As viewers across Africa enjoy the thrills and excitement of season 5 of Big Brother Africa, dubbed Big Brother All Stars, very little is known about what happened behind the scenes in the days leading to the show. While the selected housemates were confined from the public eye until the big reveal, a group of journalists from the participating countries, excluding South Africa (which had a separate treatment) were invited by Multichoice Africa to experience the Big Brother phenomenon at first hand.
This group is what I would refer to as the Real Big Brother All Stars (no apologies to Desperate Housewives and The Real Housewives) not just because they stayed in the Big Brother House before the actual housemates arrived but also because of the celebrity treatment they received during their stay in the house. Of course with yours truly representing the Ghanaian press, we could only be treated as celebrities. Just kidding!
I arrived at the OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg a little earlier than scheduled and after clearing myself with immigration, I made my way to the arrival hall to meet my contact person. After pacing around the hall for a while and familiarizing myself with the unfamiliar winter of Johannesburg, I started getting worried that I may have been left in the cold or something had gone wrong. I turned on my phone to check whether any last-minute communications had been sent regarding my pick up time. Soon I realized that the seamless roaming advertised by MTN in Ghana concerning using the service in other countries with MTN wasn’t as seamless as the adverts seemed to suggest. I discovered that I couldn’t recharge with South African recharge vouchers; and as a pay-as-you-go customer I wasn’t going to be able to use my internet services. As for the rates I don’t even want to talk about it.
Out of desperation, I was going to change some of the little US dollars that I had carried along so I could buy a new SIM-card and save myself from the phone hustle. Just before heading to the forex centre, I turned around to check one more time to see if I would find someone holding a placard with my name on it. Yes, finally I saw a gentleman holding a piece of white paper with Ameyah Debrah written on it. By the way, what’s with all these foreigners always spelling my name as Ameyah instead of Ameyaw? I have googled that name a number of times and have come to realize that it is a popular Hispanic name. Anyway I soon found out that my chaperon was Charles Lamprecht, and later found out that he is one of the most punctual people in all of Johannesburg.
I was the first to arrive in South Africa out of the group and by 5.30 am, I had arrived at the Garden Court Sandton saying hello to my new bedroom. I immediately jumped into my bed to get some proper sleep. Well the proper sleep never came because in less than 2 hours later, I heard the hotel cleaners shouting ‘…house keeping! House keeping!’ I guess no one told them I had just arrived. I went back to sleep for a few minutes and got up to have my first shower in the cold weather that I was still getting familiar with. I had breakfast and soon remembered that Mr. Lamprecht had hinted me that we would have a tight schedule during our stay in Johannesburg. So I decided to go to the Mall in Sandton City to get some warmer clothes and do some other shopping.
A bad Start
After buying a few items and exploring the sheer magnificence of the mall, (I still doubt that I saw all the shops in that huge edifice), I realized that I was late for my pick up time from the hotel when I saw the clock at ABSA Bank, where I was changing some currency. Instead of adding two hours to my Ghana time, I relied on the automatic Johannesburg time setting on my Nokia phone, which for some reason was an hour late. I rushed back to the hotel, after getting lost a number of times and asking for direction to the hotel. There is no telling, I was late and I had missed the bus that was scheduled to pick me up.
Smacking myself for my unimpressive start, I went to my room pondering on how to redeem myself. After about an hour, the phone rang and when I answered, I heard the voice of the bus driver, Daniel. He had brought a third batch of journalist from the airport and was about to take them to the destination I missed a few hours back.
I immediately rushed into to bus with my camera ready to snap away when we arrive at our destination like the tourist I was. I soon introduced myself to the others: Renee (Kenya), Isaac (Botswana), Edson (Mozambique) and Jonathan (Zambia). Daniel the driver explained that he was taking us to the Big Brother House and we were really thrilled to see the house for ourselves. As we drove through the beautiful city, we had more conversations so we could know ourselves better. Within some few minutes we arrived at the studio with the Big Brother House extension. We were then met by Odette Bagley, Publicity Executive, Multichoice Africa.
