Now is the perfect time to bring back returning favorites, but hurdles remain.

By Dalton Ross
June 09, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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  • TV Show
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  • CBS
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Big Brother always made sense as the first reality show to return in the midst of a global pandemic. After all, the entire conceit of the show is based around being cut off completely from society while quarantining inside a house. The players don’t even have any contact with crew members, who film the activity and ask questions from the other side of a wall.

So it was no surprise when CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl told Deadline in May that they still hoped to air Big Brother in summer 2020. Nor was it shocking when Us Weekly reported recently that plans were underway to get the 22nd season of the franchise on air, and that it would be another All-Stars edition at that. Bringing back returning players instead of welcoming a cast of all-newbies certainly makes sense, even if there remain several hurdles to actually getting the season on the air.

While Big Brother — like other CBS reality shows Survivor and The Amazing Race — seems to constantly be bringing back players over and over again, the franchise actually has only staged an all-returnee season once in 20 years, and that was way back in 2006 with Big Brother: All-Stars (which was season 7 of the program). So another all-returnee edition is certainly overdue. Also, unlike Survivor, which has had Boston Rob Mariano appear on six different seasons, Sandra Diaz-Twine appear on five, five people (Cirie Fields, Ozzy Lusth, Rupert Boneham, Parvati Shallow, Tyson Apostol) compete four times, and too many three-timers to mention, Big Brother has actually shown a remarkable amount of restraint when it comes to having the same people return over and over again. Only two people (Mike “Boogie” Malin and Janelle Pierzina) have competed three times.

But there is also another added benefit to bringing back returning players now. After the movement to end systemic racism that has spread across the country in the past two weeks with marches and protests, the last thing CBS wants is another season filled with racist comments by contestants. The Big Brother format featuring a 24-hour online live feed means every word uttered by contestants are viewed and heard and shared in real-time — and not all of those words have been good.

Several seasons — including last summer’s Big Brother 21 — have been plagued by ugly incidents and comments by players that somehow made it through the casting process. But bringing back vetted contestants who have played already without incident would seem to drastically decrease the chances of such behavior showing up. (One can’t help but wonder if CBS might consider disabling the live cams completely this summer rather than risk another racial incident.)

Of course, the question remains whether former contestants who have moved on with their lives would even want to come back and play, especially with COVID-19 complicating matters. While on one hand, this might seem like the ideal time to play Big Brother seeing as how people are quarantining already — and quarantining inside a house is the entire concept of the show— getting into the house itself will not be so easy. Guaranteeing coronavirus-free living quarters means that players would have to quarantine completely by themselves for two weeks (presumably in a hotel or some other living situation) before the game even began.

And it might not just be the players. Presumably, crew for the show — especially people that would have to enter the backyard to set up challenges that would then be touched and handled by the players — would also have to quarantine inside a makeshift bubble both before and during the length of the season.

But even if all that was worked out, and players and crew were able to stay COVID-free, there could be other complications. What if a contestant’s family member got critically ill outside the house? Such a scenario could be reminiscent of Big Brother 2 back in 2001 when producers had to inform Monica Bailey — on air, of course — that her cousin Tamitha was missing after the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. Will players want to leave their families and be willing to be cut off from news of the outside world while a global pandemic is going on?

All these questions and concerns most likely will somewhat limit which former players are willing to spend another summer in the house. But if reality television has taught us anything, it is that wherever cameras are, people will gladly follow, and be put through almost any indignity imaginable to be on them.

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Big Brother

Julie Chen hosts as the houseguests battle it out.

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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 21
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  • TV-14
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network
  • CBS
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