Though I was 15 minutes early, there were already at least 30 people ahead of me in line when I arrived at Liquid on May 4 to participate in an open casting call for reality television show Big Brother.
The woman in front of me was telling several other women that she got there an hour early.
"Whatever it takes to get the producer to see me," she said.
Though it was pouring rain outside, she was wearing rainbow toe-socks with flip flops. Her companions opted for muffin tops dressed up in sparkle shirts. Eyeshadow was copious.
"I live in Meridian," one said. "I live at the liquor store," another piped up without missing a beat.
The woman and her new friends began sharing their strategies to get the casting director's attention, but they quickly closed ranks when they saw me listening in.
I turned to the couple behind me in line, and asked them what their interest was in the show.
"It is just so cool," the man said with starry-eyed reverence. "I love being able to see the way people's minds start to play tricks on them."
He had a large smile and a kind face.
"I especially like the paranoia," he added with a goofy grin.
"I just came for moral support," the woman said. "I am much too shy to be on the show."
A server at Liquid began working her way up and down the line, serving people shots of courage, or whatever else they were thirsty for.
The women in front of me started breaking down the various seasons of the show. One of them disputed the official story of what happened in New Jersey, claiming there were much larger fights than the media wanted you to know about. From further back in line, I heard two large men in backward baseball caps discussing the likelihood of there being a murder on the show.
From behind a large black curtain splitting the bar in two, we suddenly heard a man scream, " I WANT TO SHOW YOU MY ASS!" Then, apparently not having made his desires clear, he shouted it again.
I signed my name on a clipboard and was given a card with the number 30 on it and asked to hold it up like a mugshot for a still photographer. The photographer gave me a brief survey to fill out. I took a seat in the bar to fill out the card and wait for my number to be called.
A girl in a sleeveless dress that showed off a large skull tattoo on her shoulder asked to share my table. She had a set of brass knuckles on a chain around her neck.
I said, "Sure," and asked her what brought her down to audition.
"I have just had a really hard life, and I think I deserve something good in it," she said.
I asked her if the show isn't more of a contest about who can suffer the longest.
"That is why the show is good for me," she said. "I know how to suffer. I am a good sufferer."
Then she asked me to stroke her hours-old tattoo to feel the ridges it left in her arm. We were joined at the table by her sister, "the good sister," she said.
"We're trying to pitch them on a sister thing," said the evil one.
They began discussing their answers to the survey questions, including the brief essay question about why an applicant thinks they would be good on the show.
"I put down because I am divorced," said the good sister. The evil sister laughed. "I put down that I am married and dating," she said.
All I wrote on mine was: "I have no shame."
"I just keep looking around the room and asking myself, who I would want to watch on TV," the good sister said.
Her gaze lingered on a grizzled overweight man in a NASCAR jacket and a tattered pair of work boots.
From the next table, one of the two baseball cap-wearing murderphiles tells the good sister: "I
would watch you on TV."
She smiled, so he followed with possibly the saddest pickup line ever: "So, is this your first time auditioning for reality TV?"
My number was called along with the man with the kind face and one of the baseball cap-wearing murderphiles, who looked me up and down and then informed me of our strategy:
"When we get back there, you and I are going to fight," he said. "They will remember that for sure. You in?"
"No," I said.
He began to protest, pushing for a fight, but then we were led behind the curtain for our audition.
Two women sat at a bar table and introduced themselves as the casting directors. They asked each of us to explain why we wanted to be on the show.
The murderphile insisted on going first and made a point of his being loud and obnoxious, yet refreshingly tender—basically a douchebag with a heart of gold.
Next up was the man with the kind face and the taste for paranoia who started by revealing that he used to be an army sniper.
"Also, I have a bit of a stutter and there hasn't been anyone on reality TV with a stutter yet," he said. "So that would be neat."
Then eyes turned to me, so I told them the truth:
"You should pick those two," I said. "He is right about the stutter thing, and earlier, I heard that guy say he wanted there to be a murder on the show, so if he is really as obnoxious as he says, he could drive the army sniper nuts until he snaps and then you would also have some sort of ironic wish-fulfillment thing going on. Honestly, I haven't even seen the show. I just thought it would make for a fun blog post to audition."
The casting directors thanked the sniper and the murderphile for their time and sent them out to ask me more questions about myself. They were strangely interested in my history as a college debater.
They told me that they wanted me to advance to the next round of the auditions and handed me a thick packet.
"You have to hide this," they told me. "And you can't tell anyone. It has to be like nothing happened in here."
They told me to shove the packet in my pants. I did, but gave them fair warning that it would probably smell like butt when I returned it. They also told me I was not, under any circumstances, allowed to write about the experience if I wanted to advance in the process.
I nodded, saying that I understood and left with my pants full of the application packet.
"You totally threw me under the bus," the murderphile said.
"You wanted to fight me. What do you expect?" I said, and made my way out.
The packet was more than 100 pages and included extensive questions about my psychological, medical and criminal history. It wanted to know every address I've had for the last 10 years. It wanted to know about my genito urinary system. It wanted to know if I might be pregnant. One of the questions simply asked if I have considered the impact being on the show might have on my life.
There was also a laundry list of waivers, including a section that made it very clear any STDs I might catch from other cast members are my problem and my problem alone, so not to come crying to Viacom CBS, no matter how much they burn.
One paragraph on Page 5 of the Big Brother 14 Interview Agreement with Arbitration Provisions made it clear that writing about the show or the audition process constitutes a divulging of trade secrets and will result in me being sued for $5 million, "which amount represents the result of a reasonable endeavor by Network, Producer and I to ascertain the fair average compensation for any harm that Producer and Network will sustain as the result of such disclosure."
I don't sign any of that. But I do list my sister's occupation as nemesis.
The casting directors called and told me to come to a downtown hotel and not to speak to anyone about why I am there, just to text my name to a cellphone number they give me when I arrive.
But I was met in the lobby by one of their assistants, who went over my paperwork, noted that I did not sign the $5 million trap, took my photo and sent me to the last room at the end of the hall on the hotel's top floor.
There was a camera in the room for them to interview me, but they told me they couldn't turn it on until I signed the waiver.
I told them I couldn't sign something that authorizes someone to sue me for $5 million if I post about it on Facebook. I didn't mention that I had been live-tweeting the experience already.
They told me Viacom probably has bigger fish to fry.
"Maybe they do," I said. "But like I told you yesterday, I mostly came down to write a blog post."
And that was that.
We thanked each other for our time and I was on my way.