It all started with 21 housemates competing for the grand prize worth N60 million and the coveted title of Big Brother Naija ‘Pepper Dem’ Season Four winner. But last Sunday, at the grand finale of the reality TV show that held audience across the continent spellbound for three months, history was made when Mercy Eke, fondly known as ‘The Queen of Highlights’ clinched the grand prize, writes Vanessa Obioha
You can tell from her demeanour at the press briefing that Mercy Eke, the winner of the 2019 edition of the reality show, Big Brother Naija was made for the limelight. She dazzled in her teal outfit, her hair neatly packed. When she walked in, all eyes turned to her to glimpse the young lady from Owerri who entertained them in the reality TV show in the past few months.
Mercy, aware that she was the cynosure of the event played her part impeccably. She needed no tutor on how to pose for the camera, or what to say. As she fielded questions from the media personalities who were eager to know more about her, she maintained her composure, occasionally pausing to weigh the answer before responding. There were times she was guarded by her manager, offering only one-liners. She subtly hinted that she could be more engaging, but would love to keep some aspects of her life away from the public glare such as her family. The only member of the family the public has seen so far is Uncle Uzor whom she called out during the live grand finale show on Sunday.
One may be tempted to call Mercy a clairvoyant. Right from the beginning of the show, she oozed an overwhelming confidence that she would emerge the winner. Often times during the game, she would boldly thump her chest and tell her fellow housemates that ” I dey here till 99 days.” If they thought she was joking, she shocked them more by purchasing her immunity. Her self-confidence which eventually paid off in the finals is a reflection of her fierce determination. More than once, she auditioned for the Big Brother Naija show. The first time she was not accepted but somehow she did not backpedalled. After four attempts, the fifth one proved to be the lucky one.
“The first time I watched the show I fell in love with it and since then I have been pursuing it. I wanted to be a housemate. Previous auditions they told me no, until this year when I was finally accepted,” she explained.
Mercy would love to think that she brought something special on the table this time around, after all, she travelled all the way to Warri for this year’s audition, a city she has not been to before. But she clearly understood that Providence had destined her to be the winner of the show this year. She survived evictions and was the only female in the house with Seyi, Mike, Frodd and Omashola. With three of the housemates evicted on the final eviction show, the game was left to Mike and Mercy who finally emerged with her head held high.
Her stay in the house was not void of drama. Nicknamed ‘Queen of Highlights’ and ‘Lamborghini’, Mercy had few arguments with fellow housemates including Seyi but the one that gained prominence was the fight with Tacha that led to the disqualification of the latter. It was a painful moment for Tacha fans who were already eyeing the coveted prize for their favourite. Nevertheless, Mercy cleared the air on the altercation, discharging any doubt about their friendship.
“We are still friends. Remember friends and families fight. Things happen so you just show your reactions. We are humans. I think that’s what happened with Tacha but it doesn’t show that we are not friends. You will see us soon working together.”
A major highlight of her stay was her relationship with Ike. The duo had an interesting relationship that intrigued fans to the extent that they were seen as the ideal model for a good relationship on social media. Now that she is a millionaire, Mercy is confident that their relationship will blossom. She however pointed out that the grand prize which includes N30 million cash prize, an SUV from Innoson Motors, two VIP tickets to an European Cup final courtesy of Bet9ja, an all- expense paid trip to Dubai, an electronic home upgrade from Scanfrost, an Oppo mobile phone, a one-year supply of Pepsi drink, Indomie noodles and Munch It snack is for the winner.
“The game states that the winner takes it all,” she said boldly when asked if she would share her gift with any of the housemates.
Embracing the limelight and getting ready to launch her luxury brand, Mercy is banking on grace to see her through.
“All I need is the grace of God to carry me through. With it, I know that every other thing will fall into place,” she said.
A Win of Many Firsts
Her win is coming at a time where the global focus on women is peaking. News of women shattering glass ceilings and attaining heights once reserved for men are copious in today’s world. Mercy, known for her sassiness and competitive spirit made history with her win. Being the only woman in the final week and eventually taking the crown speaks volumes of fans expectations to see a female win Big Brother Naija. Unlike the continental version Big Brother Africa where females have emerged winners, it is the first time a woman is wearing the Big Brother Naija crown. And she is wearing it proudly.
