On Big Brother Naija and the New Pioneer of Nigerian Escapist Entertainment
BBNaija represents a new form of escapist entertainment that has firmly established itself within the Nigerian zeitgeist — triumphing over skepticism to stake a firm claim to our collective consciousness.
●2nd October 2023
It is an undisputed fact that when reality television is mentioned in Nigeria, Big Brother Naija is what comes to the mind of the average Nigerian. The show represents a new form of escapist entertainment that has firmly established itself within the Nigerian zeitgeist. In fact, a study carried out by Samuel Oluniran and published in the Covenant Journal, showed that Big Brother Naija and musical shows such as Project Fame West Africa, were listed as the two most preferred reality shows in Nigeria.
Big Brother Naija is not the first reality show to grace Nigerian television screens, but it has undoubtedly achieved unparalleled success and popularity. A report by The Nation Online rated shows like The Real Housewives of Lagos as examples of non-competition based reality television which also garner viewers amongst Nigerians. However, in the history of Nigerian reality television, one observes that other shows have existed. For instance, there is the Gulder Ultimate Search and other musical and dance competitions such as Star Quest, Maltina Dance Hall, Nigerian Idol.
What then makes Big Brother Naija the go to show amongst young people across class divides? What sees Big Brother Naija as the reality show that sees different demographics eagerly partake in its voting process? Again, what is that thing about BBNaija as it is fondly called, that sees it as the one show where social issues on it can spark conversations on all forms of media that go on for days? Finally, what makes it such that being on Big Brother Naija has become a pathway and catalyst to the success of housemates after they leave the house? Housemates like Mercy Eke, Bisola and Erica Nlewedim who are fast becoming household names in industries such as music, acting and beauty?
Big Brother Naija gives the audience a great deal of power. The audience can directly influence the content of the show through voting and they can take control of the narrative purely through commentary on social media. It allows viewers to live vicariously through the contestants, exposes them to diverse representations of individuals and adds excitement to what can sometimes be an otherwise mundane activity.
Prior to the rise in social media usage amongst Nigerian youths, the discussions about the aforementioned shows and Big Brother often ended on radio and amongst other forms of traditional media. The popularity of interactive apps like Twitter, presents an avenue for ongoing commentary about the behaviour of the housemates.
The actions of the housemates in Big Brother Africa (the continental Big Brother franchise which BBNaija is modelled after) was again often discussed on other apps like Facebook and in traditional media like magazines. For example, Big Brother Africa housemate, Ofunneka was given a front page interview in ThisDay Style Magazine. In it, she discussed her experience in the house. In that same vein, Big Brother Africa season four winner Kevin Chuwang was given a full page interview in Guardian Life shortly after his win. His life as someone who met his wife on the show also added lots of speculation even when they left the house.
Nigeria as a country is one that continues to witness a downward spiral in its economy, healthcare and educational system. This has been occurring actively since 2017 when the second season of Big Brother Naija aired on Africa Magic. Prior to that, the first Big Brother Nigeria aired in 2006 and was the show that saw the participation of Ebuka Obi-Uchendu who is the current host of BBNaija. As earlier mentioned, Nigeria has been undergoing economic and social upheavals. More Nigerians who remain in the country will definitely seek out content that mirrors their lives and still manages to take their minds off the worries of the country. Now, where social media apps like Twitter and Instagram come in, is that people tweeting or posting about the various housemates can not only show their support in live commentary. These same people can use the Big Brother Nigeria tweets and support to also grow and strengthen their own social media presence.
Another reason Nigerians are taking to reality shows like Big Brother Naija as a form of what can best be called “escapist entertainment,” is that the show provides an opportunity to get lost in conversations about what romance and sex mean in contemporary Nigeria. The show’s popularity among diverse demographics can be attributed to its capacity to capture and amplify cultural shifts, particularly in the domains of relationships and gender dynamics. Fondly called “shipping” in BBNaija social media conversations, the romantic relationships amongst housemates are a fundamental aspect of the show.
These relationships are often a mirror into the ups and downs and ideological stances of relationships amongst Nigerians outside the show. For example, in the ongoing Big Brother Naija All Stars season, the relationship between housemates like Soma and Angel has often drawn debates on social media.
Furthermore, the activities and competitions given to the housemates are a major way individuals on social media “escape” and start discussions prompted by the behaviour of the housemates. A good example is the Big Brother Nigeria 2021 Shine Ya Eye season which starred housemates like White Money, Angel JB Smith, etc. In it, an activity of theirs prompted a very heated discussion on the importance of finances and the necessity of joint accounts.
Nevertheless, the rise of Big Brother Naija can be said to be a pioneer in Nigerian escapist entertainment. The show has triumphed over skepticism, staking a firm claim to our collective consciousness. It’s television that offers solace after a gruelling day, a mindless diversion that provides a sanctuary where we can temporarily escape the chaos of everyday life. And, in this digital age, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
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