Olusola Ogunnubi (PHD)
The controversial aspect of reality programming stems from its largely unscripted nature, subjecting the events to the participants’ improvisation. Across the world and in Nigeria, several reality TV shows have dominated the airwaves. Nigeria’s creative industry is the leading promoter of Nigeria’s pop culture and values. Reality shows such as Big Brother Naija (BBNaija) serve as excellent platforms to highlight the nation’s peculiarities and these values.
The Big Brother Naija Phenomenon
BBNaija, organized by MultiChoice Nigeria, is a reality television show that selects some young Nigerians through auditions. After a rigorous process, they are housed for some time with no access to the outside world. Usually, their only companions are each other and several cameras as they compete for the grand prize. The grand prizes from past seasons have ranged from N25million to N90 million, including cash prizes and gifts from associated sponsors. Other housemates also win some money and endorsements from emerging victorious in the weekly games and tasks.
However, the popular BBNaija reality TV show has always remained controversial, eliciting diverse opinions from Nigerians. Expectedly, the show has conflicting views among conservatives and supporters. Opposers of the show say it is ‘immoral’ and portrays values that are ‘un-African. Protagonists celebrate BBNaija for its entertainment value (Akinlolu and Ogunnubi 2020). Nigerians remain divided about supporting the show’s continuation amidst the clamour for its ban by specific segments of society.
Antagonists claim BBNaija promotes immorality and corrupts the moral values of the viewers. Those who support the show’s continuation argue that BBNaija offers educational, informational, entertainment, economic and social benefits to the housemates, the viewing audience and the nation (Iyorza 2021).
This article does not dwell on the moral values of BBNaija. Instead, the author seeks to understand the psychological impact of BBN on housemates, viewers and the nation.
BBNaija And Its Popularity With Young People
The BBNaija reality TV show has gained wide popularity among the youths in Nigeria and Africa, with the youth demographic constituting the vast majority of the region’s population. Young people from African countries, including South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have become engrossed with the show and. In most cases, they often participate in the weekly voting for their favourite housemate(s).
Despite criticisms, BBNaija has become successful within and outside of Nigeria, thereby generating a huge viewership and fan base. This is connected to the fact that international viewers are exposed to the Nigerian lifestyle, culture, and general way of life through the weekly activities of the housemates. Hence, the drive for BBNaija transcends its primary role as an entertainment program to being quite educative and informative. While some viewers are focused on entertainment, others seek ways of gaining knowledge on interpersonal relationships, leadership, careers and a host of other areas of life. Therefore, the show’s relevance depends on the viewer’s intention as it offers a wide array of content. It can be argued that BBNaija, in specific ways, projects an admirable image of Nigeria and Nigerians to African viewers.
Big Brother Naija Helps Viewers Be More Empathetic
Apparently, a significant reason viewers love to watch the BBNaija reality show is the empathy it provides. BBNaija mirrors societal behaviours of individuals because it portrays elements of human social interactions. Technological advancement and globalization have resulted in a decline in physical interaction. Therefore, it becomes easier for viewers to develop a mental attraction to reality shows such as BBNaija. This leads individuals to see these celebrities as allies, friends and role models.
According to clinical psychologist Dr Jana Scrivani, reality television shows (such as BBNaija) give us a false sense that we know the people we watch. This sense of personal relationship with ‘housemates’ is amplified with the ‘reality’ label. Over time, we come to see the folks portrayed on the screen as friends. We identify with their struggles and triumphs, thereby creating a mental bond with these celebrity individuals (Bhattacharya 2020). While this is not always the case, people are drawn to the show as they recognize certain character traits that they appreciate or admire in these housemates. In most cases, people are drawn to the personality of a housemate whom they feel a connection with based on their attitudes, experiences, charisma, tribe and physical features.
Big Brother Naija Fosters A Sense Of Community
In a bid to protect the interest of their favourite housemates, the social media space is filled with daily comments, updates, donations and campaigns for them. Each group of supporters create specific hashtags that they use on social media to solicit votes for their favourite contestants from across the continent. These hashtags often outlive the shows as their supporters continuously engage in banter or rivalry to ensure talks about their favourites dominate the social media platforms.
