I have always wanted to play Big Brother. Since the show’s debut season, I have been addicted to the program and it actually is responsible for turning my college career plans completely around.
When Shaw Media and Slice announced that Canada would finally receive its own version of the international reality series that sees houseguests live together for over 10 weeks and have every move recorded and documented while they compete for prizes, evict each other and reward the last contestant standing with a $100,000 prize, I knew that if Big Brother Canada was real then a Big Brother Canada Media Day was also quite likely.
South of the border, journalists get to experience one week of the Big Brother houseguest lifestyle in one day and I was hoping something similar would happen here.
Ever since the Big Brother Canada announcement, I feverishly began researching all versions of the media day game. Since it was advertised as being a week in the life of a Big Brother houseguest in one day, it could be assumed that the Canadian version would follow the American model and that there would only be one HOH contest, one veto competition, and one eviction. If things stuck to the regular format of the Media Day game, all the houseguests would vote for the best player at the end.
For the last few months, I cultivated an extensive strategy. I believed that the best way to win a one-day version of the game would be to make a majority alliance and then convince all members to vote in solidarity. On the actual show that premieres tonight on Slice and runs for the next 10 weeks, this would not be the plan that I would go with, but in a one-day version, I thought that it was the best way to win.
Prior to entering the house on February 15, I immediately dug into my reality blackbook to get some tips from players that have actually gone through the experience just to see if there was anything that I was missing or needed to know. I consulted with Big Brother 10 winner and Big Brother 14 runner-up Dan Gheesling who told me to lay low and also said that it would be a good idea to align with like-minded players in a short game. Solid advice but more on Dan in a second.
When my attendance was confirmed, I began packing for the experience. We were told to bring a change of clothes, comfortable footwear, shoes that could get wet, and a bathing suit. I immediately deduced from this itemized list that that either the HOH or the Veto competition would be something that involved finding puzzle pieces in a tub or pool of some substance like pudding or mud (likely the Veto as the HOH would probably be something that involved answering questions since time was a concern with the media only being in the house for eight hours).
When we walked into the makeshift house that has been constructed inside a television studio, I was stunned by how similar it looked to the U.S. version. The most impressive aspect to me was its exterior that doubles as a holographic screen, giving producers the flexibility to project whatever they’d like on it, whether it be the faces of the new 15 houseguests or a sponsor’s logo.
The home itself looked immaculate and colorful, with just enough Canadian nostalgia to be tasteful instead of annoyingly stereotypical. What immediately stood out was the fact that there were only two bedrooms. One that featured seven beds and the other almost serving as a have-not room with a singular round bed. At the time of our arrival, the HOH’s bedroom was still being worked upon so it was one of the few places that we didn’t get to preview. These shared night time arrangements (or lack thereof) will almost certainly have a profound effect on the show as big alliances cannot be made based on sleeping quarters since almost everyone will be in the same room. While it certainly will push the envelope for showmances, groupings and strategy will likely all take place in the HOH’s bedroom because of the lack of privacy in the bedroom.
The backyard was slightly smaller than I expected, and features a Northern-inspired mural, artificial turf lawn area, and pool. It’s important to note that the backyard is enclosed and is not outside. There is a hot tub, but it can only be accessed by a special door and is in the only outdoor portion of the house. I am quite curious to see how the smokers in the house will fare because of this. Since the backyard is sealed off, I don’t think that they will be allowed to light up there.
The living room features many teal colored sofas and curved seating as well as a large flatscreen TV which is how the houseguests will communicate with host Arisa Cox.
My biggest concern heading into tonight’s season premiere of Big Brother Canada was that it would be a low-budget Canadian rip-off, with a less-than-stellar house, cheap budget and low-production value. I am happy to report that this is not the case at all, and that I have never had higher expectations or more confidence heading into a Canadian spin-off of a major reality franchise.
When I arrived to the media day game, I was surprised to learn that only 9 guys and one girl would be playing. Because of the influx of testosterone, I immediately had thoughts of replicating Big Brother 12’s Brigade, or Big Brother 5’s 4 Horsemen immediately ran through my mind, but I thought that making multiple versions of the game’s greatest alliance, Big Brother 2 & Big Brother 7’s Chilltown would be the best course of action. The strategy populated by two of the game’s greatest players of all-time (Dr. Will Kirby and Mike ‘Boogie’ Malin) mandates alignment with one person and to then make your pair of votes indispensible to others.
