It's hard to imagine, but in the summer of 2000, there was no such thing as "The Bachelor." There was no "Amazing Race," no "American Idol," no "Fear Factor" and no "Project Runway." CBS took a lofty gamble in green-lighting a little something called "Survivor," which premiered on May 31 and became a runaway success. By July 5, it found a partner in "Big Brother," a show that locked 10 strangers in a house on a studio lot in Los Angeles and left them to battle for a $500,000 prize. The network purchased the rights to the Netherlands series of the same name -- a reference to George Orwell's 1984 -- for an estimated $20 million. The American version, which asked viewers to vote for one of two houseguests to be banished each week, faced dwindling ratings and critical pans, even after luring a handful of dedicated viewers with online live-feeds that provided 24/7 access. Despite the unfavorable reception, CBS renewed the show for a second season, rebooting the format so that houseguests competed weekly to be crowned Head of Household and then voted to evict one another. Ratings increased, critics came around and a reality-television sensation was born.
Today, "Big Brother" is in its 17th season, attracting 5 to 7 million viewers per episode and feeding a legion of loyal fans who've made the show a summer staple. Each season employs twists, some more enticing than others, but the structure remains the same: Julie Chen shepherds 12 to 16 houseguests through three months of competitions, alliances, evictions and showmances, all in the name of the show's mantra -- "expect the unexpected."
Heading into this season's first double eviction, The Huffington Post turned to 15 former contestants to trace what it's like to participate in one of reality TV's fixtures. The show's producers declined to comment, so consider this a houseguest tell-all, patched together via individual, lengthy conversations with each person. Now you have one minute to gather your belongings and settle in because it's time to eavesdrop on the houseguests.
Based on open casting calls, audition tapes and recruiting, potential contestants undergo weeks of scrutiny before the crew arrives at the finalists' homes and hands them oversized keys that act as a ticket onto the show. Reality television was still a fledgling industry in the early 2000s, but token archetypes quickly emerged among the casts.
William Collins: It was around 2000. When I heard the advertisements for "Big Brother" -- you would stay in a house for three months -- I thought it was the local radio station doing another one of these things for the radio. I went on the website, and like most people do, I wasn’t reading in-depth. I was probably about three-fourths finished with the application when I thought, “This doesn’t seem like a radio program for some reason.”
Danielle Reyes: My audition tape showed a picture of my high school basketball team. I said, “Hey, I need you to focus on the cute one," so I zoomed in on myself. I said, “Look at her, lucky No. 15. You think she is going to live the life. She is going to go to college, she is going to live the 'Sex and the City' life. But let me let you in on a little secret: When that photo was taken, she had a 2-year-old daughter. That life that she thought she had did not happen." I remember doing my spiel and I’m standing there in workout gear, just being casual, and at the end of my tape I said, “If you thought Dr. Will was something, wait till you guys get a load of me.” And they gave me a call. I was so shocked because I forgot I had auditioned.
Dan Gheesling: It took me four years to get on the show. I made it to the finals in Season 6, but scheduling didn’t work out and I couldn’t make it. I was close to being on Season 9. Lucky for me it worked out for Season 10 because Season 9 is considered maybe one of the less exciting seasons to watch.
Mike Malin: I sent in the tape and then I was called to come meet with casting, where I went on video camera and they grilled me for about 20 minutes. One thing that me and Dr. Will constantly talk about is "know your role," and I knew very early on in auditioning, as someone who was already in Hollywood, what my role was. I knew I wasn’t going to compete with the hunky guys and I knew I wasn’t going to be the hero type. My role was the bar-owning, fun-loving party guy. I played up that aspect.
Erika Landin: I’m a casting producer now, and reality TV in general is pretty formulaic. Obviously you have archetypes. You have the hero, the villain. It was actually kind of a tagline on our season -- we would all say to each other at some point, as a joke, “Know your role."
Jack Owens: I had all this experience in the FBI. This show is really nothing more than a three-month surveillance where you’re just taking a look at everybody and trying to size them up. As it turns out, they were hoping to get someone from law enforcement for "BB 4."
Dan: In semifinals, I said something about leaving the country if so-and-so was elected, and I saw the casting producer light up. Then, when I went to finals, I saw that my casting folder said “Dan Gheesling, conservative Catholic high school teacher.” So I said some really outlandish things in Season 10 casting, and I thought, "If I can just get on the show, then I can be my normal self, because I don’t talk like that." I think they went in casting me thinking that I would have some conflict with people who are maybe more liberal on the show, when in reality I don’t really care.
Chima Simone: The process entails taped interviews where you’re asked your stance on a variety of topics: abortion, race, gender politics, etc. Other questions include simple inquiries about your life, friends, etc. I was very candid in my interviews.
Andy Herren: In my initial interview when I went to the open casting call, they brought in six people at a time. Later that day, they called me to tell me I was a semifinalist. I couldn’t tell anyone.
Sheila Kennedy: Season 9 was a winter show. I got a call from the casting director and they sent me a letter saying, "You’re the 20 finalist." The casting director said, "Whatever you do, don’t put anything on social media or you will be completely pulled out of the show."
James Rhine: They found me on Myspace. They literally hit me up because they liked the modeling picture I had as a profile picture, and my old job was as a corporate investigator. I had never watched the show, but they kept telling me they saw me as the second coming of this Dr. Will person.
