- “Big Brother” has been on the air for 19 years.
- “Big Brother” also has a “Celebrity Big Brother” spinoff in the US and UK.
- There are almost a hundred cameras watching every houseguest.
Ever since “Big Brother” first locked away a group of people (called houseguests) in a house for the summer and called it reality TV, people have been tuning in to see all the drama unfold in real time.
Airing three times a week on TV, the CBS show is actually on all the time thanks to a set of cameras and microphones that pick up contestant behaviour 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and stream it live to audiences online.
Fans can watch the houseguests eat, cook, and sleep – and strategize, of course. This is a competition show, after all.
It’s both oddly relaxing to watch strangers just live their lives, and thrilling to watch the twists and turns during competitions.
But with 19 years and 20 seasons under its belt, including “Celebrity Big Brother” spinoffs, even the biggest of superfans can’t know everything there is to know about this show.
Here are 20 surprising facts you probably didn’t know about this reality TV staple.
It’s actually based on a Dutch show.
CBS adapted the Dutch reality show’s format when it started gathering big ratings in Germany and Spain as well, according to SF Gate.
It’s been adapted to a ton more countries too.
“Big Brother” has taken place in India, Australia, Brazil, the UK, Africa, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and more, according to ET Canada.
The contestants get paid.
Unlike on many other reality shows, CBS pays its houseguests for taking the summer off for the show. According to a reported “Big Brother” contract obtained by Reality Blurred, contestants make $US750 per week for as long as they’re still in the game.
It’s produced more successful marriages than “The Bachelor.”
Host Julie Chen bragged about this stat to Entertainment Tonight, and she’s right. Only season 17 Bachelor Sean Lowe married his winner, although four “Big Brother” couples have gotten married. Of course, when you add in “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” the “Bachelor” franchise beats “Big Brother” six marriages to three.
The longest competition was more than half a day.
Tests of endurance are common on the show, but one competition stretched on for over 14 hours. The season six Head of Household competition required contestants to hold down a button. If you let go, you were out. According to CBS, after 14 hours and 37 minutes, Jennifer finally won at 9 a.m. the next day.
The show has a unique way to wake up the houseguests: Music.
“Big Brother” season 15 winner, Andy Herren told HuffPost that production would “blare pop songs in the morning to wake you up. It could be any time between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.” Not the most gentle way to ease into the day.
The show has several nods to George Orwell’s book “1984.”
The show’s name comes from the book’s leader Big Brother, who watches over citizens at all times via telescreens. It’s a fitting name, but it’s not the only “1984” reference. The show also has a stuffed animal owl that chills in the house named Orwell after the author. The owl even has his own Twitter account.
There are almost a hundred cameras watching every houseguest.
Chen told Entertainment Tonight that 87 cameras and 110 microphones are picking up what the contestants are doing and saying at all times. There’s no privacy in the “Big Brother” house.
There’s even a camera in the bathroom.
SF Gate reported that there is a camera installed in the houseguests’ bathroom, but that footage isn’t shown on air or on the feeds. Producers told SF Gate that the camera was there just so contestants couldn’t collude in secret. But the bathroom camera footage has been used on TV at least once.
In season two, Shannon took Hardy’s toothbrush and scrubbed the toilet with it out of anger. The footage was eventually played for the audience, and Shannon was made to apologise and give Hardy a new toothbrush.
You can get expelled from the show.
Usually, the only way out the “Big Brother” door is if your fellow houseguests evict you. But CBS also doesn’t tolerate violence or disobedience. As CBS News reported, over the years, a handful of houseguests have been expelled from the show. This includes Justin from Season 2 who pulled a knife on a fellow contestant and Chima from season 11 who threw her mic in the pool after repeated requests from production to put it on.
Houseguests are cut off from all news while in the house, except in extreme cases.
Entertainment Weekly reported that during Season 2, production told the houseguests about the September 11 attacks since Monica’s cousin was listed as one of the missing World Trade Center workers. During the online season, “Big Brother Over The Top,” the houseguests were informed of Donald Trump’s presidential victory.
Squirrels are inside jokes from production.
If you’ve ever spotted a random fake squirrel in a “Big Brother” competition, that’s Benny. Keep an eye out for him in the future.
The “Big Brother” house is not a real house.
It’s an elaborately set up soundstage, according to Reality Blurred. And while it may look real to those watching, season four’s Erika Landin told HuffPost that it doesn’t seem that real to those playing the game. “It doesn’t really feel like a house. It actually feels you’re living on a set,” she said. “The whole ceiling is television lights.”
Sometimes fans try to contact houseguests who are in the backyard.
People have flown banners over the backyard and yelled over the wall to try to reach out to those playing. If this happens, houseguests are instructed to go inside until the situation has been dealt with so as to avoid any outside influence on the game.
Some houseguests are recruited.
As with many reality TV shows, production doesn’t rely on self-submissions alone. The show rounds out their applicant pool with people of their choosing. HuffPost reported that season six’s James Rhine was one such recruit.
“They found me on MySpace. They literally hit me up because they liked the modelling picture I had as a profile picture, and my old job was as a corporate investigator,” he said. “I had never watched the show, but they kept telling me they saw me as the second coming of this Dr. Will person.”
People do have sex in the house, even though they know they’re being filmed.
The first pair to do this was David and Amanda in Season 4, according to Vulture. They may have pulled the covers over their heads, but they weren’t that sneaky about what was going down underneath. “I’m a grown man and grown men do grown-up things, ” David told the cameras following the incident.
Slop wasn’t always slop.
Before season seven, when the oatmeal-y gooey slop was introduced, contestants were punished by being made to eat only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Contestants aren’t allowed to sing for the whole summer.
If houseguests slip up, they will be reminded with a stern, “Please. Stop. Singing.” This rule likely has to do with copyright concerns, since CBS would have to pay to air a segment that contained an artist’s song.
Jury house is a party.
If contestants make it far enough in the game, they can go to the jury house. These eliminated houseguests later decide who wins between the final two players. But until their important role comes up, they just have a great time. With no cameras, the pressure is off and contestants can finally let loose and have fun.
As season four’s Jack Owens said to HuffPost, “It was a vacation in a millionaire’s home on the Pacific Ocean. We had all the beer we wanted. We had all the freedom we wanted … I was allowed to occasionally talk to my wife on the phone. The game was off. We partied together and enjoyed each other.”
Season one was basically a completely different show.
Good thing CBS changed it up, because since then it’s been going strong for nearly 20 years. Here’s to many more dramatic seasons to come.
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