TOFARATI IGE writes on how the popular reality television show, Big Brother Naija, provides a veritable platform for grooming stars, while generating staggering revenue for organisers, providing employment opportunities for ancillary service providers and driving social engagement
On Sunday, October 1, 2023, the life of a 22-year-old Nigerian lady, Ilebaye Odinya, changed in a momentous manner when she was declared the winner of the Big Brother Naija (All-Stars Edition).
The graduate of criminology became N120m richer, in addition to a weekend getaway for two and a new sport utility vehicle.
Interestingly, Odinya participated in the ‘Level Up’ edition of the show in 2022 but lasted only three weeks in the house before she was evicted by viewers/voters. But in a twist of fate, when given another chance to feature in the All Stars edition, she endeared herself to many and emerged the winner of the keenly contested show.
Unveiling Big Brother
Created in 1999 by a Dutch media mogul, John de Mol (Jnr), the Big Brother television franchise, which first aired in the Netherlands, has grown to become one of the most popular reality TV shows in the world.
The show, which derives its name from English novelist, George Orwell’s iconic novel titled, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, features contestants called ‘housemates’ or ‘houseguests’, who live together in a specially constructed house that is isolated from the outside world.
The housemates are continuously monitored during their stay in the house by live television cameras, as well as personal audio microphones. In the course of the competition, they are voted out (usually on a weekly basis) up to the last two, out of which one person wins.
The show usually lasts from 70 days to about 90 days.
The show has been adjudged by many to be successful and has become many people’s favourite show. It has several spin-offs, including Big Brother Brazil, Big Brother Angola, and many others.
In 2006, the first edition of Big Brother Naija was held, and Katung Aduwak, a native of Zonkwa in Kaduna State, emerged as the winner.
After an 11-year break, the show returned in 2017 and has since then been held every year. Hugely popular, especially among the youth, the show often dominates the discourse on social media anytime it’s on.
In an interview with our correspondent, the Executive Head, Content and West Africa Channels, MultiChoice Nigeria, Busola Tejumola, noted that while the primary aim of the show was to create great content for customers, it had equally impacted positively on the economy of the continent.
She stated, “On a short-term level, we get a chance to create great content for our customers, showcasing real people with real-life issues that many on the continent can relate with. In the long term, Big Brother allows the company to impact the continent’s economy on a wide scope.
“From providing jobs for over 2,000 people per season to contributing billions of naira to the Gross Domestic Product, we also get a chance to retain the title of Africa’s most loved storyteller in the most realistic way by holding a mirror to society through the housemates.”
‘Over N5bn spent on All Stars edition’
Tejunmola also noted that the All-Stars season gulped a whopping N5.5bn, adding that on average, over 12,000 people were employed directly and indirectly to make the show a success.
Findings showed that both Big Brother Naija and Big Brother Africa are some of the biggest platforms where celebrities have been made for the entertainment industry.
There have been instances where singers, dancers and actors, who previously struggled to make it in the industry, leveraged the Big Brother platform to attain their goals in the booming industry.
Even though only the winner goes home with the grand prize, other former contestants, some of whom did not even make it to the final, have had splendid careers. In fact, some have, over time, had bigger careers and visibility than some past winners.
For example, the current host of the show, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, is a BBNaija alumnus, and the show has unarguably had a huge impact on his career as an event host.
Even though he was evicted on the 57th day of the 92-day first season of BBN in 2006, Obi-Uchendu, having hosted the show for years, is said to be one of the most popular and well-paid show hosts in the country and on the continent.
Over the years, he has hosted other shows, such as ‘The Spot’, ‘Men’s Corner’, ‘Friend or Foe’ and ‘Judging Matters’. He is also said to be a brand ambassador for Samsung Nigeria, Budweiser Nigeria, and 2Sure Nigeria.
An ex-BBN winner and music artiste, Lekan Agbelesebioba, aka Laycon, recalled that he went into the competition because he felt his music career was not getting the needed traction, and he needed a platform to project himself. It turned out his quest to feature on the show paid off, as many people got to know about his music career when he featured on the show and won the 2020 season.
In an interview with our correspondent, he said, “I only went into the house to promote my music, and I had to be myself to do that. Every other thing that happened just occurred that way naturally. I knew that people would see the kind of person I am through my music if I was real. I really don’t understand what people mean when they say I had a strategy. I know I didn’t go into the house with a strategy.”
An actor and model, Tobi Bakre, who won the 2023 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards for ‘Best Actor’ is also one of those whose claim to fame is BBN.
Though many did not give him a chance when he first got into the industry, his professional engagements in the industry after the show would seem to have shown that, beyond his chiselled body and good looks, he has more to offer the industry.
