Grad tests her mettle – and human resources skills – on Big Brother Canada

“After playing, I was like, holy moly, I can do anything I put my mind to”

Let’s see if this social experiment appeals to you.

For 60 days, you’re cut off from family and friends, trapped in a house with 15 strangers, and motivated to remain trapped by the prospect of a $100,000 prize. In fact, you’ll be so motivated that you’ll engage in outlandish and excruciating physical competitions, endure the emotional highs and lows of alliances and betrayals, and shed countless tears in front of roughly 70 cameras, revealing your true character to hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

NAIT's Bachelor of Business Administration degree

A business degree is often a step toward a professional designation in a variety of fields. The Bachelor of Business Adminstration can include an emphasis in six subjects, including Accounting, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Finance, Management, Marketing or, like grad Betty Yirsaw, Human Resource Management.

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That’s Big Brother Canada, where, on Season 10 in 2022, Betty Yirsaw (Bachelor of Business Administration ’14, Human Resources ’12) would come to be seen favourably as “straight talking [and] big hearted.”

Despite its challenges – and partly because of them – the show held great appeal to the real-life human resource specialist, who’d outlast 12 of her opponents to finish in third place.

We asked Yirsaw about wanting to go from watcher to player, the oddity of life on the other side of the screen, and what the experiment revealed to her about herself.

How did you end up on Big Brother Canada?

I've always been a fan of Big Brother. I watched Big Brother Canada Season 9 with my partner and there was so much diversity in the cast. I think it was like over six people of colour, of different ethnicities and backgrounds.

It was, like, the most Canadian thing I ever saw. It made me feel super proud and I wanted to be a part of it.

How would you describe yourself in the context of being a contestant?

I'm a really big people-person. [But] people have always told me that I'm a take-no-crap kind of person. I'm very black and white, very to the point, very strong-willed. And I thought, I can use [that] to play the game.

How did the process work to get on the show?

nait grad and big brother canada 10 competitor betty yirsawYou have to make a video and submit it. I decided to do that on the last day that you were able to submit your application.

I [got] called back and kept having to meet with producers. Within a few months, I was notified that I was flying to Toronto.

I had to let my employer know that I’d be away anywhere from 30 days to three months.

They were super supportive. You can't disclose why you're leaving – I just let them know that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

What’s it like to be in the house and in front of the nation?

In the beginning, it's extremely weird.

All of a sudden, you see cameras zooming in on you. But as you progress throughout the game, you kind of just forget about them.

But it’s a lot, obviously. There’s one bathroom, you’re sharing a bedroom. When you get into the house, there's 16 people but there are only 10 beds or something. So, you have to find someone that you're going to share a bed with and you've only known them for 25 minutes.

How do you cope with your feelings throughout the game?

It was really challenging. You feel good, you think things are going well, then all of a sudden you're up on “the block” [and] could be evicted. It was a lot of controlling my nervous system, a lot of breathing. I was always trying to remember that this was just a game and wouldn't be forever.

Are there any moments that really stand out to you?

Sometimes we'd have to eat slop. Slop is a combination of chia seeds and oatmeal and green protein powder. They’d lock the fridge up and then you can only eat that for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I think it was two weeks that we ate it. It tasted so gross.

So why subject yourself to this?

Well, life is so short. I knew that it was something that I wanted to do. And regardless of the outcome, it was actually one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life.

How so?

It really reinforced a lot of characteristics of myself that I already knew, but brought them more to the forefront. For example, I learned that in times of adversity – I was on the block six times – I was so resilient. I never gave up. I was always fighting to stay.

I already knew I was a strong woman but after playing that game, I was like, holy moly, I can do anything I put my mind to. That's what was so special about it.

Did your HR skills play any role in the game?

Communication was really big. I always made sure that I was diplomatic [and] positive. I think that I have really good interpersonal skills – people gravitated to me. I had a really good read of people.

Do you think this experience changed you in any way?

Definitely. Now, I'm not scared to take a chance on something. Before this game – I wouldn’t say it was a confidence thing – but sometimes I would not put my best foot forward in terms of experiences or opportunities. Now, I know that there's a whole world out there and I look forward to continuing to grow and evolve – like, put my name down for that job or move to that city or whatever it may be.

I think that I've taken those skills that I learned from the game and incorporated them into my real life.

You mentioned that the diversity of Big Brother appealed to you. Was it important to you to contribute to that?

It was very important to me. I was born in Edmonton, Alberta but my parents were born in Ethiopia. So I'm first generation. Canada provided my family with so many opportunities when they got here. [Then] they paved the way for me.

As much as I'm super grateful every single day, I also always want to give recognition to my background because it's a big part of my identity.

And I know that there are other Ethiopian Canadian youth and I wanted to make sure that I was letting them know, Hey, I did this, and you can do this, too. Like, not to have any limiting beliefs, and just to shoot for the stars.

Would you ever do anything like this again?

Totally. People are already like, there might be a fan favourites [installment]. Would you be interested? And I'm like, hell yeah. I would do it in a second. I want to pull out the win.

nait grad and big brother canada 10 competitor betty yirsaw

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