We’re certainly in the midst of a “Big Brother” storm with season 18 just ending and “Over the Top” just beginning, but if you are in Canada and you’ve got a hankering to try out for “Big Brother Canada” season 5, you should know that auditions are right around the corner! You can visit open calls in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Halifax starting on October 1, and some other cities are coming in the days that follow. You can check out the bottom of this article for specifics; or, you can visit the official site to find out more information about how to apply, open calls, or creating a video online.
As a means to give you a little bit more insight into the process, we chatted yesterday with esteemed “Big Brother” casting director Robyn Kass, who is responsible for casting both this show and the CBS flagship show and has been for many years. She loves the game and knows this process inside and out, and she’s certainly got valuable insight into how to have a good audition and what “advice” you should try and avoid.
CarterMatt – This has been a really big year for ‘Big Brother’ casting in that I feel like we got some really good characters on both shows. Obviously you cast everyone knowing that they have potential to be great, but was there anyone that you had particular expectations for going in that you felt managed to surpass them?
Robyn Kass – I don’t know if I go in with huge expectations that they’ll fulfill them or won’t; I just go in knowing that we have a solid group of people, and after so many years the only thing I expect is that there’s some fun, some drama, some good gameplay. As long as those things happen, I’m happy.
The one person I do want to specifically mention here is Paul. I mean, a couple of weeks into this past season [in the US] I was thinking that this guy was out of his mind…
I think he may have also been out of his mind on day 99, right? (Laughs.) Paul was interesting in that his personality didn’t surprise me, because he really did have that crazy personality all through casting. We really loved him and we knew that he could be off-putting — which he probably was at the beginning. I think many fans didn’t really like him at the beginning, he was so much, but then they grew to love him just as he grew to love and understand the game. I think that is always something great and refreshing for me. For every cast I like to say that we have a good combination of superfans, casual watchers, and [people] new to the game. Obviously, Paul was new to the game, he really didn’t know much about it.
There’s a moment where they ‘get it,’ and for him it was a few weeks in. The first two weeks it was [him with] Jozea and Vic, and I think they were playing around and they didn’t quite know what was going on. As much as we tried to explain that it’s not just a house with fun competitions and that there’s a bigger game, that moment where he got it and was like ‘this is how we play the game,’ he not only played it but he played it well. He had to make big moves. That’s always a great thing, when someone who doesn’t really know the game ends up [getting] it. And, you know, there are so many fans who come out on social media and say ‘why do you put newbies in the cast,’ and Paul is a great example of an interesting twist of someone who didn’t know the game going in, but really ended up mastering it at the end.
Paul’s a really great segue as well to something I was wondering in casting. How much do you encourage people to watch the show before coming in? Do you tell them to watch it, or let them do whatever they’re going to do?
A little bit of both. I always encourage people to watch episodes and get a feel for the game. Whether or not they do it is up to them. They don’t understand the need for watching it until they come out and watch the game. Then they’re like ‘oh yeah, I probably should watch a full season like you told me.’ Then a lot of people will say ‘I really want to go in with a fresh outlook so I don’t want to see any episodes,’ and then I’ll go ‘well, you might want to watch a couple of episodes just to get a feel of it.’
Then again, I think there’s a difference between watching the show and watching the show. It’s very easy to have ‘Big Brother’ on in the background and you are making dinner or you’re on your phone or you’re just looking at competitions thinking that they’re funny and colorful. Then, there are the people who are studying the game, who sit down with a pen and paper and look at each character and what they’re saying and what they’re doing to get further. I can tell somebody ‘I want you to sit down with a paper and a pen and focus on what’s happening in five episodes and tell me what you think,’ and then they’ll say ‘oh, I watched it’ and then I’ll say ‘did you watch it,’ and you being a fan of the show, you’ll understand what that means.
Is there any particular type of contestant that you have a harder time finding? For example, do you have to work harder to find the muscled-up bros, the parents, or any other particular kind of player?
I think that we have had pretty good luck in Canada. I think we still have huge open calls where 400-500 people show up from all different types and backgrounds, which makes it so interesting. It’s a little bit harder getting US just because it’s been on for so long, and it sounds weird but the pool of people has shrunk a little bit. I still think that there’s that fresh, new feeling in Canada — but every season we feel it a little bit more. We’re going into season 5 now, and it’ll be interesting to see the turnout this year.
I do think we get pretty lucky in Canada with all different types of people who are going to calls, sending in videos, finding out more information — people who have different levels of interest in the game.
What’s the biggest mistake that you see people make in getting ready for an audition?
