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Home > Media

Big Brother: It's Hell In There

26 May 2006

One of the great things about 'The Apprentice' is that it turned on its head the reality show dictum that the emotionally frail make the most riveting viewing. This staple is an obvious enough truth - people who were fragile kids got bullied, recognised that this was a form of increased attention, got used to it, and thus took up a natural (if dangerous) position on centre stage for life. There's no shortage of such self-esteem-less attention-seekers for producers to pluck from the field, as if hunting toads with torches and buckets. But 'The Apprentice' showed that the opposite applies; put people with unshakeable self-confidence and bravado on a screen and it's riveting. People who are told they're a big bunch of total arse who couldn't sell a rubber mask to a gimp, and greet the news with a blink and a shrug, are fascinating. Also, it feels safe to hate them, because you're assured that they'll go on from whatever embarrassment they suffer in front of you to 100k salaries and/or book/telly/paper deals, and nasty mock-Tudor mansions in Beckenham. But the grim fact is that there's always going to be more televisual mileage in the display of people whose sanity and sense of self is hanging by a stretched bit of chewed gum.

Shahbaz Chaudry, 37-year-old gay Glaswegian Pakistani 'Big Brother' housemate, left the house on Wednesday having been completely ostracised from the group. 'The pain is too much', he said in the privacy of the diary room, and wept, his uncommonly youthful face streaked with tears. It was obvious to anyone watching that this was a particularly disturbed and unstable individual, and the utter hatred he seemed to effortlessly siphon out of the other housemates wasn't so much a canary in a coalmine as a bloody great condor.

Every year there's a flurry of punditry insisting that *this* time the show has Gone Too Far, and every year it's quite hard to disagree. Reality shows like 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here' put people into stressful, claustrophobic situations with each other and insects and reptiles. 'Big Brother' is just raw people. Which is why it's fascinating, of course, but also why it's like putting your very soul into a sausage slicer.

In our customary BB avoidance we didn't catch what Shahbaz actually did to upset everyone so much - he just seemed to be behaving like a rather immature, flouncing, mildly passive-aggressive bozo. But the others - the others were (quite literally) baying for his blood as Wednesday's programme began. They flocked about, flinging insults and belittlements and the social equivalent of gypsy curses. Shahbaz ate crisps with exaggerated, genuinely pathetic nonchalance. He was infuriating, but the pack of flailing, violent creatures swarming around him were just terrifying. Like marauding chimps. Like the chimps in the lab at the start of '28 Days Later', in fact. Later, when he wandered into the room where they were all sitting snarking about him, they all (except one staunch, relatively mature individual) rose en masse and left, in an awesome display of playground devastation. Our blood ran cold all the way up to the beer in our sweaty grip.

If you don't know any of the combatants from your elbow, it's shockingly easy to dehumanise them. There's the frightful hard-faced bitch with huge implants and felt-tip eyebrows. The hateful bint with thin legs who looks a bit like Daniella Westbrooke and shrieks and whines and drums her bony heels and... yep, there it is, the undeniably edifying sensation of pure and immediate hatred. That real and intense desire for bad, inhuman, unhygienic things to happen to this puling oafette with her stiff hair and flopping, selfish maw, spreading through your person like a Californian brush fire. And you feel *righteous*. But then you realise that to an extent you're being manipulated, squidged like Playdoh in the hands of producers who've already laid out their plans for who'll be the hero and who'll be the nasty whinging little trollop. That's what the programme is about - manipulation and sadism, but not the cuddly fluffy-handcuffs marriage-enlivening kind. It's a big sexless orgy of people choking each other, with only the most cursory attention to the wanking end of things. Although of course as we were forced to acknowledge last year, there's something enormously onanistic about it - the lonely wank, the narcissistic wank, the so-bored-even-wanking-is-boring wank, all in one big maelstrom of depressingly commonplace human pathos. And watery jizz.

The trouble is that you can berate 'Big Brother' all you like for shoving increasingly emotionally and mentally fragile individuals into a televisual microwave - and it is something like an abomination - but then it's hard to refute that we are all, on some level, waiting for the heads to spark and splatter like so many grapes. It's also hard, even in the knowledge there's some design to it, to give any contestants the benefit of the doubt, because they all just seem... so fucking *unpleasant*. So barely human. The women are preening, vicious, screeching bovines who do nothing for women; the gay men follow the example of that terrible twit last year and make like they're wallowing in the muck of the most corrosive gay stereotypes. The only actual human being in there seems to be the rather sweet Pete, the Tourette's sufferer, who's like some sort of neutral property in a designer-furnished vat of boiling psychological acid. He's the only obvious candidate to win, and as such should be rescued immediately in order to protect his relative porcelain innocence.

It feels terribly trite to say, but it seems inevitable that some poor shattered sod will eventually off themselves on screen, and then we'll all have to suffer the reptilian gushings of the tabloids while representatives of mental health charities wave their arms frantically somewhere outside the nation's radar.

The whopping irony is that a chastened Shahbaz subsequently made a big show of thanking the programme for giving him 'a whole new lease of life'. Being in the house was cathartic for him, he explained, enabling him to face up to a past apparently oozing horror; molestation, abuse, prostitution. The chronic masochism he displays in embracing his most recent tormentor suggests that next year they might as well just bung 12 posturing ruminants in a dungeon, to be strapped to a wheel and flogged senseless by huge masked men for leaving the top off the milk. Mouths for ashtrays, tongues for toilet brushes, the lot. And we, degraded and lost, will watch it wearing only our pants.

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