Big Brother Naija Fosters A Sense Of Hope
Viewers fall in love with BBNaija a little more as they watch each ex-housemate create their own success stories spurred by the show. Reiss and Wiltz (2004) concluded that reality shows such as BBNaija help viewers feel important. Seeing ordinary people attain success after the show allows them to fantasize about also gaining celebrity status. The achievements of former housemates generate confidence in the youths who monitor their progress and growth. It makes them believe that they will also excel if they have the right platform.
BBNaija gives each housemate the platform to display their talents, skills and personality to a broader audience. It opens them to a world of opportunities that are supported by passionate fan bases. This gives them a marketable edge and attracts them to top brands in Nigeria and Africa, often resulting in endorsement deals and other engagements. Hence, every housemate emerges a winner even without winning the grand prize.
Perhaps more people tune into the show because it offers them a temporary escape from the daily struggles of life. The activities in the House constantly keep young people occupied, thereby diverting their attention away from other socio-economic and political situations in the country. With the unemployment rate and increasing food inflation, BBN offers a coping mechanism for young people to deal with and temporarily escape from these prevailing issues during the show.
Big Brother Naija and the Focus on the Mental State of Housemates
The other psychological issue related to BBNaija that is increasingly gaining attention, especially with the current season, is housemates’ mental state. Several studies have raised concerns over the psychological stress that being locked up for weeks in an enclosed place can have on the mental wellbeing of a person. We saw this concern amplified with the global lockdown that followed the response to the novel Coronavirus that ravaged the entire world in 2020.
In this 2021 season of BBNaija, a housemate quit the House on medical grounds and based on the advice from doctors. This situation, although isolated, highlights the mental issues associated with being in the House, which has not always been addressed. Thankfully, the quick response from the show’s producers proves that the psychological state of the housemates is not secondary to the show’s entertainment value.
Big Brother Naija is also a Socio-economic Driver
As a socio-economic driver, several businesses and brands have benefited from sponsoring or placing Ads on BBNaija. Their participation on the show often result in increased social media engagement and visibility for their brands. According to a report by The Future of Work, a data analytics, consulting and training firm, ‘seven brands had 206,905 Twitter mentions in conversations bordering on the show in 2019. These brands include MunchIt, Oppo, Heritage Bank, Pepsi, Dano and Bet9ja. Of the seven, Bet9ja was said to be the most-talked-about, largely because it was a title sponsor and supplied the hotly contested game coins to the housemates’ (Olapoju 2020). In turn, the increased social media engagement and visibility directly result in more significant revenue for these brands due to increased patronage. It explains why brands like Pepsi, Patricia, Evans Industry, Get Fit, and Bet9ja keep returning to the show as sponsors in varying capacities.
Big Brother Naija also helps reduce Nigeria’s unemployment rate by directly and indirectly engaging the services of the backroom staff. It serves as a platform for many businesses and brands like food supply businesses, fashion designers, drink companies, lounges, and entertainers to reach a wider audience.
The psychological impact of BBNaija is diverse and dependent on the driving motive of the housemates and viewers for their interest in the show. Generally, the housemates are driven by the desire to emerge victorious by winning the grand prize. The result of this is constant competition and rivalry between each other. However, the clashes and rivalries among the housemates are purely focused on entertaining the viewers, creating highlights, and ultimately winning the grand prize.
On the other hand, Nigeria’s prevailing political and socio-economic realities have left the youth in dire need of coping mechanisms through the amusement that BBNaija offers. BBNaija serves as a medium of entertainment, social integration, interaction, and relaxation and as a way to learn some tricks about the psychology of survival that housemates adopt while in the BBNaija House. More so, it further reinforces self-belief in the housemates and viewers that given a suitable environment, the achievement of their personal aspiration is possible.
*Olusola Ogunnubi (PHD) writes from the Department of Political Science, Carleton University.
The psychological impact of BBNaija is diverse and dependent on the driving motive of the housemates and viewers for their interest in the show
Olusola Ogunnubi (PHD)