Big Brother 2 contestant Krista Stegall--the woman who had a knife held to her neck by another houseguest on the show--has launched a lawsuit against CBS, claiming the network was negligent for allowing the infamous incident to occur.
Stegall is seeking unspecified damages from the Eye network and the production companies responsible for the voyeuristic, claustrophobic reality series, which holds a dozen disparate individuals hostage and observes them 24/7 as they compete for a $500,000 prize for whoever survives weeks of emotional and verbal backstabbing.
The problem, Stegall says, is that the backstabbing isn't supposed to be literal.
During last summer's installment of the series, Justin Sebik, a 26-year-old bartender from New Jersey, began flirting with Stegall, a 28-year-old divorced mom and waitress from Louisiana. While kissing Stegall, Sebik pulled a knife from a kitchen drawer, held it to her throat and exclaimed, "Wait hang on, I'm gonna slash you throat. Would you get mad if I killed you?"
Stegall responded, "No. But I want some water."
(The account was confirmed by show producers and viewers linked to the live Webcast of the action--the scene was edited out of the actual TV show, which aired on tape-delay.)
At the time, Stegall seemed to view the incident as just the joke Sebik later claimed it was when he discussed the happening with Big Brother host Julie Chen.
"If there is anyone who can perceive that as an act of violence or a threat, then you're an idiot," said Sebik, who on the Big Brother 2 CBS Website lists his favorite movie as Dumb and Dumber and favorite band as the Smashing Pumpkins.
CBS didn't think it was a joke. Sebik was ejected from the house after spending three hours with the psychologist attached to the show and his fellow contestants threatened to leave the domicile if he was allowed to remain.
In her suit, Stegall--who has given up her job waitressing for a gig as a morning radio show personality at KSMB-FM near Lafayette, Louisiana--claims the network did not provide her with adequate counseling and should pay the medical expenses she incurred seeking professional help to cope with all the publicity that came her way from the incident.
The lawsuit, filed last week in state court in New Orleans, also alleges that CBS should have done a better job screening applicants and not allowed Sebik to be a contestant. Following his eviction the New York Times discovered the brash housemate had been arrested on assault charges in 1996 and charged with assault and theft in 1997. The producers admitted they had known of one arrest for robbery, but defended their casting selection because that charge against Sebik had been dropped.
Stegall's suit states that Sebik acted aggressively towards others on the show before the knife stunt. Earlier he was seen getting very worked up during a squabble over a pillow. A CBS statement about his ejection, noted the knife play was "the second such incident involving Justin. He was warned after the first, which was far less serious in nature. To ensure the safety of all houseguests, intimidation, violence and even the threat of violence will not be tolerated."
"I don't think there's any doubt [CBS] made a huge mistake letting him in and keeping him in," Stegall's attorney, Clayton Burgess, told the Associated Press.
On the CBS Big Brother 2 Website, Stegall's motto is listed as "Always strive for the best...never settle for less!" and her favorite movie is Braveheart.
CBS, which launches its third season of Big Brother next Wednesday, has pooh-poohed the suit. Says network spokeswoman Nancy Carr, "We think there is no merit to this lawsuit and we are prepared to defend it vigorously."
The lawsuit caps another tough week for unscripted TV. Fox was forced to kick off one of the semifinalists on its popular American Idol after the person was caught lying about his age.
Delano Cagnolatti had claimed he was 23, but during a background check producers discovered he was really 29. The show only permits people between the ages of 16 and 24 to compete.
When confronted on Tuesday night's episode, Cagnolatti admitted to doctoring his driver's license. He was replaced by 20-year-old EJay Day, who wound up making it through to the final round.