EASTMAN, Ga. — One of the interesting parts of watching shows like “Big Brother” is that you often know things that the contestants on the screen don’t.
But for Kimberly Hardin, that very aspect of Big Brother can make watching the show a very intense experience – perhaps more intense than a regular viewer.
“My husband and I and our daughters were on a three-way Facetime, we were all screaming so loud," Hardin said. "I said some unmotherly things"
From her home in Eastman, she is rooting for her son, Cameron Hardin, who is one of the 17 Big Brother house guests fighting for $750,000. It is a fight to make it to the end of the 100 days in the house.
"With him having limited information, he has found out most of the secrets,” Hardin said “But every time, I’m screaming.”
Every betrayal and lie that, as a viewer, Hardin knows is not true makes the watching experience quite stressful for this Eastman mother, because she wishes she could speak through the screen and tell her son the truth.
In Eastman, where Cameron grew up, so many members of the community are joining “Team Cameron” as they hope to see their hometown hero walk away with the big prize.
“Oh, gosh, he just – it is beyond anything I would imagine,” Hardin said. “I went to a little middle school football game, and I was walking by and – you know, I don’t just go up and talk about it – but I heard someone yell ‘Kimberly! Kimberly, I’m loving Cameron! Go team Cameron!'"
She added: "People who use to not watch are watching now, people of all ages.”
The show Big Brother places 17 strangers in a house where they live, compete and make alliances as they contend for that $750,000 prize.
Through a mix of competitions and votes about which contestant to “evict” from the house, the show involves a lot of political maneuvering and tactical decision-making.
For Cameron, that is something he is quite used to, his mother said, because he had stints in the Army.
“He’s very tactical. He graduated from Georgia Military College,” Hardin said. “And it is not a game for the faint of heart… It’s almost like Lord of the Flies. Because in the beginning, Cameron got off on the wrong foot with a few people and that just carried on for a while. But he is brilliantly smart, and he has single-handedly saved himself three times.”
His mother says that Cameron was in 5th grade when the show debuted. As Cameron watched with his mom, his sisters and his father, he made a statement that would guide him to his spot on the TV screens.
“He said, 'I’m going to go on that show,' and I was like, 'okay, son' – but he meant it. He tried out six times,” Hardin said. “And he finally got to do it.”
In his previous audition, Cameron was an alternate for the show, but ultimately, he did not make it on. But on his sixth audition, he made it.
“The first few times I saw [him], I said to my husband, ‘That’s my son on national TV!” Hardin said. “And it’s not like it’s a one-time deal – he’s on there three times a week.”
For a town like Eastman, Hardin says that this is a big deal.
“This is big for our small community,” Hardin said. “It’s not a metropolis.”
Hardin hasn’t talked to her son since July 21. That was the day that a production crew descended on her home and, after 7.5 hours of filming, Cameron was whisked away to the Big Brother House.
“We had been keeping it a secret for quite a while,” Hardin said. “They converged on our home on July 21, with so many cars, it was like a movie set. And we’re, like, in the country… They just took all sorts of videos in the field, by the horses, by the pool. They were everywhere.”
That day on July 21, they took Cameron's phone. But before he left, she told him she had her trepidations.
“I told him he was going to be the first voted out,” Hardin said. “Because when he gets real passionate, he starts talking at you… he has made a lot of people mad because they don’t understand he’s not about fluff – he’s about telling the straight truth. You like it or you don’t like it.”
But as a mother, the thing that weighs on her most is some of the mean comments leveled against him. With the show being very public – and popular – she really tries to limit herself only to the positive social media feeds.
“I would say it is like a double-edged sword,” Hardin said. “No mother wants to see people say bad things about their child.”
When he comes back to Eastman, Hardin says Cameron will be very surprised by some of the secrets and lies that he was not privy to.
But he’ll also be surprised to see the level of support for him, from all walks of life and all parts of the country.
"Cameron is kind of a quiet guy so I can’t wait for him to come home and see all of that support," Hardin said. "If he wins, we’ll have a big thing at the high school here.”
But that support, Hardin says, reaches far beyond Eastman and Central Georgia.
“I put a little page on my Facebook, that says ‘Please leave a message from Cameron and tell us where you’re from,” Hardin said. “That way, when he gets back, he gets to see all of it – people from Texas, to Las Vegas, all over.”
She thinks that it is quite amazing to watch her son do the very thing he’s been wanting to do ever since he was a young kid.
Hardin says Cameron has found himself in tough spots many times – practically fighting for his right to remain in the show – and he finds himself in a tough spot this time, too.
But she thinks if he can survive the chopping block this time, he’ll be on the show for quite some time.
“He has been adamant, and I don’t just mean it’s a lingering thing. He was obsessed about it,” Hardin said. “As he said yesterday: ‘If I go home tomorrow, I lived my dream.’”