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LOCAL MAKES THE CUT

For the second straight year, Tampa Bay fans have a horse in the Big Brother race.

The CBS reality show announced the cast for its 12th season on Wednesday, and Annie Whittington, a 27-year-old bisexual bartender at Iavarone's Steak House in Tampa, made the cut.

She'll follow in the footsteps of Casey Turner, a St. Petersburg DJ and elementary school teacher who was kicked out of the Big Brother house early last season.

Whittington's official CBS bio describes her as an independent, outgoing, optimistic persona who's into "anything that involves adrenaline, heights, nature, laughter and fun." In a trailer posted on the Big Brother website, she says: "A lot of people think that me being bisexual is a great secret weapon that I could use and that could really help me move forward in the game."

According to her bosses at Iavarone's, Whittington moved around for years before landing in Tampa. She's worked at the restaurant for a little over a year.

"Great personality. Everybody loved her," said Rico Iavarone, a partner at the steak house. "She's kind of adventurous - a free spirit, and just a great girl."

When she realized she'd be part of the Big Brother cast, Whittington handed in her resignation at Iavarone's. But her bosses said the restaurant (3617 W Humphrey St., Tampa) is hosting a free show-watching party the night of her network debut.

"We're just tickled to death for her," said Carmine Iavarone, another Iavarone's partner. "Beautiful girl, and real sweet. We all think the world of her."

Whittington's Big Brother housemates include an oil rig salesman from Texas, a sheriff from Arkansas and a "chemistry graduate student/VIP cocktail waitress" from Las Vegas.

Big Brother premieres at 8 p.m. July 8 on CBS.

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