Dear Rockford, Illinois:
On behalf of Recovering Voyeurs Anonymous, thank you for delivering us from temptation. By voting to banish "Brittany" from the reality TV game show "Big Brother," and especially from the 24/7 Internet Webcast, you have saved us from the Monica Lewinsky of reality TV.
Of course, when Rockfordians "targeted" Brittany Petros, a flirtatious 26-year-old Minnesotan and self-described virgin, at least in some Clintonian sense, the community's motives had less to do with voyeurism than boosterism and civic pride. The campaign to "save George" by voting for Brittany was mostly an effort to support Rockford's favorite son, 41-year-old roofing contractor George Boswell. Which is why the city is probably perplexed by all the angry e-mails and phone calls directed at it now.
As noted by the hometown newspaper, the "Rockford Register-Star" <rrstar.com>, even without the "save George" campaign, Brittany might well have been voted out by the rest of America. And as the newspaper also noted, it's just a TV show. But during an election season, when a simmering culture war may be the proverbial elephant in the room, what happened on "Big Brother" may be a microcosm of this year's presidential race.
For those who have been marooned on a tropical island, Big Brother is one of those trendy reality-based TV shows in which average strangers are isolated together while a camera crew records everything they say and do. About two months ago, 10 contestants were confined to a studio in LA honeycombed with microphones and cameras from the bathroom to the bedroom.
Along with Brittany and "Chicken George," as his house mates affectionately dubbed him, the 10 original contestants included Will the militant black guy, Jordan the sneaky stripper, Karen the neurotic mom, Eddie the streetwise gimp, Curtis the cautious Asian attorney, Josh the boy toy, Cassandra the black diplomat and Jamie the beauty queen.
Every two weeks the house guests nominate two of their own for banishment. Then the TV viewing public decides who gets voted off the show in a continental telephone poll that costs 99 cents a call. The last house guest left gets $500,000.
During the first three rounds, George never got nominated. But two weeks ago he got three votes and five others got two votes, meaning the public got to choose between six candidates. Five of the six seemed relieved there was a group of nominees for banishment instead of just two. Except George.
Next to Brittany, George had been the most popular contestant. But sometimes he doesn't seem like the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. At first he thought he had been banished because he got the most votes from the house guests, even though he'd only been nominated. Next he began asking the TV audience to "vote to save George," when the public does not vote for contestants, only against them. And he seemed to think he needed to win the election to survive, when all he had to do was not come in dead last.
In what are called Red Room appearances, contestants talk directly to the TV audience out of earshot of the other house guests. George began performing comedy routines less like Robin Williams than Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker. First he dabbed ketchup on his shirt to illustrate that he'd taken "three bullets" from his house mates. Some viewers felt the comment was in bad taste because 15 years ago he had been in a hunting accident in which he had accidentally shot a friend to death.
Next he put a towel over his head and used an accent to parody an Arab convenience store owner. Most bizarre of all, he dressed in drag and did a crude imitation of Karen, the neurotic mom who had already been banished, except he stuffed a pair of two-liter soda bottles up his shirt and said, "If you would like a set of these babies, spend the money for that phone call. Keep George in the house."
Don't take my word for it. A fuller account is available at the official Web site, BigBrother2000.com, under the headline, "The Madness of Chicken George" <webcenter.bigbrother2000.aol.com/entertainment/NON/article332.html>.
As noted, the public doesn't vote to save candidates, only to banish them. It's a distinction that may or may not be lost on George, but certainly not on Rockford radio station WXRX which, with the blessing of the Boswell family, sponsored a promotion to save George by targeting Brittany. In addition to media appeals, road signs and other efforts, the station helped organize a free phone line at a local restaurant, all to encourage people to vote against Brittany.
The results were ironic. CBS said Brittany got more than 40,000 votes, 34 percent of the total, compared to 20 percent for Cassandra and 17 percent for George. In other words, even if no one had voted for Brittany, George would have survived. Congratulations Rockford, you helped save Cassandra.
As game strategy it may have made sense for George's supporters to go after Brittany. But for CBS and many "Big Brother" fans, it was as if the sex police had impeached the most popular character on the show. For while the other house guests have tried to endure their ordeal with civility, sing-alongs, card games or idle gossip, Brittany just wanted to have fun.
At any moment she might ask someone if they'd ever had their toes sucked. She pushed together the mattresses in the women's bedroom, turning them into one big "love bed" and turned a pool float into a love raft. She cuddled with everyone in the house, male and female, but especially Josh, with whom she had created the kind of sexual tension a daytime soap would die for.
Few of Brit's antics ever made it on the TV show. But Internet users were getting hooked on watching her innocent sex play in live streaming video, 24 hours a day. Now, thanks to the good folks of Rockford and a lot of other places, Brittany is gone, to the eternal gratitude of recovering voyeurs.
But that may not be the end
of the story. There's a new Web site, BanishGeorge.com,
for people unhappy with the tactics of the sex police. And even though
he may had little to do with it, they are out to get George. Some of them
may even vote against that other George, in November.