At eight seasons, Big Brother Africa (BBA) has jumped the shark. It is now experiencing diminishing couch potato returns. In TV parlance, jumping the shark refers to when a show has reached a point at which far-fetched events are included merely for the sake of novelty, indicative of a decline in quality. The term is an allusion to the television series Happy Days, in which a central character (the Fonz) jumps over a shark in a water-skiing stunt.
This year’s BBA instalment yet again delivers a bloated house of 28 housemates from 14 African countries in what is fast becoming appeasement/ filler programming for those that are not into the Western hemisphere soccer season that takes an annual three-month hiatus from May to August.
The show’s signature is a winner-take-it-all lottery-like charade in which willing housemates are left at the mercy of viewers with hedonism a la binge-drinking, Jacuzzi-canoodling and potty banter are the quid-pro-quo. Perhaps those are the best coping mechanism for anyone that is confined in a luxurious human zoo for at most three months.
At its launch a decade ago, Big Brother Africa was truly revolutionary one-upping sister-formats being executed elsewhere on the globe. The attempt to bring 12 strangers from 12 different countries under one roof in a strange land was the every essence of a dare! The rest of the world stopped to pay attention to this non-political event that wasn’t in the mould of tearing the continent apart. The biggest positive was the mockery the show made of those ubiquitous borders that are a vestige of the scramble and eventual partition of Africa. While the Western media chose to see BBA I in condescending lenses howling that the housemates were not “primitive” enough, continental viewers instead offered the biggest proof that television can achieve better unity than those AU talk-shoppers in Addis.
And to its credit, the show has offered a bit of tokenism by way of putting the spotlight on African problems from HIV/ Aids, famine and the MGDs. Only that for the most part, subsequent BBA editions has been known more for Roman-style depravity even as a couple of brands have leveraged the show to anchor their brands on the continent.
Only that 10 years on, BBA ought to have morphed into more than just an outlet for aggressive merchandising and dazzling Sunday eviction gala aesthetics. Moving forward, it ought to discard the image of a crude experiment in human [zoo] behaviour and start attaching more value to its hefty $300,000 that is now synonymous with a reward for televised hanky-panky (three of the show’s past eight winners have won on account of starring in their own reality TV porn clips).
A Big Brother/ Apprentice hybrid would be more in tune with the needs of the continent today. BBA’s winnings are good seed money on any part of the continent. What with everyone touting the continent’s entrepreneurial potential alongside its 500+million young populace as its next frontier! Otherwise initiatives like Tutu’s Children serve us better than the stale cotton candy entertainment BBA now serves up. In the former, Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu plays Big Brother bringing together some of the continent’s best brains that possess nascent leadership and using his global networks to help each of them self-actualise.
That said, the glaring reality is that the continent would rather escape by way of hedonistic indulgences than intellectually stimulating small screen offerings like Tutu’s Children, which FYI didn’t air on any mainstream DStv channels rather on the franchised highbrow news channel Al Jazeera.
TEXT: Moses Serugo