August 27, 2013 4 Comments
The American version of Big Brother is, without question, my favorite summer television show. I recently started watching the current tenth season of the Australian Big Brother series (via Youtube as it is not aired in the US) and decided to compare, contrast and rate both of the shows’ current series from the perspective of an American viewer.
On the surface, the US Big Brother version, which has aired on the CBS television network for 15 seasons, seems very similar to the Australian version, which airs on Nine Network. A group of people from different parts of the country are locked in a house full of cameras and microphones without any contact from the outside world. Every week, at least one person is evicted until one is left to win a large sum of money (in the US it is $500,000 USD). Series 1 of the US show, which aired in 2000, was identical in format to BB AU with the houseguests nominating and the public voting.
Starting series 2, which aired in 2001, CBS revamped the game to make it somewhat similar to Survivor in hopes of getting better ratings, as viewership declined throughout Big Brother’s first season. There is no longer a public vote for eviction. A “Head of Household” or HOH (winner determined by competition) nominates two houseguests for eviction. A weekly “Power of Veto” competition is held and its winner can save one nominee from eviction, keep nominations the same, or (if nominated) can take themselves off the chopping block. In the latter situation, the HOH would name a replacement nominee. The houseguests then vote to evict one of the two nominees. American houseguests are highly encouraged to discuss their nominations and campaign to keep themselves in the house, or to get another houseguest evicted. As you can imagine, this causes drama and frequent arguments within the house.
Like the Australian show, the US version has seen many twists over the years, some of which include twins playing as one person (secretly switching places every few days unbeknownst to their housemates), returning houseguests, and family members playing together. The current 2013 season introduced three weekly nominees, the third being nominated in secret by a non-HOH houseguest chosen by the public.
Even with the fundamental game differences between the US and Australian versions of Big Brother, I was pleasantly surprised at the Nine Network’s version of the program. The BB AU house, in terms of layout and decor, is stunning and a huge upgrade from what the US viewers see. The CBS Big Brother house, which was redesigned and rebuilt in 2007 to include a second floor and a larger floor plan than the original one-story house used in seasons 1-5, is still small and cramped. Although I don’t know the exact sizes of the BBUS and BBAU homes, I’d predict the entire BBUS home would fit in the garden/pool outdoor area of the BBAU home.
Although CBS does redecorate the US house every year, the finished product often looks very dated with cheap construction, finishes and furniture (of which is often from IKEA). Simply put, the house doesn’t look that pretty on television. In comparison, the BB AU house seems to have rich ultra-modern finishes, designer furniture and actually looks like it was built in 2013, unlike the BB US home which I feel looks like it was made in 1992, current retro decor theme notwithstanding. The ‘halfway house,’ a purposely run-down portion of the BBAU home, looks more like the luxurious portions of the BBUS home. ‘The Glass House,’ an American television show with a premise similar to Big Brother which ran on the ABC network, had a house with construction detail and quality more in line with BBAU than BBUS, so I feel this is proof that CBS decorates the US house on the cheap.
Being not too familiar with the original Big Brother game, it was interesting to see it play out on Nine Network. The cast of the current Australian season seems to be quite entertaining and full of a wide variety of personalities. In contrast, the BBUS cast always has a few ‘duds’ in terms of boring houseguests. It is interesting to see Big Brother himself have full conversations with the AU housemates in the diary room and elsewhere. On the US show, houseguests’ diary room footage is presented as a narration and reaction to already-taped events in the US house. The US houseguests speak to members of production in the diary room, but it is not shown on TV as a conversation with a singular Big Brother entity as seen on the Australian show.
The CBS show airs three times a week for an hour each episode. This is in large contrast to the Aussie version, which airs almost 8 hours a week spread over five weekly episodes. The longer airtime allows Nine Network to better show houseguests and non-game events in the home, understandably due to the public vote. BBUS has a 24/7 live internet feed which satisfies the in-depth houseguest connection ‘need’ for me so it really doesn’t matter that the CBS episodes only focus on game matters.
The nomination ceremonies are much more dramatic on the BBAU series, with the ‘nominations chamber,’ a sound-proof transparent booth where the houseguests go to nominate in plain view of their housemates. On CBS, American houseguests evict from the safety of the diary room, away from view of the housemates. However, I conclude the US version’s evictions are more dramatic than the Aussie version, often filled with houseguest arguments and insults as the evictee walks out of the front door.
Overall, as an American viewer, I enjoy the ruthless plotting, backstabbing, strategizing and drama-filled atmosphere of the US version of Big Brother, mainly because I’ve been used to it for 15 years. However, I feel the Australian series makes viewers connect more with the houseguests and it is overall a more interesting show to watch. Although I highly enjoy the BBUS live internet feed, the actual CBS television episodes are often boring and seem procedural. Even though the Australian show is vastly different from what I’m used to when I think of Big Brother, I thoroughly enjoy the show and will keep watching as long as possible.
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