Crew members on ‘Big Brother Canada’ resign over COVID-19 fears as show continues production

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The reality television show “Big Brother Canada” has continued production despite prevalent worries on-set about the spread of COVID-19, The Logic has learned. Insight Productions, which produces the show, continues to film in a Toronto house even as several crew members have resigned rather than continuing to work in the face of a pandemic.

The show, which premiered March 4, currently features 12 “houseguests” who live in televised competition with one another. They often interact with crew members who regularly come and go from the set, according to a source with direct knowledge of the production. (The Logic is not naming the source because they have signed a non-disclosure agreement with Insight Productions.) There are about 60 crew members listed in the show’s credits.

Talking Points

The producers of “Big Brother Canada” are continuing to film the reality TV show even as crew members resign amidst the COVID-19 outbreak—and as show sponsors like Wendy’s and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation have shut down their own operations to prevent the virus’s spread. “Insight is taking every precaution to keep our crew and houseguests safe on Big Brother Canada while delivering programming to audiences across the country when they need it most,” said Gabrielle Free of Insight Productions, which produces the show.

Many crew members quit on Sunday, according to the source. Others have remained, the source said, because they don’t want to lose their eligibility for employment insurance. (Employees who quit a job aren’t eligible for EI benefits unless they have “just cause” for doing so.) The situation left one crew member in tears—they don’t “want to be there,” the source said.

Apart from sharing close quarters, the houseguests must perform challenges to avoid being evicted from the house. “Spring Fling,” the challenge that aired March 18, involved partners attempting to trap with their lips balls that floated between their faces.

“We did a challenge last weekend where contestants had to transfer balls in partners using their mouths,” the source said. “They would drop [them] on the ground and [then] put them back in their mouths. And we fully were aware of corona.”

“Insight is taking every precaution to keep our crew and houseguests safe on Big Brother Canada while delivering programming to audiences across the country when they need it most,” said Insight publicist Gabrielle Free in response to The Logic’s inquiries. 

Cast members were informed of the virus’s spread on-camera in mid-March. “Before you guys entered sequester, there was a virus in China called the coronavirus…. Since you guys have been sequestered with us, the virus has continued to spread worldwide. The World Health Organization declared this a pandemic on March 11,” the show’s executive producer Erin Brock told the cast members over a loudspeaker, promising to provide “updates as we get them.” (Nevertheless, many houseguests remained confused as to the severity of the outbreak because the updates were “sugarcoated,” according to the source.)

“I’m cancelling ‘have-nots’ for the week, because I think the last thing you guys need to worry about is food and rest,” Brock said, as several members broke out in tears. Brock did not return The Logic’s requests for comment. (“Have-nots” are contestants who are made to sleep in uncomfortable conditions, eat “slop” and take cold showers.) 

“The safety of the crew and houseguests is paramount to Insight and as such we are taking every precaution to ensure a healthy set and workplace.  A medical professional has verified that there are no symptoms of COVID-19 in the house,” Free said. “Many additional practices have been implemented including, but not limited to, placing sanitizers at every entrance; daily professional cleaning and disinfection of all edit suites, control rooms, studio spaces, and offices; elimination of the live audience; adjusting the creative so that more staff can work from home, etc. The onsite crew members are checked for symptoms prior to entry on a daily basis.  We are continuing to keep our staff and houseguests updated on a regular basis as the situation evolves.”

According to the source, however, these measures were only put in place on Sunday “after a bunch of people quit.” Free didn’t respond to further requests for comment regarding resignations or the timing of the safety measures. 

On Monday, Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment, which broadcasts “Big Brother” through Global Television Network, published a story noting Insight’s “additional safety precautions to protect their Season 8 houseguests” amidst the outbreak. The statement is identical to the one provided to The Logic

Insight Productions, which also produces “The Amazing Race Canada” and “Battle of the Blades,” faces an unrelated $35-million class-action lawsuit alleging a variety of violations of Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, including unpaid overtime, vacation pay and holiday premiums, due to contracts that didn’t comply with the act. 

Much of the television and film industries in Canada have shut down as a result of COVD-19. That includes the Vancouver-based production of “Riverdale,” which ceased filming after a “team member” tested positive for the virus. Members of Germany’s “Big Brother” were told of COVID-19 by the resident doctor sitting behind a glass screen. 

Several sponsors of “Big Brother Canada”—including the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, First Choice Haircutters and Wendy’s—have also shuttered much of their own operations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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