Marylander under eye of `Brother'

July 07, 2000|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Havre de Grace-born Cassandra Denise Waldon seems to have the right stuff to survive 89 days crammed into a house with a bunch of strangers, but few appliances, no amenities, more cameras than hot water - and more than 22 million TV viewers watching.

Waldon - Cassandra on the show - is one of five women and five men who started this week on the new CBS peep show called "Big Brother," the suburban version of "Survivor." They're being watched by 28 strategically placed cameras 24 hours a day. There's even one in the bathroom. Every two weeks these housemates will nominate two of their roomies to be booted out. The viewers will vote on the actual expulsion in this perverse form of participatory democracy.

A former co-worker recalls Waldon as "a sweet person, very easy to get along with." "She was very well-groomed and attractive," says Sharon Dickman, an editor when Cassandra worked at The Evening Sun in the late 1980s. "She had beautiful hair, with elaborate hairdos."

Which may be very hard to maintain with only 15 minutes of hot water available per contestant per day.

Regardless, plenty of people seem intrigued by the show. Wednesday night's debut episode swamped the competition with a national audience of 22.4 million viewers, according to overnight figures from Nielsen Media Research. That gave CBS almost 4 million more viewers during the hour than the audiences of ABC and NBC combined.

Baltimore viewership reflected the national figures. "Big Brother" was watched in about 150,000 homes locally on WJZ (Channel 13) vs. an audience of about 137,000 for WBAL (Channel 11) and WMAR (Channel 2) combined.

For her part in the newest CBS reality show, Waldon is on leave from her job as a communications officer for the United Nations Development Program in New York City.

In her five years with the United Nations, she's worked on programs toward providing health care to refugees in the developing countries of Africa. A UN colleague says she helped develop Netaid, which "uses the Internet to fight extreme poverty . . . all over the world."

The 38-year-old Waldon earned her master's degree in international affairs from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in 1987, concentrating on non-profit, grassroots development programs.

According to Hopkins, she graduated from North Harford High School, in Pylesville, then went on to Clark Atlanta University in Georgia. She graduated in 1984 with a degree in European studies. During the summers, she worked as an intern at the now-defunct Baltimore News American and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

She likes a good book, which is no doubt a good thing in a house without television. One of her latest reads is Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," another is "Swell: A Girl's Guide to the Good Life," the fashion designer lifestyle handbook.

She also likes a good movie, shopping and travel, all of which may make 89 days in a small house seem downright confining.

But she's a vegetarian, which will probably be a good thing when the hot water runs out.

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