The most genuinely surprising thing in Big Brother history occurred during Sunday’s episode, when an entire montage was dedicated to Aaryn Gries’ racist and homophobic comments, and also included a comment from GinaMarie Zimmerman. That follows CBS releasing a familiar and empty statement last week, and also the firing of both women by employers over things they’ve said while in the house that have been broadcast on the live feeds.
The edit Aaryn received contrasted significantly from earlier episodes, which presented her as the charming southern belle having a cute relationship with David. However, while Aaryn’s edit on Wednesday’s live show focused on the showmance and the couple being blindsided when David was voted out, it also didn’t exactly make her seem sympathetic or charming as she had in the past.
Sunday, immediately after Aaryn won Head of Household in a classic Big Brother power shift, the editing started to tear her down, from footage of others mocking her HOH room (“How often is it that you get to see baby pictures of the devil?” Andy said) to the editing itself mocking her toy clown. Then we saw footage of houseguests in the HOH room talking about Aaryn; it’s unclear exactly when that conversation occurred, but it appears to have been before last Thursday, since McCrae was in the bed.
Howard said something about Aaryn, and Amanda added, “she makes racist remarks, too.” Judd said, “Does she not know we’re on TV and you shouldn’t say stuff like that?” (Apparently, almost half the cast does not know that.)
Howard, in an interview, said, “I heard Aaryn say some derogatory comments toward a couple people in the house in certain situations. Granted, it does affect me indirectly, but it’s not directed toward me.” Then a montage began, highlighting things Aaryn said last weekend:
- Aaryn: “Shut up, go make some rice.”
- Aaryn: “I look, probably, like a squinty Asian right now.”
- Aaryn: “No one’s going to vote for whoever that queer puts up.”
- GinaMarie: “Candice is already on the dark side because she’s already dark.” Aaryn: “Be careful what you say in the dark because you might not be able to see the bitch.”
- Aaryn adopted a stereotypical Asian voice and said things such as, “You say you want long nail.”
Howard said that the comments could lead him to “losing my temper” “Even when these comments are said in fun, they still hurt and are disrespectufl”
Amanda, in an interview, and having clearly been prompted by the producers to talk about Aaryn’s comments, said, “On top of Aaryn being a raging bitch, she’s very naive and sheltered, and she makes comments that are completely inappropriate where she makes fun of other people for what they look like and their ethnicity, and I think it’s going to hurt her, a lot, in the game and outside the game.”
Ironically, in a segment that was not broadcast, it was Amanda who defended using homophobic language earlier when McCrae confronted her about it: “Don’t be saying homophobic shit,” he told her. “Fuck that,” Amanda said. McCrae said, of Andy, who’s gay, “He takes it fine, but even still, I get, like, offended almost. ‘Kermit the fag’–that’s so bad. I hate that.” Amanda told him, “Just shut up. The reason why it’s okay is because it’s so over-the-top inappropriate and we’re like close and we’re so kidding, and it’s okay.”
Later, when Helen approached her to talk about strategy, Aaryn said, without any hint of irony, that Helen talking game with her only after Aaryn got power in the house “kind of offends me.” So yes, Aaryn was offended by Helen–whose ethnicity was the target of a lot of awful things Aaryn said, several of which didn’t get included last night, including “Shut up. Go make some fucking rice.”
Because the episode was focused on Aaryn’s rise to power and nominations, following the exact same formula as every Sunday episode, it makes sense to flesh her out as a character by including things she’s said. And you could argue that Aaryn is the worst offender. But GinaMarie has also made fun of Helen’s ethnicity, and many houseguests have said racist, homophobic, and misogynistic things–and continue to do so. Since last weekend, Jeremy, for example, has used the word “jewed” derogatorily, including recently when he referred to the costume he had to wear for a challenge and said, “What kind of a gay color did I get jewed with?”
Still, actually showing a cast member’s ugly behavior and comments represents a major change. Three years ago, executive producer Allison Grodner told TV critics, “We really don’t want to put hateful things out there in our edits. And so for the most part, when this goes down, we keep that out of the show.” And CBS has defended sanitizing hateful language, justifying their presentation of significantly distorted characterizations of the show’s cast.
I hope this episode represents a major shift, and is not just a reaction to intense coverage from the entertainment press last week. CBS and the producers should continue to show the people they cast for who they are (and, while they’re at it, stop hiring them to do more work). And they should definitely include more of what this group of people have said this season.