In this regard, there were many possible partners to choose from.
Bill Brioux from CP has been my mentor for many years and actually helped me get started in the journalism business. One of the first articles that I ever published was a Survivor prediction piece that I co-wrote with Bill for the Toronto Sun in 2004. I knew that he was loyal, would not take the game as seriously as I was but probably couldn’t be relied upon to win physical challenges (you shocked me in that Veto competition!). Alliance name: Brampton.
Maurie Sherman from Kiss 92.5 FM and I have been friends for many years and have dominated red carpets for a long time. We worked together briefly and share a similar no-nonsense approach in securing access and interviews on the red carpet. Professionally, I don’t think there is anyone that I have more respect for in the industry. I also knew that Maurie was a huge Big Brother fan, looked like the Caucasian version of myself, and would play to win. He was definitely someone that I wanted on my side. Alliance names: M&M, Secret Alliance
Jon Dekel from Postmedia and I have become fast friends over the last year or so and he is undoubtedly one of the funniest people I know. I am not sure how he would feel about me describing him as a “tenacious Zach Galifinakis,” but if the shoe fits… In any event, I knew that he would be the class clown and that people would immediately gravitate towards him for his sense of humour. Alliance name: Journalists With Jobs (JOJ), Dose Of Murtzeth (don’t ask).
The game’s sole female player, Kris Reyes is the co-host of Global’s Morning Show and also someone that I knew from outside the house. We are both Centennial College grads, and have attended many alumni functions together. While I liked her, I knew that as the only girl, she would be almost impossible to beat in any F2 scenario.
Rick Campanelli and I also used to work together at Entertainment Tonight Canada. The co-host of one of Canada’s top entertainment programs had previous Media Day Big Brother experience as he participated in the U.S. version of the one day game and is unequivocally the nicest guy I know. Coupled with the fact that he was easily the most athletic person in the house, I thought he was the game’s biggest threat and assumed that he would win most of the competitions.
I had met Chris Jancelewicz from The Huffington Post Canada at various entertainment events over the last couple of years. Since I wasn’t sure how seriously he was taking the game, I thought that he would be unpredictable and so I immediately labeled him as of the game’s biggest question marks.
While I hadn’t previously crossed paths with Cody Powell (TV Guide Canada), Jeevan Brar (MSN.ca) or Tim Alamenciak (Toronto Star) prior to the game, on first impressions, they looked like they were all more physically adept than I was. With that being said, the dining room table probably had my number on any kind of athletic activity.
The good thing was that as soon as the game started, I certainly felt like I had a plethora of alliance options but before I could even start getting to work, Arisa interrupted our bed selection and told us to convene in the living room. After introducing ourselves and the charities that we were each playing for (the media member voted the best player would earn $1000 for their charity), we were told to “expect the unexpected.” This ushered in the first surprise of the day which was a special pre-recorded message from… Dan Gheesling.
Yes, the same Dan Gheesling who I had consulted with for strategy only 48 hours before moving into the house. After offering some tips about playing the game, Dan said that one player would have to make an immediate decision. I was hoping that this wasn’t going to be me as it would throw my plan of not winning anything or making any public decisions into chaos. Unfortunately, I was selected as the Big Brother 14 runner-up told me that I had 30 seconds to choose four players for an unknown purpose. Since I don’t believe in being indecisive in the game, I immediately chose the four players sitting directly in front of me. Jeevan, Chris, Jon, and Tim. My presumption was that it would be a food competition where we would be split into teams and my selectees would somehow be responsible for drafting the teams. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Dan proceeded to inform my selectees that they would be on slop for the rest of the day. I was positive that this decision would come back to haunt me as it obviously put the four selected into an immediate alliance (they henceforth referred to themselves as the ‘Slop Brothers’ for the majority of the day) and that this one completely random and unlucky break would likely cost me all of their votes in the end, meaning I would now have to secure the remaining 5 votes to have any chance of winning. Since we didn’t see Dan’s random drawing of my name, I am not sure what happened but I can now admit that this was the biggest lesson that I learned about Big Brother. Despite my extensive pre-game planning, a simple twist really can change everything and this gave me even more sympathy for Chima’s plight on Big Brother 11.
