One can assume that you make a deal when you apply to be on Big Brother: you agree to total lack of privacy, isolation from the outside world, and virtually unchecked manipulation at the hands of producers and fellow houseguests. In exchange, you get a chance to play a game, perhaps win some money, and if you’re a diehard fan, to experience the world of Big Brother from the inside.
Anyone who’s watched the show over the years has probably noticed that the “real” world appears to become increasingly distant for the houseguests, who, over the course of days, weeks and months, start to be convinced by their own, sometimes skewed, perceptions of what’s happening inside the square footage of the Big Brother set and what people at home must be thinking about them.
This year, that psychological game has the unfortunate potential to be even more damaging, at least for the time the players are “successful” enough to stay in the game. It’s the BB App Twist, which each week gives a special power or punishment to whichever houseguest is most — or least — “trending.”
I know, I know — fans participate like this every season, right? At the end of each installment, after all, there’s a prize of $25,000 given to America’s Favorite Houseguest. The old “America’s Choice” weekly voting let viewers get in on the game by choosing Have-Not foods and special bonuses or game advantages to preferred individuals. The BB App Twist is just like that, isn’t it?
No, it isn’t. Because this year we not only have the one person who’s most trending each week, but the one who’s least trending. Again, you could just say this is Big Brother. Someone has to be the first evicted (Sorry, Steve, I was rooting for you). Someone has to come in last in the competitions. Getting on the show is feat enough — and in some ways, it does come down to a popularity contest.
But right now, in 2018, the idea of someone, or something, “trending,” or not, is particularly sensitive. More than ever before, young and not-so-young people connect the idea of “trending” with self-worth, success or popularity. And in the isolated, contained world of Big Brother, the effects of houseguests not getting an app — or worse yet, getting the “crap app” of least trending — is something that could affect them on a deeply emotional level.
It’s particularly cruel because, unlike the viewing audience, it’s not clear that the houseguests actually know what it means to be “trending” in this context. Even if it were the outside-world version of trending — hashtags, posts, shares, upvotes — it would be bad enough. But on Big Brother 20 it’s based on a set of very specific criteria. If the houseguests understood that, they would perhaps be able to temper their own disappointment at not landing in their preferred spot in the “trending” rankings. Especially since they are edited on a television show — in the beginning, when there are 16 houseguests to track in a 42-minute episode, not everyone is going to get equal time.
First, U.S.-based fans over the age of 18 have to use the Big Brother chatbot to answer 5 specific questions. The “trending” stats are based on the houseguests whose names are most mentioned, whether it’s in response to a positive or a negative question.
– Which Houseguest is most entertaining to watch?
– Which Houseguest is annoying you the most?
– Which Houseguest’s gameplay is most fun to watch?
– Which Houseguest is the funniest?
– Which Houseguest has you screaming at the television?
Last week, the trending app twist seemed to be rather benign. Faysal took his crap app in good humour, although at times he appeared noticably disappointed. (Kudos to Big Brother, by the way, for giving Faysal vegetarian “ham” to fulfill his punishment — I am waiting for the season where there is dairy-free slop for the vegan houseguests.)
This week, it was a bit more painful to watch. Rachel, whom I’ve barely seen on the show — I don’t get the live feeds, so I had to consult a website to figure out who she was — got the “crap app.” She seemed legitimately hurt, and understandably so. She may have perceived the audience didn’t like her, when in fact, not enough people found her “annoying,” or causing them to “scream at the television.” Most importantly, she wasn’t getting enough airtime.
The “crap app” sends a bad message; Big Brother producers may have thought it was in keeping with the “technology” theme, and it may have been appropriate, say, in 2015, when trending on social media was something that was seen to be not particularly harmful. Now, social media popularity is something that’s increasingly recognized to be potentially damaging, and based on falsehoods. People get hurt.
In the Big Brother context, no one seemed to make that point better than Swaggy C in his reaction to not getting either the Power App or the Crap App. Swaggy is apparently somewhere in the middle, but in the — admittedly edited — Sunday night episode of Big Brother he was seen asking America what he had to do to trend. He even said he’d given the audience “the first showmance” of the season. Sorry, Bayleigh. And Bayleigh, your instincts were right.
At the end of the day, it’s a television show, and the houseguests will eventually exit, some sooner than others. Hopefully the rest of their lives won’t be too much like this falsified version of reality, this makeshift high school, where the cool kids get to run the game while unseen forces constantly change the rules.