Imagine a scenario where you’re isolated in your home, and have limited contact with other people.
That of course is the premise for the long-running reality TV show Big Brother Suomi which returned to Finnish screens this week, but it’s also how many people went through spring during the height of the coronavirus epidemic.
Casting for this season of Big Brother got underway before the seriousness of Covid-19 was fully understood, but producers ended up doing much of the audition process remotely instead of meeting potential housemates in person.
It was just one of the many concessions and changes that were made to the long-running show during an exceptional time.
“We took a totally different approach compared to the latest versions of the show. We wanted less drinking and less partying, and also probably more intellectual people, and more people from around Finland and with very different backgrounds” explains Petteri Ahomaa, the show’s producer.
Other international versions of the show have already aired during the pandemic – including in Italy, Germany and India – and the global production company behind the franchise have decreed that only beer and wine can be served to housemates, no hard alcohol at this time.
That fits just fine with the mentality of the Finnish show which cast, among others, a university lecturer; crossfit coach; street cleaner; lawyer; landscape gardener; entrepreneur and zoo keeper to hopefully place the emphasis on discussions rather than the antics which are usually a hallmark of the genre – although Ahomaa promises there will still be antics, it’s the reason people tune in after all.
“We have this Temptation Island and Love Island and Paradise Island, whatever fucking islands to take care of all this drinking and partying and screwing around and we wanted this to be more interesting, more discussion for the viewers, and everyone should find one person they can relate to and follow their discussion and way of behaving in the house” Ahomaa says.
Strict rules and technology to stay coronavirus-safe
On a large production like Big Brother Suomi there have been numerous changes behind the scenes to make sure the whole show stays Covid-19 free.
The Big Brother house itself, designed in part by architecture students from Aalto University and located for the second time at Redi Shopping Center in Helsinki, has a crew of 70 people working in shifts and uses technology as the front line of defence against the virus.
A Finnish invention called Nanoksi is sprayed on all the surfaces, a self-disinfecting layer which is activated by light to kill viruses and bacteria. Another robot does a UV light deep clean on the production facilities and the house.
“When it comes to the control rooms where we direct and edit the show there’s plexiglass between every seat. We use hand disinfectant liquid, face masks, and we have tried to do our best what we can for the safety of the housemates and the safety of our employees” producer Petteri Ahomaa tells News Now Finland.
Safety for the housemates began even before the first live show with Covid-19 testing two weeks in advance, then a period of strict isolation in a hotel where they still had contact with the outside world on their phones and computers, but were otherwise cut off from other people.
“They used the room service, and there was a knock on the door when the tray was left behind the door, breakfast lunch and dinner. And I think that was the toughest part fot the guys being by themselves alone in a hotel room” says Ahomaa.
Coronavirus testers went in again a couple of days before the show aired did a new round of testing, which all came back negative – although there were some substitute housemates lined up in case any of the final 16 got sick.
“I think the house is the safest place in Finland now, no virus can go in there” – even the food for the housemates, or items needed for the daily challenges, are isolated for 24 hours before going into the house – delivered by crew members using full protection suits.
“They look like from some science fiction movie when they operate inside the house!” says Ahonen, although as part of the rules of the show, contestants are forbidden from commenting on camera about the production crew and behind-the-scenes issues.
The eventual winner of this year’s Big Brother Suomi walks away from the house with €30,000. The show airs each day at 21:00 or 22:00 on Nelonen.