Andy Herren outlasted some of the cockiest and brashest houseguests in Big Brother history to win the CBS reality series’ 15th season on Wednesday night, and he did it using two tricks: staying furtive and staying paranoid. The 26-year-old Aurora, IL native never threatened the household with intimidation tactics like early evictee Jeremy McGuire, who would “walk from room to room pounding his fist into his hand before competitions, making sure everyone saw” (says Herren) or Amanda Zuckerman, who would get into screaming fights with fellow houseguests like Elissa Slater and eventual runner-up GinaMarie Zimmerman. He simply predicted everyone’s behavior well, attached himself to winning alliances, and ditched those alliances with precise timing once they staled. Unlike everyone else in the game, he was never for a second complacent.
In a season known for offensive houseguest commentary (particularly from Texas-born Aaryn Gries, who said flat-out racist things about fellow competitors Candice Stewart and Helen Kim), Herren has fielded some scrutiny too. He mocked Slater after her eviction and mentioned her family members, including her sister and Big Brother champion Rachel Reilly, while doing it. One rumor even states that Herren lost his teaching job at a Chicago community college because of his actions in the house. (Not true, says Herren — he took a leave from part-time teaching and isn’t scheduled to come back until January. That’s why the college’s press release states Herren “does not currently work for the college.”) Others criticized his gameplay for being too passive. (We disagreed.) Herren was a smart and quietly effective player, and while that makes him the ire of BB fans who prefer their winners bold and swaggering, the fact is that Herren probably could’ve undermined and beaten those legends too. If they’re anything like the cast of #BB15, they would’ve smiled as he duped them.
We caught up with Herren to discuss being the game’s sole gay houseguest and first gay winner, his real feelings about Elissa, and what he makes of his season’s nasty reputation.
The Backlot: Your detractors can say what they want, but I honestly think you were the only person in the game who had a strong, comprehensive read on everybody in the house from the start. I consider intuition something of a gay superpower. Did that win the game for you?
Andy Herren: Oh, without a doubt. I won this game because I’m gay, for sure. Nick was without a doubt the cutest guy in the house, but intuition told me that assh*le had to go. And I turned out to be right! The way I was able to read people, get a feel for who I could trust and not trust, that’s what won me the game, and I solely attribute that to being a homosexual.
TB: Who was the most difficult houseguest in the game to get on your side?
AH: Elissa. Oh my God! Elissa. I won Elissa over towards the beginning, but in the middle of the game when I voted Helen out, I realized I hadn’t won over Elissa anymore. It was hard to get her back. I don’t really feel like I ever fully succeeded in it, because she wanted to flip the house on Amanda, McCrae, and myself. I couldn’t allow that to happen. I thought maybe I could win if I’d done that, but I decided to frame her and send her home instead.
TB: You seemed to visualize where the game was going well. Did you ever think you and GinaMarie would be in the final two? Did you consider other people? Amanda and McCrae? Aaryn and Helen?
AH: I never thought it would be Helen. Helen has the world’s worst timing. Once I realized that, I knew she had to go relatively soon. I knew that Amanda and McCrae would never sever, even though they said they would. For awhile I thought Aaryn was my secret weapon and that I could go far with her, and then she and I could win the competitions at the end and beat Amanda and McCrae. I became wary about that though, so I started to keep Spencer and GinaMarie really close because I started to feel like I wanted to take them instead. They’d be much easier to win over. When Judd came back, it was the perfect timing to make that move because I could gain Judd. Judd is also a terrible competitor, so I knew if I got to the final four with GinaMarie, Spencer, and Judd, I knew I could easily beat them in mental and physical challenges.
TB: I think you were smart during your HoH week to get out Jessie instead of Amanda and McCrae. It wasn’t their time to leave yet.
AH: Without a doubt! Jessie was super dangerous. If you looked at Jessie wrong, she’d want to send you home. She’d come to my room and say, “Andy. We’ve got to flip on Amanda on McCrae.” Literally the next day she would come in and say, “Andy, Helen’s been being mean to me. We have to flip on her and Elissa.” I was like, what is wrong with you?! As a result, I thought she was a big kill in the game. I don’t think a lot of people thought of her that way.
TB: Much has been made about the racist comments in the house, and there’s been some discussion of homophobia too. Did you ever feel like you were in a homophobic environment?
AH: Not at all. Not even a tiny bit. Like, I mean, Spencer and Amanda both said comments to my face, and I was so close with them, and they know I’m the least offendable person on the face of the Earth. They both felt comfortable saying those things to me, and I’m comfortable and fine with them. If it offended people, I understand that, because it’s a word that can evoke strong emotion in people, but it’s a word that I’m almost desensitized to. If a friend who I know and love says it to me, it doesn’t bother me at all.
TB: Did you think Elissa’s relationship with Rachel was an unfair advantage in the game, considering the MVP twist?
AH: Now, don’t get me wrong, some of the things I said about Elissa were too harsh. But at the same time, I was frustrated because — well, at the beginning of the game, I loved that Elissa was related to Rachel because I could use it to my benefit and get rid of people like David and Nick. Once the game went on, I feel like we’d talk about how she knew she was going to get America’s Favorite Player because she had this unfair advantage and army of followers. So when she won America’s Favorite Player at the end of the game, you could probably read how excited I was. And by excited I mean severely upset and disappointed.
TB: In your HoH blog, you referred to her as “odd.” What did you mean?
