After weeks spent in isolation from the outside world, the cast of Germany’s version of Big Brother finally heard about the coronavirus Tuesday night.
“Please don’t get scared. Let me just explain why we are sitting behind a glass wall,” host Jochen Schropp told the season’s 14 cast members, who were separated from him throughout the special by a protective barrier. Most of the cast has been living in the Big Brother house near the city of Cologne since filming began in early February, but all that time, the show’s producers didn’t share any news with them from the outside world.
As the cast members gathered in their living room, Schropp told them that “a disease called COVID-19 had spread across the world.” He promised that their loved ones are healthy and then showed them a video about what has happened over the course of recent weeks. But how do you explain this pandemic to someone who has been cut off from the world? The video summarized the coronavirus crisis in a broad sense, informing the cast about social-distancing policies, the fact that bars and clubs had to close, and showing footage of empty streets in Germany and Italy, but it left out grimmer details about how Italian hospitals have run out of ICU beds, and how curfews are in place across Europe for the foreseeable future.
While Schropp clearly tried not to panic the cast members, they were shocked by the news and several sobbed. Some of them moved into the Big Brother house just eight days ago, and the New York Times reported that producers barred those contestants from sharing news about current events — if, that is, they even knew the severity of the pandemic at that point. “Life goes on,” Schropp told the cast. “Just in another way.”
The housemates quickly grasped some of the grave aspects of the threat. A 26-year-old nurse named Michelle, who was in tears, mentioned that her 55-year-old mom had a preexisting lung disease and that she was concerned for her elderly patients. When another housemate began crying, Schropp tried to comfort her before a doctor joined him to share more details about the virus: “Please calm down. Everything’s okay,” he said.
Finally, the cast members were shown video messages that friends and family had recorded for them. Each message included reassurances that their loved ones are healthy, and many advised them to stay in the Big Brother house. “You are safe in there,” one person said. “This might be the safest place in Germany,” another joked.
The show’s producers insist that special hygiene measures have been put in place, and that the castmates who moved into the Big Brother house a week ago tested negative for the coronavirus. Still, the producers have been widely criticized for choosing to keep the cast in the dark for so long. Just last week, the German TV station that airs Big Brother defended that decision, before a social-media outcry led the show to change course and announce the live special. Housemates in versions of Big Brother currently filming in Canada and Brazil were told about the virus within the past week.
While the German cast did not complain about being informed so late, it did ask for continued updates on the situation. (“I need to ask Big Brother,” Schropp responded.) As the special concluded, Michelle didn’t seem to be convinced that everything is fine. “I’m afraid that my mom wouldn’t say if she would not feel well — because she wants me to stay in here,” she said.
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