The contestants in the Big Brother 2 house have been in there for almost two months. How do the producers assure that they stay sane? The British version takes certain precautions for this very reason, some of which are also followed in the U.S., some of which are not.
No matter what country Big Brother is in, one of the things uniting it is that participants are cut off from the outside world. It’s almost like a line from the Gilligan’s Island theme song: “No phones, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury” (well, okay, they have lights). The houseguests only have themselves 24/7. Nowhere to go, no changes of scenery. Hardy made a comment last week, “it’s like being in jail.”
We in America and Canada have seen the houseguests start to crack. One of the most memorable tirades involved Monica, when she lit into everyone a couple weekends ago. The sad thing is, if Monica hadn’t revealed her ire, another guest would have done so. It’s just a matter of time. Certainly we saw tempers flare with the infamous finger waving between Kimmi and Alicia on Survivor. Or, as my favorite TV character, Homer Simpson, said in a Halloween special, “No beer and no TV makes Homer go crazy.”
Well, no beer is not an issue for the current BB guests. But they have no TV and they are definitely going crazy. A great historian once said that civilization is only five missed meals away from anarchy. We saw that on Survivor with their Lord of the Flies mentality.
The producers of the just-finished British BB have safeguarded the houseguests and took extra precautions for this event. They don’t want their guests to go crazy. I have not found anything for the American version, so I will assume (and hope) they are taking the same precautions, as they did with the removal of Justin earlier on.
According to the BBC, every one of the participants were tested for mental toughness and underwent “stringent” psychological testing to ensure they could cope with the reality of being in front of the cameras 24/7. All the guests were closely monitored to ensure that they were able to deal with their daily struggles.
Series producer Jeremy Phillips told the BBC that “keeping the contestants sane was a top priority.” He explained, “The last 70 short listed for the show were seen by a psychotherapist and he spent a lot of time with them deciding whether they were robust enough to go into the house. It is after all a popularity show. You are asking people to bond with other people then stab them in the back.”
So far, so good. He goes on, “We wanted people who are strong enough to cope with the deprivation and isolation from the world, … and to be strong enough to cope with going in.” The UK BB team even had a psychotherapist on hand 24/7 to chat confidentially to them and, if things got too bad, to pull them off the show. The U.S. version of the show has something similar, as the therapist was called in to talk to Justin when he started to show his aggressive behavior.
For those of us living in the North America who did not see the British show, Penny, a thirty-something teacher, was the first to be evicted from the house after being put up with Helen, the guest who ended up coming in second. Penny apparently started to crack early on in the show. According to series producer Jeremy Phillips, Penny “felt the rest of the house had turned against her,” and stated if she had not been evicted after a fortnight, he would have called on her fellow housemates to show some “compassion.” He was very sure that had she stayed longer she would have “unraveled.” He also stressed that upon Penny’s eviction, she was still being closely monitored by the team of psychotherapists, and to this day they are still monitoring her mental welfare.
In both America and Britain, the houseguests are debriefed by trained professionals. In Britain they are followed up by another in-depth meeting later in the week. I do not believe this second debriefing is done in America, judging from Kent’s comments in interviews since his eviction. It might be a good idea to start now, especially since the U.S. version goes a month longer than versions around the world.
Susan Schechter works for a multinational Financial Markets/News company as a Research Analyst/Biographer covering the UK, Australia and other Commonwealth countries.