The 15th season of CBS’ “Big Brother” kicked off just one week ago, and evidently, that’s more than enough time to kick off some controversy.
As the new houseguests settled in to their summer home and started bonding with their fellow players, some of them have shown their less-than-TV-friendly sides.
In fact, the worst of the behavior — which has included undeniably racist, sexist and homophobic remarks — hasn’t even made it to the small screen at all. Instead, live-feed viewers, who pay a subscription to see the events in the house as they happen on the “Big Brother” website, watched the action and uploaded the evidence to YouTube (the clips have since been removed “due to copyright claim by Endemol USA Inc,” the production company behind “Big Brother”).
The offenses include frequent use of the N-word and gay slurs by more than one contestant and much more. Some of the most shocking comments so far have come from what’s shaping up to be this season’s “Mean Girls” clique, made up of Aaryn Gries and GinaMarie Zimmerman.
It’s not only fans who are outraged by the behavior of this season’s houstguests. Both Gries and Zimmerman are now facing real-world repercussions.
Zephyr Talent, the Texas modeling agency that reps Gries, announced on its Facebook page that it was dropping her as a client.
“Aaryn, season 15 cast member of ‘Big Brother,’ revealed prejudices and other beliefs that we (Zephyr Talent) do not condone,” the agency explained. “We certainly find the statements made by Aaryn on the live Internet feed to be offensive. Any views or opinions expressed in personal commentary by Aaryn, either on any live feed from the House or during the broadcast, are hers alone and do not represent the views or opinions of Zephyr Talent.”
And on Wednesday afternoon, Zimmerman lost her job with East Coast USA Pageant, Inc., where she worked as a pageant coordinator for the last five years. CEO Lauren Handler said in a statement that East Coast USA Pageant, Inc., was “left in disbelief and shock” by Zimmerman’s behavior on “Big Brother.”
“We have never known this side of GinaMarie or have ever witnessed such acts of racism in the past. We are actually thankful that this show let us see GinaMarie for who she truly is as we would never want her to be a role model to our future contestants,” Handler said in her statement. “We are unable to contact her at this time but when she returns from the ‘Big Brother’ house we will be terminating her employment for her unforgivable behavior. In a business where we are surrounded by beauty every day we are saddened to see something so ugly come from someone we put on a very high pedestal.”
Both Gries and Zimmerman slammed Korean-American housemate Helen Kim behind her back while being filmed for the live feed, each saying Kim should serve them some rice, with Zimmerman adding, “I’m gonna punch her in the face. I’m, like, ‘Oh, maybe it’ll make her eyes straight.’ “
The two have also bashed African-American contestant Candice Stewart, accusing her of letting her “blackness show.” Gries went so far as to warn her in-game ally to watch what she says in the dark because she “might not be able to see the b—-.”
Various slams from Kaitlin Barnaby, Jeremy McGuire, David Girton and Spencer Clawson have been somewhat less frequent, but just as upsetting to those watching the feeds. But why haven’t TV viewers seen or heard any of it?
That’s what some fans — and at least one past contestant — are asking.
Former “Big Brother” player Ragan Fox, who was part of the season 12 cast, posted an open letter to the production team on his blog.
“Houseguests GinaMarie, Aaryn, and Kaitlin referred to historically marginalized players as ‘tokens,'” Fox wrote. “Sadly, they aren’t too far off in their assessment. Characters like Andy (Herren), Candice, Howard (Overby), and Helen are reduced to mere tokens when production fails to include micro-aggressions that they have to endure on a day-to-day basis. What’s the point of casting racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities if production’s going to edit out the racism, ethnic discrimination, and homophobia that these people encounter inside the house?”
Fox went on to explain why he thinks it’s so important for CBS to air the offensive footage.
“‘Big Brother,’ I LOVE you, but, if you really want to provide a groundbreaking twist, SHOW CBS VIEWERS HOW SOME STRAIGHT, WHITE PEOPLE talk about gays, Asian Americans, and African Americans,” he said. “Capitalize on the Paula Deen controversy! Hate speech is currently a hot topic in the United States. It would be irresponsible to punt on this issue. What makes Aaryn’s homophobia and racism especially insidious is that it comes packaged in a bright-eyed, pageant-like exterior. I mean, how can somebody so sweet looking spew so much venom? Viewers would have to SEE it to BELIEVE it.”
Fans have even started a Change.org petition asking CBS to expel Gries, perceived by many to be the worst offender, from the house. More than 3,600 fans have signed it so far.
As for what, if any, action the network will take, that remains unclear. TODAY.com reached out to CBS for comment about the current controversy, but a statement from the network made no mention of changes.
“BIG BROTHER is a reality show about watching a group of people who have no privacy 24/7 — and seeing every moment of their lives,” the statement read. “At times, the Houseguests reveal prejudices and other beliefs that we do not condone. We certainly find the statements made by several of the Houseguests on the live Internet feed to be offensive. Any views or opinions expressed in personal commentary by a Houseguest appearing on BIG BROTHER, either on any live feed from the House or during the broadcast, are those of the individual(s) speaking and do not represent the views or opinions of CBS or the producers of the program.”
During a 2010 interview, “Big Brother” executive producer Allison Grodner addressed past decisions not to air certain controversial and insensitive comments on the show.
“We always say that these are real people and they are not being censored in there,” Grodner told Reality Blurred. “And they have opinions and so forth that we don’t necessarily agree with and condone and want to put out there further, to be honest. 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.”
“Big Brother” airs its first live episode of the season Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBS.
— Additional reporting by Anna Chan.