Six "Big Brother" Houseguests
Appear Live in New York
By Ben Alexander
March 20, 2001
Appearing before an audience of slightly under 100 people, most of whom appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, six alumni of the TV series "Big Brother" reminisced about the experience and fielded questions about their feelings for both the show and each other. The place was Temple Israel of New York, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and the guest panel consisted of Brittany Petros, Will "Mega" Collins, Eddie McGee, Cassandra Waldon, Curtis Kin, and George Boswell, interviewed by Annie Jennings, a publicist for The Seminar Center under whose auspices the whole event was held. Two of their other housemates, Jamie Kern and Josh Souza, sent in greetings from the West Coast. Audience members had the opportunity to question these former houseguests in the latter half of the evening, during which time one of the houseguests doubled as an audience member to pose a question that was on his mind as well. It was a lively evening, all in all.
The effect was something of a theatrical curtain call--that is, the chance to see the people who have previously had their conflicting moments now hand in hand and all together. Eddie and Mega, hardly bosom buddies on the show, were seated side by side exchanging good humored barbs and genuine compliments all evening long, although Eddie was quite shocked to learn that Mega had been paid $1,000 plus expenses to come back to the show after his banishment to give him a rough massage (on which more later). Relations were not so sanguine between Mega and Brittany, perhaps seated on opposite ends of the stage by design. Mega, after having drawn a laugh from both audience members and Brittany by saying that he was the first houseguest to be banished from the show because his housemates knew he was their strongest competition to win, cited a particularly uncomplimentary term that a friend of his family had used about Brittany, and said that, on the show, Brittany had been constantly provoking him but the editing had shown only his reactions minus her provocations. Brittany sat with an expression alternating between anger and incredulous laughter, and throughout the evening showed signs of not quite relishing the sound of Mega's voice. It was fitting that, later in the show, the tape-recorded greeting from Josh included an exhortation to Mega and Brittany, "Don't fight! Be nice!"
The moderator wanted to know if the houseguests had felt claustrophobic in the house. Brittany noted that she had observed Karen to suffer it the most, that Karen had been panting in the love bed that the two of them had cuddled in. Karen had been seen as coming closest to pushing the panic button during the time there. For her part, Brittany had found the enclosed space of the BB house comforting, the outside world being "big and scary." Eddie recalled that some nights he had gotten a weird feeling from not being able to leave the house, reminding listeners that it can be difficult even to sit in a college lecture hall for over an hour without getting a strong urge to go outside and walk around. Curtis said that, for him, the back yard with the pool was comfortably spacious.
Asked what their most rewarding and special moments were, Brittany recalled a late-night giggly bonding experience with Jordan, Curtis cited his trip to the Emmies, Eddie pointed to the winning of the game "without a doubt," and Mega found that his favorite moment was a toss-up between kicking Eddie's ass (presumably referring to the massage) and holding his own with Julie Chen in the post-banishment interview. George spoke of having had a good time with it generally. "I know I took my whacks, but I figured hey, what the heck, it's the first time in my life I don't have to work... Hey, I was having a good old time." Cassandra shared the recollection of the moment when, upon her banishment and the walk from the house to the TV studio, she caught sight of her mother, her cousin Tony, and some friends. She called it "a most exciting moment," to be stepping back into her own familiar life.
When the question was posed of what lessons these houseguests would pass along to the next group, Cassandra spoke right away of the impact that being on this show will invariably have on one's family and friends, something that she found the producers had not made sufficiently clear. "Their lives stop," she said, noting that her mother and others close to her had lived in a constant state of concern and interest to know what was happening with her in the BB house, a reality from which she had been detached while she was on. George's advice to future participants was "Lay low, be non-confrontational," while the victorious Eddie's words of wisdom were "Be yourself, be who you are, speak your mind, do what you have to do."
Some time was spent on the nature of relationships in the house, and the tension between camaraderie and competition. Here, Brittany was on one pole with Eddie and Mega on the opposite. Brittany displayed the most sensitivity and vulnerability where personal relationships in the house were concerned. "I wasn't thinking of it as a game, I was thinking of it as, 'We're going to be like a family.' " On the subject of the "love bed" that she established, she said that she is a very affectionate person and, in that circumstance of being away from home and surrounded by these new people, she wanted to feel that affection. "If you're cuddling with someone, if you're rubbing someone's head, you're not going to turn on them or lie to them." Recalling when she introduced the idea, she said, "At first they thought I was weird, but Karen was up for it right away." Karen, she recalled, had issues with being separated from her children, and had a very maternal response to Brittany.
