That wasn't the first lie in a reality TV show and it certainly hasn't been the last. Some lie to create a sympathetic character. On Big Brother 12, contestant Matt Hoffman told his fellow houseguests that his young wife had a rare bone disease that only "affects one in a million.” Russell Hantz told Survivor: Samoa castaways that he had lived through the Katrina disaster in his native New Orleans. Others lie about their former brushes with fame, fearing it might seem they don't need the prize money. Child actress Lisa Whelchel joined former major leaguer Jeff Kent in hiding their past professions from their Survivor: Philippines castmates.
This past season of Survivor: Cagayan, police officer Tony Vlachos decided not to share his job with his fellow island inhabitants, including fellow officer Sarah Lacina. He claimed he was a construction worked, even when Sarah confronted him on obviously being a cop. This turned into a million dollar strategy when he was overwhelmingly voted the winner. Central Falls Rhode Island police sergeant Derrick Levasseur watched Tony's successful strategy before embarking on his three month Big Brother adventure this summer. He decided to follow a similar strategy and hide his police background - which included a three year stint as an undercover officer - from the rest of the cast.
This year's Big Brother cast has its share of liars. Caleb Reynolds has been so proficient in spinning stories about himself while in the house that a compendium of his questionable assertions has been put together in this blog. Frankie Grande lied about his age (he's 31, not 28) and omitted that he was a "social media mogul" with a famous little sister (Ariana Grande) until his game was in jeopardy. Zach Rance lied about hating everyone and being a villain. Victoria Rafaeli lied about playing Big Brother (couldn't resist). But the biggest lie this year has been the true identify of that mild mannered Parks and Recs coordinator and new daddy Derrick - a police sergeant and former undercover officer. In fact, this - that Derrick has three years experience working undercover - may be the biggest lie that anyone has told in the Big Brother house. It certainly is the one with the most consequences.
Why does this lie stand out among the others? Because, by the very nature of his training and experience as an undercover cop, he is uniquely suited for lying to and manipulating other people. I wrote this more detailed discussion in how an undercover cop's skills are uniquely suited for Big Brother success HERE. He has power over the minds and hearts of the other houseguests unlike anything I've ever seen before and, while many are blaming the gullibility on the houseguest, it's hard not to point the finger at Sgt. Levasseur. While he was working undercover, it is conceivable that his very life depended on his ability to gain trust and confidence. No thespian taking the stage ever has at much at stake.
Derrick is a 30-years-old father with ten years on the police force including three working undercover. The houseguests on whom he has most effectively used his skills are 22 year old girls, Nicole Franzel and Victoria. When Nicole became suspicious of Derrick, telling him she was convinced that anything she says to him gets back to Cody (which is true), Derrick responded, "If that’s truly what you feel, you’re going to look really dumb on camera if you think that." He then uses a typical mind control technique. "Look at me," he tells her. Firmly. "Look at me." He tells her over and over that she's not only wrong, but is going to look stupid if she continues thinking he's allied with Cody. "You'll see," he tells her, adding, that she will owe him a text apology when she sees the feeds and realizes how wrong she was.
Now, great lie. Strong, convincing, unequivocal. Nicole believes him and crumbles into tears that she ever doubted her one true friend. The most trustworthy person in the house. Will I have to hand in my reality TV fan card if I tell you that this exchange made me sick to my stomach? Watch it here and tell him if it doesn't make you question the ethics of Derrick's gameplay.
There is something about the way that Derrick plays with his fellow houseguests' weaknesses and vulnerabilities, how he convinces them he is their best friend and the only person they can trust, something about how morally outraged he becomes at any suggestion that he's not the nicest guy on the planet that rubs me raw. It's not just how he lies so easily, but how easily he makes the other person convinced that they are the bad guys for even questioning him.
Two weeks earlier, Derrick did his mind-control misting shtick on Victoria. When Zach told her that Derrick was in a large alliance, she was shocked and hurt to the core. Eventually, Derrick confronted her about what she heard. He told her it was a complete lie, that he had no alliance with anyone. If he had an alliance with anyone it would be with her, he said. Derrick had lied to Victoria from day one about his allegiances and yet managed to mist her into believing that he was completely honest with her.
As recently as last night, as he was convincing Victoria to pretend to hate him so the remaining houseguests would think he doesn't have her vote, Derrick reaffirmed that he has always had her back. Innocent lies/half truths, you might say. Yes, technically, Derrick has had Victoria's back up to a point - he wanted to keep her as long as possible because he knew she would never, ever, ever vote him out. But their alliance is all for his benefit, not hers. He doesn't even have to give her his vote this week! Instead, he has convinced her that voting her out is best for him and that she should support this. And she does, to the point that she has said repeatedly that she wants Derrick to win more than she wants to win.
Again, you might argue that is good gameplay. But then Derrick said of Victoria: "I am one of the few people that defends that girl she was crying.. I have a daughter I’m not going to make that girl look like a fool." And that's where he crosses the line for me. His mind control is making Victoria look like a stupid, lovesick lemming. A fool. And it doesn't seem to bother him at all.
Derrick has this young girl, who is clearly smitten with him (and she has mentioned repeatedly that she's attracted to older men), wrapped around his finger. She would do anything for him. She is his plaything, a Playdoh creation he can mold and pose in any position he chooses. He has her wanting him to win more than she wants herself to win. Her remaining goal is not to stay in the house, but to guarantee his win.
Play dirty, play hard, that's how you win. I get it. But this year, watching Derrick Gaslight these young, vulnerable girls into believing that they are wrong, crazy, uncaring, heartless, I'm not so sure I can justify winning at any cost. I no longer feel comfortable watching someone - a father to a young girl - win by playing with these girls' emotions. By manipulating them and then telling them you're doing it for their own good, because you're honest and trustworthy and look at them like someone's daughter, you've crossed some imaginary line in my mind.
Derrick's infamous accusation to fellow alliance member Zach that he was "literally taking food out of [his] daughter's mouth" is the kind of amped-up manipulation that people point to as him playing a dirty game. I disagree. That was a low blow, but it was a smart one and fully within the bounds of good manipulative strategy. But the way he isolates these young girls, befriends them, develops their trust, causes them to distance themselves from anyone else, manipulates their feelings, causes them to question their sanity and challenges them when they don't follow his game play makes me question whether anything goes in a reality TV game show. That is going a little too far in my book.
Are there any boundaries; should there be any limits? Or is all's fair in love and Big Brother?