BERLIN -- The remaining contestants of German reality TV show "Big Brother" have been kept in the dark about the novel coronavirus since they entered the house in early February.
Typically, the show’s contestants are sequestered in the house for the duration of filming and kept uninformed about whatever may be unfolding in the real world. But in a special show on the Tuesday evening broadcast on German channel Sat 1, presenter Jochen Schropp and the show’s doctor Andreas Kaniewski broke the news about the pandemic.
Contestants appeared worried after watching a video of recent news events, which included Germany's decision to partially close borders with neighboring countries, including Switzerland and France. The doctor then explained what is currently known about the virus, how it is thought to be transmitted and which populations are most at risk. One contestant began to cry after the doctor's definition of the population most at risk (those 55 and older) and said she was worried about her mother who is 55 and has pre-existing health conditions. Contestants then watched video messages from their family members.
The cast lives in two houses in the western German city of Cologne. The city is located in the region of North Rhine-Westphalia, which has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19.
Currently, Germany has over 7,000 cases of COVID-19. On Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country-wide closure of all bars, cultural venues, “non-essential stores,” as well as recreational facilities, religious gatherings and other events that bring people in contact with one another. In just a couple of days, the message from German officials has become increasingly clear: stay home.
The cast of "Big Brother" has been doing just that, regardless of the contagion. When the primary group entered the house on Feb. 6, the spread in Germany was contained in Bavaria with just a few cases, and the world was watching Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.
The decision to not tell the show’s remaining participants has garnered criticism on social media. Four new contestants entered the house on March 9 and were banned from discussing the virus. According to the broadcasters, the incoming members had tested negative for the virus.
One contestant who entered late said he knew the situation was beginning to get critical, yet still had many questions.
"What is the risk for young and healthy people such as myself? If there’s no immunization what can be done?" he asked the doctor during the live broadcast.
Another contestant asked if the situation was critical in nursing homes, while yet another asked how part-time workers in the food service and bar industry would get by with their workplaces closed.
"This must be a slap in the face for them," she said.
This is the 13th season of the reality show which started in the United Kingdom and has spinoffs all over the world. Contestants are continuously rated by audience members, with the winning members allowed to continue on the show.
Other "Big Brother" shows around the world have already informed their contestants. In the Canadian version, contestants learned about the virus and chose to stay on the show. The show’s leadership said they had removed the live audience and taken precautions and would continue to film.