As part of a contest with CBS I was very fortunate to win a trip out to last night’s live Big Brother 16 eviction show. While I had been to the CBS Studios lot several times for pre-season interviews, I had never stepped inside Studio 18. Now I can scratch that dream off my list.
Yes, as a Big Brother fan since season one it was a huge goal of mine to get inside that studio and be just steps away from the Houseguests on the other side of that door. While I know that doesn’t exactly make me part of an exclusive club, it’s still a unique experience and one I wanted to share with other fans who might not have had that same opportunity.
My wife, Kelley, and I arrived at the lot in Burbank as instructed nearly three hours before the show began. We checked in at the security gate and our driver, oh yes we were chauffeured – living the high life – took us right up to the Studio 18 door marked “BB Reception.” Stepping inside we checked in with a second level of security and were ushered into the Big Brother Green Room.
Inside the room I continued to geek out over the Big Brother memorabilia throughout. On the walls we found a piece of “artwork” featuring Zingbot crossing the Delaware from last season’s Veto comp. There was a framed shadow box of Jase’s shattered piggy bank from Season 5. Another from Season 2 featuring Ophelia’s harness (Ophelia was the pot bellied pig house pet). A small “X” from Season 4’s “X-Factor” theme. And a framed picture from last season’s 500th episode.
Interestingly, the HGs’ FitBit chargers (those are the “activity trackers”) were hanging out on a series of power strips on the couch. You’ll also find the HGs special “don’t take anything in this” fridge in this room. I should have looked inside!
We chatted with another couple who were there as “VIP Guests” and superfans as well. Before too long, in walked a familiar voice, Don Wollman. Don is a producer on Big Brother, has been with the show since its start, and if you watch the Feeds then you’d recognize him as the “Big Brother Voice” who warns HGs to “stop that!” and “please come to the Diary Room.”
Don came in, shook hands, and sat right down to start talking with us about the show, what we thought, and far more importantly than my thoughts, we got to hear his! Since it wasn’t an interview with him I won’t quote him on anything, but it was very interesting to hear what he thought of the season so far (all good things!).
Don was surprised we would come all the way out from Virginia for the show, but I’d do it every week if we could! Other than going inside the house, this is the most exciting thing a fan could do from this fan’s perspective.
Right in the middle of enjoying this fantastic opportunity we had to be whisked away to sign a waiver and have our picture taken (not for a keepsake, but for record keeping). Once that was all done we talked with Don a little more and then headed next door to the set!
Walking in to the Front of the House (the FOTH in old Feed-speak) was surreal. The seating area housed about seventy to eighty viewers, I was told, and the overall space felt a little bit smaller than I expected, but it was by no means small.
We grabbed a few temporary seats and kept talking with the other couple and a new couple that joined us who was with part of production. At this point we were still about an hour from the start of the show in a mostly empty studio as the rest of the audience was outside in the heat.
I couldn’t stop looking around the room. Back behind us we could see on a monitor the HoH competition being set up. Phew! Not an endurance competition, so we’d know who was HoH before it was all over. As for the front of the house, I had never noticed furniture shadows on the “windows” as part of the fake facade.
Before long the rest of the audience filtered in and we were assigned what I think were the best seats in the house. Okay, Kelley got the best seat and I got the second best. We were third row up against the stage, but the way it’s laid out that put us right in front of where Julie stands most the night and just a few feet from the interview chairs.
There was a crowd “warmer” (I’m sure there’s a better industry term for this role) who spent about thirty minutes before the show getting everyone talking about what’s going in the season, cracking jokes, and, well, warming us all up for the show.
We had lots of practice on the clapping and cheering with instructions on when and how. So much practice I thought I’d be hoarse by the end of the night. There were no “Applause” signs, but later we’d wait for his cue on when to start making noise.
