Mon, Nov 29, 2004 - Page 6 News List

`Big Brother' contestants take on EU's Constitution

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Reality TV in Europe has set its contestants such gruesome tasks as swimming through tanks of baby crocodiles, filming their own marital sex and masturbating boars.

But never has there been a challenge quite as difficult as that facing contestants in Spain's Big Brother house, where they have five days to memorize the contents of that most exciting of documents, the new European Constitution.

The seven remaining Gran Hermano contestants will then have to explain its intricacies to a Polish woman, Magda, who not only knows nothing about it, but does not speak Spanish.

A taxi driver, a dancer and a make-up saleswoman are among those trying to read and understand the 325-page document that took dozens of politicians and Euro-functionaries 26 months to write.

The experiment is an attempt both to popularize politics and to take the rubbish out of what Spaniards call basura, or junk, TV. It has the backing of Spain's socialist government, which says it has only a tiny budget for publicizing the contents of the Constitution before Spaniards become the first Europeans to hold a referendum on it, in February.

"Any program that devotes time to explaining the Constitution is doing a good thing," said deputy prime minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega.

The idea of introducing the Constitution into a Big Brother house more famous for its shots of naked bodies and under-the-duvet activities of its contestants came after De la Vega met the program's presenter at a party.

For Big Brother, whose worldwide format is now owned by Spain's Telefonica phone company via its Endemol subsidiary, the Constitution project follows an anti-smoking campaign designed to head off governments attacks on junk TV.

Not everybody was sure Saturday, however, that Big Brother would help Spaniards get to grips with something a vast majority of people approve of, even if they have not read it.

"Has the government actually thought about whether the contestants are capable of explaining anything sensibly?" asked TV critic Jose Javier Esparza.

Spaniards, who still watch Gran Hermano in their millions, will have to wait until Thursday night to find out.

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