A few weeks ago, Big Brother aired on our screens for its seventh season and has once again dominated conversations and commentaries across social media timelines. Even if you don’t watch the show or are a fan, it’s hard to escape the BBN world filled with head-of-house challenges, Saturday night parties and relationship love parings.
A focal point of this season has been the relationship between Sheggz (Segun Olusemo) and Bella (Bella Okagbue), aka #Shella, who have been at the forefront of discussions surrounding their relationship. While some have championed the ship as #goals, it’s far from it.
At the start of the show, Sheggz and Bella had a strong connection which quickly developed into a relationship and cemented their status as this season’s ‘it couple’. Fans of the couple swooned over the pair who praised Sheggz for his grand love gestures towards Bella and for expressing his deep admiration for her. The couple rose in popularity and have dominated most of the social commentary – a positive thing for a game that relies on votes and visibility to win.
One tried and true tactic to gaining that visibility and converting that into votes is getting into a ‘ship’ or love pairing. It’s arguably a great tactic as it helps garner more attention and help boost your chances of making it to the finals. We’ve seen this time and time again from ships like Kidwaya and Erica, Mercy and Ike and Miracle and Nina.
It’s understandable why.
These ships and love pairings offer viewers a site of contention where relationship dynamics can be analyzed and defended, and where we can project our own biases from a distance. We want to keep these couples in the game because they provide us with relationship drama that makes Reality TV incredibly titillating and exciting to watch. But at what cost?
Week after week, viewers have watched the consistent manipulative tactics Sheggz uses on Bella. We’ve watched him heavily criticize her behaviour, isolate her from other housemates, dangle threats of ending the relationship & going back to his ex (and then later say he was joking?) scold her for not listening to him, order her to behave, compare her to other women – amongst a slew of other things. As BBN is a Reality TV show for entertainment it begs the question of why the producers of the show think that toxic emotional abuse, which has played out countless times on our screen, is something that viewers should be subjected to.
Sheggz repeatedly picks up fights and arguments, raises his voice when he’s speaking to Bella and uses phrases as “sick” and “unwell” to describe her. When tempers cool, Sheggz apologizes, begs and reassures Bella of his love for her.
It’s also important to note that this isn’t the first time Sheggz is being accused of being abusive. In a recently re-surfaced TikTok (the original video has been deleted from Youtube), his ex-girlfriend recounts an incident where Sheggz grabbed her head and hit it on the wall.
For women watching this unfold, the relationship dynamic might be eerily familiar for some who have been in similar situations and watched their partners escape the consequences of their actions. As a society, we have normalized making excuses for men’s bad behaviour, allowing said bad behaviour to continue to be perpetuated. We are yet to take emotional abuse as seriously as physical and call out toxic patterns that have long-lasting effects.
Because romantic relationships have been touted as something women should always work towards and we’re routinely told that we are incomplete without them, it’s easier for men to be manipulative and behave badly when they know, ultimately, that they are the reward. From fairytales to pop culture, the message is deeply embedded in our social fabric and is the red-flag-tinted glass we use to view toxic relationships that harm women.
Through manipulation and mind games that play on Bella’s self-esteem, Sheggz gaslights Bella’s feelings and then attempts to force her to recognize the part she played in causing him to act that way. By shirking all emotional responsibility, Sheggz doesn’t take any accountability for his actions and chooses instead to blame Bella. We’re watching unfold an incredibly toxic relationship for entertainment. And it’s uncomfortable.
But at what point does BBN step in and do something? While in the house, contestants can be penalized for a slew of things such as non-compliance to the house rules or for isolating themselves from other housemates. Physical abuse is a clear no and will trigger immediate eviction from the house.
While emotional abuse and manipulation are arguably harder to define and therefore difficult to punish/administer consequences, show producers at the very least should help spot red flags and emotional distress of their contestants. So far, there has been no official statement from BBN that even acknowledges what’s going on even though many Twitter users have attempted to bring their attention to the situation.