Big Brother USA and Canada format explained

7 comments - Posted on March 1 2013 at 07:36am

Big Brother Canada - Head Of Household sign

Confused about how Big Brother works across the Atlantic? Here we explain the show’s American format and let you know just what a Head of Household and Power Of Veto is…

If you’re anything like us here at bbspy, you’re such a huge Big Brother fan that you can’t resist checking out what he’s doing in the many other countries he has a presence in.

With the UK version not back on our screens for another few months, we’re plugging the gap by covering the first ever English-language season of Big Brother Canada (can you believe it’s taken them all this time to join the bandwagon?!)

But they’re using the Big Brother USA format, and if you’ve never encountered that before and you’ve read any of our recent articles, you’re probably wondering what the hell we’ve been talking about. Fret no longer – below you’ll find out everything you need to know!

> Click here for all of our Big Brother Canada coverage

Why does America do it differently?

Way back in 2000, Big Brother headed Stateside – in fact, it premiered there almost two weeks before it did in the UK. Their first series followed the usual formula: housemates nominate, public evict. It aired six nights a week, with an eviction – or ‘banishment’ – every fortnight.

However, a few months earlier, Survivor finished its first run on the same broadcaster, CBS – and its competitive nature proved a hit, with ratings building from 15million to 50million viewers.

Conversely, with the public responsible for voting results on Big Brother, viewers switched off as the more controversial characters were evicted. The launch episode attracted 22million viewers, but the series as a whole averaged just 9million.

Despite its poor performance, CBS decided to give Big Brother a second shot – and new producers were brought in to make it more compatible for an American audience. While the contestants were still filmed 24 hours a day with no outside contact, the amount of shows was halved to three a week, and the format was retooled to encourage gameplay.

The changes were a success, and it has aired thirteen more seasons since, with ratings remaining relatively steady. So, just how does BBUSA work?

Head of Household

Each week begins with the Head of Household (HoH) competition, which is usually a quiz, but is sometimes an endurance challenge. All the houseguests (that’s right – houseguests, not housemates) get to compete except for the outgoing HoH.

The winner becomes the HoH, and move in to their own bedroom with an en-suite, full food privileges, and luxuries from home. But more importantly, they must nominate two houseguests to face eviction.

None of the others are permitted to nominate, but they are allowed to discuss nominations – in fact, they have to if they stand a chance of surviving in the game.

Power of Veto

After the nominations comes the Power of Veto competition. Six houseguests compete in this – the HoH, the two nominees, and three others selected by a random draw.

The winner gains the power to alter the nominations. They can either leave them as they are, or save one of the nominees – and if a nominee wins the Veto, they can save themselves.

If a nominee is saved, the HoH must then choose a replacement nominee. The Veto holder is immune from being chosen.


One of the most significant differences about BBUSA is that there is no public eviction vote. Instead, it is up to the houseguests to vote out one of their own.

During the live eviction episodes, they go to the Diary Room one by one and cast their vote to evict. The nominees cannot vote, and the HoH only gets to vote if there is a tie. The nominee with the most votes is then evicted from the Big Brother house.


With only two houseguests present in the finale, it involves a slightly different set of rules. The seven houseguests evicted prior to the finale don’t leave the show completely, but instead move in to a ‘sequester house’, which – like the main house – is cut off from the outside world.

These seven evictees become ‘The Jury’, and it is the Jury who votes for the winner. They are shown select footage from the main house, such as competitions, but do not get to see any personal or Diary Room conversations, strategising, or twists.

On finale night, the jurors get to question the final two on why they should triumph. They then cast their votes, and the finalist with the most votes is crowned the winner.

Have and Have Not Competitions

Instead of shopping tasks, the houseguests take part in weekly competitions to determine who the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’ are. The ‘Haves’ win full food access, while the ‘Have Nots’ are left to survive on Big Brother Slop, sleep in an uncomfortable bedroom, and take cold showers.

What the Canadians have tweaked

All fourteen seasons of Big Brother USA have also aired simultaneously in Canada, so when it was announced that the show was finally arriving north of the border, it was no surprise that they chose to replicate the American version. But while the gameplay remains the same, they have made some crucial changes to the presentation.

When BBUSA modified the format, they also ditched the Big Brother character. Instead of speaking to houseguests in the third person, producers begun directly addressing them, and they are almost never heard in the television broadcasts – although they aren’t cut from the live feeds.

Canada, however, has brought it back – and while don’t yet know what goes on in the Diary Room, it is a delight to hear the words “This is Big Brother” when he’s talking to the house.

The BBUSA house is designed to give the houseguests lots of private nooks and crannies in which to plot and strategise, including three separate bedrooms, but the Canadian house is way more open plan, with most of the group forced to sleep together.

And while the American studio set wouldn’t look out of place as the facade of an actual house, the Canadians have added the neon lighting, larger audience space, and a massive screens typically used by international editions.

These are welcome alterations, and so far Big Brother Canada has been nothing short of amazing – we look forward to seeing how it develops. Unfortunately it’s not on the telly here in Blighty, but if you’want to check it out you might just find it on a certain popular video website…

Stay tuned to bbspy over the coming weeks for updates on all the action – and don’t worry, we’ll still be bringing you BBUK news as and when it breaks!

> Click here for all of our Big Brother Canada coverage

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7 comments on this article

  1. Sam2 says:
    Fri 01 Mar Reply !

    I may apply for the next BBCAN. My game plan will be simple, make sure I get voted out the first week, then spend nine weeks in the ‘sequester house’ partying at the Production Companies expense.

  2. Brekkie says:
    Fri 01 Mar Reply !

    Well first week won’t do you any good – you need to make the final nine to make the sequester house.

    In fact I’m kind of hoping to save the cost of the jury house that once we get to the final nine it is revealed that Canadian viewers will vote for the winner out of the final two. It would be interesting to see how the final judgement being made by the public rather than the viewers changes peoples game plan, and it’s another way of BBCan doing something different from BBUSA.

  3. Sam2 says:
    Sat 02 Mar Reply !

    Have they got Mr Bean in charge of live feed over there? The first Saturday of live feed and the feeds been off for most of the day!

  4. Josh says:
    Tue 05 Mar Reply !


    They did do that in Quebec’s version of Big Brother. That show wasn’t a ratings hit. I say instead to give the public a jury vote; and since that means eight jury votes, our vote is crucial, because in the event of a tie, our vote determines the winner.

  5. Sam2 says:
    Sat 09 Mar Reply !

    If I’m not mistaken Canada changes from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time tomorrow morning, so at 02:00 the clocks will go forward to 03:00. Essentially, Ontario will then be 4 hours behind us, instead of 5 (until the 31st, when we change to BST).

  6. Sam2 says:
    Tue 19 Mar Reply !

    So, this week is a double eviction. Tom and Liza were nominated and from what I can gather Alec isn’t going to use POV. Does that mean they’re both going to be evicted on Thursday?

  7. Josh says:
    Sun 24 Mar Reply !


    A double eviction in the Canadian/American format is slightly different. One houseguest is evicted, and then a whole week’s worth of competitions is played during the eviction show to determine the HoH, the nominees, and the PoV. Once that is done, then the houseguests vote to evict for a second time. After Tom was evicted 8-1, Andrew won HoH, nominated Suzette and Liza, Emmett won PoV, chose not to use it, and Liza was evicted unanimously.

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