Jeff Schroeder: I auditioned with my ex-girlfriend. We both made it to the next round and they kept calling me back, but they never called her back. She would tell me the answers to things. While filling out the paperwork, I’m like, "Who is my favorite player?" She’s like, “Dan is your favorite player.” Then I got flown to L.A. Then they ask, "So why do you like Dan?" And I said, “Listen, guys, I gotta be honest with you: I don’t even know who Dan is.” Me and Jordan bonded because we’d never really watched the show in-depth like that.
Ian Terry: I thought the interview went pretty well, and about a month later I got a phone call saying I was a finalist. You go out to Los Angeles. They put you up in a hotel for a week and then they basically interview you every single day during that week.
Jack: It was 10 full days. We were not allowed to talk or even know that each other existed. But it didn’t take us long to figure out who we were. If you look around -- and we were all paying close attention -- you could see people with handlers walking them around the pool area. I spotted from "Big Brother 4": Jun, Dana, Erika, Justin, Nathan and Scott, around the pool and elsewhere.
Danielle: I wore shades so I could watch people to find out who was going to be on the show with me. At the final stages, they would call us up. We had a room of producers, and they would purposely ask me, “Have you noticed anyone?” And I would break it down, like, "This person, she seems crazy." Every night they eliminate people. If I got my meal ticket or my carpe diem for the day, I was good. I would look for the African-American girl because I figured that was my competition. I was so all about the money, and I remember Allison Grodner, the producer, asked me, “What if America perceives you as being a bitch?” And I just turned to her and said, “I’m going to be the bitch with 500 G’s. I. Don’t. Care.”
Andy: You would have your psych test, your physical, your producers’ interview. Every day I had a schedule where from 11 to noon I could go to the pool and then from 2 to 3 I could eat lunch -- but I had to check in with a handler. At the end of it, we were all taken to CBS and put in this room, and one by one we had our finalist interviews with the producers. That was the first time you actually saw everyone. I was looking around and I didn’t think I noticed any other gay guys, based on outward appearance, so I was just like, “Fuck, this looks good.” A couple of weeks later, I got some phone calls and was told to just have my bags packed and be ready to go any day after June 6.
William: I was the very last person they interviewed for "Big Brother 1" in California. They didn’t make hotel accommodations for us, so we’re just sitting around the studio on a plank or sitting on the floor. You would come and sit on the stage, and there were about four or five people who were questioning you in a theater. I’m the last guy. I’m irrirtated, I’m tired, I’m hungry. I had noticed that out of those 100 or 200 people who made it to those final questions, there were only two other black guys. I sit down and I say, “If you don’t pick me, I’m going to be really upset because there are only two other black guys and I know you’re going to pick one and I already checked ‘em out and they’re really, really corny.” So they started laughing. They said, "Well, we want you to know we’re not the only people who are observing you. Behind you there’s a two-way mirror and our staff of about 150 people can all see you and hear you, and they have already been screaming, 'Pick him.'"
Jack: At that time, they weren’t starting the show until early July. I remember going back home and waiting a while and not knowing. Then I got a call saying they were on their way. They said they were coming and they would be at my house and I have like an hour or 90 minutes to pack. "Big Brother" called it being kidnapped.
Jason Roy: There was really no confirmation of when we'd know. I’m a realist, not an optimist, so it was two days before and I knew they could possibly be showing up and I was thinking this was still not going to happen.
Sheila: I didn’t think I’d made it. It was 6 in the morning. Literally the filming crew showed up at my door in the morning, “Let’s get your son and go to a local park,” and that’s when they handed me my key. I had an hour to pack, and my son was crying and I was crying. I just stuffed crap in bags, then they took me off and I was gone for three months.
Ian: Once I leave, I’m pretty much under extreme supervision. I’m going to an airport, I’m getting on a plane to L.A. and I'm not allowed to talk to anyone. I’m with a handler at all times. I’m brought to a hotel and placed in a room where there’s no TV or music. My ID is confiscated, my wallet is confiscated, everything is gone. The only thing I’m allowed to use the phone for is to call production to order room service -- I can’t even order it directly. You’re a shut-in.
Mike: Going for the weeklong sequester before you enter the house is the most torturous time. For "Big Brother 14," I had a sliding glass door, which was kind of nice. One time I was locked in for a week and I couldn’t even have fresh air. The first time I did it, you were allowed to go to the gym and the pool with an escort, but the second two times you’re completely cut off. You can have magazines and books, which seems like a luxury compared to the "Big Brother" house, but you’re pretty much in complete solitude for five or six days.
Andy: They give you a bunch of old episodes of "Big Brother" so you can prep. I studied all these seasons and noticed what people who fucked up in the beginning did to get evicted. Then they had a list of movies you could watch. You could also bring movies with you if you wanted.
Danielle: We could not look at TV at all. I think it was just preparing you to be cut off from society.
Ian: I think they do it to rattle your cage a little bit. You’re bound to get stir-crazy, and then by the time the day comes where you move in, you’re just so thrilled to interact with other people.
Eric Stein: A good chunk of the people that get cast on the show fit certain archetypes, and I know I’m not a supermodel or a bartender from Santa Monica. I think I was there as a superfan my season.
Dan: I wouldn’t necessarily say I was the villain, but I was definitely was the antihero in Season 10 and in Season 14.
