The likely to be ousted William, a Black Panther, is the reason to watch, says Ken Tucker

By Ken Tucker
Updated July 18, 2000 at 12:00 PM EDT

”Big Brother” contestant tries a radical strategy

”The only thing I have left are my principles; [they are] my raison d’etre — my reason for being.”

So spoke William, the most likely candidate to get kicked out of CBS’ ”Big Brother.” He was talking, in Saturday night’s broadcast, about the silly puzzle the ”Big Brother” producers had dreamed up for the 10 ”houseguests” to solve. The group had been given slips of paper with notable people’s names on them; the ”Brother”-ites divided into two groups and were to decide whether the people were dead or alive. (”Cloris LEEEEACH-man?” squealed purple-haired Brittany, in Generation Y ignorance.)

William had sabotaged his group’s chances of winning by intentionally making mistakes. The implication was clear — since he knows he’s likely to leave the show this Thursday (when viewers vote between the booting-out finalists, William and Jordan) — why should he care? This led, over the weekend, to a fierce argument between William and Eddie, who accused William of ”hurting” the other teammates.

But look at that statement that William made on Saturday’s broadcast, and think of it not as the defense of a TV-show loser, but as the credo of William Collins, a man whom the media revealed late last week is a member of the New Black Panther Party. Collins, who goes by the name of Hiram Ashantee in the Party, suddenly becomes a different figure, one whose words can be read as political and moral statements.

Although Eddie and the others aren’t aware of William’s affiliation (as I write this, he hasn’t told them), the air around ”Big Brother,” for a viewer, seems charged with fresh drama. Eddie called William ”ignorant” for blowing his team’s chances in the contest. William said, ”You’re all a bunch of softies.” For William, having committed himself in real life to a left-wing political movement, and for many viewers of ”Big Brother,” black OR white, Eddie’s insult to William is a racial one, and William’s response is that of a dedicated follower of an organization far more central to his life than being part of the ”Big Brother” show.

”There’s a method to the madness,” William told Eddie. He was supposedly referring to his anti-gamesmanship, but, knowing what we know about Collins now, it seemed like a coded message to the viewing audience that, in getting ”cast” in this show, he’d found a way to show the public a complex human being who happens to be a member of a controversial radical party. ”All I have left are my principles.” Hearing those words, uttered in the goofy context of ”Big Brother,” made you realize how rarely anyone ever uses the word ”principles” on television.

I’m telling you: Start watching this show. The next few days, at least up through William’s probable ouster on Thursday, are bound to be doozies.

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Big Brother

Big Brother

Julie Chen hosts as the houseguests battle it out.

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