Big Brother 2016: The Dissolution of the Diary Room [Op-Ed]

All things evolve over time, and this is especially true for reality television. Take a look at season one of Big Brother, it’s virtually a different program altogether than the product we’ve been delivered in recent years. Anyone who slogged through Big Brother 1 will tell you that it’s a good thing, and believe me, it is. But evolution doesn’t always go in the right direction.

Judd Daugherty in the Diary Room (Source: CBS, Big Brother 15)

So many elements of our beloved summer fix are better than they used to be. Remember when the Power of Veto wasn’t a thing in season two? Or when a houseguest couldn’t use it to save themselves in season three? The game has surely evolved in mostly positive ways.

Not always though, I have virtually nothing good to say about the Battle of the Block. My thoughts on that have been outlined thoroughly when I criticized the predictable, strategy-reducing twist last summer.

Despite all the changes and evolution we’ve seen over the years, one constant that’s been an element within Big Brother since season one is the Diary Room. It’s been a fixture where houseguests reveal their innermost thoughts to the cameras, producers, and ultimately America. It used to be anyways. More recently, it’s been less of an outlet for houseguests to vent about the stress of the game and their fellow houseguests, and more of a vehicle to provide narration and cheesy often producer-encouraged soundbites.

Believe me, I understand narration is necessary for storytelling purposes. That I cannot complain about sufficiently, but the blatant production-engineered comments have been somewhat frustrating in recent years. Not all houseguests are force-fed lines by production, but it is very apparent that certain houseguests are better at coming up with their own material than others.

Britney Haynes in the Diary Room (Source: CBS, Big Brother 14)

Britney Haynes comes to mind as a diamond in the rough of recent houseguests who have seemingly been able to come up with their own one-liners, and that speaks to her biting wit more than anything else. There are a few others more fortunate than most to be personalities that pop naturally on camera, I’d imagine houseguests such as Daniele Donato, Jun SongDa’Vonne Rogers, John “Johnny Mac” McGuire, and Amanda Zuckerman had no problems coming up with their own material.

But it’s been well documented that often production encourages the houseguests to say certain things or for the houseguests to portray themselves in a light different from how they might typically. For instance, I recall from various interviews that Jason Roy and Andy Herren both had mentioned that they were asked to make sexual comments about men or phallic-themed references that made them uncomfortable. Some houseguests refuse to go along with what production asks of them, others are happy to play the part and be a production puppet. Some (unfortunately) take it a step further and develop a persona for the show: I’m looking at you, Austin. Or perhaps Judas.

What houseguests are asked to say in the Diary Room more often than not relates to who production wants the houseguest to be on the show. I think we all know that casting process is somewhat formulaic in terms of the personalities that end up filling up the house. This translates to the show, particularly to resonate with a more casual audience, by having houseguests represent one dimensional characters like “the jock”, “the ditz”, “the nerd”, and “the bitch.” I believe the show does itself a true disservice by doing this. Nobody fits into a narrow box such as this and if they do, they aren’t worth having been cast in the first place.

All you have to do is watch some Diary room footage to figure out who production wants the houseguest to come across as. More often than not, it’s a one-dimensional stereotype of the actual personality. Sometimes they even take it a bit further with little bits that the producers request of the houseguests, such as Victoria holding up the little signs and hiding behind the chair during narration of a particularly explosive Power of Veto competition.

Zach Rance in the Diary Room (Source: CBS, Big Brother 16)

There are so few authentic moments in the Diary Room anymore. One in recent memory is Zach’s emotional breakdown after learning about Frankie’s sister and the fact that it wasn’t fair to the remaining houseguests to have him in there. Some of the best real, raw, authentic footage is kept on the cutting room floor. Emotionally vulnerable moments like those help humanize the houseguests and not turn them into one-dimensional, often unlikable characters.

Feed watchers like myself have two main reasons to tune into the non-live episodes, both of which involve viewing footage we are denied from watching on the feeds: the competitions and Diary Room footage. With the way things have evolved in recent years, the Diary Room is less and less of a push for me personally. I don’t care what production wants the houseguests to tell us, I want authentic thoughts directly from the houseguests, without the influence of production.

My advice to Big Brother players: be yourself in the Diary Room as much as production will allow. Be interesting enough where they won’t choose to ignore you, but at best, be an exaggerated version of yourself and let us inside your perspective. Take us on the journey with you.

And to the producers: people are cast each season to bring something different to the table. Let the houseguests shine, let them share their thoughts and find a way to let them be themselves, instead of forcing soundbites down their throats that probably don’t accurately depict their thoughts. I promise you, the show would be better for it.