Welcome the Real Big Brother All Stars
Odette welcomed us and explained that in order for us to have a real feel of the Big Brother experience, M-net had decided to let us stay in the Big Brother House as housemates for a day. She said if any of us didn’t feel comfortable, we could go back to the hotel, but none of us was ready to let go of this once in a lifetime experience. We had to surrender our watches, phones, and cameras before heading into the house as the Big Brother Africa ‘Press mates’. We grabbed our survival kits comprising a towel, a toothbrush, a toothpaste, shower gel, and a pack of mints and made our way into the compound, but not until we were properly marked and attached with microphones.
The gates were shut behind us but we couldn’t be bothered as we took in the beautiful sight of the house. A nice garden with a cool pool and Jacuzzi, and a cozy little porch, what more could we ask for?
We made our way inside to find three more of our colleagues: Natasha (Namibia), Nigel (Uganda) and Issa (Tanzania) having lunch. What a good time to arrive, huh? They were little reluctant to let us in because they jokingly didn’t want us to have any of their food but once we got in they willingly shared their food with us. I took a quick tour of the house and surely could see myself living in there; I just loved the décor and spaces. I went through the building observing all the cameras and microphones which seemed to be everywhere. It was amazing how we bonded quickly after a few conversations. It took me a while to get the individual names or their countries right but I made slow progress with that.
Bring it on Biggie!
Soon I heard the voice of Big Brother for the firs time (although it was a female) asking us to come to the store room. In order to have my first Big Brother feel, I joined Renee and to our surprise found out that there was more food and drinks in the store room for us. We went straight into the chicken and chips as we continued to know each other in terms of our careers some more. As we continued to savour in the experience, it was soon time for us to have our diary session for the day. I enjoyed my diary session although it was weird talking to someone who could see me but I couldn’t see. And why does Big Brother ask questions at such lengthy intervals? I was like, I’m still hear, ask me the next question and let me get out of here!
Not long after the dairy sessions, Big Brother called for one of us to come back into the diary room. Nigel went in and came back with a box full off opaque eyeglasses with funny eyes paintings on them. Big Brother asked us to move to the garden area and put on our glasses. Basically we were blindfolded as we waited for the next instruction from ‘Biggie’. Soon we were joined by some ‘outsiders’ who asked us to hold hands as they safely transported us out of the house into a bus. We were driven to an unknown destination and when we got there, we were assisted to get out of the bus and finally the blindfolds came off.
We had arrived at the ‘arena’ and it was time for our task for the day. Staring straight at us was a chain of props for us to use in 6 different challenges. One by one we conducted the challenges after reading the instructions attached to each set of props. We first got behind a line and tried to have all of our right foots touch the ground at the same time, but we weren’t so successful so moved to the next challenge where we ran around the arena rolling a ball in bamboo pipes without dropping the ball. Next, we had to lift a stick with our index fingers chest-high and bring it back to rest.
Next, we were asked to get on a wooden platform and make sure we all fitted into a small square area and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Big Brother. We were successful again and moved to the next challenge which asked all 8 press mates to pass through a six –sided open cube in unique directions; very challenging but we came out tops. Next, we got unto a magic carpet and turned it upside down without any of us falling off the carpet. How? Well, as a team of big brains we worked together and made it possible.
Finally we were handed a huge pen supported by 8 prongs, one per press mate and together we had to write on a piece of paper ‘The press mates love you big brother’. We nailed it and got back to the first task which we failed earlier; this time we had it right!
Rewards, Surprises and Bliss!
After we completed all the tasks successfully, we headed back to the house the same way we had come out earlier. When we got back we realized that the flames were up in a fireplace in the garden. Most of us converged around the flame for some warmth and more conversations. As we relaxed taking in our victory Big Brother announced that we had completed our task successfully and for our reward there would be plenty of drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and food.
When the alcohol finally arrived, there was a lot of bliss and a silent competition to find out who could take in the most. By the time the day came to a close, we all knew the champion could only be Jonathan (Zambia). Although I am not an alcohol person, I took a bottle of beer and a glass of some interesting concoction. As the fun continued into night, the gates opened for four more people to enter the house. This time it was Robert (Zimbabwe), Deborah, Bekala (Ethiopia) and a beautiful chick from Angola that I never got her name right. The familiarization continued with the new press mates and soon Big Brother delivered in some more food; lots of chips and a variety of grilled chicken.
