Big Brother Selection Process Questioned On Mental Health Grounds

{mosimage}At least three of the contestants on Big Brother should have been barred from taking part on the grounds of emotional vulnerability, a leading academic has claimed. After a series that was punctuated by emotional outbursts and contestants leaving the show, Cynthia McVey, a senior lecturer on psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, called on Channel 4 to tighten up its selection procedures. The programme’s finale attracted 8.2 million viewers but some were shocked by the frenzied reaction of Pete Bennett, who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, when told that he had won. The 24-year-old leapt about uncontrollably and threw furniture around. Concerns were also expressed about the pressure put on Nikki Grahame, a contestant who has a history of mental illness.

She became hysterical when told she had finished only fifth and later had to abandon an interview with presenter Davina McCall when she was unable to speak.

Dr McVey said Grahame, who has a history of anorexia and was once sectioned, should not have been allowed to take part. She also suggested that neither Shahbaz Choudhary, a depressive from Glasgow, who walked out of the show after six days, nor Sam Brodie, a 19-year-old transvestite evicted in early June, should have been allowed to compete.

“People who want fame are often insecure and very unstable,” said Dr McVey, who advised the BBC on Castaway, another “reality” television programme. “If you put people under stress and they are emotionally vulnerable, then their vulnerabilities will come to the fore. There is a real potential for disaster and very vulnerable people should be filtered out in the selection process.”

The seventh series of Big Brother has been at the centre of controversy since it began 13 weeks ago. The decision to include Bennett led to accusations that producers were exploiting his disability and, when it emerged that other participants had experienced mental health problems, Sane, the mental health charity, accused the show of “playing fast and loose with people’s lives”.

Yesterday, Zoe Streather, whose 12-year-old son has Tourette’s, said Bennett had made the condition “cool” and eased her child’s life at school. However, she admitted that other sufferers had experienced different reactions.

“I know of one 17-year-old who has been ostracised by his friends because they think he is copying Pete,” she said. “He has even been thrown out of the band he was in.”

Tim Gardam, the former C4 director of programmes, believes that the nature of Big Brother has changed radically since he originally commissioned it in 2000.

“Then it was about producers letting go and housemates being very unselfconscious. Today it’s about producers manipulating what happens and the housemates being caricatures,” he told Broadcast magazine.