Photo Credit: Lisette M. Azar/CBS
A few weeks ago, Big Brother (CBS, Wed. at 8 p.m. ET; Thurs. at 9 p.m. ET; and Sun. at 8 p.m. ET) made national headlines. The show itself was business as usual -- 16 houseguests, 24-hour surveillance, three weekly, edited episodes.
But on the Internet live feed, some contestants made some seriously inflammatory and bigoted remarks. The kind that most people wouldn't make at all, least of all with cameras around. Host Julie Chen was personally offended, and the worst culprits lost their day jobs. We all figured they would be swiftly voted off.
And then… they weren't. The most egregious offender -- Aaryn Gries -- is still there. Aaryn, along with fellow offender GinaMarie Zimmerman, are both on the chopping block, as well as Kaitlyn Barnaby. But based on the live feeds, Kaitlyn is the one that they plan to vote out. Why?
The houseguests ostensibly vote based on their own best interests, and so far their various strategies haven't included getting rid of these women.
Would it be cynical to point out that the show's producers have a greater interest in keeping the "villains" around than in letting them go? Then let's just say this: Big Brother 15 premiered, on June 26, to a slow start in the ratings. Then the controversial remarks -- and the national discussion about them -- came to light. Naturally, Chen's anger (which she expressed on a highly viewed segment of CBS' The Talk) and the scores of social commentaries it inspired have brought more viewers to the show.
Granted, the last several episodes have been more lively than usual; this is a house full of people keen to make and break alliances as they attempt to out-scheme the other players. Sudden twists and changes of heart -- not to mention blatant lying -- have infused this season with an unpredictable vibe. But for viewers, underlying the action is the ever-present hope that the racists and homophobes will get what's coming to them. And Big Brother no doubt wants to prolong that tension for as long as possible.
Aaryn's modeling agency has already dropped her contract, while GinaMarie has lost her pageant coordinator job.
And here's the riveting aspect of Big Brother's main conceit: Isolated from the outside world, the contestants blithely carry on for three months, with thousands watching. We all know that these ladies have been sacked, and that their behavior has been tsk-tsked in thousands of homes and offices and swimming pools across America. People are rooting against them. And they don't have any idea.
But we know that, at some point, they will leave the house and return their regular lives -- only to discover that friends, family, employers and lots of strangers now associate them with some racist and homophobic remarks that "let us see them for who they truly are."
These Big Brother contestants certainly aren't the only people in the world who've openly expressed ugly thoughts. But once you've done it on a reality show, it can define you for years to come.
Jennifer Graham Kizer is an iVillage contributing writer. Follow her on Google+.