Show of the week: Big Brother, Channel Nine, Sunday, 6.30pm
WATCHING Big Brother is indisputably a guilty pleasure. Being a fan? In pop-cultural terms, it's a dirty little secret, akin to admitting an affinity for Air Supply or Meg Ryan rom-coms.
Sonia Kruger knows this. She had the same preconceptions. Her concerns, she says, were allayed by the producer's vision for the show: this would not be the bawdy, self-obsessed BB house of years past. It would have broad appeal. ''When the promos started to air during the Olympics,'' she says, ''it shifted people's perception on the tone and the spirit. The rebirth of the show is broad, but that's a good thing.''
Kruger had initially been in the mix for the first version of BB on Channel Ten. ''I chickened out,'' she says. ''I didn't turn up to the screen test. I couldn't pass it up again.''
We are sitting in BB's compound, a five-minute golf-cart ride from the house. The night before, Kruger presided over her first elimination episode, culminating in the event of Charne White.
Kruger's strength on Dancing with the Stars was an ability to metaphorically wink at the audience and communicate clearly: this is not life or death.
''I want to bring that edge,'' she says. ''The housemates are unpredictable and I love dangerous television that's not perfect or too slick and could go off the rails. I like it loose.''
The first sense of this came last week, during the first nomination episode. Kruger has a live stream of the housemates piped into her dressing room. She noted sagely on air that several male housemates had dubbed her ''Krugs''. It swiftly became a thing.
However, on this week's nomination episode on Monday, when a female housemate dubbed her the less-flattering ''Kruger the Cougar'', the producers quickly cut away. Onscreen at least, Krugs kept her cool.
The housemates arrived on the Gold Coast one week before moving in and were holed up in a hotel where they were subjected to a media ban: no internet, mobiles, TV or newspapers. Following a modest after-party on Sunday night, White rose at 4.30am, completing more than 50 interviews with breakfast radio nationally. They all pressed her on the house's romances, what she really thinks of the housemates and her thoughts on who will win. Meh.
The toughest part about being in the house, she told me, was losing control. There are no clocks, so sunlight shifts and noise cues from the adjacent theme park were all she had to keep track. Most depressingly, only instant coffee was served.
Each day, BB wakes up housemates with various noises: jackhammers, traffic noises, classical music, high-pitched sirens. Some started to enjoy the lack of control.
''The housemates were becoming lazy from it and treating it like a holiday,'' White says.
''There were alliances and cliques. They are pushing people they don't like out. I knew if you didn't fit in, you'd be ostracised.''
Why go in the house, then?
''I wanted to push my boundaries. I [suffer from] OCD and anxiety, and I wanted to break down barriers. So I put myself in a situation I have no control of and can't get out of.''
Being filmed (and wired for sound) bathing and visiting the toilet certainly meets those criteria.
''Going to the toilet knowing people could see and hear you was awful,'' she says, ''but after three days, you try and forget it.''
The house itself is in essence an oversized shed. When Big Brother was last read its death rites, Dreamworld gutted the structure, retaining it as a storage warehouse. Work started on the new house design last November, and took 18 weeks to construct.
After taking the requisite golf-cart ride to the house, there are few words to describe the creepy, utterly visceral thrill of standing behind the glass in the darkened corridors and watching the housemates blithely go about their day.
An overriding impression, glimpsing the bedroom and bathrooms (towels, underwear and balled-up clothes are strewn over both rooms) is that these people live like pigs. The outside area and living room are more hospitable.
There are more than 40 cameras constantly trained on the housemates. A production control room operates on a 24-hour shift. Twelve staffers sit behind vast banks of monitors, some documenting (word for word) conversations taking place, others monitoring storylines and directing cameras.
It's in here that a vocal booth houses the voice of Big Brother. Sitting in front of a computer, he intones gravel-voiced instructions to the housemates, as instructed by the producers. It's an extraordinary operation that's fascinating to watch.
Indeed, the live online feed overseas BB franchises receive is sorely missed here.
''Watching the live feed, you see the silences, the laughter, the stuff that doesn't get cut into the show package,'' Kruger says. ''You also see that the producers really are a bit wicked.''