But more importantly, Mercy’s emergence is a strategic win for the organisers of the show, MultiChoice Nigeria. This edition marked the first time a Big Brother Naija House is built in Nigeria, from scratch to finish. Apart from the first edition which was held in Nigeria, previous ones were held in South Africa. The announcement that the show was returning to Nigeria was made in January and according to the CEO of the company, John Ugbe, it took them six months to build the facility. The news was widely embraced as fans have been clamouring for the show to be held in Nigeria. Their reasons were not far-fetched. Having a reality TV show of such magnitude in the country will definitely add economic value, a fact that Ugbe attested to during his welcoming speech.
“People don’t understand what it takes to put a show together. But with the Naija spirit, we believed we could pull this through. It was a lot of work. From the props, the stage, the workshops and the people who made these things possible. I think it is the power of what we do that everybody don’t see. There were carpenters, caterers, just about every bit of the economy was represented here. So when we see tweets that call for the show to end or be stopped, that’s about thousands of jobs lost. So we find it very important that we continue to provide such opportunities.”
What however excites Ugbe the most was that Endemol, the formerly Dutch-based media company that owns the Big Brother franchise, after inspecting the facility gave it a thumbs up.
“They told us that the Big Brother Naija house is the biggest in the world.”
That was not all. They further complimented the organisers by declaring the house to be the best facility in the world.
Apart from the accolades rained on the facility, the ‘Pepper Dem’ season also recorded some historic milestones. It was the first time, a large number of housemates competed in the reality TV show. The show initially started with 21 housemates who entered the house on June 30. A month later, five additional contestants joined the game. At first, fans speculated that they were fake housemates, a format that the show usually deploys to intensify the drama. But it was later clarified that the new housemates were also in for the money.
“We didn’t know what got into us but we thought of pushing the envelope,” remarked Ugbe.
Another first for the organisers was the number of votes it recorded this season. For the first time in the history of the show, over 50 million votes were recorded in the last week of the show.
“This has never happened before,” exclaimed Ugbe.
That figure has also sparked a debate on social media. Fans have been punching calculators, speculating on the exact sum the company raked in with such overwhelming figures. Ugbe aware that it was a question to be addressed, made light humour of it, deftly keeping the figures close to his chest.
Notwithstanding, the show benefited from the array of sponsors that threw their weight behind it. Notable is the betting platform Bet9ja which was the lead sponsor this year. The brand used the show to launch its campaign ‘More Than a Bet’. Other brands include Innoson Motors, which made a startling revelation that since it came on the show, sales have accelerated. For Heritage Bank, the volume of eyeballs that stayed glued to the show is magnanimous and good for their business. There is also Munch It snack, Indomie noodles, Pepsi, Legend Extra Stout, Scanfrost, Oppo Mobile phone among others.
A recurring criticism of every Big Brother show in the country has always tilted to the morality of the housemates. This year had its share of drama, particularly with the season’s theme ‘Pepper Dem’, a street lingo that implies a mix of different flavours. Not surprisingly, the series brought together the mature, the temperamental; an athlete, a video vixen, a police officer, a lawyer; and even a part-time male stripper. The combination of these flavours threw the house in a frenzy bringing both the good and bad sides of their personality.
Notable characters include Tacha who was disqualified for physical violence with Mercy during a heated altercation. Prior to that, Tacha was liked and disliked by many for different reasons. Her fans loved her fierceness and ego while many disliked her belligerent behaviour. Mercy on the other hand was admired for her ‘crazy’ behaviour.
By crazy we mean her daring acts of free-spiritedness. She was not shy to hump a housemate on the dancefloor or bare her rear side at the jacuzzi.
Such acts were not good examples for the young generation according to moralists. But if you ask Ugbe, he will gladly tell you that they can’t ask the housemates to fake themselves because then, it will no longer be a reality show.
He however pointed out that they are used to such vitriol and they hope that people will see the creativity and talents the housemates displayed during their weekly tasks than focus on the negatives.