Ever wonder what it would be like to be cooped up inside the "Big Brother" house?
Canadians have been curious ever since CBS launched the reality show 13 years ago. Starting Wednesday on Slice, 15 contestants from across the country will finally get a chance to compete with the launch of "Big Brother Canada."
Ten journalists, this writer included, were invited to dock our laptops, tablets, cellphones and other electronic devices for one whole day to test out the "Big Brother" North experience. The seven-hour stunt was enough to provide some insight into what it must take to endure the full 90 days in this fishbowl environment.
There have been several attempts to launch Canadian versions of long-running U.S. reality show hits in the past few years, including misses like "Canada's Got Talent" and specialty hits such as "The Real Housewives of Vancouver" and "Undercover Boss Canada." CTV has high hopes for its upcoming "The Amazing Race Canada" and City plans to relaunch "The Bachelor Canada" after sitting out next season.
John Brunton’s Insight Productions has been behind many of the makeovers. Besides "Big Brother Canada," Brunton also produces "Amazing Race" as well as "Battle of the Blades," benched this season as CBC copes with budget cuts.
Casting being everything on these reality shows, Brunton wisely reached out to Robyn Kass to sift through the 10,000 audition tapes and submissions to find the 15 "Big Brother Canada" contestants.
"Robyn Kass has the Midas touch," says Murtz Jaffer, former host of "Reality Obsessed" and one of the journalists in on the test run. "With some of the reality’s most notorious villains to her credit, she is the one responsible for giving the world Boston Rob."
The American man, Robert Carlo Mariano, has become a television personality after appearing in several reality TV shows, including "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race."
The Canadian "house" is similar to the U.S. "Big Brother" set which stands on the CBS Radford lot in Studio City, Calif. At one end, the press players found plenty of curvy couches in the sunken living room, which boasts a stone fireplace and a large flatscreen TV. A showcase kitchen features an island stovetop and plenty of cupboard space, as well as a large stainless-steel fridge.
A fake outdoor play area extended beyond a wall of doors, providing a walkout to a long wading pool as well as an artificial turf lawn area. The entire playpen was ringed by a paint-by-numbers-like mural of Canada which was heavy on moose but short on CN Tower.
An actual outdoor deck extended beyond the games space featuring a fireplace, hot tub and plenty of fencing to trap players within the perimeter.
There are two bedrooms. One is a large bunkhouse with several beds, the other a shagadellic master bedroom with a multicoloured spread on its circular mattress. Between them stands a large washroom featuring a motif of Toronto's Union subway station, state-of-the-art glass-and-steel shower stalls and several prying cameras.
If anything, the interior outdoes the U.S. house for style and pizzazz but is still disappointing in some respects. Where is the Tim Hortons double-double coffee and doughnut counter? There was no place to hang tuques or kick off boots. Why no flooded backyard, Molson Canadian beer fridge or Swiss Chalet trimmings?
There are some nods to the Great White North. In the one physical challenge thrown at the press, players had to wade into a pool of sticky pancake mix and fish hockey pucks with names on them out of the goo. One can only hope some sort of homage to the old "Hockey Night in Canada" showdown segments will be explored.
The kitchen and pantry were loaded with goodies and some media types, including Global "Morning Show" co-host Kris Reyes, stepped up and chopped onions and scrambled eggs. "Entertainment Tonight Canada" co-host Rick Campanelli made do by wrapping a slice of ham around a pickle, artfully avoiding carbs.
Occasionally "Big Brother Canada" host Arisa Cox appeared on the giant flatscreen with instructions. Cox, 34, was locked into her own reality prison in 2001 as one of the contestants on the Canadian series "The Lofters."
"That was way before social media took off," says the married mother of two, now based in Edmonton where she has reported on entertainment news for CBC.
A booming "Big Brother" voice also rings through the house, prodding the players into action. It's all captured by 77 cameras, some visible on pivoting mounts but many more invisible behind the many one-way glass windows which ringed the entire set.
Alliances were formed and shenanigans were pulled, just like on the real show. The press game raised money for charity, but in the real game, at stake is $100,000 plus a $25,000 department store gift card and a new car.
"Big Brother Canada" will air three times a week, on Wednesdays, Thursdays (elimination days) and Sundays.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.