Two Big Brother bombshells dropped on social media yesterday, one about the show’s past and one about its future:
- BB21 winner Jackson Michie admitting to prior drug addiction and going through withdrawal in the house.
- The CBS show’s long-time casting director, Robyn Kass, has quit, at least for the upcoming season.
While the news came on the same day, within just a few hours of each other, there’s no evidence that the two stories are in any way connected.
Big Brother casting director Robyn Kass quit BB23
Robyn Kass has been casting Big Brother since season two, in 2001, and found contestants from Dr. Will to Janelle Pierzina.
Midday Friday, Kass tweeted what she labeled as “Bitter Sweet [sic] news”:
“I’ve been offered some big opportunities in the New Year. After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to move forward w these projects & take a leave from #BB23. I am excited & have no doubt you’ll be in good hands this season!”
While she’s leaving the show, her message specifically refers to Big Brother 23, suggesting she could return in the future. But that means she won’t be involved in casting the first Big Brother cast that has to meet CBS’s new standards for diversity in reality show casts.
This news was met with celebration by some fans, probably because Big Brother has spent 21 years filling its soundstage house with disproportionately high garbage casts who’ve behaved in wretched, reprehensible ways.
A lot of the blame for their behavior has been sent her way—which has led her to do everything from block some critics on social media (including me) to responding very diplomatically to her boss’s criticism of BB17’s cast.
There is plenty of evidence that the show’s casts are not Robyn Kass’s fault.
In addition to casting CBS’s version of Big Brother, she also cast Love Island seasons one and two, plus NatGeo’s upcoming Race to the Center of the Earth, from the producers of The Amazing Race.
Kass also cast Big Brother Canada, including the upcoming BBCAN9, which was praised for its houseguests—and for just generally being better in every way, because BBCAN is on a different network and has different producers.
A casting director alone does not select a cast; it’s a collaborative effort, especially on network television. Casting directors and their teams find potential cast members and sort through applications, but they’re working off of directives from the show’s producers, and executives at the network are involved in the later stages, especially. During Les Moonves’ reign as CEO of CBS, even he was involved.
(For details about how that works, read my behind-the-scenes story about Big Brother finals casting.)
BB21 winner Jackson Michie’s ‘rehab’ and ‘post-surgery recovery on national television’
Jackson Michie exited the Big Brother soundstage house in 2019 having won $500,000. But he looked defeated and dejected, having just been confronted about his behavior.
The jury asked about why he was “degrading and condescending” to the women in the house, and Julie Chen Moonves asked about his day-one decision to banish the only two Black people from the house, to which he replied, “I’m not racist.”
At the end of Big Brother 21, in her final assessment, Hamsterwatch wrote that the season’s winner Jackson Michie was “[o]ne of the most problematic hamsters ever, he said many things he shouldn’t have, especially about David, and he let slip he had a myriad of life issues that should have DQd him from ever getting on the show.” That turned out to be a quite prescient assessment.
In a video posted to TikTok mid-afternoon Friday, Jackson discussed what he was facing when he entered the house: drug withdrawal and recovery from surgery.
He captioned the video “my most terrifying post yet” and added, “I hid addiction from the world, won the show, and won back my life. Proudly drug free.”
First, Jackson said he was recovering from surgery: “I moved in on June 17, 2019, and I had a blood clot less than a month before.” He says it was “a stress-induced blood clot that was right near my heart that I had to get taken out.”
And then he detailed his drug addiction:
Before going into Big Brother, I was addicted to Xanax, struggled with Adderall and cocaine, and I took my last Xanax less than two days prior to moving into this show.
This show, you’re documented and broadcast to the entire world for a hundred days around the clock, unedited, while competing with 15 other people—in a house, locked inside—for half a million dollars.
At the age of 23, I literally went through Xanax rehab, post-surgery recovery, on national television for 100 days and beat 15 people to be the winner Big Brother 21.
That last sentence seems like an impressive accomplishment, but is mostly horrifying: How could someone who was going through withdrawal be allowed to compete? Would drug testing have caught that?
Of course, Jackson did write in his caption that he “hid addiction from the world.”
The American Addiction Centers’ website has details about addiction to Xanax, saying that “Xanax withdrawal symptoms can take hold within hours of the last dose, and they can peak in severity within 1-4 days.” Symptoms include heart palpitations, sweating, anxiety, and panic.
It adds that “Xanax is also considered to be very addictive” and “withdrawal can start as the brain struggles to regain its natural sense of order and balance. Xanax withdrawal should not be attempted without medical assistance, as it can be dangerous and even potentially life-threatening.”
So, that means Jackson was in the care of Big Brother producers and CBS when he was going through something potentially life-threatening.
In a follow-up, labeled “accountability,” Jackson thanked people “for the support,” and said this:
“As much as I have a platform that can be used to showcase things—and I do, I want to showcase fitness and humor and positivity and happiness and cannabis and what it’s done for me in my life—I also want to use my platforms to hold myself accountable. I don’t want to go back down the same paths that I’ve been down and live the same life that I’ve lived, and I’m holding myself accountable, putting myself out there with no wiggle room to fuck up now.”
A subsequent video had on-screen text that said Jackson is now “happy, healthy, and drug free.
(If you are struggling with addiction, there is confidential, free help available from the SAMHSA national helpline: 1-800-662-4357.)