Is it just another summer in America's "Big Brother" house?
Bloggers have condemned scandalous remarks about incest, race, ethnicity, sex and sexual orientation made by contestants. Message board posters have debated about a physical altercation involving two participants and a lit cigarette. And thousands of YouTube watchers have eavesdropped on one contestant's unfiltered thoughts about Jewish people.
Should viewers be shocked? The CBS reality show's motto is, after all, "expect the unexpected."
For the past eight summers, "Big Brother" has isolated contestants (or houseguests, as they're referred to on the show) from the outside world, while under constant surveillance. Once a week, they vote to evict each other. The "Big Brother 8" winner will be selected live Sept. 18.
With several different versions of the show broadcast in different countries, the made-for-TV claustrophobia has proven endlessly fascinating across the globe - and so has its voyeuristic peep show.
In the United States, outside of the edited prime-time airings is the mostly uncensored access to the house's cameras on the Internet for $14.99 (11 EUR) a month and, for the first time ever, for three hours every night on Showtime Too.
It is there that viewers can listen to 44-year-old bar manager Richard "Evel Dick" Donato's unbleeped expletive-filled tirades against his fellow houseguests.
And it was on the live Internet feed that Amber Siyavus, a 27-year-old cocktail waitress from Las Vegas, told fellow contestant Jameka Cameron, a 28-year-old school counselor from Waldorf, Maryland, that Jewish people tend to be "really money-hungry" and "selfish."
YouTube videos of that conversation ignited controversy on the Web and beyond, prompting CBS to issue a statement condemning her remarks and refusing to air them in prime time.
"The producers are operating essentially two differently realities," says Andy Dehnart, who blogs about reality TV at realityblurred.com. "One is for the feed watchers and the Showtime Too watchers at night. The other is on TV. They've condensed things that aren't really representative of reality. We can show that Amber has said anti-Semitic things without having to repeat them. We can show Dick is a horrible person without including the words he's using. But the producers choose not to."
If Siyavus, who is nominated for eviction this week, is booted from the house, she will not have to answer to the media about her comments. That is because reporters granted access to houseguests-turned-jury members have been told by CBS they must agree not to ask Siyavus or Cameron about the controversial remarks.
Traditionally, reporters interviewing the six sequestered evictees who will make up the show's jury and decide the $500,000 (366,811 EUR) grand-prize winner usually agree to only ask houseguests aboutconversations that they were physically present for in the house.
So why is asking Siyavus about her own comments off limits?
"Big Brother 8" executive producer Allison Grodner declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press. A CBS spokeswoman said asking Siyavus or Cameron about the comments could influence the jury voters and affect the integrity of the game.
"If we're going to interview them, we should we able to ask the questions that are on viewers' minds," says Dehnart. "We shouldn't just agree to participate in the production of the show and protect the participants from whatever information the producers don't want us to hear."
The AP will decline to interview Siyavus and Cameron.
This season's drama has boosted "Big Brother" ratings. Thursday's episode, which featured a physical altercation between "Evel Dick" Donato and 23-year-old nanny-model Jen Johnson, drew 8.1. million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Donato has taunted Johnson verbally all season. He once dumped a glass of iced tea on Johnson's head.
The most-talked-about incident in the "Evel Dick" vs. Johnson feud occurred after Johnson threw away some of Donato's cigarettes. Donato blew smoke in her face. Then, Johnson repeatedly swatted at the lit cigarette in Donato's hand and kept telling him to stop trying to burn her.
The tussle was originally censored on Showtime Too's "Big Brother After Dark" but was later included in the edited CBS prime-time broadcast.
"It was clearly disturbing," says Dehnart. "It seemed out of left field as we watched it on TV because Jen has been mild-mannered all season long on TV. It ignored the fact that she's essentially been abused by Dick and others for weeks and weeks, and she finally snapped."
Neither Donato or Johnson were expelled from the house following the cigarette incident.
"I definitely think he should've been kicked out, but obviously he was definitely entertainment for the show, so that's why he wasn't," Johnson told the AP following her eviction.
In the past, houseguests have been removed following incidents that were deemed violent or racist.
Earlier this summer, broadcaster Channel 4 expelled a contestant from the British version of "Big Brother 8" after she used a derogatory term about a black contestant. In January, Britain's broadcast regulator received a record 44,500 complaints about racist abuse endured by Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty on "Celebrity Big Brother 5."
During the U.S. edition of "Big Brother 4" in 2003, contestant Scott Weintraub was expelled following a violent outburst in which he threw furniture. After holding a knife to another contestant's throat, houseguest Justin Sebik was removed during the U.S. edition of "Big Brother 2" in 2001.
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