As a more official audience greeting for the night, Don Wollman came out on to the stage to welcome everyone and step us through a few reminders. As an introduction to his role on the show he walked over to where we sat, leaned down from the stage, and asked Kelley to remind him of her name. Then he stood up, walked back over, and said into the mic that we would recognize the following phrase: “Kelley, please come to the Diary Room.” Hoh-Lee-Crap. If I could have gotten that recorded I’d make it my ringtone for the rest of my days. Easily my favorite memory of the entire night!
Julie Chen soon arrived and the audience went nuts for her. Julie started running through her cards and lines while the make-up team did their final prep. She looked great, of course.
One of the interesting things they did with her was to take photos of her jewelry, shoes, and overall outfit. Not sure why, but maybe to catalog it and make sure they don’t do the exact arrangement again?
Before things got started Julie ran through her opening lines in a practice take. Now we were just minutes from the show getting started. A few last instructions and we were live!
Everything that you see on the taped segments for Thursday shows was played on that big screen on the stage for us on the set. It didn’t fully set in for me that the HGs were right there behind those walls until Julie started talking to with the HGs gathered in the living room. Crazy!
As for audience participation (noise making), we were instructed to not even clap lightly at the end of the segment regarding Frankie’s grandfather. Other than that we had to cheer for about 15 seconds coming back from commercials and going in to them.
When it was time to vote, a man brought a board around to face Julie, but off camera. Here he kept track of the vote count for Julie’s quick reference along with all the HGs’ headshots & names. Later during the HoH competition he did the same thing again.
During the live vote we were told not to react to individual votes as the HGs might hear us and take it as feedback about viewers’ takes on the HGs. Same went for the HoH comp. No cheering until Julie officially announced the winners.
I’m jumping around here so let’s go back to eviction portion. Once Julie announced Brittany was evicted everything was set up in place for the chairs and Britt’s arrival. It looked like Julie was reacting to some of the behavior of the HGs during this but since we were told to stay facing Julie I didn’t want to turn around to see the monitors she was viewing.
Another set of instructions were given that we were to treat the evictee with respect and support. No booing. The idea was that if you weren’t excited to see that HG come out, then just keep it to yourself. There weren’t any issues there as the audience gave Brittany a very warm welcome in her return to the outside world.
We were told we could react as we wanted during Brittany’s interview, but there weren’t any big “gasp!” moments so that went by rather calmly. The emotions did get going in the audience though when Brittany’s kids were brought out from the side of the stage. That was a nice moment to see play out.
Brittany and the chairs were whisked away during the commercial break and we got ready for the HoH comp to play out. It was fun playing along and I was proud of not once shouting out the answer. They probably wouldn’t have liked that very much.
After the HoH comp and before the final commercial break was over Julie was quickly making notes on her cards. She was talking with an assistant and bouncing stats off him, but she didn’t need any help and I was impressed. “Frankie’s been HoH twice, so this is his third, right? Right. First for Zach,” and so on.
When the last segment was getting ready to come back Julie suddenly realized there was no camera for her. She made a quick joke about doing this part without a camera and there was a mad dash just seconds before the show returned to get one in front of her. Phew!
Julie wrapped up the show, we cheered even louder, and then we were clear. Julie thanked the audience, said goodnight, and then she was gone. We were then filtered out by rows and were back on the lot. I wanted to show Kelley around the backyard area but security soon cut us off and turned us around.
So we jumped back in the car and headed back to our hotel. Checking in with family we found out that yes, the backs of our heads are now super famous (okay, not really) and made the cut several times during crowd shots. I’ll take it!
It was an amazing, amazing day. While meeting the cast in pre-season is incredible this was such an adventure in its own way. Getting to be that close to the action and being part of the show in even the most remote way was a thrill of a lifetime for this Big Brother fan.
Thank you so much to CBS for the opportunity to be there & bringing us out. Thanks to readers who signed up for their Live Feeds through us, which entered us in the contest. And a very big thanks to Branden for completely covering the show last night so I could go offline for hours and miss the very job I’m supposed to be doing.
What an experience. It’s one I won’t soon forget and would highly encourage anyone who could to get out there and jump in line for a chance to do it too!