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Peek at the Fine Print in CBS’ Big Brother Contract With Houseguests

Big BrotherFor the past 21 years, CBS has aired the reality show Big Brother during the summer months. In the program, 16 contestants called “houseguests” are secluded from the outside world in a TV-set house for about 100 days with all their activities recorded 24/7. The last houseguest remaining after a series of evictions wins the game.

As you might imagine, with millions of dollars of advertising revenue on the line for CBS and high production costs, they have to ensure that all the contestants follow a strict set of rules and waive most of their rights. To that end, when those who apply to be on the program enter the finalist stage of casting, they are required to sign a 39-page, one-sided agreement designed to protect the network and the producers and to warn the would-be participant what they have in store.

Here are some of the more unusual provisions of the “applicant agreement“:


Contestants first have to agree to be recorded 24 hours a day, with or without clothing.

filmed naked


The producers control all the utilities in the Big Brother house, including water.

we control water


Contestants have to understand that they could be publicly humiliated and scorned.

humiliation is possible


And besides waiving their rights to sue CBS and the producers, and releasing the show from all liability of any kind, contestants have to keep their mouth shut about what happens in the program. This is how CBS ensures that compliance:

Millions in damages

And since “showmances” inevitably flourish during their three months in seclusion, all houseguests have to submit to testing for STDs.

So, why would anyone subject themselves to all this? Perhaps it is the lure of the $500,000 prize for the winner.

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9 thoughts on “Peek at the Fine Print in CBS’ Big Brother Contract With Houseguests”

  1. Why would anyone subject themselves to this? The lure of the prize money, sure. Also, some people make a career of being reality show contestants. Many of them use their show exposure as a springboard for other endeavors. Some people just like the attention. I’d never do it, but clearly it appeals to some.

    The contract is interesting, but I’m not surprised it’s highly restrictive. You can’t have contestants revealing elements of the show’s outcome before it airs. How else to ensure that than to have a big liquidated damages clause? On utilities, maybe the producers want to enforce certain “lights out” time or restrict when people can take a shower.

  2. Following up on what Richard said, the utilities thing I can at least understand. They obviously can’t be unduly restricting access to water, but it could be for something like “You can only shower in the morning” or if nothing else just to prevent the guests from leaving all the showers running on full to run up the water bill and spite the producers or something.

    The rest of this contract is scummy to the core, but that’s reality TV for you. The drama, secrets, and embarrassments are what drive the marketing of the show.

    Edgar replies: As a punishment during the course of the show, they make some contestants take cold showers. The biggest problem for me in the plumbing department is that there is only one toilet for 16 people (except the “head of household” has his/her own.

  3. Edgar, have you seen the show? (I think I watched a total of 5 minutes)

    I don’t find anything “mouse print” or unexpected in the contract. It’s “reality” TV… they put people in close quarters, create conflict, and hype the interpersonal relationships.

    People do it for enjoyment, exposure, launch a career, and for the chance of a money.

    Edgar replies: Robert, I have watched every season of the show. I certainly don’t agree that the contract is devoid of “mouse print.” The whole 39 pages is full of fine print exclusions and nasty provisions and some unexpected ones. I am not suggesting that there are illegal provision in it — just a bunch of one-sided provisions protecting the network and producers. And that I think is worthy of bringing to light.

  4. Most reality TV shows are probably this restrictive. It helps cover costs and safety of the production team (from abusive tenants, accidents) and the tenants who could possibly be abused by other tenants. Everything is recorded and the production crew has ultimate control of the living space.

  5. It’s called Big Brother. The whole point is to live under constant observation, I don’t know why you’d think any of these provisions are unusual.

    Edgar replies: I just scratched the surface with those four provisions in the story. There are other provisions like having to give up your website and/or letting them create and control a site in your name, like JackSmith.com. There is another provision about any original music you create on the show becomes their property and they will own the rights to it. It goes on and on.

  6. I am reminded of something Andy Warhol supposedly once said: “In the future, everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.”

  7. I can’t imagine any of these provisions are surprising to someone who has watched the show except maybe the utilities thing. Though, I suppose it may have been before the show started airing. And no, I wouldn’t do it either.

  8. I heard a quip the other day that puts a 21st century spin on Mr. Warhol’s quote: “In the future, everyone will crave 15 minutes of absolute privacy.”

  9. Edgar, I completely agree with your replies above. The producers have gone too far. Of course the agreement will be one-sided but they are stepping over bounds by getting total control of your website, having naked pictures of you, being allowed to embarrass you, etc. None of that is needed to make the show and it’s done purely for corporate greed.

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