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Big Brother 21 racism and awfulness: an update

Big Brother 21 racism and awfulness: an update
No, Jack, none of this is okay. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS)

Last Thursday, Big Brother’s awful twist left three of the six people of color permanently evicted simultaneously. And since then, things have not improved. Most recently, a racist comment Jack made in reference to Bella, who’s Asian, has earned media attention—more than for any of his comments about Kemi.

Meanwhile, executive producer Allison Grodner has commented, sort of, an an embarrassing interview for both her and EW.

We also heard from the Camp Comeback residents—David, Kemi, and Ovi—who are now completely out of the house and game after both targeted and vilified, and also learned that CBS investigated Jack and Jackson’s potential use of a racial slur.

Finally, Jeff Schroeder—who during his time on Big Brother repeatedly used homophobic slurs and language—defended the houseguests, sort of, and insisted he grew from the criticism he received.

What David, Kemi, and Ovi think

Ovi Kabir, David Alexander, Big Brother 21 live eviction episode
Ovi Kabir and David Alexander during Big Brother 21’s first live eviction episode. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

The first three players out of the game also were three of the six people of color in the house.

David was kicked out on day one thanks to the producers’ dumb twist and an even dumber competition that only gave him a random chance of earning his way back. After being sequestered for two weeks, he came back into the house, where he was immediately shunned by the others, who made a pact to not talk around him or the other people who’d been evicted.

In an interview with Parade, he summarized his time on the show like this:

“I felt like I didn’t really play. I was banished and came back into Camp Comeback to play the social game solely. I had social momentum and was figuring out the alliances. I didn’t get a chance to vote or compete for Head of Household or Veto, to leverage being part of the game. I feel like I didn’t get a chance to play the game truly.

Despite being removed from the game physically and psychologically, David incredibly figured out most of the relationships and alliances in the house. (He was clearly a strong player, and it would have been terrific to see him actually play, had the producers and network not decided that they needed to “banish” someone on night one.)

With similar clarity—about both the appearance and the reasons why things happened—he summarizes what happened with all three residents of Camp Comeback:

“It’s unfortunate. I can see who’s on Camp Comeback on the memory wall and see why those individuals were there. Part of my tears [last night] was not getting to return and make it different in the house. I lost, and it’s going to look bad that the first three people out are people of color. That was a frustrating aspect; I wanted to fight more for that not to be the case. But at the same time, Ovi got backdoored because Sam saved Cliff. Sam saved Cliff because they both have kids and Sam’s a good guy who thought Cliff who should have a longer shot in the game. That’s not a knock on Ovi. I volunteered to be Camp Director and Michie banished me, and I lost because I couldn’t see in the dark. And I can see why Kemi didn’t last. She’s a bit of a princess. Around the house, it appeared to me like she was “above” some things like washing dishes and helping out. I can’t see the feeds or what’s behind closed doors; I’d be curious to see what’s out there. The cards fell the way they fell, and we were unfortunately evicted.”

Kemi Fakunle on Big Brother 21
Kemi Faknule on Big Brother 21 (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Asked by EW if “race played any issue” in the first three players’ evictions, Kemi was hesitant because she hadn’t watched the feeds or episodes, and thus didn’t know what happened when she wasn’t in the room, but she did say this:

“There was definitely an in-group vs. out-group feeling in the house and I mean, I really don’t know. I don’t want to say something without being certain about it, but we definitely felt a presence in the house that we weren’t a part of.”

Later, Kemi tweeted a note that said she is “extremely disappointed and disgusted by the behavior” she observed, including “the degrading and threatening comments made by some houseguests and laughed at by others.”

She added, “I am saddened to be associated with such a negative display of human character and am horrified that this is now a part of my life story.”

But she also added, “while I appreciate the support, I do ask that the negative comments that have been made in my defense stop. I do not want to perpetuate the same negatively that I received in the house.”

Here’s her full note:

Finally, in a post-eviction interview with EW, Ovi said this:

“I don’t want to speak for Kemi’s and David’s experience in there. And I don’t know what was said behind closed doors. However, I don’t think there was blatant racism or anything like that going on as the reason we were targeted. But subconsciously, yeah, I think some things came into play. Kemi, David, and I are three people from different backgrounds that don’t share the same commonalities as some of these other houseguests in there. So bonding in certain ways is more difficult for us in those things. And you find whatever you can in the house to single somebody out. And so maybe our differences were the reasons why it played in some people’s heads.”

What Big Brother’s executive producer Allison Grodner said

Big Brother executive producer Allison Grodner
Big Brother executive producer Allison Grodner (Photo by Sonja Flemminig/CBS)

EW’s Dalton Ross interviewed Allison Grodner, but framed the shitshow that is this season as “bullying.” Instead of citing any specific examples, he did his best Andy Cohen impression and blamed his question on fans, saying “viewers of the live feeds have been complaining about the behavior.”

That’s literally the most reductive version of events possible. He did not ask her about:

Then Dalton allowed Grodner to get away with this non-answer that regurgitated familiar lines and then changed the subject:

“The house dynamics in this social experiment are unpredictable and different every year as people align and realign. The bigger the group, the bigger the chance for some sort of ‘mob mentality.’ It seems to be that ‘mob mentality’ that occurred this past week against Nicole. As a large group, they whipped each other up into a frenzy and it became a major story both in and out of the house.”

In the interview, Grodoner concludes by saying, “We definitely have more surprises planned.”

The only real surprise would be if the producers apologized and resigned; boarded up the Big Brother house; and CBS never, ever produced this show again.