Chima: Every single person that I listed on my application received a phone call. Everyone. Casting dug into my past. They were pressing for something other than what they were getting. And a lot of what they were getting was, “Chima’s fun. Chima’s sweet. Chima’s my funniest friend." That didn’t fit with the angry-black-woman trope they were trying to paint, but they cast me anyway and proceeded to press my buttons to get what they wanted.
James: To me, the easiest person to win the game of "Big Brother" is a gay male, because you instantly bond with the females, and the alpha males -- because of their arrogance -- won't see you as a threat.
Andy: I feel like the show tends to cast doomed gay guys. Like, Lawon was never going to win "Big Brother." Steven, the cowboy from Season 10, was never going to win. Joe was never going to win. I remember really liking Kevin because he was very down to earth and understated.
Ian: Being the youngest was very difficult because here I was, still in school -- I was very young, naive. I hadn’t even paid my own rent yet. I lived in the dorms. I definitely had a certain immaturity about me that the other contestants didn’t quite understand because they were well past that stage.
Sheila: I was 45, so I was one of the oldest females ever to go on "Big Brother" at that point. I was like everybody's mom.
Jack: I was 58 when I was on the show. At that time, I was the oldest guy ever to be on the show. The other 12 houseguests treated me kind of like a mascot.
Champagne and Chilltown: Moving In and Forming Alliances
"I'm not here to make friends" may be a psalm for reality-TV contestants, but it's antithetical to the "Big Brother" experience. After the finalists leave the hotel where they are sequestered, bonds form. Players guarantee certain others' safety in the game, promising to protect their alliance members from what's referred to as "going up on the block."
The Sovereign Six (Kaysar, Janelle, James, Sarah, Howie and Rachel in Season 6), the Brigade (Matt, Hayden, Enzo and Lane in Season 12) and the Hitmen (Derrick and Cody in Season 16) are nicknames of just a few of the alliances that have controlled power moves in "Big Brother." The best alliances find inventive ways to eliminate their competition, as with Nakomis Dedmon's "six-finger plan" in Season 5, in which she nominated two alliance members as a ruse in order to eliminate Jase Wiley. Today that scheme is known as "backdooring," and it is essential to the game.
Ian: I remember getting into a car from the hotel and I’m not allowed to talk. I had to keep my head down. Pretty much everything short of blindfolding me. They brought me to CBS and I was kept in a holding room near the soundstage for pretty much the entire day.
Dan: When you’re out there on the first night, it’s an out-of-body experience, especially for someone who’s a fan of the show. Standing there, you’re not really supposed to look behind you. You’re supposed to look toward the cameras. It was so bizarre to think that you dream of this thing and there it is, happening. Julie Chen is in front of you and it’s pretty bizarre.
Ian: I remember thinking how everything in the front yard was so artificial: the AstroTurf, the fake rocks.
Andy: It’s basically what you see on TV. The first time that I saw everyone was basically a minute before we were all onstage together. I recognized a lot of them from casting. Judd was in my group the whole time, and I remember when we moved into the house and he started talking, I was floored when his accent came out. Then we moved in, and it’s pretty much what you see -- there’s our champagne toast and other typical first-night stuff.
Erika: It doesn’t really feel like a house. It actually feels you’re living on a set. The whole ceiling is television lights.
Danielle: On Seasons 1 through 5, we had a different house. You could stand in the kitchen and you could understand who was talking to everyone because you knew where everyone was because the house was smaller. When we walked in to All-Stars, it was very difficult to understand where everyone was.
Jason: It was a fantasy. Wild. Amazing. I spent my first night up in the Head of Household den, which was even better. It was so amazing to just be in the house and meet these other people before I hated them all.
Andy: My goal was to make sure on the first night that I had at least one good conversation with every single person, no matter who wins Head of Household. Also don’t start to form alliances right away -- let people come to you.
Danielle: I would mentally say, “OK, Danielle, when you go in this house, you have to find one person that you can confide in and have a secret alliance.” I purposefully would engage in the houseguests on their lives, and that’s basically how I decided who I’m going to have an alliance with. When you look at other alliances, even Memphis and Dan Gheesling, they didn’t form that alliance until midway through the season. Even Jun and Alison, they had an alliance at the very end. Jason and I formed that alliance on Day 2. I remember going into the diary room when I said, “I formed an alliance with Jason and we’re going to make a run for this.” I think the producers at the time kind of laughed it out. You’ve got a black girl from the North and a white boy from the South that formed a relationship like no other. It was genuine -- two strangers making it happen. People don’t give us credit for that.
Mike: I think why Dr. Will and I bonded so much is because we were the two guys who were very self-aware and we looked at it like we were the producers in the house.
Jason: A lot of those people will sit in the corner and not necessarily have any arguments, probably because they might be playing a smarter game. But me and Da'Vonne are just not built like that. We were very blatant and we definitely should have gone the underground route. My whole life would have been easier if I would have just learned when to shut up.
Jack: I didn’t really develop any enemies in the house. I just thought, as I told "Big Brother" once in the diary room, "Hey, you have dropped me into a junior-high prom," because a lot of them were up at three or four in the morning throwing water balloons at each other and acting crazy. Erika and I immediately became great friends. She and I would get off and just say, “What in the world? These kids are so juvenile.” We were inseparable.
James: I was actually approached by other houseguests for alliances before I was even contacted for All-Stars. It got to the point where we all had pre-game alliances. They told me I was one of the last people to get notified because they knew I’d be the most devious and have all these alliances.
