Big Brother Australia vs. Big Brother USA: Who’s the best? (Part 2)

Sonia Kruger hosts Big Brother Australia's 2013 season on Nine Network.

Sonia Kruger hosts Big Brother Australia’s 2013 season on Nine Network.  Credit: Nine Network.

I recently wrote about the differences between Big Brother Australia (BBAU) and Big Brother USA (BBUS), focusing mostly on fundamental game differences and the appearance of both shows.  Now, after watching all of the BBAU series to date, I decided to compare and contrast both countries’ Big Brother offerings a little bit more.


For those who haven’t read Part 1 above, I am an American who watches BBAU on delay via Youtube.  BBAU is not aired in the United States on any US TV channel.  Both shows, although sharing the same name, are largely different games.  On BBUS, contestants (called ‘houseguests’) vote to evict one of their own while Australia, like many other countries who air BB, rely on a public vote.  The US show is more competition-based and includes something BBAU doesn’t have: Head of Household (or HoH).  The winner of the HoH competition earns the right to nominate two houseguests for eviction, among other luxuries.

Chima was a BBUS houseguest in 2009.

Chima was a BBUS houseguest in 2009 who was expelled after disobeying Big Brother. Credit: CBS.

Picking right up where I left off in Part 1, the likelihood of houseguests obeying Big Brother seems to be major difference between the two series.  On BBAU, the houseguests largely followed instruction when told not to talk about something.  On BBUS, however, obeying BB is more of a suggestion, not a requirement.  On the BBUS live feeds, houseguests are forbidden from talking about production, diary room sessions or people who have not signed a production waiver.  Houseguests are not allowed to sing, either, regardless of if it is a real song or made up.  Yet, when houseguests do many of the aforementioned no-nos (it happens quite often), they are told to stop typically without any real consequences.  Perhaps the largest example of houseguests disobeying BB was in series 11 (2009) where houseguest Chima refused to go to the diary room after throwing her microphone pack into the pool following a game twist which rendered her Head of Household nominations null and void the week before.  The video clip shows Chima blatantly refusing to go to the diary room after multiple requests from production, leading to her expulsion from the house.

BBAU housemate Mikkayla (right) cries after hearing Ben (left) was evicted from the game.  Housemates later learned Ben's eviction was staged.

BBAU housemate Mikkayla (right) cries after hearing Ben (left) was evicted from the game. Housemates later learned the eviction was staged.  Credit: Nine Network.

Eviction episodes on both shows are polar opposites.  Time and time again, on BBAU, the houseguests uncontrollably wept when a houseguest was voted off.  Tully and Mikkayla were notorious for sobbing as the houseguest left the backyard eviction door.  On BBUS, evicted houseguests are typically maligned by the majority alliance in the house due to houseguests (not America) having the sole eviction votes.  Instead of the entire US cast crying, most are high-fiving, cheering and insulting opposing-side allies of the evictee when they are evicted.  I think the differences in this case boil down to the differences in the BBAU and BBUS games.  Since BBAU housemates don’t vote each other off, the US element of ‘one-upping’ the opposing alliance by voting out one of their members is absent in the Australian game.

Housemates on BBAU are not allowed to talk about nominations.  Several houseguests this year were penalized for doing so.  BBUS, given the inherent changes in game format, encourages nominations talk.  Watching BBAU for the first time this season, it puzzled me as to how good the show would be with banning nomination talk, however I was pleased to see that the Australian show carried its own weight in the topic’s absence.  However, for one week only, BBAU housemates nominated face-to-face and with it, Big Brother allowed nominations to be discussed.  I thoroughly enjoyed this ‘hybrid’ of the BBUS and BBAU formats.  Nominations caused lots of drama and kept the show interesting, at least for this US viewer.  But I can see how allowing continual nomination conversations could take away from other things going on in the house, so I don’t fault BBAU for not allowing it otherwise.

BBAU housemate Tully nominates in the soundproof Nominations Chamber while her fellow housemates look on behind her.

BBAU housemate Tully nominates in the soundproof Nominations Chamber while her fellow housemates look on behind her.  Credit: Nine Network.

One element of BBAU 2013 I thoroughly enjoyed was the Nominations Chamber, a room which had a soundproof booth where houseguests would make their nominations in front of the entire cast.  It was such a difference from the typical nominations ceremony on BBUS, where the HoH would nominate two houseguests in the house dining room while pulling a key out of a box.  But what I didn’t like was how BBAU retired the nominations chamber in the later weeks of the season, save for one week where houseguests’ loved ones helped them nominate from the chamber.  The lack of structure and location of the nominations process took away from the game, in my opinion.

