person is the Dr. Will Kirby, the other is the Mike “Boogie” Malin. The Will strategizes, schmoozes, manipulates and plans. The Boogie acts as a sort of henchman- winning clutch competitions, using the veto to save his Will, doing various…administrative…things. Backup. Whatever. (In other words, he has no responsibilities here whatsoever)**. I kid, the Boogie has the responsibility of making it possible for the Will to make like actual Will and never win a single HOH or Veto competition literally ever. What’s interesting about the Shield is that Alec is a physical enough player to be the Boogie (or the Memphis, if you will) and he’s just as smart if not smarter than Peter, making him the natural Will (or Dan, but it’s Will’s legacy that Alec’s always talking about). And Peter is more of a Dan player (sneaky, strategic, under the radar at all costs), but Definitely not a Boogie. With one player who is essentially a one-man Chilltown and another player firmly in the Dan-model (but playing with comedy instead of  religion in his pocket), surely at some point heads are going to be butted (though I haven’t caught even a moment of tension between them yet). Or the holes in the operation will become more apparent. My biggest fear for The Shield is that Alec won’t be able to maintain both sides of his Chilltown operation, finding that the few competitions the Boogie side of him lets himself win puts the Will side of him in bigger danger than he’s able to talk his way out of. I think even this one fairly low-key week as HOH (combined with last week’s veto win) has already put him too heavily on the radar of the quiet houseguests who’ve been paying attention (alright, I’m scared of Andrew, I’ll say it. Though mad props to the guy if he’s the one to dethrone this pair) and if The Shield doesn’t divert their attention soon (my suggestion would be a decoy nomination that suggests a fissure), they’ll soon find themselves on the block side-by-side. I love a good dominant performance but something tells me that The Shield’s grasp on the house isn’t as strong as it seems and the seemingly perfect alliance (strong loyalty, lots of brains, decent brawn, great social game, BB expertise, modelled on the greats) may not be equal to the sum of its parts.

And now at the end, we come to the other recent evictee, whom I find fascinating but you may not so if you’re not interested in Tom feel free to stop reading now. I won’t take it personally. But here we go…

o-TOM-EMMETT-BIG-BROTHER-CANADA-570Tom- the man, the myth, the conundrum
Bear with me now as I delve into the psyche of a guy everyone was happy not to like because I have a thing about the guy everyone is happy not to like. I think it’s important to differentiate villains from Villains and on reality TV that is rarely done. I also, by the way, don’t believe in villains (for the most part) so when faced with a guy like Tom I feel the need to not only try and understand him but to defend him.

Take a detour away from Big Brother with me for a moment so I can explain what I mean when I say villains and Villains. This is a silly example using a show that is strictly guilty pleasure (whereas I honestly believe Big Brother to be just honestly great), don’t judge me, but… On the two most recent seasons of The Bachelorette (yup, that’s where I’m going) there has been one suitor declared that season’s “Villain” (there is a villain every season, but these last two are perfect examples of my point). The first man was a guy named Bentley who essentially thought Ashley was a troll and wished she was Emily (incidentally, the adorable Ashley’s greatest fear- which she expressed often- was that the guys would be disappointed that she wasn’t Emily, the woman who beat her out in the previous season of The Bachelor). Bentley strung Ashley along while viciously mocking her behind her back in his confessionals, then finally quit the show but left Ashley with the damning promise that they might get together after filming was over, essentially trying to ruin her chances of falling for any of the other guys (one of whom- my favourite- she ended up actually marrying). As Bentley went to go break Ashley’s heart, he said to the camera “I’m going to make Ashley cry. I hope my hair’s okay”. Flashforward one year to a guy named Kalon, a suitor in the season starring the aforementioned Emily (a Barbie doll with a 6-year-old daughter). He’s a bit of a doofus- renting a helicopter to arrive in and antagonizing the other guys with his rich kid bravado. He says stupid things like “I love it when you talk but I wish you would let me finish” and eventually gets himself kicked off the show when Emily finds out he called her daughter “baggage”. People hated Kalon. And I mean Hated. This guy was run after with pitchforks. But I always kind of liked him. He was a show-off and had a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease, but he was telling the truth (girl was an interrupter of the worst kind, how else was he supposed to get to finish a sentence?) and he never seemed to mean harm; he just told a lot of jokes that didn’t land and wasn’t very intuitive with people’s feelings. Bentley turned and ran, was never seen or heard from again after his season aired. Kalon returned to do the spinoff show Bachelor Pad and promptly fell in love with one of the most beloved bachelorettes in recent franchise history, eventually winning over at least 70% of the audience who hated him. The idea that these two men are referred to with the same term of “villain” drives me kind of insane on Kalon’s behalf. So I put it this way- there are Villains (the Bentleys of the world) and there are villains (the Kalons), and the difference comes down to whether or not you mean harm.

