Interview: Julie Chen On This Controversial “Big Brother” Season And Preparing To Chat With A Bigot

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CBS always throws my favorite party of the summertime Television Critics Association press week. Why? Because the glorious Julie Chen always shows up, dutifully discusses the current season of Big Brother, and gives us an insider taste of the show’s messy machinations. This year we had a lot to ask about, namely “Texas tornado” Aaryn‘s bigotry, braying jackass GinaMarie, and the fate of the house’s lone gay contestant, Andy Herren. As usual, Chen‘s commentary was wise, informed, and generally undeniable. Les Moonves is one lucky honcho.

The Backlot: Julie, last year you pointed out Ian as your favorite player, and he ended up winning #BB14. Whose gameplay intrigues you this season? 
Julie Chen: Helen’s gameplay intrigues me, and I think she has what it takes to go the distance as long as she stays in long enough to win HOH again and doesn’t get drunk with power. I tasted a little bit of that. If she can actually run that house while purposely not getting HOH? Then I think she has it what it takes to go the distance. She doesn’t let her emotions get the best of her, and that is integral in this game because people often fly off the handle. Their emotions take over, and then you put a mark on your back. She knows how to vote intelligently, not emotionally.

TB: I can’t make up my mind about Elissa yet. Will the Rachel clout ultimately buoy or sink her?
JC: I don’t know! She is a wild card just like Rachel, but she’s not as exaggerated as Rachel. We’ve seen different shades come out in the past couple of weeks, because it was the first week she didn’t get MVP and she didn’t know who got MVP. You saw a little bit of ugly come out in her. But it all stemmed from insecurity, and that doesn’t make it right. That crippled her gameplay a little bit. It wasn’t good for her.

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TB: I’ve got to ask about Andy, this season’s gay player. He’s very under the radar, but he manages to be present during plenty of vital conversations in the house. Will he survive? So far no one has come close to naming him as a nominee for eviction.
JC: No! And I don’t know if it’s so much genius strategy on his part. I think it’s more, he’s comfortably enjoying the experience of being on Big Brother and not trying to go out of his way to be under the radar. He’s very likable as a viewer and to the other houseguests. That’s working for him. If he’s smart, he’ll just continue to be the shoulder to cry on, the ear that’s going to listen to you, the friend who’s always going to be upbeat and happy, the guy you’re happy to see. He’s going to make you feel like he’s happy to see you. That’ll be beneficial to him. Because who would target him then?

TB: Are you annoyed by Big Brother superfans who go on the show and are too starstruck by the whole experience to play a good game? Like Adam during #BB13? Or Judd this season? He was pathetic with that HOH power.
JC: It annoys me on one end of the spectrum like you say, because they say, “I’m the biggest fan!” and then during the show, they’re like, “Huh?” And then it annoys me when they’re too smart and they can almost outsmart us! Helen is borderline like that. She was saying, “I bet it was America who’s MVP this week.” I was like, “Shut up, woman!”

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TB: We must talk about Aaryn since we’re human beings. Have you prepared studiously for her eventual exit interview? What’s your strategy?
JC: It changes every week as new things happen in the house. I felt last week['s eviction] was a good dress rehearsal because I saw how Kaitlin was so shellshocked. She was nervous to begin with because she felt humiliated because of the unanimous vote. As soon as I mentioned that people see her as a mean girl, you could tell she just shut down. The key thing is not to eviscerate Aaryn. You’ve got to make her comfortable enough that she can give you honest answers. It’s not going to be crucifixion. I have to be fair. It wouldn’t be appropriate, you know? She’s a young girl, she’s 22, I’m sure her brain and her self-esteem are still developing. I think a lot of her comments come from a place of insecurity and immaturity, so the hope is not to strip her of any self-esteem, but to open her mind to why it was so wrong and so bad — without brow-beating her.

TB: Will you treat GinaMarie and Spencer similarly, even though their bigoted comments haven’t been a big part of the show?
JC: It depends what week they come out of the house. If a big story has taken place? Because it’s a live show, you have to react in the moment. Like with Kaitlin, the fact that she only hugged GinaMarie [while leaving the house]? You could tell she felt very abandoned by everyone in the house except GinaMarie. So I don’t know. A lot of it is that my gut will guide me in that moment. I’ll have a guideline in my head for how I’ll want it to go, but on live television, I have to go with my gut. This is especially if I ask a question to Aaryn and it goes quickly south; you want to get her to start talking! You don’t want to beat her over the head with something where you’re only getting one-word answers.

TB: Finally, who’s the next veteran cast member you’d like to see brought back on the show?
JC: I’ve always wondered what it would be like if we re-did the whole game with the current rules and the season one cast. It was a different game then! America voted out the houseguest they wanted out from week to week. That’s the model that is followed everywhere else. That’s where it originated. What we’ve learned culturally though, as Americans, we vote out the most interesting people because they’re the troublemakers. We don’t like trouble! But then it got very dull. I thought that would be interesting. I’d also like if we took the winner from each season and did an All-Stars — though not all of them are stars! We couldn’t even call it that!

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