So, I’m sure if you’ve been watching Big Brother’s feeds or have been interacting with the fandom, you’ve heard all about the terrible ways that their contestant, Taylor, has been treated — by her fellow castmates mostly, but also by production. And even if you haven’t but still watch the show, surely you can agree that she’s gotten the short end of the stick game-wise. She’s been turned into the witch of the season for virtually no reason besides the other competitor’s assumptions.
On the flip side, if you’re a fan of Traffic Life — a three-strikes-and-you’re-out competition series on YouTube — you surely know about the similar sort of storyline that has centered their contestant, Pearl, in their third season, Double Life. Both series feature an ostracized contestant fighting absolutely tooth and nail to stay in the game in spite of their competitors. But, while both Taylor and Pearl quickly became undisputed fan favorites, Pearl’s storyline was heralded by fans and will likely go down as one of Traffic Life’s most iconic, right up there with Scott’s revenge in season one and the Watcher in season two. Meanwhile, Taylor’s treatment in the Big Brother House has single-handedly ruined season 24 for a lot of fans, including myself.
And I think the reasons why, once you look for them, become glaringly obvious. For one, it’s much easier to do an effective witch angle in a series where everyone is friends outside of the game. Taylor’s competitors knew her for about a day or two when they turned on her. And the feeds don’t lie — they absolutely thought the worst of her the whole time. But Pearl and her competitors really are performers on a fictional show. A lot of them have known her for months — if not years — prior to her first time playing the game (this season was her second). And they are extremely friendly with her on social media and in livestreams.
And that directly leads into the actual writing, because that level of friendliness vs. hostility shines through when you watch both series. The other competitors target Taylor to an unnecessary degree. She is an easy pawn for nominations, she’s kept out of alliances, hardly anyone takes her side— and it’s all because she is a beauty queen who interacted with men.
You see, there’s a day one majority alliance in this Big Brother season called the Girls’ Girls. Their goal, supposedly, is to bring the female players to the top while targeting the male ones. And yet Taylor — a girl — became their number one target. Because her history as a beauty queen supposedly makes her “fake,” and because she showed what they considered an excess amount of loyalty towards the guys. Make sense? Yeah, not to me, either!
Compare this to Double Life. Pearl actually did things that might warrant not being entirely trusted. She visited one of the most dangerous places available to her in the first episode, ignoring her randomly assigned partner, Scott, in the process, which led to him choosing a new one, Cleo. Since then, she would go on to intentionally mess with them as revenge for rejecting her, in addition to being at the center of multiple accidents.
And yet, no one in Double Life was anywhere near as cruel to her as the Big Brother players are to Taylor. I mean, she was called “Scarlett Pearl” and said to have a “demon inside of her.” Scott and Cleo did not hesitate to mess with her back. And she only had two real allies, and even that was fairly late and wasn’t stable. But she was never actively prevented from playing the game. She was not excessively targeted for elimination nor for lies. She was allowed to get involved in massive game moments. And she was given credit for good gameplay just like every other competitor. None of that can be said about Taylor. In addition, the more believable reasoning leads to more likable adversaries. I mean, Scott and Cleo were fate-breakers. They saw that their partners weren’t working for them, and decided they were gonna make their own choice and stick together. What isn’t powerful about that? Meanwhile, the Girls’ Girls tried to be this powerful feminist alliance, but all they ended up looking like were overly judgmental high school mean girls.
So, what’s the lesson here? Well, for one, never underestimate mixed-gender alliances. I mean, the Girls’ Girls were so worried about Taylor ruining their shot at a female winner, while Traffic Life managed to crown its first female winner without even trying. But more important than that, witch storylines need to come from a place of genuine desire to tell a good story. They can’t just be an excuse to hate someone. There needs to be a sense of trust between all parties, and the punishment needs to fit the crime. That’s the difference between a story that will keep your fans hooked and wanting more, and one that will frustrate them into tuning out.