The 2017 season of Big Brother returns today, making it the 17th year the reality show has been a beacon for hookups, alliances, and contestant drama. For hardcore fans who’ve been tuning in since 2000, they might want to get in on the action, too. After all, getting on the show can’t be too hard, right? Well, yes and no.

The Big Brother casting process is long and extensive, and if you’re thinking of applying to be on the show, you need to be prepared. Although applications for 2017 are closed, in case you’re interested in trying your shot for Big Brother 20 in 2018, here’s everything you need to know before you shoot that audition video, as explained by a few past Big Brother houseguests.

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First, some basics.

Before you even begin filling out the online application, you should first see if you meet the eligibility requirements. You need to be at least 21, a U.S. citizen, and in excellent physical and mental health. You also need to have a pretty flexible schedule. If you get a call back from producers, you must be available to meet them at the required locations and within the required dates.

If you’re wondering how someone with a full-time job is supposed to handle this, don’t worry. Former cast member Natalie Negrotti from season 18 says it’s easy.

“If you’re employed you can work it around your schedule,” she exclusively told us. “I would use my lunch breaks and evenings to focus on the application process.”

However, if you make it to the final stages, things might get tricky. When it comes down to the wire, you might have to choose between your job or Big Brother.

“Unfortunately, certain jobs like mine don’t allow you to take time off of work for that long and I had to resign my position,” she said. “It was a huge gamble for me because if I didn’t make it to jury and only lasted one day or one week in the house — I had just quit my job! I luckily made it through the whole process to jury and got to cast a vote at finale.”

What is required in the application?

All applicants need to fill out an online form, make an audition video, and have a clear photo of themselves. After submitting, if a producer is interested, they should contact you within two to three months. It sounds simple, but many applicants don’t even make it past this stage.

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Big Brother 18 cast. / Getty Images

Obviously, “dont be boring” is an obvious tip, but according to past cast member Glenn Garcia from season 18, what producers are really looking for is authenticity.

“Be yourself,” he exclusively told us. “Be honest, and don’t try to be a character or try to act like a past houseguest. It doesn’t work.”

If you’re looking for examples of video auditions, many past participants have uploaded their audition videos to YouTube.

According to Big Brother‘s official casting site, they appreciate videos that are bright, well-lit, and not shot in portrait mode.

Do all cast members have to fill out an application?

Nope, some get picked up in casting calls and others are recruited. For casting calls, keep your eye on Big Brother‘s site for announcements on where and when they’ll be. As for recruitment, well, you kind of have to know somebody who knows somebody.

“My good friend Tiffany Chantell, we were NFL Cheerleaders together, knew I was looking for a new job and was on The Amazing Race, so she got me in contact with her recruiter,” Natalie told us. “She really helped me further my career and I have to really thank her for that. The rest is history.”

After I get a call from a producer, what’s next?

Here’s when things get secretive. Due to contractual obligations, many applicants who’ve gone through this stage can’t go into detail about it. But according to an anonymous source who made it to the final stages, applicants are flown to Los Angeles where they’re given IQ tests, personality tests, psych evaulations, and medical tests. In the words of Big Brother 4 winner Jun Song, “It’s like the Reality Television Casting Olympics.”

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Big Brother 18 cast. / Getty Images

“I cant talk too much about it, but lets just say its a very long and lengthy process,” Glenn told us. “You have to really want it to make the sacrifice to be available for the production’s needs.”

But don’t let this discourge you. Natalie recommends talking about things you love, since you’ll be talking non-stop anyway

“Talk about things you’re passionate about because your personality will really shine a lot more than if you’re talking about things you don’t really care about,” she told us. “I’m very family oriented so I would talk about my mom at every interview because I adore her so much and she’s very funny. If you watch my Snapchat stories you would understand. LOL.”

What other tips do I need to stand out from the pack?

As much as we would like to say that doing A, B, or C will guarantee you a place in the Big Brother house, the reality is that you kind of just have to be yourself.

“People can tell when you are genuine and gravitate towards it,” Natalie told us. “I was myself the whole process and only really talked about my mom and my jobs, my reality, and they seemed to like it!”

And if you eventually apply and don’t make it all the way through, you can always try again.

“Don’t give up!” Glenn told us. “I have heard some past houseguests have applied several times and then finally get the chance later on.”

And his final tip for BB contenders?

“Get ready for the ride of your life!”

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