My guilty pleasure is bad TV. Costume drama and high concept Scandinavian thrillers leave me cold. I like the news (to shout at), but twee feel good stuff like Bake-Off bores me and a documentary has to be really outstanding to keep me watching.
But I am a sucker for really,really awful TV involving really, really awful people doing really awful things. I enjoy watching Z-listers eating spiders on I’m A Celeb and I get a cheap thrill out of watching the oiled lumps of human flesh on Love Island.
However, my number one favourite is still Big Brother. The format is tired and the contestants increasingly tawdry, but for me it is the original and still the best reality show out there. I was hooked from the minute it hit our screens in the summer of 2000 – yesterday I was enrolling students born that year – when we watched ‘Nasty Nick’ try and break the rules only to be drummed out of the house for his terrible crimes. Which I think involved passing notes with people’s names written on them – oh the horror!
Looking back, those seem like such innocent times. The original Big Brother contestants had normal jobs and wore jeans and sweaters. One of them was even a nun! Nowadays they are oiled and pumped and tanned and inked. It is hard to tell the difference between the regular contestants and the so-called celebrities, who have drifted through a series of reality shows before they are incarcerated in the Big Brother House. A typical contestant is the obnoxious Gemma Collins – for all I know she may be a kind, caring and sensitive person – but her celebrity ‘brand’ is loud, bitchy and ridiculously in your face. We first met her on TOWIE – possibly one of the most boring programmes ever made – and then saw her floundering around on I’m A Celebrity. I had never really paid much attention to her before but gained a strange thrill from really hating her. Which is not a good thing to admit to, but there you go.
Which brings me to last night’s winner Stephen Bear. I am not sure that words can express my revulsion towards this creature, or rather the persona he presented on Celebrity Big Brother – which seemed to flow seemlessly from this year’s regular Big Brother. ‘Bear’ was assembled from a kit designed to win reality shows. He was loud. Tick. He was good looking in a cheap and plastic way. Tick. He was covered in really hideous tattoos. Tick. He had sex with a fellow contestant on TV, whose plastic breasts were so grotesque that they resembled a huge bottom. Tick. He made everyone angry. Tick. So of course he won. Of course he did.
So who is Stephen Bear? Despite watching quite a lot of this run of Celebrity Big Brother, I wasn’t really sure. He seemed to have been genetically engineered – like Truman in the Truman Show, which allegedly inspired the creators of Big Brother – to appear on reality TV. But whereas Truman was decent and kind, Bear was crass and brutal. His first appearance was on Shipwrecked (one of the many desert island shows) but he made his name on something called ‘Ex on the Beach’, an extremely low rent dating show on MTV, which seems to work as a feeder for other more established reality shows like Big Brother or I’m A Celebrity ( there is indeed a reality TV food chain). Before that Bear claims to have worked as a roofer (although the idea of anyone being able to tolerate him in a working environment is debatable) and his claim to fame is that he had sex with women in the back of his van. What a lovely person he is.
I think the reason I found him so horrific is that there is something deeply pornographic about him. He belongs in a porno – the cheeky builder shagging the plastic titted sex doll woman in the back of his white van . His body was definitely impressive but when you looked at his face, he was vacant. He was confused – the lights were on and no one was home. His ‘banter’ was inane and aimed at the cameras – he didn’t really interact with anyone in the house. Even when he pawed and groped Chloe (plastic tit lady) it was pure performance – you didn’t feel that either of them was getting anything out of it. Bear is the first real Big Brother porn star and even though he may be claiming that he will have his own show, he belongs in a very different environment.
I’m sure deep down Bear is just like all of us, a mixed bag of conflicting emotions. I hope his family and friends are there for him in what must be a very confusing time. I met enough Big Brother contestants to know that you can go to very dark places after going on the show. The hostility he provoked in people makes me rather afraid for him.