As Big Brother Australia 2020 concluded its’ first season of another revival, I chatted with two former finalists, Aleisha Collins and Estelle Landy, about their time on Big Brother and their thoughts on the series’ return.
Big Brother is one of the biggest Reality TV competition juggernauts around the world, so when word came out that Australia’s series was picked up for another revival, fanfare went ballistic. Two former players, who have both made it all the way to the final night in the original and first revival seasons join Reality Review to discuss and reflect on their time as a housemate, and give insight into their thoughts on the show’s return this year.
ALEISHA COLLINS (COWCHER)
In 2007, Big Brother Australia aired in standard definition, Gretel Killeen was hosting, and the show was preparing for a seventh season of the monster Reality TV phenomenon, courtesy of the original broadcaster – Network 10. The season also saw the introduction of housemate Aleisha Cowcher, a 20 year-old hairdresser from Victoria. The bubbly personality was adored by both her housemates and Australia from the beginning, making her a real contender to be named the winner by the season’s end. Flash forward 100 days and Aleisha, since married and now Aleisha Collins, would win the title and $450,000, narrowly beating intruder and runner-up Zach Douglas by 65 votes. Over ten years later, life for Aleisha has changed out of the brief media spotlight and back into her hairdressing roots, all while raising her two children with husband Ben. Aleisha spoke with Reality Review about her experience on the show and what she thinks of the new, revitalised 2020 Big Brother season.
It’s hard to imagine that 2007 was 13 years ago for anyone, but that year was quite eventful for you because you did win Big Brother Australia after 100 days inside the house. How do you describe that experience now, after all this time, and how much of an impact has it made to your life?
I still can’t believe it’s 13 years ago, it definitely doesn’t seem that long. I loved my time in the house. It was so challenging, but so easy and so much fun at other times. I’d say it impacted my life for the next few years, with people obviously recognising me and wanting to talk to me. It also took me to other parts of Australia that I may not have ever travelled to! However, being one of the earlier seasons, social media wasn’t around so we were able to go back to some what of a normal life after the show.
65 votes separated you and Zach from winning and losing Big Brother, that’s got to be one of the closest winner margins worldwide. Is that still so crazy to think about, that your title and whole experience was a two-digit number from being something totally different?
Yes it was so close! Which made it that more exciting. Zach and I were besties in the house and still have a great friendship outside now so I would have been just as happy for him had he won. Our season was also the only year ever to show [the voting results] as the night went on, so as a viewer you could see who was winning and vote for or against either of us, which played a part in why it was so tight whatever way it was going to go.
How often do you think back to some moments in the Big Brother house? Do you pull out a memory often or is it all a blur now?
Yes I definitely still have memories. And I just recently watched my season, which I had not done before, so now they’re just flooding back in.
This year marked a second revival of the Big Brother Australia format, albeit adapted in several areas, what is it about the show that brings production companies and viewers back? Why is it such a staple to TV?
There is no other social experiment like Big Brother. I think the fact that there are so many different walks of life that can be represented on the show means a lot of the people watching can relate to the housemates.
If you’ve been watching this year’s edition, what do you make of the changes that have occurred and do you think you could play the new game that Big Brother is today?
Yes I have been watching and I’m loving that it’s back! But there are parts I love and others not so much… I miss watching housemates chilling out and forming friendships, or having augments – not all of the game play.
I do enjoy the challenges and like that the winner can nominate for eviction, but I think Australia should vote on who leaves. Bring back the eviction shows! In my year we were punished for talking about nominations and evictions so this is a very different game. One which I’d love to try but I’m very doubtful I’d make it far, haha.
Since the show, you’ve started a beautiful family, how is everything going for you now?
I often think I’m now the same age as a few of my fellow housemates in my season and now I fully understand why they may have struggled a little more – leaving kids, family and responsibilities. I was 20 then, and had nothing to worry about on the outside.
But I now have two kids and am married to an amazing man. We have actually just moved to sunny Queensland now, so life is really amazing!– ALEISHA COLLINS (COWCHER), BIG BROTHER AUSTRALIA 2007 WINNER
After four years off air, a new network picked up the once ground-breaking Reality TV series Big Brother Australia, hoping a fresh revival would spark Australia’s love for the show again in 2012. The Nine Network signed Sonia Kruger as host, changed nominations, but largely kept the rules the same when 14 brand new housemates entered on opening night. Among them was Estelle Landy, a 24 year-old law student from Victoria. Immediately Estelle found herself in hot water when her fellow housemates expressed dislike for her and repeatedly nominated her week after week. But it was Australia who admired her resilience and genuine front, as she was saved for a total of nine evictions before reaching the final night after 87 days. The consistent backing of the public wasn’t enough to secure the $250,000 however, as Estelle would finish in third place behind eventual winner Benjamin Norris and runner-up Layla Subritzky. Estelle reflected on her time in the house for Reality Review, and why she thinks Big Brother was brought back again in 2020.
Eight years ago you stepped into the adventure that is Big Brother, how do you reflect on those 87 days you were in there now after so many years?
