WHERE ARE THEY NOW BY CAROL DUNN
In some ways, Jillian MacLaughlin’s life has changed tremendously since winning the first season of Big Brother Canada in May of last year. And in other ways, it hasn’t.
“I wouldn’t say it’s changed a whole lot,” says MacLaughlin. “I went back to my normal, everyday routine. I’m back to teaching, doing yoga, running – doing the things I normally do.”
The biggest difference in her life has been her relationship with fellow Big Brother houseguest Emmett Blois, and her move from her hometown of New Glasgow to Gore, Hants County. “I’m obviously living in a different community – on a farm,” she says.
When the then 27-year-old entered the house on the reality TV series in February 2013, she was living in her hometown of New Glasgow and she was single.
She says she certainly didn’t go into the Big Brother house looking for love. In fact, in selection interviews, she told show producers it was the furthest thing from her mind. “Every interview they asked if I was interested in a ‘showmance.’ I felt like they wanted me to say yes, but I said ‘No, I’m not interested in a showmance.’ I was in total opposition to it,” she says.
However, things changed almost immediately once she was in the house. “On the first night we (she and Blois) connected and started hanging out,” she says. “We’ve lived together since we got out of the house.”
At first, they went back and forth between New Glasgow and Blois’s apartment in Halifax. Now they rent a house close to his family’s dairy farm where he works.
She says she’s thrown herself into farm life, doing things she had never done before, such as driving a tractor and planting corn for a maze.
Another big change is getting recognized in public. “A lot more people than I expected watched the show,” says MacLaughlin, adding that they’re often asked to have their pictures taken and for autographs, which she doesn’t mind at all.
“People recognize Emmett more than me,” she says with a laugh. “It’s lots of fun. It’s definitely calmed down a bit, but we like it.”
She says she’s only turned down a photo request a few times, like when she was leaving the gym and not looking her best.
“At first it seemed weird that someone wanted a picture taken with me, but we always do it. We know it’s not going to last forever, so it’s kind of exciting.”
She’s substitute teaching at schools in East Hants, and while many of her students know she was on a TV show, because she teaches elementary school she says they’re too young to be fans of Big Brother Canada.
“It travels through the school that I was on TV. They think you’re famous, but I don’t think any of them actually watched the show.”
Soon after being announced as the winner of Big Brother, MacLaughlin and Blois took a trip to Florida. But when they returned, they tried as much as possible to “get back into the flow of our life,” MacLaughlin says.
They also started their own river rafting company, which was Emmett’s idea. Shubie River Wranglers takes adventure seekers rafting on the tidal bore in the Shubenacadie River.
Emmett had worked for seven years as a tour guide driving boats on the river. “He loved doing it in the summer.”
She says they seized the opportunity to capitalize on the notoriety gained from being on Big Brother Canada. “We thought we’d take advantage of the little bit of fame that we got.”
And she says the business fits well with her teaching career since she has the summers off.
MacLaughlin handles the bookings and behind-the-scenes work, while Blois does the driving.
“I do most of the hard work and he does the fun stuff,” she says, laughing.
For several months after Big Brother Canada, MacLaughlin and Blois spent a lot of time going to community events and parades, signing autographs and doing charity work for such groups as the Children’s Wish Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Feed Nova Scotia.
“We were approached a lot, and we were totally up for it. It was something new, something fun, and I had the time.”
She says they raised a lot of money for the charities through tweeting. Between them, they have 47,000 followers on Twitter. Their competitive natures, which led them to become contestants on the show, also helped. “Emmett and I compete to see who raises the most.”
MacLaughlin won the most Head of Household contests during her time in the house with four, while Blois won the most competitions – three Power of Veto and two Head of Household.
Season 2 of Big Brother Canada began airing recently and a new segment that broadcasts after the main show, called the Side Show, featured MacLaughlin and showed clips of her and Emmett on the river and on the farm. The show reunited MacLaughlin with housemates Gary Levy and Peter Brown, who appear on the Side Show weekly.
She says she keeps in touch with many of her former rivals, especially Levy, Brown, Andrew Monaghan and Talla Rejaei.
MacLaughlin, Blois and Monaghan had formed the “East Coast Alliance” while in the house. “Andrew is here in Halifax. We hang out with him a lot.”
While it may seem unlikely because of conflict she had with Brown, and the controversial way she won Big Brother Canada over Levy, MacLaughlin says they’re all good friends now.
“Peter (Brown) was bitter because I did get him out. I was never mean about it, but I made big moves,” she says. “He was really mad at me… he ripped me apart on the finale.”
She says they didn’t talk for a long time, but Brown has since apologized. “Now he’s one of my best friends outside of the house.”
During the final vote, jury member Topaz Brady revealed that she had intended to vote for Levy to win. “I didn’t have conflict with Gary – I won and he was runner-up. It was a tie vote. She had meant to vote for Gary but put my name.”
Big Brother Canada is a reality show aired on the Slice network where 15 strangers live in a house together with no contact with the outside world. The houseguests are constantly filmed during their time in the house, and each week one houseguest is evicted based on votes from the other houseguests. Each week the houseguests also compete in contests to win food, luxuries and power.
MacLaughlin won $100,000, a new car and a $25,000 shopping spree from The Brick. She put the money she won into savings, and is considering using it as a down payment on a house. “I have it in savings right now because I don’t want to blow it.”
She’s watching the current season of Big Brother Canada, and offers the following advice to the houseguests:
“It’s only a game, so don’t do anything you’ll regret. There’s no need to be mean or catty.”
“What I would tell the current contestants is a lot of people think it’s just a social game, but I think they should try to win the competitions. I think people are more deserving to win (in the end) if they play hard.”
Where Are They Now? is a monthly feature that seeks out former newsmakers from Pictou County to find out what they’ve been doing since they first made headlines. If there’s someone you would like to find out about, please submit their name to Sueann Musick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Carol Dunn is a freelance writer, and former newspaper reporter and editor, who lives in New Glasgow.