You don't even need to watch the new season of CBS's Big Brother to recognize that it's a reality-show institution. The hair-raising title says it all: Big Brother 8.
"I think it stands out as event programming every summer," says the show's executive producer Allison Grodner. "Like going back to summer camp, if you will."
But gays aren't building any birdhouses in this steamy bungalow.
The latest season of Big Brother is rife with prearranged drama, thanks to a new gimmick: real-life enemies and rivals unwittingly reunited and forced to live in the same space for the summer. For instance, blond and bronze Daniele Donato had beamed at the chance to live in a sprawling pad festooned with live cameras and microphones for the chance to win $500,000--until she realized her estranged, tattooed father, Dick, would be her housemate. Out-and-super-proud Joe Barber boasted of big plans to befriend all the contestants--until his bitter ex Dustin Erikstrup sauntered in, prompting Joe to resurrect an unfinished, furious fight about his gonorrhea contraction. Dustin pleaded innocence, and Joe threw his arms up and said the gonorrhea must've been "immaculately conceived."
Dustin (left) and Joe
Amusing, yes, but Big Brother's petty theatrics don't initially seem far removed from similar setups like the The Real World or America's Next Top Model. But BB8 contestant Nick Starcevic is lending the show a twist of his own. The former football pro, who identifies as a straight man, will do, you guessed it, anything to earn favor in the house.
He plans to flirt, cuddle, and massage his way through the game's stages, caressing his housemates into voting one another out each week. And he doesn't flinch at the idea of working his muscular moves on Joe and Dustin, if he must.
And apparently, gentlemen, he must.
"He flirts with everyone. It doesn't matter to him," says Grodner. "He's an equal opportunity flirter. He's a chameleon and does what he needs to do to ingratiate himself, to endear himself."
Though Nick spends much of his time schmoozing the lady players, Big Brother's 24/7 Internet feed has shown his sizzling queer machinations. He's whipped off his shirt and spooned Joe, who clearly enjoyed the exercise, and received a vigorous back rub from Dustin. He also claimed during a hot tub chat to have once given a blow job.
Grodner acknowledges that Nick's bed-sharing with Joe certainly seems manipulative, though she also feels the scheming is mutual.
"They were cuddling in bed, but it was with a strategy conversation going on at the same time," says Grodner. "They seemed to have formed a secret alliance of sorts. I think especially that Joe is really smart, catches on easily, and does just as much fooling and chameleon work as Nick does."
Meanwhile, only one week into the season, the gay blogosphere titters with rumors that Nick starred in a Next Door Male gay porn video. Screen shots of the unnamed actor look similar to Nick, but nothing has yet been substantiated.
In years past, heterosexual Big Brother contestants have tried, with little success, to woo their queer competitors. In season 6, goofball Howie playfully flirted with gay competitor Beau, then in season 7, the "all-star" edition, Howie tried cozying up to yet another gay player, Marcellas. But Marcellas gleefully proclaimed his own attractions, swooning over fellow player Kaysar, whom he called his "Iraqi peach." Kaysar spurned Marcellas's affections, and Howie lost in back-to-back seasons.
If Big Brother's track record means anything, one might wonder why Nick travels such lengths to seduce Joe and Dustin, each of whom are obviously playing to win as well. But Grodner says all three players' careful consideration of alliances--however manipulative--could garner them a significant advantage for the coming weeks.
"If I had to predict anything," she says, "it's that you'll be seeing all three of them for a long time to come."