If you are associated with the “Big Brother” fandom, then odds are you are familiar with the name Robyn Kass. She is the casting director responsible for finding many of your favorite houseguests over the years both on the American and Canadian version of the show, and this comes as a result of a lengthy, rigorous process that includes going through countless applications, videos, meetings, and discussions. You want a mix of interesting people from different backgrounds, and also people who are going to play the game in one form or another.
In preparation for “Big Brother Canada” casting for season 4 getting underway, we spoke with Kass via phone earlier today about what she hopes to see in the auditions this year, some tips for people who may be trying out, and also how much involvement the producers have in her process. We’re going to start off with a brief discussion about “Big Brother 17,” mostly because we find it interesting to look back on what we have been watching all summer.
Oh, and before beginning, just a reminder that you can read up on how to audition for “Big Brother Canada” at the official casting page. It’ll tell you how to fill out the application, send in a video, or attend an open call. As we get into it below, we want to remind everyone that you don’t have to attend a casting call to get on the show!
CarterMatt – How are you feeling about season 17 and the cast now? I know that Les Moonves said that he was disappointed in [some of the contestants], but I feel like as a whole this has been one of the best groups of new players we’ve had since maybe season 11.
Robyn Kass – I appreciate that! I love this cast because I really and truly believe that every single person who was playing this year was playing to play. There were definitely some people who sort of woke up after a few weeks, but I really don’t think there was anyone who was a complete floater, who was just sitting around and enjoying their summer. I really feel like the players were there to play, and play hard, which I love. They talk strategy — maybe even too much — but I do love that they realize that they were all there for a reason. I love that they were so hardcore playing it. Up until the very end, we have a final three where it could truly be anyone’s game depending on the speeches at the end and the jury house.
I want to ask about Vanessa because she is someone who has just played the game so hard. Did you get a sense that this was coming during casting? Obviously you knew about her background and [what she brought to the table], but nobody knew how that was going to translate.
It’s really funny because during casting, we don’t see them around the clock. We have small interviews with them at different times, and they tell us about their lives. There’s really no way to put any of them in a situation where A) they can be completely paranoid about their surroundings and B) everybody tells us how they’re going to be, how they’re going to play, and how competitive they are, but until they’re really in the ‘Big Brother’ house, that’s when their true colors shine.
We all knew how bright Vanessa was, and that she was highly educated, really interesting, she talks in statistics and she did during finals, as well. It seems like her brain just never stops, right?
(Laughs.) It just never goes on pause! That’s what happens in the house with all that paranoia. You think you have a great idea, and then you second-guess it. You have so much time, and then you second-guess your second-guessing. You end up in a place where you weren’t the day before because you’ve had so much time to overthink this. It takes you someplace different than you thought it would the day prior.
In getting into ‘Big Brother Canada’ casting, I’m just curious how you approach it. Do you look at the cast from the previous season and say ‘doing this worked,’ or look at a certain archetype and realize that this is not something you want to try again right away?
No, not really. We look at every cast as a brand-new slate. I never try to find a specific character again; I might meet somebody and think ‘oh they remind me of so-and-so’ or ‘they have shades of so-and-so,’ but I would never go into a cast looking to duplicate someone who we’ve already had in there, or stay away from a character we’ve already had. Clearly, everybody’s very different. They could come in looking like a character from the past and be a totally different person. I mean I think the best cast is to try to do a completely fresh slate, and try to find characters we haven’t seen in the house. That would be the most exciting cast to have.
One of the things that is really striking about the Canadian casts is that through three years, we’ve seen really diverse people from different backgrounds. Is this something that you really see [en masse] during the casting process?
It is such a lovely treat casting in Canada and seeing the diversity of people who are coming out. I’m talking diversity in every form of the word: Age and personality and looks and opinions! It has been really refreshing. It may have something to do with [the idea] that it is new and exciting in Canada, and here in the US we have millions of viewers and it is exciting, I don’t think the casting process is as exciting here as it was for seasons one, two, and three. There are so many reality shows out here for people to audition for, and there’s just a different energy in Canada with the participants. They love ‘Big Brother.’ They’ve loved it for many years before it even came to Canada that we still get a variety of interesting people auditioning for the show.
Do you get the sense in any way, because of the fact there are so many reality shows, that the American casting pool is becoming way more saturated than it is maybe in Canada? You have so many people who have been wanting to play any sort of game for so long and just haven’t been able to.
