Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Big Brother 13 Audience Experience!

There are a few things that I can always count on from summer: droughts, extreme heat, and Big Brother.

Every year the obsession-inducing CBS staple hosted by Julie Chen makes its way onto the airwaves. This year was luckily no exception. Big Brother 13 has consistently kept up good (and increasing) viewership throughout the summer thanks to its high drama and ratings gold cast including returning HouseGuests Jeff, Jordan, Rachel, and Brendon.

Being the super fan that I am, I signed myself up for Big Brother's studio audience waiting list shortly after the season began. I knew the odds of making my way into the 120 seat studio were slim, but it was certainly worth a shot to see the iconic Big Brother house and the "Chenbot" live and in-person.

Much to my surprise, I received an e-mail late Friday afternoon notifying me that I received tickets for four days later at the September 6 taping of the September 7 eviction episode. After I finished freaking out, I gathered my belongings and two of my friends and made my way to Los Angeles early Tuesday morning.

The official arrival time for the studio audience was four in the afternoon, but since we didn't have guaranteed seats we figured we better arrive early to be safe. How early? 1:30 in the afternoon. At that time, there were five people in front of us.

A crowd slowly but surely built up behind us with most of the audience arriving between two and three. At 3:30 we were taken through a parking garage to a second holding area. On the way, we excitedly passed through the set-up of a scene for an upcoming episode of CSI: NY (much to the annoyance of the CSI crew).

Once all the releases were signed and audience members checked in, we finally trekked across the CBS lot to the Big Brother house (sound stage). Other shows filmed on the lot besides CSI: NY are Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, Chen's daytime show The Talk, and Betty White's Hot in Cleveland, which, interestingly enough, films on the stage directly beside the Big Brother house.

Approaching the house was a semi-overwhelming experience as recognizable remnants of past Head of Household, Power of Veto, and Have/Have-Not competitions littered the lot. The grates over which Keith and Jeff squeezed milk out of their cow costumes, a gigantic pizza box, and OTEV the shark (who wouldn't even make his appearance on the show till later that evening) were scattered around the lot.

Finally, like the kids being led into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory for the first time, we were led onto the stage containing the astro turf and front porch facade of the house we loyally spy into three nights a week. I about lost it.

We were placed in our seats on the right side of the set behind where Julie Chen typically stands, and the smiles did not leave our faces until the taping was complete. (One Twitter user asked me if they told us to smile the whole time, and no, they didn't. We just physically couldn't stop smiling even if we tried!)

After having a few minutes of warm up with producers and the voice of Big Brother (the guy you typically hear calling HouseGuests to the Diary Room), Julie made her way into the studio with much applause and fan fare. Julie greeted the room and genuinely looked happy to be there. While we didn't get to meet or speak to Julie individually, she did comfortably interact with the audience, even injecting herself into a debate to set the record straight about who won a particular season (she knows her BB trivia!) After a few touches of makeup and a couple test shots, the taping of our episode (I can say "our" episode, right?) was underway.

It was a bizarre experience to witness the show from the opposite side of the camera-- an experience that is somewhat unique to Big Brother as it is one of the only shows I can think of where the audience shares the stage with the host.

The episode went like clockwork. Julie made her announcements, the tape rolled, and we watched, learning the house's most recent developments at the same time Julie did as she watched on a monitor off stage.

It was fun to see what went on after Julie introduced a new segment of footage. Most of the time it was just a quick set change or a new puff of powder. Occasionally though, Julie would throw out an entertaining quip, like when she turned to the audience and boldly said "YA RIGHT!" after a clip was shown of Tori Spelling telling HouseGuest Adam that she'd name her newborn son after him.

During a break right before the live eviction vote, the audience was reminded that, at this point, the HouseGuests had been inside the house for 67 days and they would want us to be respectful and encouraging no matter who walked out the door.

Personally I didn't care if my arch nemesis from the 7th grade came out of the house; the adrenaline and excitement I was feeling in that studio would make me cheer like a nine-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert regardless of who was there.

As it turned out, Kalia was voted out after a tie was broken by Head of Household, Rachel. Kalia gathered her belongings and exited the house and entered the studio to a rousing roll of applause and cheering.

Kalia, while understandably upset that she was evicted, appeared to be overwhelmed by the support of the unfamiliar faces of the audience-- the first faces she'd seen besides those of other HouseGuests for 67 days. She remarked to Julie, "This is so weird! You're so weird!" explaining that she had only ever seen or spoken to her on the small screen inside the house.

And after just a few words, Kalia was whisked away to a holding room while the Head of Household competition took place. Chen took her spot at the setup on stage left, grabbed the clicker she uses to speak with the HouseGuests, and conducted the competition that would award Adam Head of Household with Jordan coming in a close second place.

As a viewer, I was disappointed that Jordan didn't win HOH, but as an audience member, I didn't care who won. I was overcome with glee realizing that I had just been a part of one of my favorite shows.

After the episode wrapped, they brought Kalia back for an extended interview to be shown on CBS.com. This is when we got to see her reactions to the HouseGuests' goodbye messages (and watch her jaw drop after Rachel's "a cow doesn't change its spots" comment). Directly after, Julie Chen waved goodbye to the audience and we were led out of the building and on our way back into the real world. The reality of what we had just witness still not fully processed in my brain.

From hearing the Chenbot say, "But first..." in person, to actually watching the evicted HouseGuest open and walk out the door 10 feet away from me, every single happening was one I was super excited to see.

It was truly an evening that will never be erased from my memory... or my DVR.

YouTube video reaction directly following filming:

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