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HOME > Big Brother (International Editions)

All-African 'Big Brother' series changes images of Africa

By Wade Paulsen, 06/30/2003 

In the U.S., CBS's Big Brother series occupies a lower tier among the reality-TV offerings, substantially below CBS's continuing smash Survivor. However, there are ways to spice the series up, as the South Africans are currently demonstrating.

Reuters reports that a South African pay-TV channel, M-Net, is currently producing its third version of the show in conjunction with Big Brother's Dutch owner, Endemol -- but this version, unlike the first two, features houseguests from 12 different African countries. Each houseguest has both his or her own ambition PLUS the hopes of his or her country at state each week. As a result, the revamped Big Brother has become a pan-African hit. The pay-satellite service which carries the new Big Brother to the rest of Africa says that BB is the second most popular offering in the continent, behind only CNN.

Much of the publicity has resulted from an on-air hookup between two of the contestants, South African Abby Plaatjes, a 25-year-old fraud consultant, and Ugandan Gaetano Kagwa, a 30-year-old student. However, the ethnic mix of the 12 contestants (according to a South African columnist, one contestant -- from Namibia -- is white, and five others are "mixed-race", as South Africa used to define the term) and the fact that the contestants are much more Westernized and much less conservative than Africans as a whole has made the series a focal point throughout the continent, with 20-25 million viewers of the pay-TV broadcasts. In addition, 10 different national networks are running daily updates throughout the 106-day highly-public ordeal that will result in the winner receiving a first prize of ... just $100,000. We hope that money goes farther in Africa than it would in the U.S.

The other 9 countries represented (in addition to South Africa, Uganda and Namibia) are Botswana, Tanzania, Angola, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The first person booted, Bruna Estevao from Angola, sounded like Debb Eaton from Survivor: The Australian Outback when she explained that she was targeted because she was too conservative (no drinking, no smoking, no nudity). Of course, in Debb's case, the conservatism didn't rule out marrying her stepson; we hope Bruna is more consistent in her beliefs.

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