I think the biggest mistake is honestly listening to poor advice from ex-houseguests (laughs). I think ex-houseguests for some odd reason think that because they played the game, they know how to do my job. They tend to give advice and tell people to do things that I would never, ever agree on or think is good advice at all. That’s a big problem. Ex-houseguests don’t go out and say that they can direct a show or light a show or direct a show because they’re in the house, but for some reason they think that they’re experts in casting, even though they probably don’t know why they were chosen or what it was we liked about them. I think that newbies, people trying to get on the show, will read columns or listen to blogs or whatever talking about tips on how to get cast. I honestly think that’s a huge mistake.
Plus, it’s pretty obvious to us after all of these years when they’re trying to trick us into thinking that they’re someone they’re not. For some reason, ex-houseguests think ‘I got on because I have this story,’ so they go out and tell people ‘you should have this kind of story.’ It doesn’t work out that way. It worked for them because they’re a great personality and it came naturally. I think people try too hard to listen to this random advice and do what ex-houseguests are saying. I think it ends up failing for them.
Is there any inherent advantage that comes from being at a call and getting that face-time versus sending in a video?
There’s definitely pluses and minuses to both, and that might be the #1 casting question people ask me. We have different eyes for both. A lot of people want that interaction so they go to the open call, but then they get choked up and they get nervous and they didn’t think they would. Then, their time is up and they leave and they say ‘why did I do that or say that?’ and they play the what-if game forever.
With a video, as much as I tell people ‘you should try to do it in one take,’ at least you have the freedom to say ‘I’m going to do it one more time. I’m going to do something different, I’m going to wear something different, I’m going to do it from a different angle. I don’t think I had enough energy.’ You have that kind of freedom. Then, there’s also the thing where you send in the tape and it’s upside-down or the lighting is bad. Maybe there’s no volume or you made a mistake, so maybe you want to go to an open call and you’ll feel a little freer talking to people. There are so many like-minded people at open calls because we all love ‘Big Brother’ and love talking about it. Some people can articulate it better in front of producers and I than others.
There are countless people who come through every season who don’t end up on the show. Is there any advice that you can offer to repeat auditioners, or is it all circumstantial? Maybe you just didn’t fit in a given cast.
There are a few different things. I always stress that people should keep coming back, because a lot can happen for you in a year. You’re right; maybe you didn’t work in a given ensemble. Or, maybe you needed some life experience. A lot of things can happen over a year or two years; you could come to an open call fresh out of college, maybe you’ve never traveled before, or maybe you live at home and you’re peppy and cute. Then, over the next year you go to Europe, you got a boyfriend, maybe you got married or you got divorced. Maybe there was a death in the family. All of these things change a person, and a person can grow.
A perfect example here is Victor. He actually was a finalist for us in season 16, I think. It could have been 15. I remember all of us really liking him. He was very likable, he was still in college, and had short hair and a total baby-face. I remember him leaving the room and all of us saying ‘that guy has such potential, he’s so well-spoken and so likable. He just needs some more life experience and to grow up a little bit.’ He just felt young.
You know, he finished college in Puerto Rico, he came back, and he had a different outlook on life. He started working out and felt more comfortable in how he looked. All of those things made him a better candidate. I’ve talked to him since, saying ‘aren’t you so glad you didn’t go into the house when you were still in college? You would have been totally naive and a completely different person.’ He agreed, and obviously it turned out the way it was supposed to.
So the last thing is this: After so many years, is there any particular personality you’re looking to see out there? Or, do you look at it more person-to-person?
We don’t go out saying ‘we want to get this and this and this.’ We want someone to stand in front of us who feels fresh and new and different, something we haven’t seen before. Is that difficult? Yes. I’ve done 17 seasons in the US and 4 seasons in Canada. Practically my entire adult life has been a part of ‘Big Brother’ and I’ve seen so many different people.
When someone unusual and unique is in front of me, they stand out immediately. And it could be anything. It could be their style, the way they talk, the way they laugh, or the way they tell a story. If I’m drawn to them, and it’s probably a little more difficult for me to be drawn to people’s stories than it was a few years ago. If I’m drawn to you and I don’t have to do a lot of talking and I’m interested in what you have to say, that is key in getting on the show.
Thanks to Robin for all of her insight and time! Now, as promised earlier, here are the dates and locations for the open calls. All times are specific for the time zone in which the city is in.
Saturday, October 1
Vancouver – The Bourbon, 50 W Cordova St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Edmonton – The Billiard Club, 10505 82 Ave. NW, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Halifax – HFX Sports Bar, 1721 Brunswick St., from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Thursday, October 6
St. John’s – Sundance Saloon, 30 George St., from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday, October 29
Toronto – The Addisons Residence, 456 Wellington St. W, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tuesday, November 1
Montreal – BLVD44, 2018 Boul. St-Laurent, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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