CBS investigated Jackson/Michie’s potential use of a racial slur

Jack Matthews, Jackson Michie, Big Brother 21, BB21
BB21’s Jack Matthews and Jackson Michie (Photos by Monty Brinton/CBS)

Producers scrutinized the video of Jack and Jackson’s conversation in the kitchen, which sounded to some people like they may have used the n-word one or more times.

But they concluded that neither used the racial slur.

That’s according to Newsweek, which reported that “CBS found no usage of the word by Michie or other houseguests after studying the tapes for problematic wording, CBS told Newsweek.” 

Jack’s comment during a conversation about Bella

Jack is currently nominated for eviction alongside Bella, the only Asian contestant. Based on conversations in the house, it seems likely that, tonight, during the live eviction, the houseguests are going to evict their fourth person of color in a row and keep Jack.

Last week, the producers did show Jack being condescending, lecturing Kemi about using the refrigerator, but that’s one of the least egregious things he’s said or done, and the show continues to present a much friendlier version of him to CBS viewers.

Will they show what happened on Tuesday?

In a conversation in the hammock about Bella, Tommy said, “The proof is in the pudding.”

Jack jumped in immediately and said “the rice pudding.” Then, for some unclear reason, the other people present started saying “slop pudding.” Here’s Hamsterwatch’s transcript:

Tommy about Bella: The proof is in the pudding
Jack: Uh huh, the rice pudding
Tommy: The slop pudding
Kat: The slop pudding
Christie: The slop pudding

This comment has received wider attention than anything else that’s happened this season: TMZ covered it, and the UK tabloid The Mirror proclaimed, “Big Brother USA in racism row after ’rice pudding’ joke about Asian housemate.”

It also got the attention of the producers, who have clearly been talking to the houseguests about their comments.

Later, Jack told several people, “When they [producers] told me I was like, ‘nooo!'”

But he also seemed unconcerned. Earlier in that conversation, Jack said, “I am still so relieved about yesterday’s dilemma—the misconception.” Then he said to Tommy, apparently referring to the producers, “They thought you were, like, in on it and totally got it?”

Tommy explained: “They [producers] thought that I was trying to protect you because you said something bad and I caught it and and I cut it off. But no. …They were like, You tried to change the conversation, and I said, No, that was it, and I didn’t get it. So funny.”

Is it funny? (No.)

Jeff Schroeder insists he’s apologized for his anti-gay slurs

Jeff and Jordan will be on Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars
Jeff Schroeder and Jordan Lloyd are among the cast members on the new Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars May 2015 season. (Photo by Helga Esteb/Shutterstock.)

On Daily Blast Live, co-host Jeff Schroeder—who also works for CBS, interviewing the contestants before the season begins—both condemned and defended what’s happened, without being specific once.

But he also addressed his own Big Brother comments, expressing some contrition.

During Big Brother 11, Jeff used anti-gay slurs repeatedly during conflict with other contestants, saying things including, “you fucking homo,” “fuck you, you fucking homo faggot,” and “you fucking fags.”

Interestingly, back then, people defended his use of such language, and even criticized me for pointing it out. Things have changed a lot in eight years.

Two seasons later, Jeff was back on the show and went on an odd, homophobia-fueled rant about Harry Potter.

Yesterday, on the show he co-hosts, Jeff was asked about Jack’s comments by his co-host, who asked if producers should intervene.

Jeff said, “I don’t know if they should do anything. This is kind of taking the temperature of America.” After noting that he was on the show twice, he said, “I’ve said some dumb things—as much as you said everybody loves me, there’s a lot of people who hate me for things I’ve done or said in that house. I’ve apologized multiple times.”

Let’s pause there. When, exactly, did he apologize? I recall no such thing, and could not find an actual apology (let me know if you find one!) other than what he told EW after his homophobic comments in 2011:

“I cannot believe what you guys pull out of certain conversations. I went through this last time. If you want me to apologize for it right now, I’ll apologize for it.”

That’s not exactly a real apology, and certainly doesn’t express any kind of regret.

On yesterday’s Daily Blast show, Jeff defended the houseguests and criticized those who judge them. Watch the full segment here.

He said:

“I don’t condone any of these terms but I always take the houseguests’ back because I know what it’s like to be in that house. You might sit on your couch and judge and think you know what it’s like in that house, but you don’t. You turn into a different person slightly; your mind goes to a different places.”

But Jeff also said that he learned from what he said:

“I do want to say this is a learning experience. From the things that I’ve said on this show, from the feedback that I’ve got, I’ve changed my life because of that.”

That’s nice. Actions do matter, and he certainly hasn’t used anti-gay slurs in any of his pre-season interviews. But even now, he isn’t acknowledging that he did anything wrong, or that he used hurtful and demeaning language.

But not acknowledging what’s really happened seems to be a pattern with Big Brother contestants and producers.

Update, July 26: On the subject of Jeff’s apologizing, on Twitter Wednesday night, along with the video below, Jeff wrote this:

“I’ve grown a lot as a person since my time 10 yrs ago on @CBSBigBrother. I try to learn from all my mistakes to become a better father, husband, host & friend, but I’m not perfect. If I offened [sic] anybody, I’m sorry.”

“If”? And sorry for what? Offending people? His intention may be good, but this reads as one of those non-apologies.

While that may not be a full apology, someone else posted a video of an interview Jeff gave that appears to be from the Real SuperPass days of Big Brother live feeds, in which Jeff unequivocally apologizes.

In that video, he starts by saying “I want to apologize first and foremost. I should’t have said that.” He starts to explain his BB13 discussion of Harry Potter and Dumbledore, and then says, “I don’t even want to get into that because it sounds like a cop-out. I just want to apologize. People say things, they do things.” He adds, “People can say whatever they want; I’m not a bad person.”

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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