As for the show itself, Seven’s Big Brother reboot promised a raft of changes but, at first glance, barely deviated from the format as audiences in Australia know it.
There is an old trick in scripted television, in which a series shoots its first few episodes out of order. The first episode aired is sometimes the third or fourth filmed, the actors and crew have had time to find a rhythm and the audience gets a first bite of something more cohesive.
Reality TV isn’t so lucky, its cameras need to capture those first few moments as they happen and depending on the format the debut of the show’s key riffs – the first food challenge, the first renovation challenge – can be slow to come into the frame.
For Seven’s reboot of the locked-in-a-house-for-two-months format Big Brother it means there are no shortcuts around those too-familiar opening plays: “Which way am I going?” / “How good is this?” / “The party’s here!”. And coming at a locked-in-a-house-for-two-months TV audience, it feels more wearing than usual.
As a format, Big Brother lives and dies on the personality of its housemates, perhaps more than any other show. There are no recipes to dominate living room debate here, nor bathroom renovations to impress or appal us. It is a pressure cooker of personality politics.
A dozen housemates landed on night one – there are more to come – and those who seemed to dominate in screen time were Big Brother superfan Kieran, former AFL player Daniel, makeup artist (and Rancan sister) Marissa, waiter/ecologist (and “spoons” player) Ian, corporate salesman Allan and mother-of-two Angela.
Curiously, the most unwelcome intrusion on opening night was Big Brother himself, calling each housemate to the diary room far too quickly. “You’ve been in the Big Brother house for less than 60 seconds. What do you think of the Big Brother house?”
For this reboot, the all-seeing house master is playing something more like Hal 9000, the talking computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the getting-to-know-you chats so early in the opening 90-minute salvo slow down the very thing they’re trying to achieve: getting to know the housemates in the house.
For the uninitiated, this is a proper reboot of the format, abandoning the screaming audience and live-daily-show components of the format as Australian viewers know it, and instead using the more studio-based and more edited-for-narrative elements of the US version.
While a new coat of paint might sound like a solid idea, those are risky format changes.
We are just 45 minutes into the first hour and the absence of the momentum created by the all-clapping, all-screaming openings of seasons past is deeply felt. At this point, the major narrative riffs are that needy Angela can’t get tea, and hunky Daniel is snoring like a Sherman tank.
The most immediate comparison is another first edition reality format, Survivor, especially when you consider that the first component of game play is putting the housemates on rations and requiring them to perform challenges to win food.
While those mechanics are underwhelming, they allow the reboot’s biggest strength to come to to the fore: the out-in-the-open deal making. Previous Australian iterations of Big Brother have either forbidden or severely curtailed discussion of the nomination and eviction process, leaving those to the voting TV audience.
In this iteration,the housemates compete for the power to nominate candidates for a housemate-voted eviction, leaving the outliers and over-the-top personalities with bigger-than-usual targets on their back.
Talia – with less screen time than some of her housemates – emerged the winner of the first challenge, and the first to become entangled in the human dynamics of eviction. Laura, Kieran and Zoe are her three nominations, an eleventh-hour save for Daniel whose snoring would surely have sealed his fate in the hands of someone other than the woman whose mild flirtation with him was captured by the cameras.
Everything here is in the right place and yet, despite the deeply felt absence of the live audience energy, still somehow comes across as a little too same-old. That said, whether this is successful or not might pivot less on the brilliance of the format delivery and more on your investment in the idea.
Big Brother airs Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesday at 7.30pm on Seven.
Monday, June 8
Combined metro and regional, total people
1. Seven News 1.9 million
2. Seven News at 6.30pm 1.75 million
3. Nine News 1.14 million
4. Nine News at 6.30pm 1.37 million
5. Big Brother Eviction 1.29 million
6. The Voice 1.192 million
7. Big Brother Arrival 1.190 million
8. A Current Affair 1.184 million
9. Big Brother 1.181 million
10. The Chase Australia 1.15 million
Source: OzTAM Overnight Data
Michael Idato is the culture editor-at-large of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.