Coronavirus crisis sparks 'Big Brother' Germany to break protocol: What happens when reality impedes reality TV

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Contestants on Germany's Big Brother will learn about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. The show’s host, Jochen Schropp, and physician, Andreas Kaniewski, will sit the cast down on Tuesday and inform them about what's become a worldwide pandemic since filming began. Big Brother is about a group of strangers living together for months with no contact from the outside world.

The first group of contestants have been sequestered in Cologne since Feb. 6. New contestants were instructed not to mention the crisis, per Variety. German broadcaster Sat. 1 made the decision to break protocol as Germany closed its borders and edges closer to a lockdown. The participants will be allowed to ask questions and view video messages from relatives.

<em>Big Brother</em> Germany host Jochen Schropp will inform the cast of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Tristar Media/Getty Images)
Big Brother Germany host Jochen Schropp will inform the cast of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Tristar Media/Getty Images)
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This isn't the first time reality has impeded a reality show.

After Sept. 11, 2001, producers of Big Brother and The Real World took different approaches when informing contestants of the terror attacks.

While the MTV show filmed outside of the house, television and media weren't allowed as the seven strangers were disconnected from current events. That changed during Real World Chicago. Producers brought in a TV and captured reactions of the roommates as they watched the news for the first time. Cameras also followed as they went outside and grieved with neighbors.

Big Brother was in its second season and broke its news-blackout rule to inform the final three contestants about what happened the day of the attack as one had a personal connection. Monica Bailey's cousin was listed as missing in the World Trade Center collapse.

"We knew a tragedy had taken place involving planes in New York," Will Kirby, the eventual winner, recalled to Entertainment Weekly. "That was really the extent of it."

The trio didn't see any news reports until the finale on Sept. 20. Executive producer Arnold Shapiro told EW footage wasn't shown in real time as "that would have meant putting a TV in the house [for follow-up reports]. No one inside asked for that."

Given the premise of Big Brother it's no surprise production issues occur when news from the outside world impacts the cast, especially on a personal level.

When musician David Bowie passed away from cancer in January 2016 his first wife, Angela Bowie, was filming Celebrity Big Brother U.K. Angela was informed of the news off camera by her representatives, but decided to remain on the show. However, she was filmed crying.

After learning the news, Angela confided in castmate Tiffany "New York" Pollard that "David is dead." Pollard mistakenly took that to mean David Gest died, another contestant on the show. Chaos ensued and it was all filmed, which prompted hundreds of viewer complaints as people weren't happy with how David Bowie's death was handled.

In response to criticism, Celebrity Big Brother issued a statement to BuzzFeed, saying, "It is always the show's aim to represent and reflect the day’s events accurately to viewers."

Big Brother is currently in production in Brazil and Canada and a spokesperson for the show said everyone will be informed about the coronavirus.

"The health and wellbeing of Big Brother Housemates is our priority. All current productions were informed last week that the usual format rules regarding outside news do not apply in this instance, and it was requested that they inform their respective housemates of the evolving situation regarding COVID-19," a rep said. "The majority of Housemates have already been briefed and this process will be complete today (17th March)."

For the latest news on the evolving coronavirus outbreak, follow along here. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides. 

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