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Saturday, October 14, 2000

'Big Brother' Cast Is Meeting Big Yawns
Television * Hollywood hasn't shown much interest in the house guests who were on the reality series, unlike the in-demand 'Survivor' contestants.

By GREG BRAXTON, Times Staff Writer

     "Big Brother" is no longer watching the "Big Brother" house guests.
     And neither are you.
     The contestants on CBS' hit reality series "Survivor" have become an inescapable fixture on the Hollywood scene during the past several weeks--book deals, endorsements, TV guest shots, talk shows. One even scored a major role in an upcoming film comedy.
     But while the "Survivor" islanders were hot immediately after the series' conclusion in August, the heat is already off for most of the house guests on CBS' other "reality" series "Big Brother," which ended a little more than two weeks after that series ended.
     Though many of the "Big Brother" contestants have hired agents, managers and publicists, most already have been marked for banishment from the national spotlight, slipping back into the same obscurity they had before entering the "Big Brother" house in July.
     Studios, networks and producers of shows such as "JAG," "Nash Bridges," "Hollywood Squares," "The Hughleys," "Live With Regis" and E! Entertainment's "Talk Soup" have featured or courted "Survivor" participants, but the "Big Brother" house guests who have aspirations of stardom have met little enthusiasm in Hollywood.
     "The folks on 'Big Brother' just didn't have that water cooler quotient we look for," said a spokesperson for E! Entertainment, which had some of the "Survivor" contestants hosting its "Talk Soup" series. "They were pitched to us, but it just wasn't as exciting as having a 'Survivor.' "
     Part of the disparity stems from the obvious physical and formulaic differences between the two series. "Survivor" took place on an exotic, picturesque island in the South China seas; "Big Brother" was in a house on a studio lot in the San Fernando Valley. "Survivor" had snakes and bugs; "Big Brother" had a dog. "Survivor' had lush trees and an ocean; "Big Brother" had Ikea furniture. "Survivor" was on only once a week; "Big Brother" was shown almost every day.
* * *
     But the real key to how long that "15 minutes" lasted is the "casts" themselves, observers maintain. "Survivor" was populated with distinct and engaging personalities locked in bitter conflict or tight alliances. But the "Big Brother" housemates were largely a group that got along--burying their differences and conflicts. The result was what some critics and viewers labeled boring television.
     Said one agent at a prominent Hollywood talent agency: "The producers were so concerned that their casting was perfect that they put in people [where] there was no conflict, no spark. They needed conflict to make it work."
     Tom Bergeron, host of "Hollywood Squares," which featured several members of "Survivor" as panelists, said, " 'Survivor' had top-notch production and great personalities. But 'Big Brother' was nothing more than a cure for Peeping Toms. Those folks were just whiny. And they kept changing the rules of the house. It was embarrassing, like watching something falling apart in front of you."
     Several of the "Big Brother" cast mates have been testing the water in Hollywood, but the reaction is lukewarm.
     Eddie McGee, the 21-year-old big winner of "Big Brother," will guest on "Hollywood Squares" during November. There are no plans by the show to feature other "Big Brother" contestants.
     Brittany Petros, a former sales representative who was one of the most popular among the housemates, has signed with the William Morris Agency and has gone on a few auditions, but has yet to be hired. Jamie Kern, who was known as the "beauty queen" because of her current title as Miss Washington USA, came to town this week for a series of meetings with producers and agents. But her most promising prospect was an unspecified role on the NBC soap "Days of Our Lives."
     William "Mega" Collins, an African American youth counselor who was the most controversial of the "Big Brother" house guests--confronting his housemates on racial and social issues--said he has been pursuing book deals and show business opportunities, but there are no concrete offers. His post-"Big Brother" experience is even more frustrating given his friendship with Gervase Peterson, a "Survivor" who has turned up on several shows, including a guest host stint on "Live With Regis" and "The Hughleys."
     "I just thought it would be much easier than it's turning out to be," Collins said. "It probably has to do with the way I was portrayed on the show. Things are so busy for Gervase, but so slow for me. 'Big Brother' just bombed."
     It's a formula imported from Europe that played much differently there. In country after country 10 strangers lived in isolation from the outside world, including their families, under one roof with their every move recorded, and turned into overnight sensations.
     In the U.S., the series attracted a respectable audience of about 9 million viewers a night, including a young demographic coveted by CBS and advertisers. But it fell far short of the phenomena of "Survivor," which averaged more than 25 million viewers each episode.
     One executive associated with "Big Brother" said what diminished the "Big Brother" house guests' entertainment value was their decision to bond rather than establish their individuality. He added, "Also, the most popular people on the Web site were the first ones eliminated."
     Still, several of the "Big Brother" contestants are determined to break through.
     Petros is in the process of moving to Los Angeles, and she hopes to land a job as a "VJ or talk-show host that will allow me to be myself." Another dream would be to host a future edition of "Big Brother" or a reality show. She's also planning on taking acting classes.
     Perhaps the most driven is Kern, who said she aspires to be "the next Meryl Streep."
     Said Kern: "I know this is a very tough industry, but I'm open to doing anything as far as TV and films. It's what I'm passionate about. I know that we on 'Big Brother' haven't gotten as big a boost as the people on 'Survivor,' but I believe that hard work pays off. I plan to give this everything I've got."
* * *
     One entertainment executive suggested Kern may have hurt herself when she was given a choice in one of the episodes to spend five minutes with her mother, who had flown in to the studio, or a talent agent. Kern chose the talent agent.
     "That was just a stupid thing to do," the executive said. "If she had met with her mom, everyone would have loved her. It would have showed she cared about family, and would have made for great conversation during meetings. Coming off the show, she would have been meeting with agents anyway. She lost many fans that night."
     Ex-housemate Cassandra Waldon, an official with the United Nations, said she wanted to continue her job, but hoped to stay in the public eye with TV appearances and some writing.
     Said Waldon: "The 'Survivor' folks have had more time to get their deals together. We're working on ours, and I and the others have gotten a lot of fan response. As time goes on, we'll see."

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

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