21 surprising things you didn't know about 'Big Brother'

insider@insider.com (Martha Sorren)
·10 mins read
Host Julie Chen congratulates Josh Martinez, who wins the final HOH competition of the 19th season of "Big Brother."
Host Julie Chen congratulates Josh Martinez, who wins the final HOH competition of the 19th season of "Big Brother."

Sonja Flemming/CBS

  • CBS's "Big Brother" has been on the air for 20 years.

  • "Big Brother" also has a "Celebrity Big Brother" spin-off in the US and UK.

  • There are almost 100 cameras watching every houseguest, including a few cameras in the bathroom.

  • The longest competition lasted for more than half a day.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Ever since "Big Brother" first locked away a group of competitors — called houseguests — in a house for the summer and called it reality TV, people have been tuning in to see all the drama unfold in real time.

Airing three times a week on TV, the CBS show is on all of the time thanks to a set of cameras and microphones that pick up contestant behavior 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and stream it live to audiences online.

Fans can watch the houseguests eat, cook, and sleep — and strategize, of course. This is a competition show, after all, and the prize is $500,000. 

But with 20 years and over 20 seasons under its belt, even the biggest of superfans don't know everything there is to know about this show.

Here are 21 surprising things you probably didn't know about this reality-TV staple.

It’s actually based on a Dutch show.

The Dutch version isn't nearly as popular.
The Dutch version isn't nearly as popular.

Monty Brinton/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

CBS adapted the Dutch reality show's format when it started gathering big ratings in Germany and Spain as well, according to SF Gate.

"Big Brother" has been adapted for other countries, too.

Malika Haqq (left) and Host Emma Willis (right) at the launch night of "Celebrity Big Brother" in 2018.
Malika Haqq (left) and Host Emma Willis (right) at the launch night of "Celebrity Big Brother" in 2018.

Mike Marsland/ WireImage /Getty Images

"Big Brother" has taken place in India, Australia, Brazil, the UK, Africa, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and more, according to ET Canada.

 

The houseguests get paid each week.

It pays to stay in the game.
It pays to stay in the game.

CBS

CBS pays its houseguests for taking the summer off for the show, which isn't the case with every reality show. 

According to Reel Rundown, the weekly stipend for "Big Brother" houseguests is $1,000. This information was obtained during season 19 of the show when two contestants, Jessica Graf and Cody Nickson, were overheard discussing their finances.

In the past, a reported "Big Brother" contract obtained by Reality Blurred in 2011, said houseguests make $750 per week for as long as they're still in the game.

 

 

"Big Brother" has produced more successful marriages than "The Bachelor."

Brendon Villegas and Rachel Reilly met on the show and are married now.
Brendon Villegas and Rachel Reilly met on the show and are married now.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Host Julie Chen bragged about this stat to Entertainment Tonight in 2018, and she's right.

Only season 17 Bachelor Sean Lowe married his winner — meanwhile, five "Big Brother" couples have already gotten married and another is currently engaged. 

The longest competition was more than half a day.

The competition didn't end until the next morning.
The competition didn't end until the next morning.

CBS

Tests of endurance are common on the show, but one competition stretched on for over 14 hours.

The season-six Head of Household competition required contestants to hold down a button. If you let go, you were out.

According to CBS, it went on for 14 hours and 37 minutes, and no one won until 9 a.m. the next day.

The show wakes up the houseguests with music.

It's certainly an interesting way to kick off the day.
It's certainly an interesting way to kick off the day.

CBS

"Big Brother" season-15 winner Andy Herren told HuffPost that production would "blare pop songs in the morning to wake you up. It could be any time between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m."

 

The show has several nods to George Orwell’s book "1984."

The owl pays homage to Orwell.
The owl pays homage to Orwell.

CBS

The show's name comes from the book's leader, Big Brother, who watches over citizens at all times via telescreens.

It's a fitting name, but it's not the only "1984" reference. The show also has a stuffed animal owl that chills in the house named Orwell after the author.

The owl even has his own Twitter account.

There are almost 100 cameras watching every houseguest.

Big Brother is truly always watching.
Big Brother is truly always watching.

CBS

Chen told Entertainment Tonight in 2016 that 87 cameras and 110 microphones are picking up what the contestants are doing and saying at all times.

There's no privacy in the "Big Brother" house.

There's even a camera in the bathroom, though the footage is rarely used.

Shannon Dragoo used another contestant's toothbrush to scrub the toilet.
Shannon Dragoo used another contestant's toothbrush to scrub the toilet.

CBS

SF Gate reported that there is a camera installed in the houseguests' bathroom, but that footage isn't shown on air or on the feeds.

Producers told SF Gate that the camera was there just so contestants couldn't collude in secret. But the bathroom camera footage has been used on TV at least once.

On season two, Shannon Dragoo took Hardy Ames-Hill's toothbrush and scrubbed the toilet with it out of anger. The footage was eventually played for the audience, and Shannon was made to apologize and give Hardy a new toothbrush.

