Vanessa Obioha was among the few journalists invited to spend a night at the Big Brother Naija House. She gives a vivid account of her time in the newly built facility
We had barely entered the house when the nomophobia kicked in. A colleague kept touching the pockets of his trousers, panicky that he might have misplaced his phone. Another colleague kept saying "I really need my phone." For this reporter, it was more of phantom vibrations -- the perception that one's mobile phone is vibrating or ringing when it is not ringing.
Each time, I was tempted to reach into my bag and pick up my phone, only to be jolted back into reality that my mobile device was safely tucked in a safe beyond my reach. Surviving 12 hours in the newly built Big Brother Naija House without our mobile phones suddenly became a herculean task.
These momentary panic attacks were just a sneak peek into the emotional and psychological experience the contestants of the reality show encounter for the duration of the show, usually 12 weeks.
The organisers, MultiChoice Nigeria prior to the official launch of Big Brother Naija Season 4 deemed it fit to invite a group of journalists not only for a tour of the newly-built facility where the housemates will compete for the grand prize of N60 million, but to experience a night in the Big Brother Naija house.
It is the first time an all-purpose facility is specifically built in Nigeria to meet the demands of the show. Earlier in the year, the organisers announced that it was bringing the show back home. That exciting piece of news was embraced by Nigerians who had for long decried the hosting of the show outside the shores of Nigeria.
As the Chief Customer Service Officer of the company, Martin Mabutho puts it, the company lacked the absolute power to take on such monumental task at the time. Now that it has, no stone was left unturned. It brought in the best engineers, employed local artisans, and deployed the best cutting edge technology to ensure a smooth viewing experience for fans across the continent.
The professionals selected for the tour was a beautiful mix of journalists and influencers from Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Kenya with experience in print, broadcast and social media. There was an air of camaraderie in the group which was further ignited by a peculiar curiosity about what awaits them in the house. A recurring question in the group chatter was if the new house will rival the South Africa house which has been home to the continental and some regional contests. That curiosity was matched with the elation of getting to encounter the revered enigmatic Big Brother, the invisible persona who assumes a God-like role and whose voice is one of the intriguing elements of the show.
As we marched into the compound that housed the Big Brother Naija House like a group of school children on an excursion, we couldn't help but made a mental calculation of the size of the property. An acre perhaps? There were more than two buildings in the compound. Labourers dripping sweat were busy hammering on woods or clearing debris. it was later disclosed that the new and improved facility measures about 1800sqm with an additional 250sqm for support building services such as the sick bay, laundry and artiste lounges. It was designed and built to be bigger and better than any of the Big Brother Africa or Mzansi houses. Other upgrades for the house include the arena where Friday night games usually holds. It received a major upgrade by up to 270sqm while the live eviction show venue is about +300sqm the size of the previous house. Through a maze of stairs and hallways, we were ushered into a meeting room where the coordinators of the tour welcomed us and gave us a brief guideline. We were taught how to wear and handle the mic, asked to drop our phones and wrist watches in a bag, then came the exciting part.
"You have everything you need in the house." Not a few exchanged glances, wondering if they heard the right words.
"You mean everything?" asked a colleague.
"Yes! Everything including toiletries."
We sighed in unison, waiting to get into the house to verify this piece of news. From there we were transported to another building which was the powerhouse of the show.
In a darkly lit room, a technical crew trained their eyes on a cluster of cameras. We were told that there are 7x handheld cameras and 32 que ball cameras in the house to capture every activity in and outside the house.
"They operate 24 hours and go on shifts," explained the coordinator.
In another room were the full digital audio and video mixers Vsm IP base and a Plus 4K camera with an optical fibre transmission that achieves high image quality.
"This is the best you can find in the continent," the tour guide enthused.
With our bags and phones taken away from us, it was time to enter the Big Brother Naija House. Few of my colleagues mimicked the reactions of past housemates when they first enter the house.
"I'm going to mimic Cee-C's surprise look when we enter," said a female colleague as we walked through a dark hallway leading to the house.
Despite our mental readiness, nothing prepared us for the stunning and vibrant splendour of the Big Brother Naija House. It was a breathtaking spectacle with the colourful walls, adorned with artworks that reflect a perfect blend of adventure, arts and culture. Some of us could only stare at the captivating scenery. We were visibly awed for a moment before screaming with excitement as we explored the house. Some headed to the popular lounge, admiring each piece of furniture.
"Oh I love the smiley throw pillows," exclaimed a colleague, cuddling the pillow. Another majestically sat on the Head of House chair. Some ran into the bedrooms, tastefully designed with 10 beds in each room. The Head of House room however captivated most of us due to its exclusivity. Unlike other bedrooms, it has a majestic aura with its private bathroom and washroom. We argued on who gets to spend the night there.
Meanwhile, a few of us checked out the bathrooms where all the steamy shower actions usually take place. However, we were not able to access the garden, the arena and the Diary Room. We weren't so happy about the latter because some of us were eager to have our own diary session. The refrigerators and storeroom were also stocked with all kinds of snacks, proteins, spices and other foods. True to his word, the Big Brother House had everything we needed including fresh towels and toiletries.
While some of the ladies headed to the kitchen to prepare a late dinner, most of the guys decided to have a ball in the bar. Drinks of all kinds flowed generously, light banter filled the room. The whole ambience oozed an electrifying camaraderie. By the time the intriguing Big Brother's voice boomed from the speakers, cheers of 'Biggie' rent the air. Big Brother welcomed us and told us to make sure we had a good time. And we did have a good time. We even forgot that the cameras were on us. What really mattered was that we were in Big Brother Naija House and we were going to have fun.
Then the second panic kicked in. Time. With our phones and wristwatches taken from us, we had no sense of time.
We constantly asked each other what time is it?
"We entered the house by 9pm so it probably would be past ten or eleven," a colleague offered.
When Big Brother later returned to greet a colleague whose birthday coincided with our stay, we all assumed that it was past midnight.
Since we couldn't predict the time, most of us stayed up very late dancing, playing games such as Truth or Dare, and Concentration game, and even made a late night pepper soup.
By the time some of us finally dragged ourselves to bed, it wasn't long enough before we were roused to consciousness by the piercing cock crow alarm. It rang for a while until everyone was up and ready for another day. Still, we couldn't guess what time it was until we finally left the house.
"What time is it?" We bombarded the tour guide immediately we came out. He smiled at us and said:
"Don't worry, you are still in 2019."