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‘Brother’ big on ‘ex’ appeal

Fourth incarnation adds 'perfect soap opera fodder'

Now that the contestants on “Big Brother 4” have been safely sequestered, producers today will reveal a new twist on the CBS reality show’s traditional format.

Hoping to add more drama to the summer staple, exec producers Arnold Shapiro and Allison Grodner have concocted a plan to reunite ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends and ex-spouses within the “Big Brother” house — without any of them knowing.

Shapiro and Grodner call it “Big Brother 4: The X Factor.”

“We think we have the most exciting and unpredictable twist that we have ever done,” Shapiro said. “I can hardly wait to see how it plays out.”

In past summers, “Big Brother” has simply followed the exploits of strangers cooped inside a house, where they must adapt to each other and life without contact from the outside world.

Love connections

This time around, after casting an initial nine contestants, the “Big Brother” crew started investigating those players’ former loves (without their knowledge) and contacting those exes, four of whom were ultimately recruited for the show.

All told, 13 players (seven men, six women) will live in the “Big Brother” house this summer, up from 12 a year ago.

That means eight of the players will be stuck in the house with their former flames, while the other five won’t be.

And none of the contestants — even the four who were chosen later in the process — know that they’re about to encounter their exes in the house.

“As a result of the way we did this, Alison and I and the entire casting department can qualify as spies for the CIA,” Shapiro said of the covert casting operation. “This had to be done so delicately and creatively.”

Shapiro credited Grodner with initially creating the “X Factor” idea.

“We see ‘Big Brother’ as a soap opera, and thought this was perfect soap opera fodder,” Grodner said. “For us it was all about what could we do that was so different from the other years. What better way than bringing in pre-existing relationships, and potentially volatile ones?”

Strategic moves

The producers believe the “X Factor” will alter the contestants’ pre-conceived strategies in the house, as some exes form alliances and others go head-to-head. As in years past, houseguests will vote each other out of the house on a weekly basis, with the final player winning $500,000.

Shapiro and Grodner also have other changes in store for “Big Brother 4,” which premieres Tuesday, July 8, at 8 p.m. (show will also air Wednesdays at 9 and Fridays at 8).

“Big Brother 4” will include the show’s youngest-ever (19) and oldest (59) houseguests. And unlike past years, no one in this year’s cast is married.

The producers also decided this year to open up another house to sequester players who have been voted out of the “Big Brother” house, starting with the fifth banished houseguest.

That way, the final group of seven players — who ultimately return to pick the show’s winner — won’t be swayed by what they see on the show. They’ll be allowed to watch portions of what airs on the “Big Brother” telecast, but not segments from the “Diary Room” — in which contestants reveal secrets about their strategy.

Those isolated players will continue to be taped, with some footage from house No. 2 likely to be used on the show. “When they’re in this house, they’re still playing the game,” Grodner said.

Decision to keep sequestering the players came after last year’s show, when producers felt that banished houseguest voters were swayed by watching the Diary Room comments.

As for the house itself, Shapiro and Grodner have redecorated it to boast a swingin’ ’60s-style motif — complete with shag carpet.

“Big Brother 4” comes from Shapiro/Grodner, in association with Endemol USA. John de Mol created the format.

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