 

You can get expelled from the show.

Chima was sent home for throwing her microphone pack into the swimming pool and refusing to put a new pack on.
Chima was sent home for throwing her microphone pack into the swimming pool and refusing to put a new pack on.

CBS

Usually, the only way out the "Big Brother" door is if your fellow houseguests evict you — but CBS also doesn't tolerate violence or disobedience.

As CBS News reported, over the years, a handful of houseguests have been expelled from the show.

This includes Justin Sebik from season two, who pulled a knife on a fellow contestant, and Chima Simone from season 11, who threw her mic in the pool after repeated requests from production to put it on.

Contestants aren’t allowed to sing for the whole summer.

It's a copyright issue.
It's a copyright issue.

CBS

If houseguests slip up, they'll be reminded with a stern, "Please. Stop. Singing."

This rule likely has to do with copyright concerns, since CBS would have to pay to air a segment that contained an artist's song.

According to some former contestants, you may be asked to say things "with more excitement" in the diary room.

Cody Nickson was known for his unemotional tone.
Cody Nickson was known for his unemotional tone.

CBS

In the diary room, where contestants go to speak to cameras away from their fellow houseguests, many secrets are revealed. But sometimes producers want a bit more energy. 

In a Reddit AMA, former season-19 contestant Cody Nickson said showrunners would ask "me to say something again 'but with more excitement this time'".

He said he refused to do so.

Michelle Meyer, who competed on season 18 of the show, replied to his comment saying, "I wish I did this".

Houseguests are cut off from all news while in the house, except in extreme cases.

Houseguests were informed when Donald Trump was elected.
Houseguests were informed when Donald Trump was elected.

Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Entertainment Weekly reported that during season-two production told the houseguests about the September 11 attacks since houseguest Monica Bailey's cousin was listed as one of the missing World Trade Center workers.

During the online season, "Big Brother Over the Top," the houseguests were informed of Donald Trump's presidential victory. 

Squirrels are inside jokes from production.

They pop up in random competitions.
They pop up in random competitions.

CBS

If you've ever spotted a random fake squirrel in a "Big Brother" competition, that's Benny. Keep an eye out for him in the future.

The "Big Brother" house is not a real house.

It looks like a fancy one, though.
It looks like a fancy one, though.

Monty Brinton/CBS

It's an elaborately set up soundstage, according to Reality Blurred.

And although it may look real to those watching, season four's Erika Landin told HuffPost that it doesn't seem that real to those playing the game.

"It doesn't really feel like a house. It actually feels you're living on a set," she said. "The whole ceiling is television lights."

Sometimes fans try to contact houseguests who are in the backyard.

Houseguests must go inside when this happens.
Houseguests must go inside when this happens.

CBS

People have flown banners over the backyard and yelled over the wall to try to reach out to those playing.

If this happens, houseguests are instructed to go inside until the situation has been dealt with so as to avoid any outside influence on the game.

Some houseguests are recruited.

James Rhine has been in movies since.
James Rhine has been in movies since.

IMDb

As with many reality TV shows, production doesn't rely on self-submissions alone.

The show rounds out their applicant pool with people of their choosing. HuffPost reported that season six's James Rhine was one such recruit.

"They found me on MySpace. They literally hit me up because they liked the modeling picture I had as a profile picture, and my old job was as a corporate investigator," he said. "I had never watched the show, but they kept telling me they saw me as the second coming of this Dr. Will person."

People do have sex in the house, even though they know they’re being filmed.

Sometimes they just can't help themselves.
Sometimes they just can't help themselves.

Monty Brinton/CBS

The first pair to do this was Amanda Craig and David Lane on season four, according to Vulture.

They may have pulled the covers over their heads, but they weren't that sneaky about what was going down underneath.

"I'm a grown man and grown men do grown-up things, " David told the cameras following the incident.

Slop wasn't always the punishment food.

Before slop, there were sandwiches.
Before slop, there were sandwiches.

bark/Flickr

Before season seven, when the oatmeal-y gooey slop was introduced, contestants were punished by being made to eat only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The jury house is kind of a party.

It's less strict than the house.
It's less strict than the house.

Johnny Vy/CBS

If contestants make it far enough in the game, they can go to the jury house. These eliminated houseguests later decide who wins between the final two players.

But until their important role comes up, they just have a great time. With no cameras, the pressure is off and contestants can finally let loose and have fun.

As season four's Jack Owens said to HuffPost, "It was a vacation in a millionaire's home on the Pacific Ocean. We had all the beer we wanted. We had all the freedom we wanted … I was allowed to occasionally talk to my wife on the phone. The game was off. We partied together and enjoyed each other."

Season one was basically a completely different show.

The voting system was very different.
The voting system was very different.

CBS

There wasn't a Head of Household or a Power of Veto and the evicted houseguest was chosen by viewers' votes.

Good thing CBS changed it up, because since then it's been going strong for over 20 years. Here's to many more dramatic seasons to come.

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