Prior to his participation in BBN, Bakre was an investment banker. He explained that when he quit his job for the uncertainty that lay ahead of him in the entertainment industry, many thought he had lost his mind. Today, Bakre is confident and happy he made the right decision.
He has since been featured in acclaimed movies and series, such as ‘Brotherhood’, ‘Gangs of Lagos’ and ‘Slum King’.
Elozonam Ogbolu is another product of the Big Brother Naija show and is equally fast-rising in the industry. He has landed quite a number of acting and social media gigs since he participated in the competition.
At the ninth AMVCAs some months ago, he, together with another content creator, KieKie, bagged the award for ‘Best Online Social Content Creator’ for the skit, ‘Back from the Future’.
An actress and singer, Bisola Aiyeola, had also been in the entertainment industry for a while but her career did not seem to get the buzz she craved. She had participated in the music reality show, ‘Project Fame West Africa’ in 2008, and emerged as the fourth runner-up. The talented entertainer had also worked as a broadcaster, hosting the Billboard Nigeria show on Silverbird Television.
However, Aiyeola’s career witnessed her desired advancement after she was featured in the ‘See Gobbe’ edition of the show in 2017.
She has gone on to act in movies such as ‘Sugar Rush’, ‘Meet the Kujus’, ‘Gold Statue’, ‘Picture Perfect’, ‘Breaded Life’ and ‘Dinner at my Place’. In 2018, she won the AMVCA ‘Trailblazer Award’.
Big Brother Titans: Generating jobs, connecting cultures
Earlier this year, the organisers of the show decided to take things a notch higher by pairing Nigerian and South African housemates for the Big Brother Titans, which was held between January 15 and April 2, 2023.
Speaking on why they decided to go that route, Tejumola said, “Nigeria and South Africa have the most loved entertainment ecosystems on the continent. But beyond that, and more to the content, we believed that putting (people from) the two countries in the same house to interact and live with one another would allow each side to learn more about the other.
“We also hoped it would make for great entertainment and a testament to social cohesion that would excite our audience, and we believe it did. Those who watched the show avidly would note that they learnt something about other people’s cultures and in some cases, why they think or behave the way they do.
“The show had good coverage from around the continent and many viewers got the chance to learn about the different cultures — from types of food to deep traditions like how a boy becomes a man, circumcision, marriage rites and even respect.”
Indeed, beyond being just a reality show, BBTitans helped to connect cultures and expand the worldview of selected housemates.
Many of the housemates noted that they learnt so much from their counterparts from the other country.
In an interview with our correspondent, the first runner-up in the show, Kalo Kanaga, a Nigerian known simply as Kanaga (Jnr), noted that he learnt a lot about South Africans during the show.
Speaking about being paired with a South African contestant, Blue Aiva, he stated, “She is someone I love so much and I will continue to root for her. She was there for me at a time when I felt like the world saw me as a bad person because I nominated Marvin (a fellow Nigerian) for eviction.
“As regards what I learnt, I actually learnt a lot from South Africans, including their foods and slangs. Before the competition, I had been a fan of South Africans’ amapiano music. I love dancing to it any day.”
While emphasising the importance of shows like this in bringing people of different cultures together, a culture enthusiast, Remi Ifabiyi, noted that in some cases, entertainment could achieve more than what people see on the surface. He said, “Examples abound of how the arts, entertainment and related fields were able to unite and positively impact the world in certain areas where governments and even diplomacy failed.
“Even within Africa, there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings. In my opinion, it is ignorance and lack of exposure that cause things like xenophobia. If people understand that there is strength in diversity, they would not fight or even kill another human being simply because the person is from a different place.
“As a matter of fact, shows like this should be encouraged. We need more of them.”
Social experiment turned lucrative venture
Though conceived as a social experiment, the show has since transformed into a cash cow, with the organisers reaping huge rewards.
A source close to the organisers told our correspondent that sponsors literally fall over themselves to sponsor the show, given the huge followership the show enjoys at home and abroad.
Tejumola noted that the All Stars edition had a whooping 26 sponsors, saying, “Without a doubt, BBNaija is the biggest reality show in Africa, and the viewership numbers have been incredible, growing with each new season.
“The recently concluded All-Stars season created a new record with 1.53 million votes cast over the entire season. The wide viewership also works to bring in sponsors. This year alone, the show had 26 sponsors, many of whom returned after sponsoring a previous season. The voting numbers and the conversations speak for themselves, but our partners might be better suited to share actual details on how the sponsoring affects their businesses.”
Giving an insight into why the show is so popular with sponsors and advertisers, a brand expert and journalist, Goddy Ofose, said, “In advertising, ‘sex sells’. It’s a phrase alluding to the use of sex in advertising in order to help sell a particular product or service through sex appeal.
