Looking behind Big Brother
Alex Mavroidakis in the control room. Picture: Supplied.

It takes a brave person to enter a reality show like Big Brother. Not only do you need to be able to survive for up to three months without phones, the internet and printed material such as newspapers and books, you must also be able to survive without clocks, watches and sunglasses.

Yes, apparently sunglasses are on the contraband list because even though the housemates spend much of their time lazing in the backyard in the sun and in the pool, viewers and fellow contestants actually need to be able to see their eyes and expressions.

You also have to be able to live with underwear on the bathroom floor, unmade beds, showers with no privacy and handbasins that look in desperate need of a scrub.

These were some of the things I learnt on a visit to the set of Big Brother on Monday. Although it is always referred to as the Big Brother House, it is in fact a set - albeit a very elaborate one that took 18 weeks to build - within a giant shed at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast.

Southern Star production executive Howard Parker says the design of the house started last November and was complicated because the poles, essential to hold up the shed roof, could not appear in any of the rooms.

Designers went through 20 or 30 floor plans before the final layout was implemented and then had to reconnect the essentials - water, plumbing and electricity - which hadn't been needed since the Ten incarnation of the show ended in 2008.

Our tour starts in the Big Brother nerve centre, the control room, which is not far from the stage and auditorium where the live shows take place, but several hundred metres from the house itself, to which it is connected by a hefty 7km of cable.

The control room is a 24/7 hive of activity with signs on the walls saying "no phones, no laptops, no books" to ensure everyone keeps their eyes on the monitors.

There is a big whiteboard on the wall charting the day's top story leads, such as "Layla and Stacey eat all the cheese and hide the evidence". Other developing stories concern Ryan's opinion of Benjamin after he jumped in the pool and the tension between Josh and Angie.

There are 108 microphones and 42 cameras in the Big Brother house, with up to seven camera operators working from the camera runs.

However, only two camera streams can be recorded at one time, so it is crucial that attention is paid to every room in case they need to switch. Keeping tabs on each stream are audio loggers who monitor the housemates' dialogue, typing in key words so it is easy to quickly reference scenes for editing.

During our visit, this week's "Yes/No" task is announced and Josh is called to the diary room. There are tears from Sarah as Josh reads two lines of a letter from her boyfriend before sticking it in a shredder.

"It was epic . . . it was long . . . it had lots of words," he apologises in a scene that didn't seem to make it to air Tuesday. But it had to be done because the housemates have been on food rations since failing last week's task and have only three chances to say no.

"It feels evil but satisfying," laughs series producer Matt Bath of the task.

Surly the talking fish, which first appeared to Michael, is voiced by the show's executive producer Alex Mavroidakis.

His original plan was for a talking shark but it would have blown the budget, so the result was Surly the dog-faced puffer fish.

Mavroidakis says his two young children now demand he speak to them in Surly's voice. His English accent prevents him from being the voice of Big Brother (there are three of them).

Watching the housemates from inside the black-curtained camera runs that surround each room is the ultimate in voyeurism, with several of my companions commenting they felt like perverts.

We see a couple of housemates making toast in the kitchen and preparing pizzas in the backyard, no more than an arm's length away, on the other side of the windows.

We can hear them talking. They can't see us, but just to be certain we have to peep through gaps in the curtains and whisper.

The house has secret doors and rooms, and a moving wall/corridor so clever I can't explain it. The parlour became the man cave and can be converted to any purpose required.

On Sunday there will be one fewer person to watch when Ryan, Bradley or Benjamin will be sent home.

Big Brother airs today at 7pm, with the second eviction show Sunday at 6.30pm and live nominations Monday at 7pm on Nine/WIN.

Sue Yeap travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of WIN Television.

The West Australian

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