The fun continued and even at a point, a marriage proposal was made to one of the press mates. But we weren’t in Vegas so we knew it was only going to remain a big joke. Since we had no idea of the time, sleep only came as result of tiredness – and surely most of us were tired especially those that had come straight into the house from the airport. After more drinks and discussions, everyone eventually went to bed.
Good morning Big Brother! Goodbye Big Brother!
After struggling through the night to sleep because the lights were on for most of the time, I woke up to find most of my colleagues up and of course with a few of them battling with a hangover. I was glad that we didn’t have to get out in the cold for morning aerobics as we later found out that it was scheduled to happen. I got off the bed and headed straight to the bathroom to brush me teeth and freshen up for the day.
Although we had been assured that the cameras in the shower area was not going to be on during our stay, showering was not an option for me because according to our itinerary, we would leave the house in the morning for our hotel. About three of the guys however decided to have a shower perhaps to make their Big Brother experience complete.
Most of us grabbed some cereals and had some coffee or tea for breakfast. But for those who wanted some fried eggs to go with their breakfast, the unavailability of salt in the house became an issue. The salt became a part of the list of things that Biggie got a lot of complaints about for not providing; the other items being drinking water and cigarettes for a few of the press mate.
Soon we heard Big Brother’s voice again, this time telling us that our stay in the house would come to an end in some few minutes. We grabbed our belongings and headed out of the house as Biggie counted down to our exit. As we stepped out it was clear in the faces of many that we would cherish the experience throughout our stay in South Africa. We took off our microphones and said hello to freedom and the outside world as we headed back to our hotel.
The Real Big Brother All Stars out and about Joburg!
When I got to the hotel, I had some breakfast and a proper shower away from the prying eyes of Big Brother, and relaxed a bit before joining the rest of the group for our next adventure. We got on the bus and headed straight to Mulitchoice Africa offices where we met the adorable Sandy Singh. She welcomed us to the home of television magic and we took a remarkable tour around the facility, with the extremely knowledgeable Angus.
Angus walked us through the M-net Studios, SuperSport Studios, editing suites and all the technical stuff that goes on to make sure that DStv viewers get the best television viewing all across Africa. Of course, being the stars that we are, we occupied the seats of SuperSport studios and had mock-sport presentations only for our cameras. We were joined by two more reporters, Dickson (Kenya) and another gentleman from Zambia (yes I can’t remember yet another name!) for the tour. We ended our visit to Multichoice Africa with a scrumptious treat for lunch and an interaction with Sandy Singh and Odette.
We headed back to our hotel and after the driver, Thabo dropped the group off Renee, Nigel, Issa and I asked him to take us to the Sandton City Mall for some shopping. When we got out of the bus we walked through the Nelson Mandela Square taking some pix before making our way into the shops. We split up and I went along with Nigel to buy some few items. As the clock winded down, I knew too well that being late again for the bus wouldn’t be good for me so with about 30 minutes to our pick up time, we rushed back to the hotel in a Mercedes Benz cab that charged as an outrageous sum of 100 rands for a very short distance. Anyway, we bargained with the driver, (a lady) to beat down the price to 70 rands. When I got back I found out Renee paid 50 rands for the same distance, hmmm!!!!
We all got on the bus and headed to the popular restaurant, Moyo’s at Zoo Lake for dinner. See, I told you we were real superstars! There was plenty to eat and drink and we truly had a blast. More and more I felt the admiration for the Ghana Black Stars from all of Africa. The more interactions we had over dinner, the more I noticed that Ghana’s exploits at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa indeed made the continent proud. Through out my stay with the group, those who couldn’t pronounce my name chose to call me Asamoah (Asamoah Gyan of course), Ghana or Kwame Nkrumah. After the dinner and felicitations, we went back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep!
Oh no, not again! I’m late for Soweto
Did I say a good night’s sleep? Well apparently I enjoyed the sleep a little too much and I still don’t know what happened. At about 11.20 am I heard my phone ring and when I answered it was Charles Lamprecht on the phone because the rest of the group was waiting for me in the bus. I rushed into the bathroom to wash my face without even brushing my teeth and dashed out in the next available jacket and jeans trousers. I got on the bus with a shamed-face and apologized to Odette and the rest of the group for the delay and it was away to Soweto we went. At this point, I noted that we had been joined by the last group of reporters, Prince and Florence from Nigeria.
