"Big Brother" is a popular reality television format, where, over 10 weeks or so, a number of contestants (typically 10) try to avoid periodic publicly-voted evictions from a communal house and hence win a cash prize. The show, a kind of 'real life soap', was invented by John de Mol of the Netherlands and developed by his production company, Endemol. It has been a prime-time hit in nineteen different countries, earning Endemol large sums. The show's name comes from George Orwell's 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopia in which Big Brother is the all-seeing leader.
Initially shown in the Netherlands in September 1999, and subsequently cloned across the world, the "housemates" are confined inside a specially designed house, and not permitted any contact with the outside world: no TV, radio, telephone, internet or other media are available to the housemates, not even writing materials. Private chats with a psychologist are a special exception. At weekly intervals, the public is invited to vote to evict one of the contestants. The last remaining is the winner.
The programme is based around four basic elements: the stripped-bare back to basics environment in which they live, the evictions system, the weekly tasks set by 'Big Brother', and the "diary room", in which the housemates individually convey their thoughts, feelings, frustrations and their eviction nominees.
The hostel in which they reside for the duration of the competition is very basic. Although essential amenities such as running water, furniture and a limited ration of food is provided, luxury items are forbidden. This adds an element of survival into the show, thus increasing the potential for tensions within the house.
To fill in time, the residents have various chores to maintain the house, and are set apparently random tasks by the producers of the show, who communicate with the housemates through one (unseen) individual issuing commands, termed "Big Brother". The tasks are designed to test their team-working abilities and community spirit. The housemates have a weekly allowance with which they can buy food and other essentials. To obtain a greater allowance, they may gamble some of their initial amount on the success of the completion of tasks. Of course, their allowance is lessened if they fail to complete the weekly task.
Each week, the housemates each privately nominate two people who they wish to see removed from the house more than the other residents. The three (two in the United Kingdom - unless there is a tie, when it can be three or more) most commonly nominated are then named on the television show, and viewers can call a special premium rate telephone number or send a premium rate text message to vote for whom they want to evict. The substantial profits from the calls and text messages are split between the phone companies and the producers.
After the votes are tallied, the "evictee" is interviewed on-camera by the host of the show, usually in front of a live studio audience. The last remaining housemate is declared the winner and receives a substantial sum in prize money.
The series is notable for involving the Internet. Although the main show, typically broadcast daily with a weekly roundup, is by necessity heavily edited, viewers can also watch a continuous, 24-hour feed from multiple cameras on the web. These websites were highly successful, even after some national series started charging for access to the video stream. In some countries, the internet broadcasting was supplemented by updates via email, WAP and SMS. In the UK, the house was even shown live (with a few minutes relapse to allow 18 hours). Indeed, John de Mol has said: "We aren't really a television producer at all anymore. We are a content provider for multiple platforms."
As of late 2003, new series of the show are being planned in many countries.
In the UK there have been several 'Celebrity Big Brother' series, which have drawn huge viewing figures and raised money for charity.
Despite derision from many intellectuals and other critics, not least about the ironic aspects of aspects of George Orwell's dystopic vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four being consciously aped by producers for public entertainment - and people volunteering to abandon their usual level of privacy for minor celebrity status and the chance of a generous, but not massive prize, the show has been a commercial success around the world.
While any pretences to be a cultural experiment are dubious, reports of the different results of the show around the world have been mildly interesting - in Australia, after a few weeks it became clear that most of the remaining housemates liked each other and had no particular desire to evict each other, whereas other versions have involved plotting in the vein of Survivor. Some European versions have been filled with sex-crazed housemates, whereas the Anglo-Saxon versions have been mostly sex-free, although the second British series was marked by the emerging romance of two of the contestants.
An interesting development in Big Brother is that German scientists have discovered that former contestents may be at risk from Post Container Stress Disorder, a condition sometimes suffered by those who leave the armed forces. Indeed, in the second Polish edition, one of housemates was taken to a psychiatric hospital.
New series of the show are planned in several territories.
American Big Brother currently uses different rules than other countries' versions of the show. The first season, in summer of 2000 followed the same format as the international version. Though it attracted a sizeable viewership, it failed to reach the popularity that Survivor achieved in the United States, so many considered Big Brother a failure. The viewer voting technique backfired, it seems, as the most unusual and controversial contestants were evicted early in the game.
The revised rules of the US show have been used in the three most recent seasons. Under these rules, viewers do not vote for housemates to be evicted. Each week, the housemates compete for the title of Head of Household (HOH). The contestant who wins this competition is given additional privileges, and also chooses two other housemates to nominate for eviction. The remaining housemates then vote their choice of the two nominees, and the one with the most votes is evicted.
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2 Near copies of Big Brother
3 External Links
Big Brother around the world
Near copies of Big Brother