Big Brother & Journalism

By: Jason Sheppard

I’m not sure if it’s a cosmic coincidence or not that as the 20th season of NTV’s Big Brother is about to begin, I’ve landed here at The Newfoundland Herald after two years of studying journalism. 

Now of course, you dear Herald reader (Hi, I’m Jason!) may now be wondering what does a summer reality show have to do with reporting and writing stories?

Plot, Play & Scheme 

Big Brother is a reality competition show where 16 strangers move into a large house together (actually a lot on CBS studios in Los Angeles) and compete for a grand prize of $500,000 (awarded to the winner in late September by host Julie Chen) but to get there, they have to plot, play, scheme (and scream) their way to the end. They also have to try and refrain from killing each other. 

For three months, these people have no contact with anybody from the outside world (or in this case, the other side of a large fence around CBS studios in Los Angeles). 

Here is where I feel the journalism parallels come into play; over the course of the show, contestants take part in “diary room” sessions where they explain their gameplay, discuss how they’re coping and reveal secrets that they keep from other house players. 

Basically, they “report” on what is happening. They also cry. A lot.

In the diary room, the houseguest is interviewed while the diary room camera acts as the probing journalist.  

As a journalist, you ask people you’ve (most often) never met before, personal questions. 

You often ask them to describe what they felt or thought in any given situation. 

They confess their deepest, most personal thoughts and feelings to you – willingly. I never fail to marvel at how and why this happens. 

I’ve observed people I’ve met mere minutes before, cry while speaking to me. Much like when Barbara Walters made Courtney Love cry in a 1995 interview (YouTube it) but I admit, I’ve never ended an interview with “”If you could be a tree…” the way Walters often did.

Another similar aspect: being thrown together with a bunch of strangers to work toward an end goal. Two years ago, I began my journalism studies with people I’ve never met before. 

They quickly became dear friends. Friends I’ve since grown to love. It helped that we never had to vote to evict anybody (which is good because I might have been one of the first ones to be shown the door).  

No Guilt Involved 

Much like being a journalist, a show like Big Brother isn’t for everyone –watching strangers fight and yell and lie in one space can turn people off and there’s enough of that to see every Saturday 3 a.m. on George Street.

And let’s face it; Big Brother is not among the greatest, most creatively audacious or emotionally engrossing shows in TV history (such as Twin Peaks or The Sopranos), it is literally a reality game show. But for three nights every week during sunny July and August and a good chunk of rainy September, I am hooked. 

Guilty pleasure? Nope. No guilt involved. This show is a pure three-month pleasure. 

So, I guess you can consider this my own Big Brother diary room session and even though I’m not expecting one, that $500,000 cheque from Julie Chen would be very nice. 

Be sure to watch Big Brother three mights a week. Sundays at 9:30 p.m. and Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. only on NTV.

Jason Sheppard can be reached by emailing: [email protected]

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