Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Big Brother Africa: The good, the bad, the ugly (Is it worth the money if you don`t win?)

It is billed to be cool. Actually, it is cool; it should be – depending on your vantage point. A show that gets all of Africa clamouring to catch a glimpse of, mainly in anticipation of what romances the contestant housemates might get up to, among other attractions, and distractions.

Meanwhile, as some are glued onto their screens not wanting to miss a moment, others, especially those with very strict religious attachments, won’t be caught dead with their tele tuned into a Big Brother channel.

Instead, the three months this show screens are spent with these moralists up in arms, criticizing the show for contributing to what they refer to as societal moral degeneration.

Degeneration such as Doreen Kabareebe showing up at a Sisqo show in a super skimpy dress-top revealing most of her bum. Remember that? It’s just that I highly doubt she watched Big Brother first to pick those ‘skills’.

Even the tense moments, when a housemate finally has to leave the house, sometimes have humour rolled in them.
Anyway, that is Big Brother Africa for you, a show that arouses mixed feelings, but no-doubt Africa’s most popular reality television show, a show we love to hate.

And as you read this, fans and critics alike are already glued to Season Eight, tagged Big Brother Africa The Chase, which kicked off Sunday May 26 on AfricaMagic (DStv channel 154).

Featuring 28 contestants from 14 African countries chasing after a jackpot of $300,000 (Ush780m), it is basically the same concept: Guys and babes sharing living space while hawk-eyed cameras and microphones relay to DStv audiences across Africa whatever they get up to (or whoever they get up to).

As they cosy up to one another, make up, break up, fight, backstab one another and compete in assigned weekly tasks and mind games, all of Africa is watching.

Along the way, they nominate one another for elimination, at which point viewers come in and vote to keep or save a contestant – until the last man standing walks away with the jackpot.
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All this goes down on location at Sasani Studios in South Africa, also a participating country, whose contestant Keagan Pieterson won the jackpot last year in what became the first time a win went to South Africa since the country started hosting the show in 2003.

Other participant countries are: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.

Of those, Nigeria has won thrice, while Tanzania Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola once each. Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Ethiopia, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique have never won. Each year, anticipation is high among fans for the jackpot to go to their individual country.

And whether the Ugandan contestants, Carles Denzel Mwiyeretsi and Isaac Lugudde-Katwe aka LK4, this time bring the jackpot home or not, no doubt the show is destined to break and set all sorts of records, courtesy of its no-holds-barred streak, and Africa once again will enjoy the 91-day action.

But while we all get lost in the babble Big Brother has created over the years, a critical look at it, especially a look at the complacency the show has picked up over the years, reveals cracks that, if not sealed, would crumble the concept bit by bit.

Eventually, there would not be much to write home about Big Brother Africa. Not that it’s all bad.

The good
I would be crazy not to give kudos for the jackpots. Hey, these hefty sums of prize monies for winners have created new millionaires, sprung up businesses for the winners, and employed other people along the way, affording them livelihoods.

Of course, like you would expect, some have squandered their wins, like BBA1 winner Cherise Makubale from Zambia, and BBA4 winner Kevin Chuwang from Nigeria, who reportedly lost considerable sums of it in bad deals, and are not exactly sleeping in beds of roses as you read this.

But that is a story for another day. Bottom line: they won, and that was a good thing. Their financial discipline wouldn’t be for us to worry about surely, not after outdoing ourselves voting them winners.

Also, other contestants, though not having won the respective jackpots, have used the exposure afforded them by the show to garner flourishing careers – like Uganda’s Gaetano, whose post-Big Brother time saw him land a DStv programme and win all sorts of endorsements and job offers.

Big Brother Amplified’s Nic from Kenya is also having a breeze hosting lifestyle and entertainment show Mashariki Mix on DStv. Zimbabwe’s Vimbai Mutinhiri, also from Amplified, is always on and off the plane courtesy of her DStv programme StarGist. A few others are doing well too; and it’s all courtesy of the publicity Big Brother gave them.

You also just have to give Big Brother a pat on the back for its role in contributing towards pan-Africanism. How? This show, in its bringing together people from different parts of Africa, getting them to interact and co-exist with each other as we watch, has fostered social cohesion across Africa.

It is from this show that many have had a chance to share in on experiences elsewhere in Africa. Actually, some weekly tasks on the show have deliberately gone on to get housemates to discuss and raise awareness on issues in Africa, tasks like the United Nations-inspired Hunger Week among others.

Here, housemates have gone days on end discussing and raising awareness on hunger, poverty and preventable disease in Africa, calling upon African leaders to support smart and effective policies and programmes that are saving lives, helping educate children and improving futures.

The show has actually hosted experts and ambassadors for such causes, and they have helped mentor the housemates in their discussions. Now that’s good stuff, no complaints at all.

The bad and downright ugly

But while all and sundry keep their eye on the glitz, glamour and the all-consuming power of this show, the cracks on its fabric tend to fizzle on many.

But when you come to think of it clearly, the cracks suddenly show. For all its amazing attributes, this winner-takes-all show, away from turning around the lives of the winners, in a way plunges the lives of the others who don’t win, into an abyss of sorts.