Dan: One of the cool draws about "Big Brother" is you have two people who would normally never meet each other and sometimes they end up becoming good friends in the house, like in Memphis and myself. At the time, he was running nightclubs and I was a Catholic school teacher. We never would have talked. It just made for a cool alliance.
Andy: For the first five weeks of the summer, me, Amanda, McCrae and Judd were in an alliance called the Goof Troupe, which really never even made TV. And we were the strongest alliance in the house. We were the last four people nominated for eviction. We literally ran every single HoH from behind the scenes and they didn’t even show it.
Expect the Unexpected
In Season 3, Julie Chen introduced a tagline that became the show's thesis: expect the unexpected. Alluding to the new twists that quickly became a staple of each season, the motto referred to the addition of the Power of Veto, which, if won in a weekly competition, could allow one of the two nominated houseguests to remove themselves from the block. It was clear by Season 4 that "Big Brother" was in the business of throwing a new hiccup into the game every year. Some are squashed before the season's midway point, as has been the case with this year's "BB" takeover and battle-of-the-block twists. Others are life-changing, as when Michael "Cowboy" Ellis learned that Nakomis was his biological sister in Season 5 or when estranged father-daugther duo Dick and Daniele Donato outlasted everyone in Season 8.
William: In Season 1, there was no Head of Household. You couldn’t win a competition and then save yourself from being nominated. All the rules changed, and I believe I had a lot to do with the changing of those rules because of how I played with the terms that they gave us. So, for example, you’re not allowed to leave the house under any circumstances. That rule was broken by everyone in Season 1. When I was banished, everyone should have been disqualified because when I left the house, they all walked out behind me. There was a thing called the red room and you got information about different challenges. Producers would call one person or two people in at a time, give them the instructions and then have them inform everyone else. We would automatically assume the person who was coming out was telling us the truth, so I said, "I’m going to come up with some crazy competition to do just so I can begin to dictate and manipulate the houseguests." But then, "Big Brother" told me that I had to tell them that I was lying because I was compromising the houseguests. But that was not against the rules! I'm sure the producers were like, "Shit, we can’t really follow the rules to a T because that ruins our season."
Mike: I think my experience on "Big Brother 2" was very comparable with the producers’ experience in that they had never done it before. The format was new, so there weren’t really budgets for contests. There was no veto. The whole veto thing is a completely different way to play the game and adds so much nuance to an already complicated game. For us, it was a very rudimentary season in that the contests were like throwing CDs in a bowl in a pool, versus now where you’re hanging from scaffolding and doing all these crazy setups.
Danielle: I was so organic. I did not think the producers had any hand in anything directly, at all. I played the game because I didn’t know what was happening. People would say, “Oh, a twist!” The only time that was maybe questionable -- when I was like, "Really, are you kidding me?" -- was the week we did not want Amy to win a Power of Veto. She was our pageant queen and they introduced this game where you learned to carry books on your head. I’m like, "Are you friggin’ kidding me?"
Erika: You watch Season 1, 2 and 3 and there were no major twists. I’m going into "Big Brother 4" thinking I’m going to be with a bunch of strangers, and lo and behold, they bring my ex-boyfriend in.
Andy: In Season 5, I was flabbergasted that they did not figure out the twin twist. When I was playing the game, I could tell you where every mole on Amanda’s body was. Was everyone that self-absorbed that they did not notice they were talking to two different people? This season, it took them a week and I think Da’Vonne was on to it.
Jason: It would have been smart for me to put Liz up and get her out when she was a single player, but the "BB" fan in me knows it would have been a spoiled twist to see them not in there together.
James: In Season 6, I went in as a secret partner with my girlfriend at the time. The smarter people in our house, such as Kaysar, myself and Rachel, went in knowing there were other partners. We just didn’t know if it was everybody or how many. But then, Beau and Ivette both really believed they would be the secret twist. April and Jen thought they were the only partners in there, as well. Even after everyone else came out, they were still trying to deny that they were partners. You’re going to tell me these two girls who were in the same sorority at the same fucking school have no connection? It’s not how smart you are -- it’s how dumb everybody else is.
Eric: America’s player is basically reality TV’s first and only season-long alliance of 10 million. I went through the entire casting process and did not know that there was anything unique to my circumstances. It was just a couple of days before we moved in, and the producers came to talk me through it. I had mixed emotions. I’m not even sure the people I played against, let alone the fans, have the full breadth of understanding of how handcuffed my game was. I had to give the silent treatment to the Head of Household. I had to vote out allies and betray people who had just saved me the week before. At the same time, I do believe, in the annals of "Big Brother," it’s the one season-long twist that survived all the way through and truly impacted the game.
Sheila: We played in pairs. One of the questions they had asked in casting was, "Are you good at relationships?” I filled out a questionnaire that was like two pages about who your ideal mate is. And of course, my ideal mate, if you really want to know, was Alex. I said tall, dark, handsome, sexy, likes kids, clean, loves his mother. They gave me the opposite. Honestly, I would have picked anyone but Adam.
Jordan Lloyd: In Season 11, we were all teamed in cliques. We had popular, athletic, offbeat and the brains. If someone from your clique won, you were safe for the week.
Jeff: For Season 13, they were like, "Do you guys want to come back?" It was weird because it was both Jordan and me. We figured it was an All-Stars. We didn’t know it was couples. Jordan was kind of reluctant to go back on -- she had already won, of course. For me, I was like, "I gotta go back and win this thing. I can’t live with not having a W under my belt." But there’s nothing like the first time.