Usually on competition shows like Survivor and Big Brother, the word “villain” is bandied about when referring to good players because of the lying and backstabbing built into the show’s infrastructure (you either win by mistake or you win by being bad). I think it’s stupid to call good players villains for no good reason so I usually completely discount such claims. But what makes Big Brother Canada‘s Tom tricky is that he wasn’t all that good a player. He came blazing in with little to no understanding of how the game works. He had no handle on his emotions, he was gullible and unable to distinguish between real threats and personal antagonists, and he seemed to relish the target he so easily earned for his back. It was kind of nuts how bad Tom was at Big Brother. And there were lots of moments when he was hard to love. But there was never a moment when I honestly believed him to be a genuinely bad guy. At worst he was a “villain” of the Kalon variety, and since you all now know how much I don’t consider Kalon a real villain, you can figure out how hard I’m going to fight for a little compassion for Tom.

First of all, most of the things that sat wrong with us Toronto types are clearly cultural. It’s not Tom’s fault that he’s uncomfortable around gay people (or with anyone thinking he might be gay), it’s Alberta’s fault. I originally hail from Smalltown, Ontario and those sort of attitudes- especially among uber macho types like Tom would be surrounded by as a firefighter- are obnoxiously, terrifyingly, confoundingly still present. They’re ingrained. They’re “normal”. Even my father (who has lived in Toronto for a decade and would be considered liberal by many standards) still says stupid things like “you don’t want him to be gay” when I suggest that I don’t want my male Bernese Mountain Dog to learn to play aggressively. It’s where he was raised (the dad, not the dog). We’re still at least a full generation away from fully eliminating inequality idiocy from even the most liberal and accepting places. But even when Tom was being weird about Alec massaging his feet or assuming Gary wasn’t half the athlete he turned out to be, it never seemed to come from a hateful place, just from an ignorant one.

I feel similarly about most of the bullying stuff he was accused of. It’s a machismo issue. And a defense mechanism. The kid’s got a temper. A really bad one. And he’s so emotionally vulnerable, so clearly damaged by the stuff in his past that he kept hinting at and never fully explaining (not that Anyone could blame him for not spilling his skeletons on a reality TV show), that any small betrayal, to Tom, clearly felt like a gushing wound in his carefully muscled back. The shining armour mentality so easily developed in a job where you literally save people from burning buildings has turned Tom into someone who thinks he can power his way to solutions- with enough determination and water pressure, any obstacle can be eliminated. Trouble is, Big Brother is a game for subtle people, easily adaptable people, calm people. These people are not Tom. Nor do such people really understand someone like Tom, whose every bullish move clearly had more to do with the fact that he wears his heart on his sleeve than with any sort of malicious power trip.

The only angle on “the shower incident” that can be found online. Alec can breathe now.

My favourite example has to be the shower incident- the moment that labelled Tom a “bully”, the buzziest word in the world if you want to earn someone the title of “villain” in this particular time and place (even, I assume, in Alberta). Basically what happened was that Alec didn’t save Tom with the veto (because Alec is a smart player and not just a blindly loyal one)- even though Tom wouldn’t have thought twice before saving Alec. Tom, feeling betrayed, as he does, got his well-meaning revenge through the juvenile move of opening the shower door on Alec to reveal his naked assets to the cameras. It’s a stupid thing to do. It’s kind of mean, it’s really inconsiderate, but mostly it’s just childish. But for most people who would go in the Big Brother house (and certainly most people who spend 80% of their time on camera without a shirt) it’s not That big a deal. Certainly, for Tom, it’s not a big deal, and most people- whether they admit it or not- judge the line of acceptability based on what would bother them instead of thinking about what would bother the other person. For Tom, opening that shower door was an impulsive, nothing move. But it unleashed a storm in Alec. This guy who is not only “complicated, balanced and confident” but really easy going and far more brainy than emotional, completely lost his cool. He got mad, he got sad, he got hide-in-the-corner embarrassed (Aside: it should be pointed out that, as far as I can tell, the incident resulted in no naked photos because, in a fantastically ironic twist, Tom was standing between Alec and that threatening lens *End of Aside). Alec huddled in bed, very weirdly hid his (crying?) eyes behind a sleep mask, and talked about the incident as though he’d been strung up the flagpole by his undies (and Topaz gave Tom the business! That I kind of liked. She’s a fascinating creature too sometimes). It was interesting to see such a golden boy feel completely victimized and vulnerable and I, like everyone else, really felt for Alec and the incredible panic he felt seeing his entire future in jeopardy (It’s important to remember that he’s not a firefighter. He’s an academic. Here’s the one guy in the house who really can’t afford to have naked pictures floating around). Mild jeopardy, but jeopardy nonetheless.

