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Behind the scenes at Big Brother

The control room for the Big Brother Africa show. There are over 50 screens where the crew chooses pictures to broadcast. Photo by Brenda Banura.


91 days is just at the surface of it. In reality the show begins over 240 days before as it is made for viewership in 47 countries. Also, presenter IK, the host is helped by lots of other people back stage that work around the clock, they are the show’s unsung heroes. Brenda Banura writes about the scenes behind the BBA curtain.

It is the 90th day of the Big Brother Africa reality show. It is just one more day to the end of the show. The venue, Sasani Studios, Johannesburg, the home of Big Brother Africa is a buzz of activity like expected. Staff members pace around like headless chicken cross checking one thing or another. In one room are over 50 monitors each broadcasting a different part of the Big Brother house. Monitoring these are about 15 people, they work in shifts of two per day since the show runs day and night for 91 days. Outside the house itself are people stationed at the cameras around the house making sure the cameras are capturing the action inside. There are six of them and they also work in shifts.

In an adjacent room are three gentlemen in charge of monitoring the microphones. Each microphone is marked with the corresponding housemates’ name. When one microphone goes off, this crew asks Big Brother to tell the housemate to switch it back on.

Even with sleep bags around their eyes, fatigue is the last thing on their mind, the vividly tired crew, pushed on knowing their reward – rest will be coming shortly after the last show. They continue to pace around editing clips to be used for the final show. There is no vibe of excitement, just a determination to finish. And this is because unlike the viewers, for staff, it has been over 120 days and for others over 240 days, as the show’s preparation started eight months ago.

Sandhya Singh the DSTV Africa communications person says it is during those months that the new show’s format is pitched and determined. It has to be different so that the show is fresh every time. The agreed upon format directs on how to proceed on so many things.

The nitty gritty is looked at too. Singh says, “It is then that the twists are also determined, the travel logistics are organised and with the help of the Channel O team, the artistes to perform at the different shows are also determined.”

Also, a nutritionist is consulted to advise on the foods that housemates need to consume daily so as to guide on what to shop once the show starts. A flat allowance to be given to housemates to cater for their running expenses until they exit the house is also determined.

“A décor company is then chosen from a pool of those we have worked with before. We choose that whose style suits the format best. This year, we wanted a funky house and a glamorous one so we got a company that could get us that look,” she says.

And they do such a great job because they make a small space look so spacious. The glasses that are placed nearly everywhere in the house do wonders in magnifying the space. The bright colours are the icing on the cake, they are so deceptive. Even the compound looks big on TV. But in reality apart from having the advantage of an upstairs section, the Big Brother house circumference is not bigger than an average two bed roomed house taking a doughnut shape.

The climax of the show is the search for the housemates. During the show, part of the team has to help de-brand products so that only sponsors get coverage. Singh says the items are usually wrapped with stickers of brands of the show’s sponsors. When the show is done, the re-usable items are kept to be used again next season. Other items are given away to charity.

A day or two before the final show, evicted housemates fly in for the final show. Since they are booked into the same hotel, they turn it into a Big Brother house of sorts and party till they drop. Then, booze is top on the things flowing in. Like a reunion of sorts, as more housemates fly in, partying gets harder.

Hours before the show, a cocktail is held for housemates and media personalities. And when there is only an hour left to the show, these are shown to the VIP seats at the stage. By then, crowds are waiting to watch the show from the TVs but from the Big Brother Finale venue. A few are taken in to occupy the space between the stage and the seats. To be part of the crowd, you have to call prior and ask to be invited.

With foam fingers, flags and pictures of their favourite housemates, the fans make a noisy entrance. Then a member of the production team comes in to give instructions on how to behave especially how to react when the cameras are on. By then IK, the show’s host is already on stage dancing about to warm up for the show. Then from somewhere someone shouts, “10 seconds to go to live…” He continues counting, “Four, three, two, one…” and then with a silent bang all the cameras are switched on. First they focus on the screaming crowd and when they turn to IK, the show officially begins.

The Numbers:
7. The number of reality shows so far.
47. The number of countries in which BBA broadcasts.
91. The number of days for which the show lasts.
58. The number of cameras in the house.
106. The number of microphones in the house.
$300,000. The amount the winner, South Africa’s Keagan walked away with this season.
28. The number of housemates this season.

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