CBS’ shameful, no-longer-fun Big Brother ends ironically with its first gay winner

Big Brother has concluded its 15th season, and also decidedly ended its run as a show that could be dismissed as just silly fun with challenges that ejaculate foam onto contestants. Instead, it was finally revealed publicly to be a vile, indefensible, ugly monster fed, nurtured, and defended by CBS–all the way to its CEO–because it feeds the network’s bottom line. And there is no fun left in that.

CBS has made it 100 percent clear that, despite its constant insistence that it does not condone awful behavior or language, it actually does just that, mostly by protecting those who are guilty of it. The only thing new this year was the disclaimed broadcast of bigotry in order to throw one person under the bus instead of ignoring or whitewashing it like the network has done in the past, often going so far as to edit aggressors into victims while pretending to stake out the moral high ground.

Almost three months ago, the world began to pay attention after racist, homophobic, and misogynistic comments spewed forth from a significant portion of the cast, and it continued and got even more vile.

But what was really disturbing was the aftermath. To watch Julie Chen tear Aaryn apart and completely softball Amanda, never mind help parade around appalling CBS golden boy Jeff Schroeder, is to see hypocrisy so outrageous and obvious that it’s almost laughable.

Alas, this is nothing new, but it was new to see it so blatantly, so magnified and multiplied to a degree I couldn’t have imagined.

Big Brother is a show that will put effort toward manipulating footage for no reason but keep the same outline and challenges each season. It’s cast with the same archetypes each year, but they’re increasingly younger, whiter, and more ignorant, with an occasional nod to narrowly defined diversity.

Executive producers Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan have been the target of most criticism in the past, including from me, but this summer it became totally clear that they’re essentially doing what the network wants and/or allows.

In their and Big Brother‘s defense, it’s the only reality series that has to contend with viewers having access to raw footage, which makes all of this criticism possible. However, without those live feeds and subsequent rabid fan base, its mediocre ratings would be far more mediocre, so it’s a necessary trade-off.

As to the actual episode, the season ended with the show’s first gay winner, which is unbelievable and ironic, considering all of the homophobic comments that emerged from within the house this summer.

I recorded the finale and intended to watch, but just couldn’t stand 90 more minutes of this, especially after reading some of what happened. Here instead is a distilled summary of the finale and what’s happened today, with links to those who were still paying attention.

  • GinaMarie Zimmerman, whose racist and bigoted comments were just as bad as CBS scapegoat Aaryn’s, received $50,000 from CBS. In third place was Spencer Clawson, who called women the c-word repeatedly and joked about child porn, prompting his employer to call police.
  • Andy Herren may be the show’s first gay winner, and the target of some of his fellow houseguests’ bigoted remarks, and while he was never anywhere close to that level, he wasn’t completely innocent, from calling “Kim Jong Helen Kim” to saying cruel things about Elissa. The college where he is an adjunct professor recently issued a statement to distance themselves from him.
  • Whether or not Andy was a good player is being debated, as is whether or not fans’ dislike of his game play has homophobic origins. Former Big Brother cast members Marcellas Reynolds and Ragan Fox debate that in a thought-provoking exchange.
  • Last year’s winner, Ian Terry, thinks Andy is “a top tier winner.”
  • I loathe having to listen to/watch a journalist or critic conduct an interview; I don’t have that kind of time or tolerance for so much insufferable self-indulgence, never mind tragic production values. But I digress. That said, EW’s podcast with Big Brother’s final three is probably worth a listen for the final three’s defenses of their behavior. GinaMarie first hears the statement about her being fired. (Start halfway through for her part.) She said, “I got a big mouth sometimes” but insisted, “I have a big heart and a big personality.” She calls her firing “a real big stab in the heart, because my whole life is pageants and dancing” and added, “I want to try to be a good role model” for the kids she works with.
  • In the same interview, Andy defended Spencer, who “doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.” He insisted “a lot of things that were taken out of context” and that Spencer’s jokes, apparently such as calling him “Kermit the fag,” were “coming from a place of love for me.”
  • Spencer said, “I certainly don’t have any hate in my heart” and added, “I’ve said some stupid things and hopefully the people I’ve offended will forgive me.”
  • Update: Spencer’s employer, Union Pacific, said in a new statement that “a formal investigation will be held under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement to determine the facts involving Mr. Clawson’s behavior on the Big Brother television show and online live feed. Based on the results of the investigation, Union Pacific will determine the appropriate action regarding Mr. Clawson’s employment status.”
  • Andy addressed his comments about Elissa, saying, “some of the stuff I said might have been ridiculous or vulgar but at the same time I did comedy and things like that so people understand it’s my personality. I never said anything that I thought was super mean. I mean, ughhh, maybe a little toward Elissa. I never said anything I thought was really, really malicious or hateful or racial or things like that, like a lot of the controversy of the season stemmed from.”
  • Aaryn Gries, whose publicists followed her around after tweeting support for her while she was in the house, doesn’t care that she was fired: “To be honest with you it wasn’t that great of an agency anyway and I have six meetings with six new agencies tomorrow, so it’s a better step.”
  • Julie Chen and the show’s producers couldn’t be bothered to use their final 90 minutes for anything substantive, with Julie Chen actually dismissing Spencer’s question about whether or not he said anything offensive (“We don’t have enough time right now,” she said). I guess it’s too much to hope that in season 15, Julie Chen would actually host.
  • In the ratings, the finale was flat compared to last year, but down from its Survivor lead-in (which itself was down compared to last fall).

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.