Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 10:20 UK

Just another bunch of wannabes?

By Liam Allen
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

In the build-up to the new Big Brother series, the show was roundly written off by journalists, who predicted it would feature yet another group of wannabes stopping at nothing to achieve fame.

Mario and Lisa enter the house
Lisa and Mario failed to keep their relationship a secret for a task

True to form, two housemates got "married" on Sunday despite having met for the first time three days earlier.

Mario Marconi, 42, and Stephanie McMichael, 19 - who only found out their wedding was not legally binding later - were instructed as part of their task to hide Mario's real romance with fellow housemate Lisa Appleton.

Student Luke Marsden, 20, was also in on the secret and, because they failed to keep the secret, all four now face the public vote.

All of which led to an eminently watchable start to Big Brother 9.

Extra focus

For Stephanie, the horror of acting out intimacies with a man 23 years her senior did not take long to materialise.

With Mario one of the first to retire to bed on the show's first night - reserving a place in his luxury double bed for his new girlfriend - Stephanie could not hide her disgust at the prospect of joining him.

OTHER BIG BROTHER 'SECRETS'
2000: In BB1, "Nasty" Nick admits lying about his secret wife dying in a car crash in Australia
2004: In a fake eviction in BB5, Michelle and Emma were moved to a secret "bedsit" where they watched the house on monitors
2005: In BB6, Makosi successfully got the most nominations to avoid being up for the public vote
2007: In BB8, housemates guessed Australian housemate "Pauline" was an actress

"He's sprawling and he's snoring," she confided in the diary room on the first night. "You bastards."

She subsequently stayed up all night with three other housemates, leaving Mario to sprawl and snore on his own.

As well as the four contestants facing the public vote, a number of housemates have been singled out for extra focus by the show's editors.

They include Thai massage therapist Kathreya Kasisopa, already favourite with the bookies, who has provided the most laugh-out-loud moments with her quest to learn more English words.

"D - I - N - I - T - Y, dignity," the 30-year-old said in the diary room.

Knickers row

Second-favourite, meanwhile, is 33-year-old Mikey Hughes, a blind cross-dressing stand-up comedian.

On the night of hen and stag dos ahead of Sunday's wedding, Mikey dressed as a Playboy bunny girl and, on top of his outfit, pulled on a pair of women's knickers he found in the bathroom.

Alexandra De-Gale
Alexandra De-Gale has already received a warning from Big Brother

It was this incident that led to the first glimpse of the horrifying vocal power of Alexandra De-Gale - BB9's scariest character.

Incensed on behalf of fellow housemate Sylvia Barrie, whose knickers Mikey had tampered with, she launched into an unrelenting, obscenity-laced tirade.

It was made all the more frightening by the sore throat that had left Alex's voice reduced to a bulldog-like bark.

The effect was to alert her fellow housemates to the fact that she is not someone to be messed with.

It also led to bookmakers ranking her with odds of 125/1 - making her the housemate least likely to be crowned winner, and one of the most unpopular Big Brother contestants of all time.

FIRST WEEK BIG BROTHER AUDIENCES
Thurs 5: 5.3m
Fri 6: 3.9m
Sat 7: 2.8m
Sun 8: 3.5m
Mon 9: 3.4m
Tue 10: 3.7m
Figures are early overnight estimates for the main night-time show on Channel 4 and Channel 4+1

On Tuesday night's show, Alex was reprimanded by Big Brother for "bullying" other characters and "abusive behaviour" after a row over some burnt chips.

One fan of the show, wrote on a message board about the "worst case yet" of "disgusting behaviour" on Big Brother.

"How can any normal person target a blind man and then a three-hour rant on an innocent girl all over a couple of chips," they added.

As well as a divisive task, the show already has some of the other ingredients crucial to a successful Big Brother broth:

  • The villain - a role filled in previous years by the likes of "Nasty" Nick Bateman, "jungle cat" Jason Cowan and the argumentative Charley Uchea. This year, Alex has taken on the character with aplomb.
  • A love story - viewers have watched Dale Howard's charm offensive on young mum Jennifer Clark start to pay dividends. Previous Big Brother couples have included Ziggy and Chanelle, Nikki and Pete, and Paul and Helen.
  • Nudity - provided by a topless Rebecca jumping into the pool. Former contestants to have revealed flesh include BB1 winner Craig Phillips and Michelle Jubin, who stripped off to mow the lawn in BB5.

So far, the number of column inches devoted to BB9 in both tabloids and broadsheets has been respectable - while not comparable to the frenzied coverage of the show's early days when Jade Goody and Nick Bateman made many front pages.

Nick Bateman
Nick Bateman was vilified by the press for his underhand tactics

Viewing figures have been slightly lower than last year's average audience of 3.8 million.

But, all in all, the secret wedding task and its repercussions - together with the emergence of arguably the show's nastiest ever character - have made for one of the Big Brother's strongest opening weeks in years.

The question now is whether the standard can be maintained beyond the honeymoon period.


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