Almost 2,000 people crammed into a downtown Toronto hotel Sunday morning hoping to land one of 14 spots in the Big Brother household for Canada’s upcoming first season of the hit reality show.
The winner – who will be filmed 24/7 along with their housemates and must survive weekly eliminations – will walk away with a cool $100,000.
The show has had successful adaptations across the globe after its 1999 premiere, but producers want this version to be quintessentially Canadian – starting with the contestants. Canadian self-image is no longer hockey players and Mounties, said John Brunton, the Canadian version’s executive producer.
“This notion of a country music singer from Alberta, or a rodeo king, or a fisherman from Newfoundland, they’re all stereotypical notions of who Canadians are,” said Brunton. “And that’s not what our show is going to be.”
Instead, the casting agents scoured the country for Canucks who represent the diversity and tolerance of the nation, he said.
They have come in hordes. First Nations members from the far North, gay married couples, people of all ethnic backgrounds, even some sexual persuasions Brunton did not know had a label turned up at the auditions.
In Toronto – on the final stop of a five-city open casting call tour – anxious contenders filled the holding room as they practised answering questions and surveyed their competition.
Patrick Brant, a long-time fan of the show’s U.K. version, danced in the aisle between seats while waiting for his turn. He said he hoped to prove to the producers that his experience living across Canada – on the West Coast, up North and in Ontario – makes him truly Canadian.
Kevin and Nancy, a brother and sister duo, hoped their parents’ immigration story might help.
“I think what really makes me Canadian is that I embody … Canadian values,” said Kevin. “I have friends of all backgrounds, faiths (and) genders.”
The hopeful contestants saw the judges in random groups of five to six people. The producers would ask the group questions: How might you play the game? Who in this room is the biggest threat?
Casting agents would ask anyone who stood out to them to come back for a half-hour, videotaped interview later this week.
Some of the called-back contenders will get further interviews, said Brunton, and eventually the list will be whittled down to 14 real and dynamic personalities.
“The idea is that you want to create a house that has its open arms to all Canadians,” he said.