''BB2'' and ''Small Town X'' are tinged with tragedy, making them irrelevant, says Bruce Fretts
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Big Brother
Credit: Big Brother 2: Robert Voets/CBS
Big Brother

Why ”Big Brother 2” is meaningless now

What happens when reality intrudes on a reality show? That was the question faced by the producers of ”Big Brother 2” after they found out that Monica, one of the three roommates remaining on the CBS series, had a cousin missing in the World Trade Center disaster.

The show’s concept, of course, is to cut off participants from contact with the outside world, but the producers admirably chose to break the rules and brief Monica as well as fellow contestants Will and Nicole on the tragic story. (The regulations had already been bent to allow Nicole to communicate with her possibly estranged husband.)

This being network TV, Monica’s surprisingly stoic reaction to the news was filmed and replayed over a sappy soundtrack. Host Julie Chen offered the standard ”thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families before hustling the focus back to the latest head-of-household competition.

Normally, I would’ve been riveted by the game — ”Big Brother” has been my guilt-free TV pleasure this summer — but it doesn’t matter to me anymore. The trouble with reality shows right now is that our reality has changed, and it’s impossible not to watch them in light of the terrorist attacks. Will’s ”evil doctor” routine doesn’t seem so charming when we’ve been faced with real evil. And Nicole’s eventual decision to evict Monica because she was a bigger threat to win the $500,000 prize feels even more selfish when placed in relief against the selfless acts of heroism we’ve witnessed in the past week.

Reality and reality shows collided with an even crueler irony as it was reported that Angel Juarbe, Jr., a New York City firefighter who eluded a fictional serial killer and took home the $250,000 jackpot on Fox’s recent ”Murder in Small Town X,” was among the rescue workers lost in the Twin Towers collapse. Yet even if none of the contestants had a connection with the catastrophe, its shadow has fallen over every reality show.

MTV’s ”The Real World” has been rendered irrelevant, since its new season was filmed in a very different New York City — before the events of September 11. ”Fear Factor” doesn’t sound so entertaining when so many people are feeling abject terror about when the next shoe (or bomb) is going to drop. And who’ll want to watch the next ”Survivor” when the images of rescue workers digging through the rubble to find real-life survivors are so fresh in our minds? Frankly, spending time with ”Friends” seems more comforting right now. The finale of ”Big Brother 2” airs Sept. 20, and I’ll be watching, if only to get a false sense of TV closure. Yet even Will and Nicole seem to have lost the will to compete. ”We don’t know what’s going on, but we sense the sorrow,” Will admitted in a rare display of honest emotion. Only in such brief moments did ”Big Brother 2” feel remotely real.

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