Last night, viewers of the livestream of CBS’s Big Brother seemed to catch what has to be one of the grossest moments in the history of the already-pretty-gross show. As houseguests Jeff Weldon and Julia Nolan were chatting lazily in bed, Weldon suddenly seemed to start masturbating under the covers beside her. And then, as if that weren’t icky enough, he appeared to reach over and wipe his—ahem—end product on her back.
“You have a little stain right here,” he said, as he pawed at her. When Nolan asked him what it was, he creepily explained, “It’s darker grey, it actually feels kind of sticky,” he laughed. “I know what that could be.”
This is not the first controversy Big Brother has faced in its 17 seasons on air in the United States (the show started in the Netherlands in 1999 and has aired in the US since 2000). Houseguests often get a bit stir crazy, cut off from accessing the Internet, TV, magazines, or news, and forbidden from communicating with any friends or family in the outside world. Every move the contestants make is monitored 24-7 by cameras that feed directly to a livestream (the first week is free on CBS’s website, if you’re so inclined). Houseguests vote to eliminate one person off the show each week and the last person standing wins $500,000.
Like most reality shows, Big Brother doesn’t exactly attract the crème of humanity, and the social experiment is notorious for bringing out the worst in people who are already racists, criminals and misogynists.
Just this past year, the child star Jeremy Jackson—of Baywatch fame—was kicked off Celebrity Big Brother in the UK for drunkenly groping his housemate, the model Chloe Goodman. Jackson was a self-confessed alcoholic and drug addict, so it’s not hugely shocking he acted out like he did when given access to booze. What is shocking is that producers allowed him on the show in the first place, where he could (and did) cause harm to his fellow houseguests.
Sexism runs rampant on the show, with women often getting eliminated before men, especially when they reject their advances. One of the most extreme examples happened in Season 16, when houseguest Caleb Reynolds formed a weird, stalkerish obsession with his fellow houseguest Amber Borzotra. Though Borzotra made it clear over and over again that she was not interested in him, he grew resentful, lashing out and acting like he was entitled to her. “She’s just taking it all for granted, just taking it in and doesn’t appreciate anything,” he whined.
Eventually, he tried to “scare” her into submission by putting her up on the chopping block, with the intention that she would beg him for help, but his strategy failed when Borzotra was eliminated—not that she minded, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “I'm very relieved to be out because of Caleb.”
Season 15, which aired in 2013, was chock-full of controversy, particularly concerning one cast member, Aaryn Gries (a.k.a. “Aaryn the Aryan”), who offended pretty much everyone on the show. To give just a small selection of her lovely comments: “be careful what you say in the dark, might not be able to see the bitch” about her black houseguest, Candice; “shut up, go make some rice” she said referring to Asian houseguest, Helen; and about her houseguest Andy, she said “no one’s going to vote for whoever that queer puts up.”
The unpleasantness was a leftover from Season 14, when Willie Hantz (brother of notorious Survivor villain Brandon Hantz) got kicked off the show for head-butting houseguest Joe Arvin and calling everyone around him obscene names.
Two days after being his expulsion, Hantz was arrested for OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) in Louisiana. Yes, Big Brother may not cause people to act terrible, but what it does do is throw together a bunch of people who are terrible to begin with and let us watch what happens as they're pushed to their limits. And sadly, women are often the ones left victimized.
Big Brother executives constantly label the reality competition series a “social experiment.” Well, it’s safe to say that the experiment has failed.