In other contexts too, Brittany spoke of having taken relationships and expectations of trust very seriously. When asked about her post-show feelings for Josh and Jamie, she noted that she had left the show with high expectations for a super-romance with Josh, but that an actual attempt at dating between them had been extremely short-lived. They are, however, friends now, which is better than she characterizes her relationship with aspiring movie star Jamie. (When an E-mailed greeting from Jamie was read, where Jamie said that her filming schedule had prevented her from making this event, Brittany chortled, and also visibly mocked Jamie's use of repetitive exclamation marks in the epistle.) Asked why she feels as she does for Jamie, Brittany said that Jamie had not actually done anything terrible, but that Jamie had claimed that she cried when Brittany was banished, but inside sources working for the show had reported no such emotion. Jamie and Brittany had made some efforts to hang out and bond after the show, but Brittany just was no longer able to feel any real trust for her on-air friend.
Curtis and Cassandra addressed the subject of the difficulty in banishment nominations. "You're forming friendships, and yet you're nominating each other for banishment," remarked Curtis. Cassandra said that she had never actually disliked anyone or enjoyed seeing anyone leave, "and when it was my time to go it was my time to go." After hearing Brittany remark that she had been disillusioned to watch a moment on the videos in which Cassandra had appeared dishonest to a housemate, Cassandra noted that it was precisely that kind of disillusionment that she had needed to spare herself from feeling, her reason for not having watched any of the videos since leaving the show. She also said that, when she was out, she did not want to be psychologically stuck back in the house by immersing herself in the tapes. Brittany, in contrast, had watched the tapes and engaged in extensive conversations with show employees, particularly when they were gone. (On a side note, Brittany shared the knowledge that the crew monitoring the cameras compare the ways in which the various houseguests wipe themselves on the toilet.)
Eddie and Mega, in concert, countered Brittany's sense of family and bonding on the show. "We were not supposed to be a family," insisted Mega. "We were supposed to be competing. When we were filling out the applications, they kept telling us, 'You're competing for half a milion dollars.' We weren't supposed to be forming bonds. Eddie is the only one who understands that it's supposed to be a competition." Eddie declared that he loves his real family--whom he introduced in the audience--and that the houseguests on BB are not his family. (When asked how he was spending his half-million, Eddie spoke entirely about the improvements he was having made in his parents' house on Long Island.) "And I would sell out on anyone in this room to help my family," he said. Mega applauded.
Yet even Eddie had his concerns in the area of personal relations. In the latter portion of the show, as audience members were approaching a centrally located microphone, Eddie rose from his seat, ambled down off the stage to audience level, cut in front of the person who was next up with a question (that was me, by the way), and, coyly impersonating an audience member, asked Cassandra how, after all the times Eddie had approached her in doing chores and offered his assistance, she could have nominated him for banishment on the basis that he did not help with chores enough. Cassandra replied that she was not going to answer for anything she had done in the house, adding, "I feel that you and I are fine with each other now, Eddie."
A few memorable moments from the show received attention here. One, of course, was the aborted walk-out that George had orchestrated at one point. Eddie called his temporary willingness to join in "honestly a moment of weakness," while Curtis mused, "At the time it really did sound like a good idea." One-time insurgent George showed no regrets at the walk-out not happening. (Interestingly, nobody even alluded to the producers' behind-the-scenes machinations to dissuade them, though Brittany, who had been banished at the time, volunteered that the producers had called on her to help talk some sense into her former housemates.) The whole thing with George's wife Teresa's campaign to save George by targeting Brittany came up. George downplayed the significance of it; Brittany said she was not sure how significant or insignificant their impact was. No real contention arose here. Cassandra was also asked about the time that she had refused to fill out that questionnaire (most two-faced, most sincere, etc.) and had said she was ready to leave the program; she recalled that the questionnaire for her represented a new low for the show, and that she needed to speak her mind. Of the discussion in the Red Room about it, she said, "We worked a lot of things through."
The massage got the spotlight for a bit, that is, the day when Eddie had received an anonymous and rough massage from the already-banished Mega. Somebody in the audience asked whether Eddie had whacked his masseur, as he had said he would; Eddie replied no, but joked that maybe some day they would duke it out in some parking lot. Eddie displayed more than a little bit of shock, however, to learn that Mega had extracted a price of $1,000 from the producers for his services. (Mega later noted that, of course, to go back on the show he would have to be paid--"I'm not going to get pimped; 400 years of that was enough, and New York was named for the Duke of York, a slave trader. So I'm cool with getting paid.") Eddie was stunned. "They paid you? Oh, man!" And then, using his hand for a mock-megaphone, "Is there a CBS rep in the house? Is there a CBS rep in the house?" Mega also stated that, after having received criticism from the leadership of his organization for massaging a white woman on the show, he was not about to go back on and give too gentle a massage to a man. "It's not so much the racial issue as, man to man. I said, 'I'm not going to give this guy a sensual massage.' " He also expressed doubt that he had hurt Eddie. "I'm not going to lie to you," Eddie told him, "you did smack my kidneys a couple of times."