The lack of structure in the BBAU schedule was also a downside of the show.  Several times throughout the 2013 season, Nine Network moved around the order of the episodes.  For example, the eviction episodes were on Monday or Wednesday, depending on week.  The ‘Late Night Feast’ episode, which centered around the weekly party dinner, was scrapped late in the season.  Showdown, which originated this year as a separate episode complete with play-by-play from several people, were cut in lieu of a narrated portion of a regular episode.  Although the changes didn’t largely affect me as an international viewer who sees it on delay, I can imagine it was confusing for the Australian public.

Julie Chen has hosted all 15 Big Brother US seasons since 2000.

Julie Chen has hosted all 15 Big Brother US seasons since 2000.  Credit: CBS.

Although the daily catch-up BBAU episodes were fun and enjoyable for me, I typically disliked the eviction episodes.  Although I believe host Sonia Kruger is a great BB host (on par with BBUS host Julie Chen), the BBAU eviction show format is tiring.  Perhaps the show, at 90 minutes, is just too long.  Most of the show is filler with contrived segments on topics such as ‘will the showmance survive?’ or ‘who is the biggest threat?’  About 3-4 minutes of taped diary room sessions typically fit the bill with these segments.  Another segment includes drawn-out conversations with nominated housemates’ families.  They are all a waste.  I typically skip them while watching.  BBUS’ eviction episodes are 60 minutes, including one catch-up segment, an ‘interaction with the house while live’ segment, a segment where houseguests vote to evict, then finally the eviction and evictee interviews with Chen followed by the HoH competition.  BBUS evictions are more ‘to the point’ and dramatic than BBAU evictions.  One area where BBAU trumps BBUS in this area, however, is that BBAU tends to more thoroughly interview evictees, while Julie Chen interviews the US evictee for about 2-3 minutes before the commercial break.


BBAU 2013 intruders.  From top left to bottom right: Justynn, Nathan, Madaline, Boog.

BBAU 2013 intruders. From top left to bottom right: Justynn, Nathan, Madaline, Boog.  Credit: Nine Network.

As a US viewer, intruders were a fairly new concept.  BBUS has never had an intruder enter the game at a later time as seen on BBAU.  The closest BBUS had was in series 5 (2004) where twins were playing the game as one person, switching places in secret every so often.  Later in the game, the secret was revealed to the house and the other twin was allowed to enter the house to play the game individually.  However, even with the novelty of intruders on BBAU, I feel they entered the game way too late (week 9 of a 15-week season).  The intruders this year, except for Boog, were largely very boring — a stark contrast to the very interesting pre-intruder BBAU 2013 cast.  Intruder Nathan even walked off the show less than two weeks after entering the house.  Why waste our time with boring housemates?  I see enough boring houseguests (the majority of the cast) every year on BBUS!

Brendon (left) and Rachel (right) were a powerhouse showmance alliance on BBUS series 12 and 13.  The couple later married after starring on the sow.  CREDIT: CBS.

Brendon (left) and Rachel (right) were a powerhouse showmance alliance on BBUS series 12 and 13. The couple later married after starring on the show. Credit: CBS.

The inclusion of showmances, or romances between housemates, on BBAU was largely different than BBUS.  On BBUS, showmances typically form and the participants are a large force to be reckoned with.  They also seem to egregiously flaunt the relationship to the point of making their fellow houseguests (and viewers) sick at the constant smooching and (quite often) X-rated nightly activities, as seen on the BBUS live feed.  The BBAU showmances, largely Ed and Jade with a few random interactions among other housemates, seemed tame and more modest in comparison.  Perhaps it is because Ed likely doesn’t want to be with Jade after the show, but showmances are not as large of a part of the show as it is in the American series, at least not in the 2013 series.

Overall, I still stand by my original article in saying that BBAU is much better in all aspects than BBUS.  However, several things about BBAU annoyed me a little bit.  Regardless, I’m looking more forward to BBAU’s 2014 season than next year’s BBUS show.  We’ll see what next year brings…


Further reading

Big Brother has us fooled

Big Brother daily episode guide

Big Brother housemate features, conspiracies & censorship

We’re watching Big Brother

Big Brother’s Executive Producer answers your questions

Big Brother is biased towards Tahan? Proof.

Big Brother Australia vs. Big Brother USA: Who’s the best? (Part 1)

By David

Big Brother Australia 2013 opening sequence.  Credit: Nine Network.

Big Brother Australia 2013 opening sequence. Credit: Nine Network.

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.

Big Brother USA 2013 opening sequence.  Credit: CBS.

Big Brother USA 2013 opening sequence. Credit: CBS.

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.

The Big Brother Australia 2013 house, outdoors (top), indoors (right).  Click to enlarge.  Credit: Nine Network.

The Big Brother Australia 2013 house, indoors (top), outdoors (bottom). Click to enlarge. Credit: Nine Network.

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.

The Big Brother USA 2013 house, indoors (top), outdoors (right). Click to enlarge. Credit: CBS,

The Big Brother USA 2013 house, indoors (top), outdoors (bottom). Click to enlarge. Credit: CBS,

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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