As Australian viewers are exposed to both US and British styles of reality TV, it’s no surprise that we tend to blend both styles, keeping whatever is most likely to appeal to local audiences.
Australian Big Brother, starting in 2001 and spending most of it’s time on youth orientated station channel 10, shows many of the usual Australian values in reality shows – and established the tropes for many of them. Concerns of cultural cringe surround the discourse of the show but within the text plays out narratives concerning tall poppy syndrome, aspects of fairness and mateship.
Like the British show, the Australian version of Big Brother tends to have a documentary approach, documenting what happens as though it just happened to be unfolding in front of it. Also like the British, Australia can’t seem to resist giving the show a voice over narration – which often directs the viewer to the social value inherent in the text.
But what makes a reality show essentially Australian is the attitudes of both those participating in the shows and those watching it. For instance, early in the sixth season of Big Brother, there was a distrust of contestant Tim Brunero, a journalist who seemed to be a little too smart for his housemates. It tapped into the anti-intellectualism vein in Australia, where clever people are generally not to be trusted.
However, once it was perceived that the rest of the house was ganging up on him, the national characteristic of fairness kicked in with housemates and viewers. Once Tim was seen as the under-dog he was rallied around and lifting him to runner up of the season.
The winner of Big Brother often displays the dominant values of the production, and whilst the US winners are the ‘game players’ and the UK winners are the ‘most entertaining’ the values of winners in Australia have been routinely uniform. As with most Australian reality show winners, Big Brother winners must be shown as down to earth, show a quality of fairness show a strong sense of mateship with someone else in the house and is also a larriken.
The structure and storytelling tropes of the show are much more similar to Britain. Like Britain, many storylines revolve around how ‘real’ contestants are being in the house. Whilst American Big Brother revels in the idea of the contestant’s on screen identities who may shift to fit the logistics of the game, Australia’s format has a large problem with this idea. The 2013 season saw the character of Estelle under close scrutiny because of her apparent multiple personalities, creating a feeling of distrust about her because it’s going against ideals of the simple, easy to understand and down to earth Australian.
Australian evictions are structured less like the British pantomime and more like a celebration. Audiences are large but are under strict instructions not to boo. Australian hosts often fit a mother figure, prizes are given out and show highlights are always positive. The eviction shows feel like a highly produced 21st birthday party.
The last two seasons, 2012 and 2013, have been on the more family friendly Channel 9. This has created more family friendly narratives on the show, although the winners have reflected more alternative values than previous winners. 2013 winner Tim has been the biggest openly ‘game player’ winner that Australia has had, but still falling into the character trope of the “Aussie Larriken”.
The 2013 Australian season was probably most famous for the character of Tully. Tully, a self proclaimed “social media strategist” was well known as being a “sook”, being overly emotional on the show and also for being in a relationship on the show with Drew, even though she had a girlfriend on the outside world.
DURING THE EPISODE
Whilst watching episode 50 of Big Brother AU (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBRDpwzDgGI) do the following activities:
- Create a breakdown of the episode – record what each segment is about and how long it goes for.
- Log any words that are used to describe the game and other players used by any of the contestants. Pay close attention to any metaphors used in the episode.
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Social Value 1: Winners play fair through a ‘fair go’.
- Carefully watch the narrative of Ben’s Birthday throughout the episode. How is the idea of ‘a fair go’ portrayed through this narrative?
- Research where the idea of ‘a fair go’ comes from. What type of value do you think this is in current Australian society?
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Social Value 2: Winners believe in the importance of mateship.
- Contrast how relationships between characters on the show is represented between the Australian Big Brother and UK Big Brother. What are the differences between what storylines are shown in each show? How is the body language different between the two?
- Research the idea of ‘mateship’ in Australian culture. Where did this value come from? What type of value is it in current Australian society?
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Social Value 3: Winners don’t trust women
- List all the ways that other people describe Tully during the episode. Do these descriptions have negative or positive connotations?
8. Describe how Tully and Drew are represented in this episode. Describe their representations under the following headings:
- Linguistic Codes
- Symbolic Codes
- Technical Codes (including selection/omission through editing)
- What type of social value do you think this is? Who is shown as positive and negative in this situation?