One audience member--all right, I'll name names, it was yours truly (the one Eddie cut in front of)--I went up to the microphone and referred to the plans of the producers to find a new batch of houseguests for the next season who will give them "more sexual chemistry and more volatility." I asked the houseguests on stage to comment on what it says about the whole concept of reality-based television, that so much of it depends on bringing out behavior that is going to increase the chances of major emotional trauma on national television. Eddie replied "If there's an audience for it, let it fly"; Mega observed that "there's no such thing as reality television," at least not this, and George maintained that his own experience on the show was pretty cool. I considered going back to the mike and giving my question another try, but refrained.
An audience member wanted to know if the BB houseguests were under restriction for what they could talk about in public concerning the show. Eddie drew a laugh by saying "No comment," Brittany said that she was not conscious of the network really caring about her public statements, while Cassandra said that she did, indeed, feel quite conscious of network watchfulness. It was noted that Jordan has made many statements criticizing the show with no action taken against her. Asked how the show could be improved, several panelists agreed that six nights a week on the air was overkill. Brittany suggested a longer turnaround time for video editing, to make better selections of material to aire, and Mega made a case that, if they wanted reality, they should lift the ban on physical fighting. He noted that he could easily have felt inhibited from showing his true feelings, a la "If I even nudge Eddie, they'll kick me off," to which Eddie countered, "They paid you a grand to nudge me."
What did the houseguests get from the experience? For Will, it was validation of his view that society, mastered by "cinema and media," is caught up in a "mental matrix," giving him renewed material for his speaking engagements; he challenged listeners present tonight to "reflect on your own reality, and see how much of it is controlled by the mental matrix." Curtis said that he had done the show for fun, and "now I'm back in my reality, or my matrix, whatever you call it." Curtis is now a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's office on the West Coast. George learned that "there are many neat people out there," and Brittany said that she gained a renewed self-esteem, along with some realizations of qualities she doesn't like in herself. (Talking to a smaller group in the corridor during the intermission, Brittany also noted that many people tend to expect BB houseguests to live up to idealized images assocated with the show, and that she herself is not always as nice a person as the show made her appear.) Cassandra, who has returned to her job as a communications officer at the United Nations, noted, "I've gained an audience and a forum for ideas that are important to me," and spoke appreciatively of her supervisors who allow her a flexible work schedule to pursue opportunities in the aftermath of "Big Brother."
So, for Cassandra it's back to the UN and social advocacy. For Mega it's speaking engagements on the mental matrix. Brittany is auditioning, Curtis is prosecuting, Eddie is taking time off from college to pursue some acting possibilities--and continuing to renovate his family's house on Long Island with his BB winnings--and it's not altogether clear what George is doing, since, at the start of the evening he interrupted moderator Annie Jennings to correct her when she referred to his roofing business. "I'm unemployed now," he told her, smiling grandly. Meanwhile, plans move ahead for another "Big Brother," with a new production company working with CBS to make sure there's more sexual chemistry and volatility next time around.
Will "Mega" Collins says there's not a thing he would do differently if he had it to do over. His brief stay on the show has given him "more opportunity to get ideas across in speaking engagements. It confirmed most of the ideas that I had about cinema and media," including the dominance of a "mental matrix" over society.
Eddie McGee was there to win, and he won. He attributes his victory to viewers' respect for his singular efforts to win the money on his family's behalf. "Be yourself, be who you are, speak your mind, do what you have to do" is his advice to future contestants.
George Boswell had a great time, and does not seem to mind a bit that all four of his housemates in the end nominated him to go. He also has fond memories of his performances in the Red Room, including those which made him controversial. "I figured, 'What the heck, it's the first time in my life I don't have to work,' Hey, I was having a good old time!"
Back at her UN job, Cassandra Waldon is still pursuing opportunities to reach a wider audience with her ideas about world hunger and other pressing issues. She still won't watch the tapes of BB episodes, because she does not want to have her perceptions of any of her housemates altered with new discoveries.
Curtis Kin went straight from the BB experience back to his prior career, the law. He works as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's office in California. Of the experience, he says, "It was for fun, and now I'm back in my reality." On the show, like others, he had to wrestle with the dilemmas of whom to nominate for banishment from among the people he counted as potential friends.
Brittany Petros, at times the most cheerful and bubbly person in the room (though not when Mega was speaking), was also apparently the most vulnerable to being affected by personal relationships in the house. Founder of the love bed and the hair-coloring salon, she wore her hair tonight with its natural brunette color, tied in five pointed pigtails. She continues to call Josh her friend, but not Jamie.
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OTHER COVERAGE OF THIS REUNION:
Note: At the time that I first wrote and posted this article, there were six or seven other write-ups that I was able to link here. As of August, 2004, only this article by Jeff Whitty at salon.com remains available.