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If BB22 is all-stars, CBS better not bring back any racist houseguests

If BB22 is all-stars, CBS better not bring back any racist houseguests

A 20-year anniversary season of Big Brother this summer, which will be BB22 because there was one spring season, may include an entirely all-star cast for the first time since season seven in 2006.

But Big Brother has an alumni base littered with people who’ve said racist, misogynist, and bigoted things in the house on the live feeds, starting with the very first season. They rarely facing any consequences in the game and often their comments completely removed from the TV show—or even being rewarded with jobs by CBS, which has done nothing to stop this pattern of casting and behavior over years and years.

Us Weekly reported today that “several former winners and notable alumni have been approached about returning for the 20th anniversary of the show.” Us said “some of them declined for various reasons, the risk of COVɪD-19 being one of them.”

While Big Brother’s typical finals casting involves a week-long stay in a hotel, casting returning players might forgo the need for that part of the process, since everyone from casting producers to network executives already know the show’s alumni.

Us reports that “players will also have to be sequestered longer than usual and will have to quarantᎥne for 14 days before entering the game to ensure they are healthy.” That’s great, but it doesn’t mention the many crew members who work on the show in some very close quarters.

The show has had some memorable and great players over the years, but I have little to no hope for an all-star BB22 being fun and carefree, because this franchise has hosted and enabled an incredible number people who’ve behaved in cruel, abusive ways during the game and/or directed racist and other slurs toward their fellow cast members.

And CBS has consistently demonstrated that it doesn’t care about racist or bigoted behavior. When a white male houseguest used violent language about a black female houseguest last summer, he was only warned by producers; meanwhile, a producer asked a black houseguest to speak in more stereotypical ways.

Last summer, I asked CBS executives, “Is it acceptable to you that your two top reality shows allow this behavior and continue to perpetuate stereotypes through the choices the producers are making in editing and in production?”

The answer, from CBS Entertainment President Thom Sherman, was that “we don’t believe that an incident like that will happen again.”

I wish I could believe him, and not just see that as delusional at best and gaslighting at worst, considering the show’s history.

CBS even loves to re-cast people who’ve said awful things, which sends a clear message to both viewers and cast members: We don’t care about racism, homophobia, or other bigotry.

Jeff Schroeder’s homophobic slurs and comments didn’t stop CBS from casting him on The Amazing Race and hiring him repeatedly to do pre-season interview for new cast members.

Last year’s winner, Jackson Michie, who started the game by choosing to banish the only two black players from the house and then repeatedly saying violent things about one of them, David, and calling the other, Kemi, “a cancer”, ended up winning $500,000 and exited the house insisting “I’m not racist.”

Jackson Michie on Big Brother 21 episode 1
Camp director Jackson Michie on Big Brother 21’s premiere. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS)

Big Brother 19 fan-favorite Cody Nickson, who won $25,000 after viewer votes, went on to win $1 million on The Amazing Race 30. That’s despite his anti-trans comments and bragging on the show that he went to Ferguson, Missouri, during the protests that followed a police officer killing Michael Brown, with live feed watchers reporting that Cody went to Ferguson to express solidarity with those protesting police violence, but to “see if I could survive.”

Recently, Cody was asked directly if he supports Black Lives Matter, and responded, via a comment on Instagram captured by a Redditor, that he thinks the question was designed to “bait someone like me into saying all lives matter. And then it’s followed by character assassination attempts and name calling and no real conversation is had. So the [sic] what’s the point in me saying for the 1000th time that I want freedom, liberty, and justice for everyone in the United States (and other countries)?”

The point, Cody, is in expressing care and concern for the people who are directly under attack right now. (This cartoon illustrates it brilliantly.)

Anyway, these are just two recent examples of players who viewers have loved and/or who’ve won the game, having faced no on-screen consequences for their words or actions.

On the rare occasions that Big Brother has actually addressed what’s happened with this kind of offensive, problematic behavior, it’s typically done so in a disingenuous, inaccurate way.

Last season’s finale included host Julie Chen most directly confront players about what they’d said and done, but the finale was so rushed that there was no time to play clips or ask follow-up questions.

Ten years ago, Allison Grodner was asked by a TV critic about why the TV show sanitized and removed racism, broadcasting innacurate versions of houseguests to the world. She said:

“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. It doesn’t mean it’s not out there, it certainly was caught on the Internet. But usually you’ll see that statements that go out–it’s true, they’re real people in there with their own opinions they’re put in there because they have a variety of backgrounds and we can’t predict what they’re going to say.”

Yes, Allison, you cannot predict what real people are going to say. But you can do a better job of vetting them. You can refuse to cast people who’ve said or done awful things in the past.

And what you can really do, as the producer of a reality competition, is set clear, transparent, fair rules for what is and isn’t allowed. Either Big Brother cast members are allowed to say racist things or they are not. It’s not that hard.

Do you know what else isn’t hard? Not casting an all-star season with houseguests who’ve previously said racist things or behaved in awful ways.

If CBS actually means what they tweeted last week—that they “stand in solidarity with our Black colleagues, creators, partners, and audiences and condemn all acts of racism, discrimination, and senseless acts of violence”—they should start by stopping it from occurring on their own reality TV shows, like Big Brother 22.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    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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