Mike: In April 2012, I was at the airport in Vegas, and Robyn Kass, the casting director, gave me a call and asked if I had any big summer plans. I didn’t know in what capacity, but I knew they wanted me to come back on the show for an extended period of time. Everyone’s always looking for All-Stars 2, but I thought the coaches were the most fascinating twist in a show that is known to hang its hat on expecting the unexpected. To have them coach three individual players where you’re trying to serve their interests but ultimately all you really care about is your interests, and you’re living with them and influencing the game, was genius.
Ian: It was an interesting idea in theory, but I think part of the reason they yanked it and just dumped the coaches in as regular players midway through was because it almost became that the early rounds of the game weren’t really even "Big Brother" at all. It was more like this strange chess match between the four coaches, where the actual players in the game were kind of just pawns. The coaches were the primary game and we were the secondary game.
James: Whatever twist you go into the house with, I don’t think it’s necessarily stupid, because that’s what you have to deal with. The twists that I think are stupid are Pandora’s box and other things that are dropped right when production knows someone is about to go home. People figured out Elissa was Rachel’s sister and tried to send her home, so the twist was just to keep Elissa in the game. Or America’s player saving Dick all Season 8. That was pretty good television, but if you’re one of those other houseguests, it’s kind of bullshit that production has their mind made up which way the show should go.
Andy: Entertainment-wise, my season's MVP twist was one of the worst because why on earth would you have a twist that favors one player when that player is previously favored? It makes no sense. I think it was actually a genius twist in a regular season. Take out Elissa and take out Frankie from last season, and put in a bunch of regular people with no pre-existing fan bases, and then do the MVP. That would have created so much paranoia in the house, but it never did because we always knew it was going to be Elissa. And then the moment it wasn’t Elissa, we knew it was going to be America.
Jason: Battle of the block just makes these people put up these irrelevant targets. It’s the same faces that show up on those four squares every week because everyone is going for a backdoor plan or is too scared that their nominees may come down and that they’ve made a target that they have no chance of getting rid of. I’m a "BB" purist and I love the two nominees. I really miss the nomination ceremony with the big spinny box. It’s sad that they don’t say, “The people not nominated, you can now put your keys in the wall.”
A Day in the Life
In between food and luxury competitions, along with contests to win Head of Household and the Power of Veto, the houseguests are left with nothing to do but strategize and vegetate. The only major rule: no physical harming of another player. Violating that dictum can result in expulsion.
Andy: They blare pop songs in the morning to wake you up. It could be any time between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. You have to wake up to change your mic pack out, and then once you do that, you can go back to bed if you want. In the early and middle stages of the game, I slept five to six hours a night, just because I was in the mindset of “last to bed, first to wake.” During that last week, I was sleeping 15 to 18 hours a day because there would literally be nothing to do.
Eric: Paranoia prevents people from sleeping. You’re afraid you’re going to miss something. I get a feel for what my house’s schedule was and when gameplay was going on, and I made sure I was the last person sitting there as often as humanly possible.
Jack: The day-to-day life in there is absolutely, crushingly monotonous. We didn’t have any amenities. We did not have a washing machine. We had a scrub board. We had a dryer outside in the yard, but it didn’t work. We had to take turns and be nice to each other to hang clothes all over the backyard. It was a bitch to wash your clothes on a scrub board.
Jordan: You’re kind of laying around all summer and it’s very stressful. It’s like you’re trapped in the house and when there are confrontations and problems you can’t get away from those problems.
Sheila: I never realized how much downtime there was. I was telling one of the producers when I was in the diary room that I literally wanted to chew off my arm so it’ll start bleeding to have something to do because I’m so frickin’ bored out of my mind.
Jack: We eventually wore out all the grass, so "Big Brother" had to come in for the live shows with Julie and paint the backyard green. There was no grass! We started getting green spots on our clothes from the dye.
Danielle: Sept. 19, 2002, is the last time I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It has tormented me and tarnished me for the rest of my life. They switched to slop for food competitions in All-Stars. Marcellas and I used to joke that we needed to go back in the "Big Brother" house to lose weight because I couldn’t eat it. I remember at one point Marcellas and I were laying around and I said, "I think if I press on to my belly button I can feel my spine.”
Dan: You start to get into a rhythm for the schedule. You learn very quickly when it’s time to do certain things and when it’s time to get prepared for different ceremonies. Sometimes production gives you a heads-up and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes when there’s a twist, it messes with the schedule.
Eric: A nomination ceremony is the most awkward time in the "Big Brother" house because it might be the one time that there is actually a great deal of uncertainty. There’s the big speech that talks through the rules of the nominations, which is always something that cracks me up about "Big Brother," how every episode of every season they re-explain the rules to us. The ceremonies are one of the only truly produced parts of the show. They have you actually sit in silence before revealing the nominations. The reason I think you often get such somber and tense-looking faces is because you’re sitting there in silence awkwardly for five minutes.
Erika: I loved being cut off from the real world. You don’t have to pay the rent or worry about what you have to do today. Every moment that you have in the "Big Brother" house is magnified, so an hour is like a week. The intensity of the relationships that are built is multiplied.
Dan: Playing the game is a lot different than commentating it and thinking you would do well because it takes a lot of emotional mastery. Mark my words: Every season you’ll see someone in the first two weeks have a complete meltdown over something completely irrelevant, and it will cost them their chances at half a million dollars. It’s such a unique and weird environment that people don’t know how to handle it.
