Housemates chicken out of an opportunity to do something truly interesting with reality television. 

Big Whoop

"We got a chance to change history! "

Well, not hardly.

But what George - the quote is from him - and the rest of his housemates did have a chance to change was the rules, the expectations and maybe the level of excitement on CBS TV's "Big Brother " series.

But they didn't.

For those of you who don't watch "Big Brother " - and your numbers are legion, much to CBS's sorrow - here's what happened: Ten days ago, George, the oldest of what was then six remaining housemates, came up with a novel idea. Instead of continuing to nominate housemates to be banished, they'd all band together and walk out instead. For one brief and shining moment, they agreed unanimously to do it.

For a moment there, I thought something special was happening. It appeared that six ordinary Americans, with no previous experience with television or how it works beyond what everybody who watches the tube knows innately, had really grasped the central fact of "Big Brother": They were the ones who were in charge. They controlled the program's future - and their own. It looked as if they were prepared to make an interesting statement.

Instead of being the manipulated, they could become the manipulators.

The whole premise of "Big Brother " is watching what happens to people living in an artificial situation, cut off from the outside world and forced over the course of three months to watch their number dwindle as they nominate, from among themselves, housemates to be banished. And week after week, viewers - at 99 cents a pop for the phone call - pick one of those nominated to be sent packing.

It reminds me of those mice-in-a-maze experiments from college psych courses. The housemates are the mice. And the viewers are watching them.

But after agreeing to walk out, George, Cassandra, Josh, Eddie, Jamie and Curtis chickened out.

You'll forgive me if I say I didn't have much sympathy for the sadness they all seemed to feel as the lone black woman, Cassandra, was sent on her way last Wednesday night.

A mass walkout would have left CBS in the lurch. It might have picked up sagging ratings for the star-crossed show for a few weeks. But it would effectively have ended the series with more than 10 shows left to go.

But more important, it would have made a statement that might ring loud in the annals of reality TV. "Instead of you manipulating us, we'll turn the tables, " they might have said. How refreshing it might have been. How insightful they might have shown themselves to be. Such an idea never surfaced in the show's European incarnations. But here in America, they might have said, we're smart enough to know the extent of our own power.

But, hey, they didn't.

Anyway, who cares? It's only a TV show, and not one that's drawing big audiences anyway.

But it might have been

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