AH: Elissa. [Laughs.] I feel like I’m going to get in so much trouble! I’ve been doing a lot of Elissa damage control today. She was so robotic in the house. You’d be having a wonderful one-on-one conversation with her, then she’d turn to the camera without blinking and give shout-outs to the Brenchel army. It’s like, “You haven’t been listening to anything I’ve been saying.” When she got her HOH room and when we were framing her during the live eviction, she was making sounds – sounds like she knew that she should’ve been crying, but she was unable to do it. She was like, [high-pitched] “Uh! Uh!” Honest to God, if you looked at her funny — like, there was one day where I was in the backyard with McCrae, and Elissa was talking really loudly about Kaitlin. About five minutes earlier, she was talking about her religion. She’s being loud talking about Kaitlin, and I put my finger up to my lips to motion for her to shut the hell up because she’s really loud. McCrae starts laughing because I’m trying to be subtle, but it looks kind of ridiculous. Elissa instantly thinks we are making fun of her religion, and I’m not kidding, she was mad at us and targeting us for an entire week as a result of it. It was absolute insanity. I describe her as — and I don’t know if they used this on the show — but if you’re familiar with The Twilight Zone, the episode with the little boy where everyone around him, all the grownups had to say and do everything right because he can read their minds, and if they think anything negative, he kills them. That’s how I felt about Elissa. In the morning every day, I’d have to be like [singsong], “Good MORNING, Elissa! How are you DOING today?” because I was terrified that if I didn’t say “good morning” to her, she’d target me. If I would’ve left this game at the hands of Elissa, I would’ve been absolutely heartbroken.
TB: On the show you said you loved Ragan Fox, the gay competitor from season 12. Who are your other favorite alums of the show?
AH: I feel like Dan [Gheesling] last season played a very amazing game, even if it was a little too cutthroat for my liking. At the same time, I played a cutthroat game this season, so I appreciate how he did. I loved Danielle Reyes from season three. Thought she was amazing. I mean, Dr. Will [Kirby] too. I’m giving stereotypical answers, but they all played the game well. Janelle [Pierzina], too.
TB: Now, can you explain Aaryn to us? She was a racist jerk for awhile, then recanted. Which side is more real?
AH: I think Aaryn is a total idiot sometimes. Once she got pegged as a racist, she would almost say racist things just to joke about it, and that did not do her any good whatsoever. I thought, “Millions of people are watching you. They’re going to still think you’re a racist if you say these things.” But I really do think for the first couple weeks of the game — and I never saw the mattress flip or anything like that — Aaryn was trying to make good TV, and as a result she was being a total dick. No one could stand her. Once she realized she needed to cut that out, I really did see a different side of her. I started to like her a lot more as the season went on.
TB: You’ve said that Nick was a very untrustworthy houseguest. Being stuck in the house with GinaMarie for the remainder of the game, did you feel bad for her that she was so in love with him?
AH: Oh my God. I did! But it was also just so absurd that I couldn’t believe it was real. I definitely felt like I was walking on eggshells around her, especially near the end. I wanted to make sure that she took me [to the final 2], so I made sure I wasn’t offending GinaMarie about Nick.
TB: What’s it like going into an environment where you know you’re going to be the only gay person for three months? Do you just think, “I’m putting my sexuality on ice, and that’s that.”
AH: It didn’t really come up all that much. There were people at the beginning of the season who said ridiculous things to me. Jeremy once said to me, “You’re really funny for a gay dude! I think you’ll last five or six weeks.” I just stood there and was like, “Oh my God. What?” I knew he would be leaving relatively soon, so I figured it wasn’t worth my breath to get into an argument with him. It was odd, though. At home I’m surrounded by gay men all the time, and so it was weird being the only one in the house. I knew the house got flak for being homophobic, but I never felt threatened. Never felt like I had to hold back or hide.
TB: I love that you love Candice. Tell us more about her.
AH: My Louisiana beauty queen! I could go on for 20 minutes about her. My favorite thing in the entire game was that Spencer screwed her over the first week by telling her to vote out Elissa. Then no one trusted her again! Everything about her game was awesome. She called me into the storage room once and was like, “Hey, boo! Gotta talk to you. You know there’s a four-person alliance that’s going to run this house and get rid of us one by one?” I was like, “Oh! Who is it, Candice?” She was like, “Helen, Elissa, Amanda, and McCrae!” I thought, “God. You have no idea what’s going on.” I’m pretty positive if you watch the competition where the jurors could come back, once Helen fell off, Candice was just like, “Whatever! I’m going back to jury with my girl Helen.” Candice, I’m positive, just wanted to go watch a movie with Helen in the jury house. So she jumped off and gave it to Judd.
TB: Do you have any definitive plans about what to do with $500,000?
AH: No, not anything. I’m just bombarded right now. I didn’t sleep at all last night. I am nervous about my job, just because — people are going to big stretches to make me seem terrible. There’s a YouTube video that called me “a sneaky racist” because I referred to Helen as “sharpening her sword.” To that I say: Whatever YouTuber came up with the idea that swords relate directly to Asian people? You are the sneaky racist. Not myself. I was reading the Wiki page about the show, and in it it says, “Spencer and Andy even made comments about Julie Chen, saying she was drunk!” The conversation we actually had was so absurd and sarcastic. Like, we were saying, “Could you believe Julie was stumbling through the live show again?! I couldn’t believe it when she puked!” I couldn’t believe that got published [as fact] somewhere. What total bonehead heard this and was like, “Oh my GOD. I can’t believe they’d talk about the host like this!” There are people on the internet who baffle me, and that’s all I’ll say because I don’t want to get in more trouble.
TB: But there are probably also ridiculous YouTube videos claiming you’re, like, in the Illuminati.
AH: But I am. So that’s fine.