The TV Watercooler had the opportunity to chat with Big Brother Canada host and executive producer Arisa Cox on the importance of inclusivity in front and behind the camera, as well as her tips and tricks on what makes a good houseguest as the hit Canadian reality series continues to cast its 11th season!
Big Brother Canada’s 11th season is coming up. It’s officially 10 years old next year. That’s a huge achievement.
Yes, we’re thrilled! As someone in the industry, you know how rare it is for something to not just last this long, but to continue to elevate and get to be bigger and better.
I count my lucky stars every day.
There was that moment, I think between seasons five and six where we weren’t sure why it was going to “take a hiatus,” but the fans brought it back!
The fans rose and said, “Not on my watch!”
Which was one of the most beautiful moments to be part of both in Canadian media and my career, where the strength of the actual product made a difference in how much people wanted to see it stay.
I remember a time when people used to say things like, “Oh, that looks so Canadian,” and that was an insult. If it “looked” Canadian, that meant it wasn’t very good or the production value wasn’t very high.
As you know, that is not the case with Big Brother Canada! We have worked so hard from the jump to make sure that every aspect of the show, and every department is on it 100%, which I think really shows.
Having watched every season of both Big Brother U.S. and BBCAN, I know for myself and other Canadian fans, the Canadian version has become the superior product.
We are very happy that we did what we set out to do those 10 years ago, which was to make a splash with this show and have something unique here and tell uniquely Canadian stories. There are a lot of parts of the show where I’m like, “You would just not see this another version of Big Brother in another country. It’s just so uniquely us.”
And that’s what brings me a lot of joy, that so many people have gotten a chance to play this game. We have had well over 100 houseguests now who have played this game and we want more. The family gets bigger and bigger, and I cannot wait to see the faces that are going to represent season 11!
Casting is underway until November 11, is it just online or will there be open casting in any cities?
It’s all online, which makes it easy and kind of more equitable than before. Someone can go, “Oh my God, what if I can’t drive to Calgary that day?” Well, it doesn’t matter if you’re in, you know, Fort Mac or wherever, you can just upload it at home!
As an executive producer, you’ve got some sway… what do you look for in a potential houseguest? What qualities really stand out for you?
I always think that the best advice is just to find out what your special thing is. What’s your special sauce? And then amplify that and if you’re not sure what those things are, ask the people around you! Ask those close to you – your besties, your family – they’ll tell you what that is! They’ll know what would make you a really good houseguest.
Don’t be too humble because humble people do not make great houseguests. You can be humble to a degree, but I don’t think you want to downplay who you are… You want to turn what you are up because you need a certain amount of whatever you want to call it… ego, narcissism… you know, the desire for attention!
Those are not bad words to us! I know that’s very hard to hear for us Canadians because normally we’re such self-deprecating people that it’s sometimes hard to just be like, “Yeah, I’m the greatest!”
Paired with that, would be, what makes you great to watch? Are you quiet but conniving? Do you have a chaotic personality? Are you somebody that all your past partners have called toxic? That would make a great houseguest if you’re aware of it, and you can talk about it and not fear it!
Another way of looking at it is to imagine that you are in the Diary Room during your audition. Think about all the most interesting people that you’ve liked on the show, odds are that they were excellent in the Diary Room and not because they were all the same, but because they were honest with the camera. They were honest with you at home, no matter what was going on in that house.
Lying up and down, breaking deals, bouncing cheques. They were being honest with you and were showing you their real self and that’s very hard to do. Not everyone can be that vulnerable, but we want people who are confident enough to be able to tap into that and let the rest of the country in – which is why we need a very specific group of people and why it’s not for everybody.
I’m not going to sit here and say that every single person can play this game because it’s very hard. But it’s also very worth it and as someone who has been on a reality show for a year, and lived on camera, you’re living an unusual life and not everybody wants the exact same path that you’re told you can get and what success means like this for people who want to live an unusual life.
You also get to learn so much about yourself by being on a show like this, and it’s not always fabulous. Sometimes it’s hard and challenging and then you come out of it and realize that maybe you can get more than what 20 years of therapy can give you! Because you find out exactly who you are when everything around you has changed – your environment, the people, no family, no social media, no media period!
You find out what remains and that’s the distillation of who you are as a person. And yes, there’s a reality show around you there with competitions and hilarious acronyms [there are just so many acronyms on Big Brother]!
But aside from all that, you do get to find out who you are, who you attract, what kind of energy you give out, and what happens when you’re under pressure and under stress, and you end up feeling so much more powerful and that you know yourself so much more.
And this happens to you whether you go out first or make it to the finale night. It may not be for everybody, but for the people, it’s for, it’s such an incredible, strange, bizarre, and amazing experience that could only happen once in a lifetime.
What is the casting process like for you and the other team members?
I’m definitely part of a team and it’s one of the absolute best parts of my new role. Our team also includes Casting Director Robyn Kass who is brilliant. She and the team really understand that it takes a really good mix of people to build this show.
I love being able to have a lot of input into the cast and the one thing you can say is consistent throughout all the seasons is that the casts have been stellar and that has not changed, and I don’t want it to ever change.
I think that what helps is that our show is based on personality. We are very small in terms of population in this country compared to the U.S., but there’s no shortage of personalities. Not even after 10 years.
You don’t need to be ripped, or young. You can find a place in this house.
The online search allows us to look in places that we hadn’t looked at before. We’re changing some of the expectations in terms of the demographics, which I think has been really helpful.