On screen, the show hosts have over the years emphasised that all participants at the end of the show would get some money, whose amount they never disclose. Bingo – come to the end of the show and housemates are given a paltry amount that cannot even take care of their cumulative utility bills for the three months they have been away.

An investigation I did after Big Brother StarGame last year revealed that each contestant received a paltry $1000 (Ush2.6m).

Now, who engages you for a whole three months, takes away your entire privacy, makes hefty sums of money off you in decoder sales, DStv subscriptions and adverts on the Big Brother channel, and then ultimately pays you $1000?

Remember Uganda’s Sharon O from Season Six? For placing fifth, she and other finalists were to receive a good sum of money for making it to the finale.

Topped up by other rewards individual housemates are promised for performance in certain tasks, plus the mandatory $1000 everyone usually gets, Sharon O was supposed to get up to $10,000 (sh26m).

“I came out of the house and my fans, mum and dad kept telling me not to worry because I was to get $10,000 – apparently they had been doing the Maths as Big Brother made the promises on screen. But trust me, I have never got a cent from Big Brother,” says Sharon O. Ernest Wasake’s story, who co-represented Uganda in Season Six, is also one akin to Sharon O’s. 
Scooter issue
Last year towards the end of StarGame, the last standing five housemates, including Uganda’s Kyle Duncan Kushaba, were promised a Big Boy scooter each, but none of those I talked to has ever received theirs, and with a new show already here, there’s no trophy for guessing what might be up.

 I talked to Tina Wamala, the Multichoice Uganda publicist about the scooter issue and she said: “The last update I got from Johannesburg about the scooters was that they had been ordered for. I am yet to hear from them about it again.”

So, are these scooters coming at all? “Man, I am not even sure what to think about the scooter issue any more. I have been sending emails to the Big Brother person in-charge of processing our season’s queries but haven’t got any clear responses. Recently, they even stopped replying my emails,” Says Kyle when asked about his scooter, adding that all the housemates from StarGame that he has been in touch with haven’t got their scooters.

Which makes you wonder – do those viewers who win all sorts of prizes for voting and commenting on the Big Brother platforms even receive their prizes?

What makes matters worse is that the organisers impress it upon viewers that housemates leave the show loaded. They elevate their status, make it hard for them to go back to their roadside chapatti-and-beans meal or cheap housing, and then they leave them up there to come down crashing like a ton of bricks.

With society expecting them to live certain lifestyles, they get lost in the babble and end up living miserable pretentious lives at costs they can’t afford. As you read this, a number of them are broke and heavily indebted, as they struggle to keep up appearances.

The other day when Malonza visited Uganda from Kenya to support former housemate Kyle as he launched his Kyle brand, which is by the way struggling, Malonza took a bus. Clearly, if they left the show loaded as the show impresses it upon us, Malonza would have taken a 45-minute flight to Uganda – bear in mind that those flights don’t cost a premium.

“Trust me Nigel, guys out there are having a hard time getting by,” says Sharon O.

“I have been in touch with most of them, but the only ones who are doing well are those who were either rich before going to the show (like Confidence from Ghana), or got lucky to land a job because of how they used the exposure. For me, Big Brother worked because I was already known as a musician, but still it’s not all that rosy. Those who didn’t have certain factors on their sides are doing so badly.”

Even for those hosting DStv shows, it takes bigger money than the $1000 they get to be able to shoot pilot TV projects to pitch to the channels before getting in. So on the whole, it’s not all rosy.

Overwhelmed, some of Uganda’s former housemates, the likes of Hannington, Philbert, Moris, Maureen, have all disappeared into oblivion.

 Jannette from last season is still caught in the past, and the cold-turkey effect is having her try and relive the Big Brother moment by hanging around her former housemates. As a result, she is always on some bus travelling to some country to hang out with a former housemate.

As you read this, she is now in Malawi with Nafe and Wati, having already taken bus rides to visit Malonza and Alex in Kenya, Julio and Hilda in Tanzania, Talia and Tamara in Zambia, name it.

Bottom line: Go to Big Brother, win the money. If you don’t, sell all your skills on the show so you are hired by whoever picks interest when you are back. Otherwise, you are in trouble. Of course, for the continued good face of the show, former housemates stay gagged about these things, courtesy of non-disclosure agreements they signed ahead of the show. It’s only those very close to them that get to know their post-Big Brother woes.

But Africa is getting saturated by more former housemates as the reality show grows. And since every single person has a network of at least 20 close people (family and friends), soon almost everyone will be close to a former Big Brother contestant, and the cat will be out of the bag that this show has some really well-concealed exploitative streaks.

And there will be nothing much to write home about it. But ultimately, Big Brother is a game, and no one forces anyone to play. Nonetheless, I think Big Brother owes all these former housemates some money, those who didn’t win.

It’s only fair, especially considering that most of them lost their jobs for being away from work for months. So, Biggie or MultiChoice Africa or whoever is responsible – that there is some food for thought. Just saying!
This article was written by Nigel Nassar


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