“The creators of the show understand this myth and they have keyed into it to market BBN. In spite of criticism and negative reviews, BBN continues to rise in stock and value. Viewership and market acceptability have continued to increase, season upon season.
“Also, BBN gives the audience the ‘real life’ reality TV show vibe. That aspect of the show gives both the audience and advertisers the real essence of putting their money where their mouths are. The audience will savour their real-time social media posts, while brands get immediate and instantaneous feedback on their products. This helps to draw viewers to the programme, despite viewers’ classification.”
A growing alumni
Interestingly, as the producer and organiser of several talent competitions and reward programmes on the continent, including Nigerian Idol and Ultimate Love, Multichoice has helped to identify, groom and nurture talents for the entertainment industry.
According to Tejumola, the company is invested in the career growth of its ‘alumni’. She said, “As a company, we are big on training talent and spotlighting talented people. It is important for us to help the acts we have spotlighted over the years to grow.
“We consider their success our success, and we do that by integrating them into projects we are working on, referring them to places they would add value, or supporting their individual efforts. We can say it’s been working as our BBNaija alumni, as displayed in the recently concluded season. People are doing well for themselves, and will continue to.”
The perennial morality question
Critics of the show have often described it as vulgar and indecent. They argue that the show does not teach viewers anything useful but corrupts their minds. However, many past contestants on the show have vehemently disagreed with that notion.
For Bachor, the first runner-up of the Lockdown edition of the show in 2020, she said she had misgivings about the show until she participated in it.
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, she said, “Imagine waking up every day to gifts and goodwill messages. Everywhere I go, all I hear is my name and it feels different from three months ago when I woke up to uncertainties. I was hustling for contracts and dropping proposals from office to office, yet some people didn’t even give me an audience then. But now, my life has gone from 0-1,000. The Big Brother Naija platform has given me so much publicity. My life has obviously changed.
“I was one of the people that had misgivings about the show until I participated in it. The show is all about living one’s everyday life in front of people. People who think it’s a show that promotes promiscuity should change their minds.”
Just like many other contestants, Bachor admitted that she participated in the show because she needed a veritable platform to project herself to the world.
She added, “I have always been a fan of the show, despite people’s perception of it. I have always known that the platform makes stars and changes the lives of the housemates. I tried getting into the show in 2019 because I was at a point where I wanted more for myself. I wanted a platform where the world would see my personality and talents, and I would be able to showcase my business.”
Even though Tacha Akide was unceremoniously disqualified from the Pepper Dem season of the show in 2019, she acknowledged the impact the platform had on her career growth.
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, she said, “The BBN platform definitely added to my brand. I had fans before the show but the show helped my fans to come together. It is definitely part of my growth and journey. It is a platform I will forever be grateful for.”
Reward for toxic behaviour?
Inasmuch as he is a fan of BBN, a tech consultant, Uche Nwokedi, is of the opinion that it rewards toxic behaviour.
He told our correspondent, “I don’t want to mention names, but quite a number of the housemates who have done well in the game, especially females, were actually toxic. As a result of that, new housemates go out of their way to be toxic because they are looking for cheap popularity.
“Even in the just concluded All-Stars season, you can see how many needless fights there were. I have been a fan of the show since the first edition in 2006, but we also have to be careful what we portray to the outside world. Even though the show is rated for adults, it is common knowledge that a lot of teenagers and children watch the show.
Positive attributes such as kindness, integrity, intelligence are the things that should be celebrated and not the other way round.”
An Abuja-based nurse, Doris Emmanuel, however, sees the show as a form of mirror that merely reflects reality.
She told Saturday PUNCH, “When it comes to criticisms such as this, I feel people are just being hypocritical. Don’t people witness toxic behaviour every day in their houses, offices and even places of worship? The housemates are taken from society. They did not drop from heaven; so whatever happens in the house is consistent with what obtains in society generally.
“I agree that citizens need social re-orientation, but it should not be limited to BBN.
“As kids, we were taught that honesty pays. But these days, the crooks are the ones that are living better lives. Whatever toxic behaviour anybody sees in BBN is a symptom of the malfeasance in society. If we really want change, we should focus on the root causes, instead of obsessing over the symptoms, as that will not change much.”
A boost for the economy
A financial consultant and Chief Executive Officer, Pentagon Consulting, Bode Adeyemi, pointed out that the economic benefits of BBN were humongous.
In an interview with our correspondent, he opined that the show provides direct and indirect jobs for thousands of Nigerians in a country with high unemployment rate.