Sheila: Joshuah was so verbally abusive that it was unbearable to be around him. I’ve never had that much stress in my life, even with having a 16-year-old kid in high school. It shouldn’t have went on. It was to the point where it was beyond a game. But we all have something about us that can be really ugly, and when you’re miked up 24/7, you don’t know what you’re saying. I kept playing because that’s what they wanted. It was their show; I couldn’t stop playing, and I knew that.
Mike: On Season 2, there was an incident very early on in the show where we woke up one morning and Justin wasn’t in the house. There’s nowhere to go, so when you don’t see someone, it’s quite quizzical. All of a sudden the producers came on the loudspeaker and said that Justin had been removed from the show. We had no idea what was going on. Krista, at that time, was on some medication, and alcohol was a little more freely produced back then. We didn’t know about Justin pulling the knife on her until we got off the show and saw it on TV, like everybody else. Out of my three seasons, twice violence or threatened violence would play a part and someone was taken out of the game.
Jack: Amanda had hooked up with David, another houseguest who’d come out of the Army and was a fantastic guy. Scott just couldn’t stand it, so he melted down and began throwing things and had a lot of profanity. Arnold Shapiro, who was the top guy at "Big Brother" my year, called me into the diary room and identified himself. The game was suspended in the diary room in that I was asked questions about what I thought they should do with Scott. I said, "He’s ready to go. He’s not enjoying himself." Afterward, we were sitting around chatting and they called Scott into the diary room, and he never came back.
Ian: In Season 14, there was an altercation of sorts between Joe and Willie. I think it was on Day 14. Joe had said some harsh words to Willie, and Willie obviously retaliated. Joe put up his dukes and Willy also put up his dukes, and Willie took it a step further and kind of head-butted Joe in the chest. That was seen as violence. It was at that point that the voice of the production staff came over the speakers and said, “Joe, stay in the bathroom; Willie, to the diary room now.” Willie went in and then he just never came back out. The voice of the executive producer came over the speakers and said that violence isn’t part of the "Big Brother" game and Willie has been removed.
Insubordination is also grounds for expulsion. In Season 11, Chima sparred with producers when she refused to reattach her microphone, resulting in her early exit.
Chima: I just didn’t want to play a fixed game anymore, so I left in dramatic style. I was giving zero fucks before it was a thing. It was never about me tossing the microphone. By making it about my microphone and breaking the rules they’ve excused for many houseguests before and after me, I’m the bad guy. I maintain I quit. I was leaving due to what I saw as rigging of the game, and the producers figured they’d one-up me by evicting me and making a two-part production out of it. It makes for better television, right? I’m so much more than that one-dimensional character from "Big Brother." I’ll be proving that in the real world for the rest of my life.
Eric: The level of paranoia and deceit and stakes would push the most mentally strong person to their breaking point. It’s the ultimate social experiment. When it comes to the personal relationships, both friendships and showmances, you are just spending a shitload of time together and it’s only natural that you’re going to have to seek some sort of companionship.
Whether strategic or genuine, romance is another hallmark of any "Big Brother" season. Alison Irwin convinced Nathan Marlow that her affection ran deep in Season 4, only to later vote to evict him. Drew Daniel, too, eliminated his gal pal, Diane Henry, in the Final 3 of Season 5. But not all relationships are doomed: Season 11's Jeff and Jordan, for example, wound up getting engaged in the backyard of the house on a Season 16 episode.
Andy: You do get to the point where you miss affection. Halfway through, I started finding Judd and McCrae weirdly attractive.
Eric: I would be surprised at this point on any season if there weren’t showmances because it’s the one show on television where you have zero personal interaction with production. Other shows have the producers on site and the cameramen on site. Here you don’t interact with anybody.
Jordan: For a lot of people going into the house, if you start a showmance, you’re kind of risking it because you are putting a target instantly on your back. What helped Jeff and I was that we both didn’t watch the show and we both didn’t think we were having a showmance.
Jeff: I wouldn’t say don’t go on looking for a showmance because I made a friend in the house and it gets lonely in there, so it just kept developing into more and more for us. If you can find someone like that on that show, I think go for it. You need someone to lean on.
Mike: Will and I, with Shannon and Krista, knew romance could be very valuable to us. Both times I had genuine feelings for the girls, but at the same time, I’m also a realist. We knew that we were going there for the money. I certainly regret a lot of the things I said about Erika in All-Stars and calling it a “homance." I definitely got a little full of myself and said things that I regret in the heat of the moment. Showmancing can be very detrimental to your game, but it can also be helpful. A lot of it has to do with luck, too.
Erika: Mike was obviously very blindsided by me convincing Janelle to throw Will out of the house. He went into the diary room and I think he was in there for like three hours, and he was just ranting and calling me a "homance." Of course, they have to make it seem like it’s more of a romance than it actually was, but you have to realize that was really only the last few weeks that I was in the house where we actually ended up kind of being a romance, or a showmance, if you will. You’re so bored, honestly -- and I hate to say this, that I made out because I was bored -- but it was kind of a time-killer. "Nothing else to do, want to kiss?"