We arrived at Mandela House, 8115 Orlando West for a lovely tour of the house where former South African President, Nelson Mandela and his family lived from 1946 into the 1990s. I signed the visitor’s book and as we headed out with such profoundness, I saw the most interesting ice cream seller I had ever seen across the street. He had the catchiest song for his ice cream and was singing and dancing to draw attention to his chest of ice cream. Only goodness knows how much I wanted one of those caramel bars but it was too cold for ice cream, I thought.
The group agreed to have McDonald’s for lunch so our bosom driver, Thabo headed to Mickey D’s. On our way we stopped by the Soccer City Stadium which hosted the opening and closing games of the just ended FIFA World Cup in South Africa. We weren’t allowed into the stadium but observed the magnanimity of the stadium from outside the ticketing area and of course took some pix.
We headed back to McDonald’s for lunch. I got myself some Big Mac and Coke and said to myself, when is this coming to Ghana? After lunch we went back to our hotel to catch some rest before our next activity. Of course, the first thing I did when I got to my hotel room was to have a shower and brush my teeth.
Nice meeting you Sean Paul but we have to go cook dinner!
As part of the Big Brother experience, we had to cook for ourselves but since we couldn’t do that while in the Big Brother House, M-net arranged for us to do it in style but not until we had interacted with Jamaican dancehall superstar and special guest performer for the Big Brother All Stars launch, Sean Paul. So went to the Sandton Southern Sun Hotel a short press conference.
It was interesting to see Sean Paul in his new hairstyle and of course we asked him about the new look. As usual, he was such a spot, answering all our questions no matter how weird. Sean even had a surprise for us when he asked Robert if indeed reggae star Sizzla had moved to Zimbabwe. It was a fun press conference but we had to let him go catch some rest; he had just flown into Johannesburg from performing in Morocco and he needed to be fit for the big show the following evening.
We had our Kodak moments with the dancehall star and it was away to cooking school to cook dinner. We met head chef, Minnette who gave us an introductory lesson on how to cook generally. She had measured out ingredients and printed out recipes to several dishes for our three course dinner. We were put in several groups of two to each prepare a special meal or dessert for dinner. I was paired with the hot chick from Angola (and I still can’t remember her name) to prepare the spring rolls. Well, being the gourmet chef that I am, spring rolls was just too easy to cook.
After about three hours all the grilling, baking, frying and cooking was over and the sweet smell of food was in the air. Minnette and her assistants set the table for our royal feast, and truly the dishes were scrumptious. We munched away and washed it down with some few drinks. Of course I had to grab a piece of Minnette’s cheesecake for dessert. After dinner, we thanked Minnette for hosting us so incredibly and then headed back to our hotel to catch some rest ahead of the main event the following day.
The imposters are here!
On Sunday, the day of the Big Brother All Stars launch, there wasn’t much activity for us so we had our morning and afternoon to ourselves. Those who had not had the chance to go shopping and even those who did previously used the period to do some shopping. I was in my room throughout catching some rest and getting in touch with family and friends back home (did somebody say Facebook? Well, you wouldn’t be wrong.)
At about 5pm our bus arrived to pick us up to the Big Brother House location where we enjoyed some more VIP treatment with officials from Multichoice Africa and their guests. After some rounds of cocktails and some finger licking snacks, we made our way into the studio where the live launch took place.
We watched on as one by one, the Big Brother All Stars housemates were announced and introduced to the audience. They may have arrived in limousines and all but they still can’t beat us. As I watched the housemates grabbing the attention, it was clear that they didn’t know the Real Big Brother All Stars had been in and out of the house already. When the housemates entered the Big Brother House I could see the expression, ‘we were there first’ written on the faces of my colleagues. And yes, we were there first, slept in those beds first, used those showers first, ate and drank in there first! We ended the night in true celebrity style when we partied with Sean Paul at the after party in Zouk Nightclub, while the so-called housemates only met Sean Paul on stage and for a brief moment in the house.
The following day, we all headed out to our various countries depending on our flight schedules. One day in the Big Brother House, partying like rock stars, no prize money but lots of amazing and priceless memories to take back home; we are the Real Big Brother All Stars!