After remaining off the air since last week's terrorist attacks, the voyeuristic series returns to CBS tonight at 9 p.m., featuring footage taped during the past week. That will also include the eviction of a houseguest, which actually took place Saturday and has been seen only by viewers of the show's live Webcast. (Warning: A major spoiler is below.)
Big Brother 2 is then set to wrap up Thursday in a one-hour finale. But in the wake of last week's attacks, viewers have grown increasingly frustrated and angry about the producers' decision to keep the guests inside the house.
Contestant Monica Bailey, who's from Brooklyn, has a cousin who worked in the World Trade Center and is still missing. CBS says it informed Bailey of the situation, and producers provided news to the other remaining houseguests, Will and Nicole. But some questioned just how much they've been told.
"There have been daily updates," says CBS spokeswoman Diane Ekeblad, but even she acknowledges that "they have not seen pictures, so I would say that without seeing pictures, there's no way to fully comprehend what's taken place."
According to accounts from viewers who have watched the Big Brother Webcast, the houseguests remained confused about the scope of last Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Will, Nicole and Monica wondered aloud why they hadn't seen planes flying over the house carrying banner messages--something they had grown accustomed to prior to last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, host Julie Chen was stuck in New York last week after the attacks. She flew back to Los Angeles in time to tape Saturday's eviction episode.
When last week's attacks occurred, executive producer Arnold Shapiro decided that day to give news updates to the three remaining houseguests, which normally would be a violation of Big Brother's "no outside contact" rules.
"Because of that, it became defined for us as a family emergency," Shapiro told USA Today last week. "It was an extraordinary circumstance for us, [and] it's not like the show hasn't had enough challenges...But obviously the tragedy that happened in America far outdoes anything with the show."
In other countries like Belgium and South Africa, Big Brother contestants were told nothing. Outside of the U.S., only the Dutch version of the show informed houseguests about the attacks.
Still, the tragedy wasn't enough for CBS to call off the game entirely and remove the houseguests. And it has sparked a wave of criticism from some Big Brother faithful, who have called the decision to keep them inside inhumane.
"It's extremely cruel and unfair of the producers to do this," wrote one visitor at Internet community Plastic.com. "At least one cast member lost a family member, and CBS certainly doesn't have a list of all the cast members' friends and loved ones to check against the list of those missing. And even if no one on the cast had lost someone, it's still cruel to deprive them of participation in the national grieving process."
On a less serious note, another added: "CBS probably figures it's only fair since no one in America has watched or cared what happens on Big Brother, that those on Big Brother shouldn't watch or care about what's happening in America."
On Monday, CBS didn't defend its actions so much as defend the contestants' right to leave the game. "The houseguests always have the opportunity to leave the house whenever they want to," Ekeblad says. "Nobody has kept them against their will in the house."
Tonight's episode was originally scheduled to run as a two-hour special, but CBS later changed it to one hour. It will be preceded by a special 8 p.m. edition of the TV news magazine 48 Hours.
As it turns out, Saturday's evicted houseguest was Bailey--who is now gone from the house and presumably has been back in touch with her family members in New York.