Eric: If you have an off day and you turn to someone and say, “I feel a little homesick,” they will use this against you. You can't show weakness, so when you have a showmance or have a really close ally, it’s someone that you at least feel you can confide in, in the scope of the game. Now, I would strongly recommend to future players not to have a showmance. I have this once-in-a-lifetime experience that not many people have had. You’re going to want to show the footage to your grandkids one day, and now you have your ex in all of the footage with you. I would prefer to have been able to relive the experience without having to basically drudge up what is now an eight-year-removed relationship.
James: I had my girlfriend on the show, so we had sex in the house on Season 6. We did stuff late at night when everybody was asleep. It’s crazy because you know the cameras are watching and you don’t know how sensitive the microphones are. We were trying to be discreet, so it wasn’t like we just threw the sheets over our heads and went at it like some of the other people.
Andy: McCrae literally took me and Spencer and GinaMarie on a sex tour of the house with everywhere that he and Amanda did it. They would be creative about it, though. We had a halfway-through-the-summer party where the feeds were down for like two hours, and they had sex in the photo booth during that.
Eric: There were definitely people who were a little less camera-shy and open-minded on future seasons, but I wasn’t looking to have that out there for all to see. I think, in many regards, it’s a lot more surreal for the viewers because they’re watching along almost like it’s a story, but you’re just in there living your own life. It’s the equivalent if you’re away at summer camp. I’m sure that production’s dream is the people who don’t hold back anything, but Jessica and I were not those people.
Andy: I didn't masturbate all summer. There were plenty of times where I was positioned in bed and I was like, "I have a lot of covers over me and I could slyly do this and no one would know." I was also like, "What if I don’t think it’s obvious but it is? I don’t want a jerk-off video of me on the Internet." Also, my mind was so invested in the game that I’m serious when I say it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Jeff: I’ve been lucky enough to work with CBS Interactive for the last couple years doing interviews. Since we left "Big Brother," they’re always asking, "When are you going to get married?" When I was just around them, I said, "I’m thinking about getting engaged." They said, "What? Let's do something!" For the proposal in Season 16, we brainstormed together, all without Jordan knowing.
Jordan: Sometimes there are certain people where, if you say you met on a reality show, they instantly think, "Oh, a reality show? This girl is crazy." Normally when people ask us how we met, we say we met through a friend. Then, if they ask more, like, "Who was your friend?," then we say, "We met on a reality show." Most people laugh.
Producers, Diary-Room Confessions and the 'Power of Suggestion'
How authentic is the show? It's a question that plagues every reality program, but "Big Brother" is an unusual case because of the 24/7 CBS.com live-feeds, to which viewers can pay to subscribe. The series also introduced a late-night companion show, "Big Brother: After-Dark," in 2007. Now airing on Pop, viewers get an unedited look at what's happening in the house at that very moment. Despite such transparency, we're still talking about a show that requires a dedicated group of producers to steer the action along and create narratives for the regular episodes, which air three times a week.
Dan: In the day-to-day, I think the producers are really, really hands-off. They’ll tell you to stop if you’re doing something destructive or harmful to the house or doing things that affect the live feeds, like singing. If you have any sort of speaking role in a ceremony, that’s the only time there are any sort of directions.
Ian: As far as the diary room goes, you walk in and there’s a fairly nice-cushioned chair and a blue screen behind the chair. Then there’s a little stand in the corner with a camera, and under the camera is a little sign that says, “We know you’re there. Be patient, we’ll be right with you.”
Mike: Sometimes there are producers in the diary room that you meet during casting and they’re the ones you’re kind of going on the journey with. They’re just a voice overhead, so it’s an odd relationship because you have your most vulnerable moments in there. I’ve broken down crying, I almost smashed the entire room apart. That’s your only spot to get away from the other houseguests.
Jack: We were never given any information in there. We were never led one way or the other, but they would say things that would bring a reaction from you.
James: Production will ask you to say things in a certain way, but they word it in a very smart, manipulative way. For example, they’ll be like, "Hey, we didn’t get everything you said this other time." Or they word things in a way to make it seem like you’re just doing a retake, like, "Hey, we need you to wear that shirt you wore last Tuesday when you come up to the diary room."
Sheila: There is no doubt about it that those producers are very good at what they do, and when you’re tired and you haven’t eaten, it’s the power of suggestion. They don’t come out and say, “Oh, Ryan’s going to evict you, how do you feel about that?” or “Allison said this about you.” They let you go in there and talk and then they basically go, "OK, well, what’s going on? Do you feel like half the house is against you? What are you going to do about it? Are you playing this game, or are you just going to lay down and die?" It's that kind of thing.
Danielle: I vomited at the mouth a lot with the producers. When I played the game the first time, I kept everything internal when I was in the house. I spilled all my guts and glory in the diary room. But I never thought the producers were manipulating anything.
Dan: I get mad when people leave the game and say, "Oh, it’s production’s fault that I got eliminated" or "Production cheated me" or "Production helped so-and-so." To me, that’s the biggest cop-out. You lost the game because of yourself. In playing the game twice, I can say that nothing I ever did was manipulated by production.
Ian: I remember one day being in the diary-room session for quite a long time. I’d won the Power of Veto and it just seemed like the questions that were asked were more probing than usual. They really asked me to really look at every single possible angle with this veto and what I could do with it. In my own head, because I’d read all the conspiracy theories over the years, I had taken this and been like, “Oh, they’re trying to steer me in one direction or the other.” It was probably just a coincidentally long diary-room session where they were just asking me to examine it through different lenses. Honestly, do I think they were trying to sway my decision? I would say no.
