tv

Just 5 of the most bizarre things that happened on Big Brother Australia.

Gather ’round children, and let me tell you about a time before MAFS and The Bachelor, when reality TV was about more than just strangers pretending to fall in love.

T’was a new millennium. We’d survived Y2K, LeAnn Rimes was at the top of the charts, and a woman named Gretel Killeen and her hairpieces beamed through our cube-shaped TVs on a show called Big Brother.

That formative slice of reality television ran for a whole eight seasons on Channel 10 before being canned in 2008. It was then revived by Channel 9 in 2012 for three more seasons, because, kids, it was just that good.

In the years since, the Big Brother mansion has been left to rot at its Dreamworld home. It now barely stands, a charred relic of its former self, thanks to a bunch of kids who set it on fire last weekend. But our memories of what happened inside those walls live on. Even if we really wish they wouldn’t.

Here are five of the most bizarre things that happened in the Big Brother house.

1. Merlin’s “free th [sic] refugees” protest.

Video by Channel 10

Merlin Luck‘s protest is still one of the most stunning moments in short-but-thorny history of Australian reality TV. And not just because it proved some contestants actually have a conscience.

The 2004 housemate used his live, post-eviction interview to draw attention to the asylum seekers imprisoned on Nauru under the Morrison sorry, Howard government’s strict border-protection policy. His methods were simple. As he wandered down the ramp to the stage, he taped his mouth shut, whipped out a homemade sign and then just… sat there.

Gretel tried to get him to talk. She really did. But he just kept on jiggling his legs and staring straight ahead, which was uncomfortable for everyone. But hey, we still remember it 15 years later. Maybe he should give it another crack.

Footnote: This is what Merlin looks like now. Just in case you were wondering.

Merlin Luck is now Regional Sales Director who wears suits. Image via LinkedIn.
ADVERTISEMENT

2. The great blackout of 2004.

In 2004, the wall-of-TVs backdrop went black, the audience was plunged into darkness, and dear Gretel was forced to figure out how to host several minutes of live television in the middle of a blackout.

It's unclear what happened that night, but we presume it involved a dodgy powerboard from a $2 shop, or a bored intern doing the old 'I wonder what this button does'-thing.

The spotlight on Gretel stayed mercifully lit, because she would definitely demand a backup generator in her rider. She's practical like that.

As viewers began to get the sympathetic stress sweats, Gretel asked Big Brother if transmission had been lost. It hadn't. We were still there, watching.

"Good," she said. "They're going, so I guess I'll just... make the rest up."

Hooray!

What happened next was a masterclass in improvisational drama that involved throwing to a bloke sitting in a Mitsubishi and getting the shits at disembodied voices — "Everyone in my head please be quiet." (Been there, Grets. So been there.)

3. Bree was evicted. And then she wasn't.

Bye. Actually... wait. Image: Channel 10.
ADVERTISEMENT

Viewers were a tad baffled when 2004 (it really was the golden season) fan-favourite, Bree Amer, was evicted two thirds of the way into the series. That's because it was a mistake.

Someone at a company called Legion Interactive had a bad day at work and accidentally mucked up the maths. I guess he/she did the right thing and told someone, because hours after Bree was booted from the house, a producer told her she'd be going right back in.

Bree recently told Tim Dormer's Popcast podcast that she was in the middle of a post-eviction party when she learned the news, and that she initially wasn't fussed about the stuff-up.

“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s all right’" she said. "I’d been drinking cocktails with my friends for two hours, and was like, ‘Whatever! I’m having the best night ever!’”

But scared she might sue them later — you know, because she could have won a million bucks — the producers brought her around: “I took a fair bit of convincing, and eventually they were like, ‘We want you to go back in tomorrow,’ so they immediately put me back into lockdown.”

4. That time a contestant rubbed his genitals on another contestant and the Prime Minister weighed in but the show still didn't get cancelled.

Image: Channel 10.

It became know as the 'turkey slap' incident. A grainy piece of night-vision footage from the sixth season captured a male contestant holding down a female contestant, while his mate rubbed his genitals on her face.

ADVERTISEMENT

The men involved, Michael “John” Bric, 22, and Michael “Ashley” Cox, 20, were kicked off the show, and police investigated. No charges were laid.

But the outrage extended well beyond the realm of commercial television audiences.

Prime Minister John Howard called for the show to be axed. Germaine Greer wrote a column about it. And the Australian Communications and Media Authority was directed to investigate the issue (it recommended changes to the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, including a clause that "prohibits the broadcast of material presenting participants in reality television in a highly demeaning or exploitative manner").

The show itself was not penalised, as the incident was only broadcast via the website and never made it to air.

5. The mystery of the "dancing doona".

Pete and Christina, of dancing doona fame. Image: Channel 10.

It was season one, 2001, and we were still new to this whole thing. So when the Big Brother Uncut cameras captured a suggestively undulating duvet, beneath which were housemates Pete Timbs and Christina "Ballerina" Davis, our innocent little minds exploded.

The pair never commented on precisely what went on, because it's clearly none of our business what they were doing on a national television program that's premised on a complete lack of privacy.

But their 'no comment' only added intrigue, and the event soon went down in the Aussie pop culture cannon as the "dancing doona". (Seriously though. It was, like, totally all anyone could, like, talk about on MSN Messenger.)

If only we knew what was still to come...

What was you favourite Big Brother moment? Let's reminisce in the comments below.

00:00 / ???