Gosh, I can’t believe it has already been eight years! I would say that it feels like it was just yesterday but it also feels as though I never did it at all, feels somewhat like a dream. I look back and think, “gosh how young and naive I was,” mostly pertaining to the media industry itself and the world after Big Brother. There are definitely a lot of gaps in your education and ‘finishing’ post BB. You basically are a ‘celebrity, just add water’. No training, no anything. You leave the house unable to walk down the street even to get milk without being stopped every five metres for photos. It is very flattering but totally overwhelming to go from regular civilian to ‘star’ (loosely I use this term) essentially over night!
I reflect also thinking how awful human nature can be and how harsh money can make people with an agenda behave. I also reflect and think I learnt life skills that no one could ever buy and a media degree could never possess!
I think most fans would remember you as the person who survived nine evictions, nominated week after week, what do you make of this achievement now and – while it sucks to be nominated by the people you live with every week – do you take solace in knowing at least Australia enjoyed watching you to keep you in there?
I guess it is something I was totally unaware of at the time. I honestly had no idea of my support on the outside until after the fact. I remember when Josh re-entered the house to say his goodbyes after his brother had tragically passed, he whispered in my ear saying, “they love you out there, don’t change a thing”. All of which didn’t make sense until I had left. I really had no clue of the support, every eviction after eviction I thought I was going home. I take solace knowing I kept my personal integrity and didn’t stoop to the level producers may have loved, of bitching and malice behaviour.
It is actually funny – the next year I came to the auditions to chat to the producers and they said that I had created a, “new breed of housemate,” people were instead of being the Gossip Queens had come in saying they were the, “anti-gossips”. Which I think is a huge achievement in itself given how damaging Reality TV can be. They also mentioned the night I was evicted that I had a, “cult following, nothing they have seen before”. Which I guess was nice to know.
You made it to finale night, one of three finalists with Benjamin and Layla, not many can claim that title – to be a Big Brother finalist – is that still an incredible feat to look back on?
I mean sure, I definitely don’t think about my time as being huge because I got to the finals. I find that my biggest achievement was beating the contrived editing and managing to come out with my integrity. Was cool to be there until the end but some of those last days in the house were the most revealing. Because the cameras do not roll for the last two days, you start to see the real side of the stories. And believe me, you would be in shock at some of [those stories] and how ‘set up’ those scenarios were. That, and including that [producers] had all been given inside tasks to create content that was favourable for them.
This year, the show was brought back for another revival, this time with a whole new set of rules and format. But you were a part of the first season in the original revival, what do you think of Big Brother Australia returning to screens and how can you relate to the housemates selected this year in making the season count so the revival lives on?
To be honest, I am the wrong person to ask this question because I didn’t watch maybe more than 20 minutes. All I can comment on this season is it would have been nearly impossible to show your true self because it was so heavily edited and there was no true live format. To give some insight however I did get quite obsessed watching Tim and Tahan in the season after mine, it was sorta weird like l was living vicariously through them.
What do you think about the changes that have been made to revitalise the show?
I can definitely say that most I have spoken to have said that they did not like the new format – I think they probably are purists and old school with the Big Brother format.
Why do you think Australian production companies and networks come back to this Reality TV staple? Why is Big Brother such a hit with audiences?
I think Big Brother offers something totally unique (or it did) in the social psychology aspects. At minimum it is completely fascinating to watch people behave in a totally unnatural environment. BB was the first ‘real’ reality sort of show. Before all of those that are out now. Which made it special because it really was just a bunch of random people in a house together. These days Reality TV is so edited to the point that it might as well be a sitcom. They have a story board each day where they lay out the story they are trying to tell and the rest is history.
I think it really detracts from the organic nature of the obsession of people just watching people you know? That is the biggest ploy with any of these shows, people become emotionally invested in something that is outside their own lives and reality. They get to wonder and watch like they never had been able to in the real world. Humans are interesting even when they are doing dumb or nasty things. The people love drama!
How is everything with you now? Do you still get noticed as a former housemate on the street?
I would say that Big Brother played a huge part in developing me as an evolving conscious human. However it does not deliver the ‘Kardashian’ style fame & career that so many apply for thinking they will come out with that. My life is good and I have learned so much but I wouldn’t say that it meant I am suddenly living off any huge income derived from the show. It taught me so much to do with human nature and the media/world at large.
I still get recognised almost daily , especially at the moment with all that is going on. It has become part of my life now, which I am okay with, and I’m happy to share my views with anyone who asks.
I would say that Reality TV Is not for the sensitive or faint-hearted. Because it can make or break a person and the production industry is not your friend! The media is out to create headlines and mostly your co-stars are too. So keep your integrity, and for the love of god, do not sell stories about other people and make up lies!– ESTELLE LANDY, BIG BROTHER AUSTRALIA 2012 FINALIST
A massive thank you to Aleisha and Estelle for taking the time to answer some questions about their Big Brother past and thoughts on its latest return to Australian screens. I truly appreciate their contributions for this article and Reality Review.
Did you enjoy these interviews? Want more discussions with some of your former favourite housemates? Drop me a message on Twitter, or leave a comment below!
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