After the slop soap opera, the group went to the kitchen. While the have-nots couldn’t enjoy any of the food, Kris immediately employed one of reality-television’s oldest strategies and assumed the role of the provider… offering to make eggs for all and add flavour to those stricken with slop. I thought that the move was a shrewd one and that The Morning Show host’s attempt to assume the role of chef was quite Machiavellian in scope and that she would certainly be more Nicole Nilssen than Joe Arvin. It also signaled to me that despite being one of the potential members of my majority alliance, Kris was going to be the biggest threat of the day.
What shocked me was the fact that most of the other journalists seemed content to just engage in casual conversation, when I was there solely to play. Really, my primary highlight of the experience was constantly talking to Maurie about actual strategy. We discussed counting everything in the house in preparation for the possible HOH contest, our best choices to align with and how we would deal with Kris being our biggest threat with her cooking acumen… we seemingly had a blueprint for everything.
When it was time for the HOH competition, we learned that the Head of Household would be decided by a “Majority Rules” game. While I would like to say that I threw it (which would explain my first-round elimination), the truth is that I didn’t. The first question in the contest asked us which houseguest wass more likely to spend more time in make-up, Kris or Rick. I thought going with the game’s only female player was the smart choice, but alas, it appears that the J in journalist stands for jokers as the majority answered Rick. The competition eventually came down to a tie-breaker between Jon, Tim, and Bill. I thought that I would be safe if Jon or Bill won, and when Tim did, I knew that I would have to go into major damage-control mode.
After the competition, I was surprised to see that many of the contestants didn’t seem concerned about talking to Tim. Per every season of Big Brother, talking to the HOH is imperative and Maurie and I quickly discussed things. We decided to approach Tim separately, each telling him to save the other and that we would vote whichever way he wanted us to as our payback for this favour. When he asked us what his best move would be, I pointed to six pairs of sandals near a tub that was filled with what appeared to be slop and told him that the veto was bound to be physical and so nominating Maurie and I wouldn’t make any sense as our chances of winning wouldn’t be high.
In the end, Tim nominated the game’s biggest threat Rick and the game’s oldest player, Bill who apparently had asked to be put up.
That is when everything changed.
Immediately after the nominations, I saw Kris strategizing with Tim on the couch and told Maurie that we had to break this up. Maurie concurred and we immediately joined their conversation. Cody was also there and I thought that this would be a good way to get one of the game’s more unknown players firmly on our side. We made another pact amongst the five of us, calling ourselves ‘The Secrets.’ While I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the loyalty of this grouping, it was solely made in an effort to solidify something with Kris as I knew she was spending a lot of time with the Slop Brothers, and was probably campaigning to be their fifth vote.
During our conversation and formalization of ‘The Secrets’, Kris got up and went to the backyard where everyone else was chatting. When I went to join this outside group (drawing on my Big Brother knowledge of never leaving a large group outside to plot against you), Kris called me out in front of everyone, proclaiming that Maurie and I were “trying to run the show.” While you couldn’t really fault her for this, it was quite a brazen move from the player who said that she didn’t really know the game. The best part of her decision to do this was that she went on the offensive while Maurie was still in the house, meaning I was left to my own devices to defend the accusation. I never expected such a heel turn from someone who I thought was on my side! While I wanted to play the villain, I now realized that I wasn’t. It was her. It had always been her. This was also another valuable lesson that I learned from the game that you don’t really get from just watching it on television. Keeping your cool is perhaps the best strategy one can employ. I talked in circles about how Maurie and I were just trying to absorb the experience as much as we could, but Kris smelled blood and quickly asked someone to get Maurie to join us (presumably to throw him to the wolves as well). By the time he did (where were you Maurie?!), the topic had quickly changed and the houseguests started playing a game where we went around in circles naming bands. Maurie looked at me for an explanation about why he was requested outside, but I couldn’t really tell him in front of everyone. The funniest part of the day for me was that everytime Kris named a band, I tried to signal to Maurie with my eyes that she was the one who had turned on us and that we needed to oust her immediately.
When the game finally ended, I told Maurie what had happened. Before making a rash decision, it was clear that we first needed to see how the veto competition would play out before deciding to either work to keep the nominations the same, or attempting to get Kris put up as the replacement nominee.