I think that everyone who watches our show deserves to see versions of themselves and I feel like they really represent the country. I know we can’t hit every single province or territory all the time, but what we can do is let everyone know that we’re trying to find the best out of everybody and not just one specific type of person.
Moving the auditions online only must really help with this.
I think so for sure. For example, we’re trying hard to find some potential houseguests from the North, and we haven’t had anyone from the territories yet and that kills me because I know people from the North… My husband used to work there and there are incredible people there. But it would be so much harder for someone who lives there to make their way down to an actual in-person casting call.
So, the fact that this is online, I really want to believe that it’s going to make it easier for some people who think they could have a shot and go ahead and try.
The Canadian casts have been quite diverse whereas CBS only set Diversity Targets for their reality shows in 2020 and as a result, we’ve seen a whole new game almost in the U.S. series. As a franchise fan and someone heavily involved in the Canadian series, what was it like seeing that change? Do you think they need to have the same commitments behind the camera to tell a story properly as we do with the Canadian series?
I think that it’s just as important as having those diverse voices on camera, if not more important. I think that if the only diversity strategy you have to show who’s on camera, then you’re doing it wrong.
It’s really important to have different voices behind the camera and in front of the camera.
It’s said that “People look at the world through their own window.” You look at the world through your own experience and who you’re relating to, and who you don’t relate to, where you’re from, what you were raised to believe…and so much of that is unconscious, right?
What if you had to write that all down? You couldn’t, because so much of that is inherent in who we are.
So, we want different kinds of people with different kinds of experiences and different biases. Two people could be looking at the same thing but then only one of them can understand what’s actually happening because they understand that story. If no one gets it, who’s watching it? Maybe we’ve missed something amazing? A moment that could have only been caught by somebody who maybe relates more to that person in any number of ways, be that age, race, ethnicity, religion, region – all those things that really make a person unique.
So that’s something that we take so seriously, and I think you know, having covered the show from the very beginning is that we care, and we take care.
We don’t phone it in. It may look easy but behind the scenes, we’re putting in the work. The hours, blood, sweat, and tears that we all put in to get it right. It’s never easy.
And we’re never rooting for one person over another! That’s a misconception that I think some viewers may have. It doesn’t work that way! We want to set all the traps in the maze and put the hamsters in and then see what they do. That’s the most exciting thing for us. So if we’re putting our thumb on the scale, we don’t get that we don’t get those authentic moments, like a gummy bear that literally changes everything and destroys someone’s game! That’s not something we could have engineered in any way!
We have very savvy audiences. People are used to the world of reality television and what people want is to be surprised. They want authentic characters, and they want to be surprised and we can’t engineer that! That’s the human spirit, you know, coming through, and that’s what makes this show so magical.
What’s it like being on a show that is at the forefront of positive change in terms of equity and diversity in Canadian media?
I’ve seen a lot of ebbs and flows in my career on TV. Some things have changed, and other things have not.
The first time that I worked in a truly diverse environment was when I was on 24 years old on a little station called Toronto 1, which only lasted for two years before the station got bought out. That experience absolutely changed my life and it’s a reminder and proof that having an extremely diverse workplace where every different kind of person – whether it comes to gender, race, or sexuality – makes the product better.
It makes your show better and it makes it better for the audience. The only way to really grow an audience is to bring more people in.
To me, that was so life-changing. This is where you know, a whole bunch of us came up at the exact same time. Tracy Moore, Farah Nasser, Michael Serapio, Roz Weston, Dina Pugliese, like all these now-heavy hitters in Toronto and in Canadian broadcast came from that place and I think part of that was because it was a really inclusive work environment, and I feel like I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.
What Big Brother Canada has done to become part of what we once had almost 20 years ago.
In some ways, we [as an industry]kind of backpedaled in a lot of ways, but I do think now more people are feeling empowered to tell their story. It’s really important because I want more people to turn on the TV and be like “I could be that or there is a place for me, and I’m not excluded from that.” I really want that for children, so I feel like as my generation and those above me are kind of making way for the new blood, I do want them to kind of take this stuff for granted. I don’t want them to think it’s a big deal.
I want them to take it for granted that you’re going to see people that look like you if you ride the subway, or you’re going to see people who are on the subway with you in front of the camera and in a leadership role, or in production, and casting – all those gatekeeping roles that are so key – the ones that are going to make the decision about what you see at home.
Social media also reflects that too because people now have a way for others to hear them and see them in a way that we never could before. The democratization of messages that get to a mass amount of people is really exciting.
I do feel like this industry has seen a lot of steps forward and a couple of steps back, but we still have to keep moving forward because, in a way, a lot has changed.
A lot has gotten so much better, so I don’t want to be one of those people that discount how far we’ve come and how all the strides of this generation before us have affected where we are now.
I’m a child of immigrants and when they came here, they were young people that didn’t have a lot of money. They didn’t have a ton of connections, but they were able to give my generation something so special, which is the ability to work hard and believe in themselves, and succeed.
I feel like it doesn’t make sense for us to say, oh, it’s all horrible. All doom and gloom. It’s really not. But it does take time. And sometimes when things don’t take enough time, they fall apart. Sometimes things must really be earned and that’s what I feel is like a harsh truth, that maybe I didn’t understand as much when I was younger when I expected everything to be there, it’s like, no – some things will take time.
Time is how metal gets tested, so I think it’s very valuable.
Big Brother Canada returns in Spring 2023.