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These are stressful times. In the past few weeks, the coronavirus outbreak has exploded into a global pandemic, putting millions of people’s physical and economic wellbeing at risk. Even if you’re someone who has the luxury of a job that allows you to work from home, or you’re not part of a demographic especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease, it’s hard not to spiral into anxiety: Are my loved ones safe? Have I unknowingly passed on the disease to a vulnerable stranger? How long until we come out the other side of this?
Now imagine if you didn’t have to ask yourself any of these questions, if, instead of scouring Twitter all day for updates, you were soaking in a hot tub filled with a dozen hot strangers, and if instead of frantically rubbing Lysol onto every visible surface around you, you were sitting in a confessional talking shit about someone named René, a kung fu coach from Bamburg. Imagine if you didn’t know about the coronavirus at all. Imagine, in short, if you were one of the 14 contestants currently filming season 13 of Germany’s Big Brother, who have yet to be told by producers about the coronavirus pandemic.
As the Guardian reported on Monday, most of the 14 men and women filming the reality show entered the home in Cologne on February 6, “when news of the novel coronavirus was only just trickling out of Wuhan in China.” Since then, they have been cut off from news of the outside the world, and they have no idea how dire the situation has become.
In an interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the show’s producers defended their decision to keep contestants in the dark, saying that the show’s rules state that its “information blackout” is only lifted in special cases, like a family member’s illness, and that they have taken “special hygiene measures” to prevent the men and women filming.
Germany’s Big Brother is not the only series in the franchise keeping the news of coronavirus from its contestants. Big Brother Brazil and Canada are also filming right now, and their contestants are equally oblivious to what is going on outside their houses’ walls. One chilling clip included by the Guardian shows contestants from Big Brother Canada discussing the sudden lack of a live audience when someone gets evicted from the house. “It was all empty seats,” one woman observes.
At least for the German cast, however, their blissful ignorance will be short-lived. After a backlash on social media, producers agreed to tell the contestants about the pandemic, albeit in a live episode, set to air during the show’s regular time slot, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Then, they will be allowed to ask questions about the situation, and receive video messages from loved ones.
It is unclear if they will be informed on Tuesday that Tom Hanks and Idris Elba have tested positive for the disease, or if those are a horrible pieces of information they will have to gather on their own.