Just like the show, the two nominees and the HOH picked names out of a hat to determine who else would be joining them in the veto competition. After the draw, it was decided that Jon, Cody and I would be the three additional players.
The veto competition involved us changing into shorts and t-shirt and then wading into a slop/pancake batter-filled pool to find a hockey puck (how Canadian) with our name on it. The first player to find the puck would win the veto. Despite my best efforts, I was never really a factor in the competition (despite trying to hide everyone else’s pucks in the back corner while trying to find mine). Cody managed to win despite being body-checked by Bill, who with his physical play now showed me that his desire to be evicted, really was just an act.
After the competition and while we got cleaned up, I talked to Cody and Tim again about not using the veto. That is when Tim informed me that he was thinking about making a bigger move and disclosed to me that Kris had already been looking past the eviction, already asking the others to vote for her to win. He floated the idea of Cody using the veto, putting Kris up as the replacement nominee and then backdooring her. This is honestly why I love Big Brother as much as I do. I didn’t think Tim was there to play that hard, but his suggestion was brilliant and with Kris deciding to come after me, I was completely on-board with the suggestion. In the end though, because it was a short game and knowing Kris had pulled the wool over the eyes of so many, I didn’t think we had enough time to rally the votes so playing it safe and keeping the nominations the same was probably the best play.
While I didn’t expect Cody to use the veto, he decided to make the move anyway and pulled Rick off the block. As discussed, Tim put Kris up as the replacement nominee and the reaction that Maurie and I had to this could best be described as restrained jubilation.
Despite Maurie, Cody, and I voting for her, Bill was still sent packing by a vote of 4-3. The Slop Brothers’ voting bloc saved Kris. To be honest, I would have really liked to see how the game would have played out if that opening twist didn’t occur simply because I do feel like it unnecessarily drew their alliance together. Once again though, the lesson here is that twists and luck can influence even the most perfect of plans.
From there, it was time to reveal the votes for best player and with three votes, Kris was declared the winner. While I managed to secure Bill and Rick’s votes, it ultimately came down to self-voting being permitted (which I wouldn’t have engaged in since I believe it goes against the social dynamic upon which the game is built). I ended up voting for Maurie.
In the end, I left feeling quite satisfied with my game and the experience. After being singled out and making four enemies right at the start of the game, I still managed to work with the HOH, avoid being placed on the block, survive being called out by Kris and didn’t vote for myself to win which not many people can say. I played absolutely as hard as I could. In terms of pure desire and appetite, I did everything that I could. As the world’s foremost reality television expert, I did my best to live up to the moniker. My one regret is not confiding in more people about how much the experience meant to me as it truly was a lifelong dream and I think that might have influenced some of the undecided voters. I literally cannot wait to try it again next year and I can say without equivocation that it was the most fun I have ever had in my career and on any junket that I have been a part of.
I cannot thank Shaw Media, Slice, and Insight Productions enough for the opportunity. It fulfilled a lifelong desire that I have had. John Brunton, Sue Brophey and Arisa Cox were excellent hosts.
I’d also like to thank my fellow houseguests for being part of something that I will never forget. Rick’s vote especially came as a huge surprise to me after the fact and I appreciate it more than he will ever know. Same for Bill’s. I also enjoyed butting heads with Kris as the game is only fun if you have a worthy adversary. I also thought that as a relative newbie to Big Brother and reality television in general, that Tim played an absolutely flawless game and also was a deserving champion.
The new Big Brother Canada houseguests are in for a life-changing experience. A simulated day in the Big Brother Canada house has had me second-guessing every move I made days after the fact and I have a much better understanding now of why people act the way that they do in the house. I already have a vested interest in the season as a close friend of mine is playing for real (how strange is it that while we live basically across the street from each other in real life, we also have now lived in the Big Brother Canada house only a week removed from each other?!), but this gave me an even deeper appreciation for just how much the winner has to go through to earn their $100,000 prize, a $25,000 gift certificate from The Brick and a new car.
The season premiere of Big Brother Canada airs tonight at 9 p.m. on Slice.
ps. Slop doesn’t taste very good.
Pps. Dan, I am blaming you for my loss!
Pps. Slice, Maurie and I still want our houseguest keys! Yes, we’re serious!
The video of my experience is available at the top of this article and here is the accompanying photo gallery.