Those fans, says BBCAN host Arisa Cox, are the heart of the show, and the main reason why it was rescued from the brink. Indeed, the Canadian version of Big Brother has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi when compared with the other iterations from the U.S., the U.K., Australia, or the umpteen other locales where the show is shot.
As Cox points out, we may be a huge nation geographically, but when it comes to population, we are small. Canadians are closer-knit, and it may be that unique composition that lends itself to the contestants on the show.
Global News sat down with Cox in Toronto to discuss this new season (premiering on Global on March 7), how many twists and turns audiences can expect, and how she felt when she almost lost her beloved job as host.
Global News: Last year, we thought that we’d never see BBCAN again. How did you feel during that time?
Arisa Cox: I’ve worked in TV for a long time, and Canadian TV is a very specific kind of market. We’re big geographically, but very, very small in terms of population. I’ve been through hiatuses, cancellations, buyouts, all that jazz, so I try not to get too hyper or depressed [when these types of things happen]. It was hard to hear, I’m not gonna lie, but I flipped almost immediately to a sense of gratitude because we got five years of this incredible show that’s known around the world.
We’ve got tons of fans in Brazil, Mexico, the U.K., the U.S., Australia, the Philippines… people know our show as a world-class show. As a Canadian, that felt really good. That’s something. I didn’t wallow in devastation, I was like, “I can’t even be mad. Look what we did!”
And then, the fans were like “Not on our watch!” Seeing that whole thing unfold was probably the most fun I’ve had working in television. I remember getting that call, and them asking me if I was sitting down. It was like, honestly, the heavens parted and the light shone down. We are back! I’m thrilled for tomorrow night. It’s a wicked, wicked season we’re in for.
This group of 14 (and eventually 16) looks pretty good.
Yeah! There’s not one person I can think of that’s like, “Hmm.. they can go first.” Not one.
They’re all really good. I’m confident that this is an incredibly strong field for this season. Even the people who aren’t superfans, I think they have a certain amount of emotional intelligence. I love watching a fan play because they’re so aware of the moves they can make, but I also love watching someone figure out the game as they go. We’ve seen both on our show.
I love seeing older contestants, younger contestants, people who are ready to be villains… people who think it’s going to be rainbows and sunshine. They’re some of my favourites because they’re in for a rude awakening. [Laughs]
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What is it about BBCAN that attracts such a huge fandom?
We have the best fans in the entire universe. There are those who love TV, and then there are Big Brother fans. [Laughs] It really is a family, a worldwide community. Big Brother is everywhere, and it keeps coming back for a reason: at its essence, it’s still a social experiment. Seeing how people act and react with each other, in real time, with live feeds, is a singular experience.
I’m so thrilled for people who feel ownership in the fact that we’re back, and I’m excited for people who’ve never seen it.
Why does the Canadian version have such international appeal?
I believe there are 48 versions of Big Brother around the world. We’re still the new kid on the block. Most countries got their versions 10, 15, 20 years ago. We came into the game guns blazing. We knew we had to come correct and be a world-class show. From the biggest aspects down to the tiniest details, we have such an incredible team who’ll put their heart and soul into making this show as great as it is.
We have an amazing executive producer, we’ve got amazing partners in Global. Our challenge team, the house design is next-level, I’m bringing my A-game every time I hit that stage. We have incredible, diverse casts of really interesting people, our twists are fresh. We’re a cool hybrid of the U.S. version (the gameplay, the rules) and the U.K. version, which is a bit more campy and has a lot more tasks, more emotional moments.
I know you can’t tell me anything about anything, but what can BBCAN fans look forward to this season?
If you’ve seen the house design, we’re going with this heaven and hell theme, which I think relates to Big Brother at its heart. It’s this struggle between good and evil that exists in all of us. Our show is really about dilemmas: What do you do? Who do you choose to align with? Who do you choose to stab in the back? What do you value in the people you surround yourself with? Are you there for the money? Are you there for the title? I like that duality aspect of our show.
This one does feel particularly special because [pauses] we’re back, baby!
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]