He stated, “Apart from making stars, the show has lots of other economic benefits. You can imagine the number of cameramen, lighting and sound technicians, make-up artistes, fashion designers and other vendors that are employed to bring the show to life. It is a huge project that costs a lot of money, and its economic value cannot be overemphasised.
“From an economic perspective, a show like this should be encouraged because of its impact.”
Fertile ground for love
Though some critics argue that the show promotes casual relationships and immorality, the competition has also been a platform where some found love. Over the years, several relationships emerged from the house, and some have taken it further, as they got married and now have children.
Housemates that found love on the show and are now married include Teddy A and Bambam on one hand, and Khafi and Gedoni on the other hand.
Teddy A and Bambam got married in November 2019, and their union seems to be waxing even stronger.
Describing their relationship as destiny at play, Bambam told Saturday PUNCH, “Fate happened to us. I can’t say it was pre-planned. He had a serious relationship that was one year old before I met him. He had a girlfriend he was serious with, so we did not plan to fall in love with each other.
“We did not know we would last this long. We had a very rare connection in the house. We both knew it but we kept telling ourselves ‘it’s just for the game’, but it was no game. I can’t predict what fate has designed. People should not go in there (BBN) hoping to be a Teddy A and Bambam. I went to the house for a different purpose, but ended up getting Teddy as a bonus.”
On his part, Teddy A noted that when Bambam got pregnant while they were dating, he took it as a sign that he should marry her. However, in an interview with a media personality, Adesola Momoh, Teddy stressed that he was not pressured into taking her as his wife.
When Khafi, an officer of the London Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom, and Gedoni walked into the Big Brother (Pepper Dem Gang) house in 2019, little did they know that beyond the game, they would respectively meet their future partners in the confined space.
In an interview with Bella Naija in December 2020, some months after their wedding, Khafi said they had always known that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with each other.
She added, “Getting married during a pandemic was a choice we decided to make. If this year taught us anything, it was to take nothing for granted. We were not able to have friends and family there, aside from our witnesses, but we know that by God’s grace, we will be able to celebrate with our loved ones and family once the pandemic is over.
“It’s simple when it’s right. We did not see anything stopping us, so we went for it. My brother’s death also made us realise that life truly isn’t promised, so we didn’t want to wait. We have always known we wanted to spend forever together, so we just kept on thinking, ‘Why delay forever from starting’?
“I always wondered who I would end up with, and I remember praying about my future husband, and I just feel wowed and grateful to God that the answer to my prayer is here.”
Clerics speak on show’s morality
To an Islamic cleric, Sulaimon Ajenifuja, the Big Brother show contributes nothing but immorality to society and it should be banned.
In an interview with our correspondent, he stated, “I have never hidden my dislike for the show. I have nothing personal against the organisers, but I feel the show promotes and even glorifies immorality. What is the use of a show where some young people walk around practically naked on live TV, and indulge in different acts of immorality, such as kissing and caressing one another.
“It has also been said that some of the housemates have sex on the show. Some years ago, one of the female housemates shamelessly told the whole world that she had oral sex with another contestant. Is that what we are trying to teach the younger generation?
“Recently, the housemates were asked some simple current affairs questions, and only few of them got the answers right. Meanwhile, those were the questions that secondary school students should be able to answer.”
In a similar vein, a pastor, Adedayo Emmanuel, noted that though the show had some educational components, the organisers should tone down the ‘immorality’.
He told our correspondent, “I used to be a very vociferous critic of the show, but after studying it, I have decided not to throw away the baby with the bath water. There are actually some positive sides to the show, though I feel the negatives are more.
“I urge the organisers to place more emphasis on the games and tasks, which can build the housemates mentally, and viewers can also learn from them. On the other hand, intimate acts such as kissing and caressing should be eradicated.”
MultiChoice executive, Busola Tejumola, maintained that the show was an experiment in social cohesion, which showcases life in its entirety.
She added, “The tasks and challenges set for the housemates guide deeper learning, teaching of skills and abilities, and the viewers are engaged in activities beneficial for mental and cultural appreciation. We are aware of the value of our cultures, and we consciously ensure that parental restriction message is shown to guide viewers while ensuring that nudity and adverse behaviour is not televised.”
Contestants chosen on merit
While some people are of the opinion that contestants who eventually make it to the house often pay for slots, Tejumola insisted that nothing could be farther from the truth.
She stated, “We have always maintained that the audition process is quite fair, and everyone has a chance to get into Big Brother’s house. Every season, we are looking for a different set of traits, and if a person auditions for that season and has something we want in the housemates for that year, then they would be lucky to secure a spot on the show. The team is very thorough and even quite tight-lipped about their involvement, so it would be difficult to buy a place on the show.”