The whole incident was fascinating to me, particularly because of the reality of Tom’s intentions. We didn’t see much of Tom’s reaction to Alec’s reaction because it’s not a particularly acceptable thing to humanize someone who has victimized someone else, but Tom- for better or for worse- was always the most genuine person in the house so the utter devastation that crossed his face when he realized that Alec was himself devastated instead of- as he would have been- slightly embarrassed then amused, was enough to be incredibly compelling. And heartbreaking. There’s something shocking and tragic and utterly painful about accidental villainy and it couldn’t have been clearer that that’s what it was in Tom’s case- he didn’t mean to hurt Alec, he just did. And that made me really sad for him, especially now that he’s home, watching the show and reading the internet. Taking in everyone calling him a bully, an ape, a walking ego with abs.

I was talking to a friend this past weekend about the Tom-Alec shower incident and he thought it really showed how much of a strong front Alec’s been putting on, that the shock of the moment brought out an emotional reaction from Alec that revealed how even the most guarded people have to let themselves out at some point. I wasn’t so sure, I honestly thought (and still think, though I’m not as convinced as I was before this conversation) that there might have been some gameplay in Alec’s reaction. I think the huge reaction drummed him up some sympathy and took away some of the golden boy target he knew he was carrying. It also guilted the audience into not seeking out whatever photos may have (but didn’t) surface and got Alec off the hook a bit for backstabbing his alliance-mate Tom (stabbing good guys is harder to pull off). I’m probably giving Alec too much credit- maybe he really did have an emotional reaction bigger than anything Dan ever provoked from Danielle- but I’m Andrewing this situation and making sure to think of the ways Alec might be ten steps ahead so that I’m not blindsided if he suddenly shows up having conquered the world when we thought he was just playing Big Brother. If you’re in the former camp (meaning you took the moment as a genuine glimpse at Alec’s panic), it’s almost more interesting, the idea that two men- men of the same race, nationality and sexual orientation, born just two years apart- can have such a hugely different take on the same event. That they could so dramatically misunderstand the other’s priorities and intention- I’m fascinated.

Despite his pretty terrible gameplay, I’m actually sad that Tom’s gone. I thought he was a really compelling character. The house “bully” was falling hard for a woman who most likely was using him. He was prepared to fall on the sword not just for her but for his sworn brother Emmett too. He honoured every single agreement he made, no matter how much he regretted making it. He took his power so seriously that every ceremony was an event, something requiring a formal speech, dress pants and a tie (sometimes a vest!) when everyone else showed up in sweats or a bathing suit (sometimes pajamas). He took meetings with anyone who wanted to speak to him, even if it was Suzette (who had called him a “fucking redneck” on national TV mere minutes earlier). He cried regularly, but damn if it would be in front of the other houseguests. He gave himself these fabulously weird peptalks like he was a neurotic boxer from a Sundance film or FOX sitcom. Tom was- again, for better or for worse- a character more contradictory, complicated and intriguing than any writer could have purposely written.

I do most of my work for this site on the My Theatre branch. In school my principal extracurriculars involved Shakespeare and string instruments. My friends reflect that. They’re a lot of artists, writers, musicians and scholars, people with whom I get in semi-regular fights about reality TV (okay, I have pretentious friends. Whatever, I like them). And every time, this is what I come back to: not all reality TV is worthwhile (in fact a whole mess of it isn’t; remember that time when I used an analogy from The Bachelorette?) but the shows that are worthwhile are so because of the complicated human drama that’s underneath all the stupid competitions and glaring product placement. Sometimes there’s a Tom- a character so psychologically fascinating that he’s far more interesting to dissect than Walter White. Sometimes there’s a Peter- a persona and pattern of behaviour so carefully crafted that the struggle to see him clearly gives the viewer an arc of their own. Sometimes there’s an Alec- someone who seems so together intellectually, physically, and socially that it’s a thrill to watch him function at such a high level and a bigger thrill waiting to see if he’ll fall. Sometimes, like in the first season of Big Brother Canada, there can be all three at once. Plus a charming oddity sleeper cell like Andrew, and a kooky party girl better than ten sidekicks’ worth of comic relief, and a powerhouse athlete with an affinity for glitter, and a ceramic moose that flirts with the houseguests and sends them on secret missions!  Okay, I might have just undermined my own point a bit, but I kind of love Marsha the Moose, so shut up! Point is, shows like Big Brother and Survivor are fascinating social experiments and really truly hard games to play- games that require serious strategic smarts if you’re going to be one of the greats- and, with the right cast, it’s hard to beat the storytelling power of actual human beings.

*This Ad is particularly Fantastic.
** If you did not get this reference, you are horrible and I hate you.