The following is an excerpt of a story from EW’s July 27, 2001, issue.
Last September, when Eddie McGee emerged from the soporifically mundane (and mediocre-rated) ”Big Brother” house as the $500,000 winner, many expected CBS to burn down the structure and spread salt on the ashes to make sure no reality TV would ever grow there again. But emboldened by the series’ attractively young demos, CBS redecorated the house, restocked it with 38 cameras and 62 microphones, and threw in a dozen new, more interesting housemates. Although the ploy has yet to pay off in ratings (so far the thrice-weekly show has nabbed an average 7.1 million viewers, slightly down from last year), ”Big Brother 2” has already done wonders for rehabilitating the watching-paint-dry reputation of the ”BB” franchise.
As for those social critics who predicted that reality TV would have to get neck-deep in the vérité gutter to continue to set itself apart, well, good call! Enter snaggletoothed Jersey boy Justin Sebik, 26, a bartender who was kicked off ”BB2” after spicing up a make-out session with Krista by holding a knife to her throat and asking if she’d get mad if he killed her. Although Sebik had been warned about his menacing behavior in the house (he had threatened to knock the p— and s— out of Bunky and Kent, respectively, and joked about wanting to punch Autumn in the stomach), the question is, Were producers too eager to cast someone who would mix things up and consequently let slide such dangerous personality traits? ”It’s not like we put a psycho in the house just to see what would happen,” says Shapiro (best known for his 1978 Academy Award-winning juvenile-delinquents documentary, ”Scared Straight!”), who maintains that thorough background checks and psychological tests were performed on all contestants, and Sebik had no criminal record. (Sebik was arrested twice for theft and simple assault in his hometown of Bayonne in 1997; since all charges were dismissed, Shapiro has said he didn’t consider such acts a crime.) ”There’s nothing in his background that indicates violence against women,” continues Shapiro, who adds that the violent comments were simply Sebik’s Dice Clay-esque idea of joking.
Says CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem: ”In ‘Big Brother’…you’re looking at human behavior. Part of human behavior involves sexual and violent content. But obviously what happened [with Justin] is nothing we’d hope for. It’s not our objective to put more sex and violence in front of viewers to keep the genre alive.”