TORONTO — “Big Brother Canada” is back with a 10th edition producers say makes further gains in efforts to boost diversity both in front of and behind the cameras.
This season, 10 of the 16 houseguests are people of colour, including model and single mom Tynesha White of Montreal, graduate student Haleena Gill of Surrey, B.C., and theatre director Jay Northcott of Toronto.
Tychon Carter-Newman, also of Toronto, made history as the first Black winner of “Big Brother Canada” last season, at the time touted as the most racially diverse cast of any Canadian edition. Half of the cast were people of colour and four were LGBTQ.
Host and executive producer Arisa Cox says she was intent on increasing representation on the show when she took on the producing role last season.
“That’s one thing we all agreed on,” says Cox.
“We knew we could do more and lead. We were really excited about being part of that wave of productions that really started to look at what diversity means, which is that there are people who will be seen who maybe have never felt seen or felt ignored or felt stereotyped or reduced or invisible.”
Diversity in reality television has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with complaints about a lack of representation on prime time lineups leading to pledges to do better among networks here and in the United States.
In 2020, CBS announced that at least half of its reality show casts would be people of colour, starting with the 2021-2022 season. It added that 25 per cent of unscripted development funding would back projects led by creators and producers of colour.
That same year, ABC — the network behind “The Bachelor” franchise, which cast its first Black lead in 2017 with “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay — mandated that half of the written characters and actors on its prime time series be from underrepresented groups, and at least half of direction, production and writing staff come from underrepresented groups.
When it came to “Big Brother Canada,” Corus Entertainment announced a slew of diversity initiatives in July 2020 for season nine that included a review of production practices, anti-racism personnel policies and racial-equity training.
Wednesday’s premiere introduced even more houseguests of colour, and Cox says the representation is also evident behind the scenes and in the control rooms where key decisions are made and reflected on screen.
Executive producer and showrunner Erin Brock says the efforts have only made the long-running franchise stronger, which again pits strangers in a series of physical and mental challenges for a $100,000 prize.
“From day one, we wanted to cast the show differently than other reality shows, we didn’t want there to be boxes, like you have one parent, one this, one that,” says Brock.
“We made a very marked decision in the ninth season to be ahead of the curve. Arisa was a real leader in that and supported by everybody.
“We needed to be over 50 per cent, we needed to be the first out of the gate to do this. It was a major priority for everybody and it only made our show better.”
Pandemic protocols have also been stepped up this year.
The eighth season ended early in April 2020 at the start of the health crisis, and season nine introduced new COVID-19 measures.
The show’s second pandemic edition boasts its own epidemiologist, who consults on everything from how groceries are loaded into the house to how challenges can be specially constructed.
There is on-site emergency medical staff, too, while additional control rooms were built for production staff to physically distance more easily. Houseguests are also placed in a prolonged sequester prior to entering the house, outfitted as usual with wall-to-wall cameras and microphones to watch their every move.
“It’s not only the biggest reality show in the country, but it’s the most complex,” Cox says.
“We are operating on so many levels, you could write a 1,000-page book and never get close to accurately representing all the different experiences of people that work on the show and watch the show.
“But one thing I feel really proud of is that it feels like a family. It’s not just a TV show, it’s a lifestyle.”
“Big Brother Canada” airs Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on Global.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2022.