'Big Brother' Germany Candidates to Find Out About Coronavirus in Live Show

Sat.1
'Big Brother Germany'

The contestants of the hit reality TV show have been shut off from the outside world since Feb. 10 and will be some of the last people in the world to hear of the pandemic.

Some of the last people in the world who still haven't heard of the coronavirus pandemic — a group of 14 men and women competing in the German version of reality TV show Big Brother — will have a rude awakening Tuesday.

The contestants in the 13th season of the show have been cut off from the outside world since Feb. 10, living together in close quarters in a house in Cologne in western Germany and engaging in potentially infectious behavior.

The contestants have not been informed of the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down public life across the country. The rules of the show forbid contact with the outside world, and Sat.1, the network that carries the show, has so far neglected to tell them.

But after a social media uproar, and amid more than 7,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 17 deaths in the country, the channel reversed its position. On Tuesday, in a special show to air live at 7 p.m. local time, Sat.1 will inform the contestants of the pandemic. They will be given the opportunity to ask questions about the state of the nation, as well as receive video messages from their relatives.

Sat.1 initially defended its decision to keep the contestants in the dark and claimed it had taken “special hygienic measures” to protect them, though it did not explain what those measures entailed.

Big Brother producers Endemol Shine issued a statement on Tuesday saying, "the health and well-being of Big Brother Housemates is our priority. All current productions were informed last week that the usual format rules regarding outside news do not apply in this instance, and it was requested that they inform their respective housemates of the evolving situation regarding COVID-19. The majority of Housemates have already been briefed, and this process will be complete today [March 17]."

In an ironic twist, the German contestants are already conducting an accidental experiment in social distancing. The show has split the group into two different houses. One is a block house offering only bare necessities, and the other is a modernist glass house equipped with luxury food and a potentially infectious hot tub.

Sat.1's decision to continue production on Big Brother stands in sharp contrast to television shows worldwide that have suspended shooting as the world grapples with the coronavirus. Dozens of scripted series and reality shows have shut down as networks struggle to come to terms with the implication of the global pandemic.

Other international versions of Big Brother have taken a different approach. In Australia, Endemol Shine has already informed interned Big Brother contestants of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Endemol Shine Australia takes the health and safety of our crew and contestants extremely seriously," a company representative told Australia's Seven News. "Housemates have been brought across the current situation, and we are in constant contact with the families to keep all involved up to date."

Production on Big Brother Australia is continuing.

There is some precedent to Big Brother breaking its media blackout. In 2001, the American edition of the show interrupted its second season to tell the final three contestants about 9/11.