Over 12 seasons and 11 years, Big Brother has entertained and horrified us thanks to the many men and women who have signed up to be cast members on the show. Those houseguests were all required to sign a contract with producers governing their behavior before, during, and after the show, and until now, that contract has never been seen except by those who’ve signed it.
That contract is below, and is unmodified except that personal information and information identifying the season has been redacted. The contract is sent to all finalists before they go to Los Angeles for the finals casting process, and was provided to reality blurred by someone who received it.
While houseguests have the chance to win $500,000 and live in an environment like no other, they give up a lot. They are also heavily controlled by producers, both inside the house and during a period of time afterwards.
Is the experience worth the cost? Is our entertainment worth the impact it may have on the people who have volunteered for this experience?
While there is a lot that is specific to the game of Big Brother, much of the contract is fairly typical, including the legalese that essentially says producers own and can do anything they want with a houseguest, their story, their image, and footage of them, forever.
Much of the language seems similar or even exactly like that in the Survivor cast contract, but there is also a lot that’s specific to the house.
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Potential and actual houseguests agree to:
- read the rule book, which they are given before entering the house and also once they are inside the house. However, houseguests are also told that those rules can be “changed, modified or amended … with or without prior notice to me.” There is a detailed section in the contract about producers’ ability to change the rules and game at any time, which also says that producers’ decisions are final.
- be subjected to “physical, psychological and emotional strains and pressures … both during my stay … as well as after my stay in the House.”
- “a serious invasion of my privacy.”
- get tested for STDS but accept the risk of having sex with someone who might have HIV or an STD despite the results of those tests. Producers, however, do not “encourage any sexual activity among participants.”
- “waive any physician-patient priveleage” with health care providers, therapists, and others and all producers access to that information.
- not hold producers of CBS liable for “intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, defamation,” or other things, and understand that their own “actions and the actions of others … may expose me to public ridicule, humiliation or condemnation,” and producers can broadcast that.
- the game may contain twists that cause “anxiety, discomfort, embarrassment, anger and/or shock.”
- not engage in physical violence, “nonconsensual sexual contact,” and “intimidation by threats of physical violence.” You may recall that there have been threats of violence before; one of the show’s winners even threatened another houseguest by saying he looked forward to “the bones in your throat crushing between my fingers”. That was allowed because producers get to decide what constitutes those things; the contract explicitly says that “Producer needs to balance and preserve fairness in the competition while ensuring the ultimate safety of participants.”
- “not to damage the house” or “technical equipment.”
- have water “rationed” and understand that producers “control all power and other utilities.”
- only bring approved items into the house, and be searched before entering the house.
- let producers decide what information to share with them, including about personal or family-related events.
- that they will receive $750 per week that they’re in the house. There is no explicit mention of compensation for time in the jury house, but the contract says producers “may also give additional consolation and/or runner-up prizes in cash or in kind … but has no obligation to do so.”
- receive only a pro-rated prize if they are an alternate who enters the game after it has started.
- pose for their “individual portrait” for the memory wall.
- be interviewed by Julie Chen immediately following eviction, which is a contractual requirement.
- understand they may not be chosen; producers say they are looking for people who are “strong willed, outgoing, adventurous, physically and mentally adept, adaptable to new environments, and to have interesting life styles [sic], backgrounds and personalities.” Or, potentially, none of those things.
- be “aware that it is a federal offense … to do anything that would rig or in any way influence the outcome of the Series.” Producers, as noted above, can do whatever they want, however.
- not “disclose to any party” anything about the show for three years, and pay damages of $5,000,000 in liquidated damages for violating the confidentiality agreement. One lawyer has said that these kinds of clauses are invalid.