BENNINGTON -- Friends, relatives and local supporters crowded the tables and bar of Ramunto's Thursday to watch Bennington's Shane Meaney compete on the national hit reality show "Big Brother."
"It is surreal. I'm not used to it yet," Shannon Meaney said about seeing her 26-year-old brother on television. "We're just so proud of him. He's staying true to who he is, and that's important."
The live episode attracted approximately 100 people, many of whom raised their arms, cheered and beamed happily the first time the cameras stopped on Shane.
"How often is it that Bennington has somebody on national TV three nights a week?" said
Dwyer, who like Shane had never watched the show on CBS until this season, said from what he has seen Shane is a serious contender to be the last houseguest standing, which comes with a $500,000 prize. Each week one houseguest is voted out, and so far Shane has been winning competitions that have kept him safe and staying out of feuds.
"I think he's doing a phenomenal job. He started off with just what he told me his game plan was going to be, which is to try to win the competition and protect himself, but until he figures the game out to stay in the shadows a little bit," Dwyer said. "It's one of those things you have to be good and lucky, and sometimes lucky might be more important than good. The problem he is encountering, and he's going to continue to encounter, is he's a threat. He's so good he's a true threat, so as it comes down to fewer and fewer numbers you realize you've got to get rid of the threats."
Jillian McCauley, who was in Shane's class through middle and high school, hasn't seen Shane in over a year but said she could not miss the opportunity to cheer him on at Thursday's viewing party.
"The last time I saw him he was working at a gym I used to work out at. And to think the next time I saw him it was going to be on TV, it's just kind of crazy," McCauley said.
McCauley watched Thursday's episode beside her mother, Debbie McCauley, who grew up with Shane's father. Debbie McCauley has been a fan of "Big Brother" for the past 10 seasons and said she believes Shane has a real chance of winning.
"He's a competitor. He knows how to compete in the games, but he also has the very charming personality," she said.
If Shane does not win, many people pointed to his small town trust in people as his potential downfall.
"I think he's doing awesome. I think he's a little naive, like his mother. He's too trusting," Doreen Meaney said of her son during a commercial break. "I think that's going to get him into trouble. I hope not."
Dwyer echoed that sentiment. "He has so much trust, and part of this game is lying and manipulation, and that doesn't come natural to him. So far to this day Shane has kept his word to everyone he has made promises to. Last night he offered to be put up as a pawn on the block, the block is where they get voted off, and we're all going ‘no Shane,' because of course we all see things behind closed doors he doesn't see and these guys can't be trusted," he said.
"Big Brother" houseguests are not allowed contact with the outside world, but Shane's mother said if she could, she would have one piece of advice for her son other than not to be so trusting.
"He can't wear that pink tank top again," she said laughing. "I packed his bags and I did not pack that pink tank top. I think that he borrowed that from someone."
John Decker, the manager of Ramunto's, said hosting the viewing parties the past two weeks has been a great way for the community to come together and support one of its own. Decker said it is also a lot of fun watching someone he plays pickup basketball with on TV.
"It's pretty cool. We support him a lot. ... Everybody really enjoys what he's doing," Decker said.
Shannon Meaney said that in addition to the thrill of watching her brother, it's also exciting to see the turnout each Thursday.
"There's a huge gathering here tonight. It's just so nice seeing everybody coming together to support him," Shannon said. "There are a lot of friends and family and there are also a lot of strangers, so it's a good mix of everybody in the community."
The viewing parties, which include give-a-ways by beer distributor G. Housen, are scheduled from 8 to 10 p.m. every Thursday Shane is still a contestant.
So far the atmosphere has been positive, but Dwyer said when it gets closer to the finale and $500,000 is on the line there may be more animosity toward other housemates on the show.
"I think that that's coming. There's a couple on here that are really lying and deceitful," he said.
The show airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. and on Sundays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
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