Last night’s episode began with Diddy telling us that we “love testosterone,” and he’s going to give us some. With twenty men in the house, fourteen old and six new, he promises us some tension, some battles, some trouble.
He flexes his own masculine charms, talking about himself in the third person, promising to orchestrate the masculinities back at the house for our viewing pleasure. Flash back to previous seasons, men beating each other up in the hallway. He supposes that’s what we’re looking for.
But we get something else: a complex masculinity that eschews easy claims to testosterone. The show offers a series of examples of how these men are learning to be with each other, to support each other in a group endeavor. This is a competition, but they seem almost unaware of that fact. The first big task is a five mile run, and Diddy tells them, through Michael Bivens, that they all must finish. Attention turns to Michael, one of the two overweight competitors, and the rest of the group worries that he won’t be able to finish. The goal, then, is to get him to the finish line. Their encouragement and push gets everyone through, and after this, there’s no “old” and “new.” Doing the long run together has brought them all together as a group.
In the next segment, the group is divided into smaller groups of four to learn Motown songs. We’re promised fireworks, as the old guys and new guys are thrown together. But the fireworks don’t materialize; Ankh Ra informs them that they’ll have to learn to harmonize, and that’s what they do. The viewer’s expectations that we’ll get a violently competitive masculinity in this house filled with African American men is played to by Diddy’s narrative, but the show has yet to play out that way. After the smaller groups perform, Diddy is unable to cut anyone, because they all lived up to his expectations. The men cheer themselves for they are all saved for another day. Even the group that had trouble getting it together because of Robert’s “woman trouble” managed to pull off a great performance, thanks to Ankh Ra’s reminder that this is a contest about teamwork.
But somebody has to go, and Diddy tries to manufacture some drama here, pulling some of the top performers out of the pack to decide on two who will go home. They all easily decide to send two of the new guys home, the ones that went out to a strip club the night before. They should have been sleeping, according to Dan, and they get soundly punished, both for breaching the rules of hard work taken on by most of the guys, and for their dalliances with women. Indeed, women are present at each of the moments where something goes wrong. Robert’s having trouble with his girlfriend at home, and his hours on the phone threaten to upset the brotherhood in his group. The turning point for his group is when he tells someone who picks up the phone to tell his girlfriend that he’ll call her back later. This one move transforms his group as they go from the bottom of the pack to the top, with three of the four making Diddy’s list of top performers. The other one goes home, the one who went to the strip club, the one who tells us in his close up that he’s “not good with big groups of men,” who wants to go home to his fiancee who keeps him “grounded.” His violation appears to be a violation of the homosocial.
Next week features dance practice, and the preview promises big fights between Diddy and his choreographer, Laurie-Ann. We’ll see what role her female presence plays in what is at present a curiously serene house.