I think there’s a mix of everything. The good thing is that with the US, the population here is so huge that we’re never going to run out of great characters. We just may have to be more creative when it comes to how to find them or try to get the word out to different places so more people apply. We’ll never lack people applying in the US; we’re always going to have thousands and thousands of people who love the show. It’s the same as Canada; it just feels a little bit different in Canada because it is new and like you said, these are people who have been watching the show for ten years, fifteen years, and they’re just raring to go.
Something I’ve always been curious about are people in some of the remote parts of Canada like a Yellowknife, where we haven’t seen many [reality TV show contestants come from] but unfortunately a place where it’s not really logistically possible to have a casting call. Have you received any substantial amount of applicants from some of these places?
Not as much as I’d like to, and this is one of those reasons why we are pushing as hard as possible to let people know you don’t have to go to an open call to apply. Anybody can apply from any remote area by going online, by going to bigbrothercanadacasting.ca, and you can apply. I do think a lot of people don’t realize that, and think ‘oh, I can’t get to the big city, I can’t apply.’ This is the season! I would love to get people from the outskirts of these areas, and get people we haven’t seen in the past. We’re just really trying to get the word out and let people know it’s okay. We will Skype interview you from wherever you are, and if you make it to finals we will find a way to get you out to Toronto. It really is open to everybody in the country.
I want to try to get some good advice in here for people who are trying out. Let’s say, for example, that you have someone who is a super-fan trying to get on the show. There’s going to be a temptation to just rattle off how much they know about the show and have that be it, but that’s not a great idea, right? What should they be focusing on?
It’s equally important that we get to know the person, their personality, and their life as it is their knowledge of the game. When making a video you don’t need to sit and tell me for three minutes who your favorite players are. They are probably the same players: You’re probably going to mention Dan and Will and Janelle. I get that, and I love hearing those names and they’re great players; but I also want to know about you! You don’t have to be a super-fan to apply for the show. I just want to know if you are interesting, if you are opinionated, if you are enthusiastic, if you are competitive, and if you are these things give us examples. Bring me into a day in [your] life and tell me what you go through. Tell me cool, unexpected things about you, interesting talents about you, make me laugh. You don’t have to worry so much about the game, because if you go on to the next level and we meet you in-person, we will talk about the game over and over! I promise. This is the time to tell yourself and your personality and what makes you different.
Kind of on the reverse side, what do you tell someone who has never really seen the show, and maybe their friend is pushing them to try out? I know [season 2 winner] Jon Pardy is someone who really didn’t know it at all going in. Do you encourage them to watch the show, or do you appreciate the rawness?
I love the rawness. Jon Pardy is a perfect example. I think when he sent the video in he hadn’t seen any ‘Big Brother’; he had friends who told him ‘you’d be so funny for this, make a video, send it in,’ and I think he had that perfect video where I don’t think he really said a whole lot, but you had such a great feeling about him. He was just so warm, so funny, so natural, and he was just telling us about hockey and his life and what he’s doing. There was something about him that just made me want to talk to him more.
I don’t think you necessarily have to watch all three seasons to get on season 4. I think there is something really refreshing about people who don’t know the game … One of the things that people ask over all these seasons is about recruiting and how it comes into play. I think it is important that every season has a solid mix of fans who really know the game and people who don’t know much at all. It puts a little edge in there, it throws super-fans for a loop, and it is not as predictable. They don’t know the competitions that are coming up. I think there’s an excitement around the rawness of people who are not fans, mixed in with the fans.
I really just have one more question, and it’s about the collaboration between you and the producers. Are there ever moments during casting where they come to you and say, for example, ‘we’re doing a wrestling thing so we want someone like an Austin / Judas,’ or do they sort of wait until you bring them a group of people and say ‘these are the people we’re feeling really good about’?
It is pretty independent. That being said, I have a great open dialogue with the producers from the US and Canada, and we talk all the time. They may have an idea and think of something and go ‘have you tried in this area’ or ‘have you tried to get this type of person, we’d love that.’ This year we really wanted to get competitive women in the ‘Big Brother 17’ house. We tried really hard to find women who were physically competitive and play sports. They never really say ‘this is what I want you to find,’ but we do talk throughout the process and they might say ‘you might want to look at some marathons and see if there are some competitive girl runners.’ Maybe that’s not the best example, but we talk a lot. When I find interesting characters or my staff does, we will go to the producers and chat with them, see what they think. We talk daily during the casting process to make sure we’re on the same page.
Thanks to Robyn Kass for her time! As mentioned many times, you can read over what you need to do to apply for “Big Brother Canada” season 4, and begin the process right away, over at the link here.
For some other “Big Brother” news, check out our exclusive email interview with Johnny Mac! Also, sign up here to get some more news on everything we cover sent right over to you via our CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: Global.)