James: You have to to remember when you’re complaining about the Pandora's boxes and things like that: the houseguests essentially signed up for it. The show is sold on 14 or 16 people going into the house all with an equal chance, when in reality it’s not, like when you put Frankie in there. When you have a sister who’s as famous as Ariana Grande is, you know that any sort of fan vote is obviously going to go to him. When I got to All-Stars, I thought, "Fuck this show -- the show is rigged." I could give a million different examples of where things should have gone differently, but my contract says CBS can alter, modify or change shit at their discretion.
Mike: There’s always this conjecture that the producers have their favorites and they try to keep them around for the fans, and I think it’s totally false. I don’t believe for one second that there’s any kind of manipulation on their behalf to try to keep people around or bring them back.
Before the Season 3 jurors voted, they watched diary-room montages of the finalists, Danielle Reyes and Lisa Donahue. It was clear that Danielle's candid opinions about her housemates and merciless manipulation swayed their votes against her. Since she lost, 9-1, jury members have never since seen diary-room footage before voting.
Danielle: In order for production to make it real and to continue on so people confess their sins in the diary room, they had to do it. We got away with it on our season, but after what happened to me, think about it: If you were a person on the following season and you knew your houseguests could watch your diary rooms, it would have been such boring TV. In order to make good TV, it had to be done.
The final several houseguests who are evicted form the tribunal that will crown the winner of "Big Brother." But before they return to the soundstage in L.A. for the live finale night, they enjoy a luxurious, tropical stay in what is known as the jury house.
Jack: The jury house was a lark. It was a vacation in a millionaire’s home on the Pacific Ocean. We had all the beer we wanted. We had all the freedom we wanted. We were allowed to go unescorted into the little town to lift weights in the gym and we went dancing with the townspeople. I was allowed to occasionally talk to my wife on the phone. The game was off. We partied together and enjoyed each other.
James: The whole time we’re there, we’re drinking and partying. There’s no more hard alcohol allowed in the sequester house, and that would be because of All-Stars. Chicken George, Danielle, Will and myself all escaped from a golf outing on golf carts because we got fucked up. We ended up at a frat party doing cannonballs in the pool and doing beer-chugging contests with these guys. We’re trying to flip our golf cart by taking corners too fast. We ended up at a karaoke bar and someone took pictures of us and it got on the local CBS affiliate. They threatened to kick us off the show and take our stipends, but none of that happened. We apologized. What are they going to do? Who’s going to vote? America? Because of how bad we were, I hear from all the new houseguests that they’ve been incredibly strict.
Danielle: When I was part of the jury, I actually had more fun. But because of what happened to me in Season 3, I just wanted to make sure that people were going to vote for the best game player.
Jack: You don’t want to be the third-to-last out. You don't go to the jury house!
Sheila: I never stayed in the jury house because I was the last person evicted. I was in bed, depressed, crying at my hotel. I begged for some Tylenol PM and some red wine, and they said, “You can have the Tylenol PM or the red wine.” I opted for the red wine. I was a total bitch and said, “I’m not doing the finale.” And they said, “Oh yeah, you’re going. You’re going to get out of bed and you’re going to take a shower.” It literally took several producers and handlers to go, “Sheila, you did a great job.” They talked me off the ledge.
Jeff: I know the jury house very well. It’s easy to let bygones be bygones. I think when the tension of the game is down, you really get to see what the other people are like. The second time, Shelly came in there, and she’s the one who kicked me off the show. I wanted some answers, but what are you going to do? We were all here to win half a million dollars, and we’re all losers in here. If people want to continue the fight outside the house, I don’t know if I want to be friends with that. It was a great transition back into the real world.
'And the Winner Is ...'
Upon reuniting with the final two players and posing a series of questions about the season's events, jurors cast one last vote and a new "Big Brother" reign begins. The runner-up receives $50,000.
Eric: I believe it could easily be stated that Dick, Daniele and myself were three of the standout players on my season, and because I was America's player, all three of us were working toward them getting to the end.
Dan: There will always be a handful of moments in every season of "Big Brother" where the house shifts, where something big happens, and to me those are always opportunities to make it a good experience for people watching. In Season 14, the funeral started with me being trapped in that solitary room for 24 hours. I called a house meeting knowing what I thought people would want to hear to evoke some emotions from them and cause chaos. For me to tell you, "Hey, I knew it was going to work," that would be a complete fabrication. I knew it would give me a shot, and that’s all I wanted. It worked a lot better than I had ever thought.
Jordan: When you get down to the last four people, it is so boring, especially if there’s no one in there that’s in your alliance.
Andy: I always say the last two weeks in the house were the worst of my life. I won part two of the final HoH on a Saturday, but the finale wasn’t until Wednesday. So we had like four days to lay around. At that point, we had exhausted like every possible conversation topic. Me and GinaMarie and Spencer would travel as a pack because you never wanted two people alone.
Danielle: Because they gave Will the game in Season 2, I honestly felt at the Season 3 finale that these houseguests weren’t going to give me the game. In society, we’re just not prepared for a woman to play like a man. If you look at all past winners who are female -- with the exception of Jun, but she was up against Alison, so the lesser of two evils -- they want to vote for the girl next door. They don’t want that sly woman who lied and calculated and backstabbed people. They’ll give it to a man because that’s what society is prepared for. Why’d they give it to Lisa? She was the girl next door.
Erika: What is going through my mind on All-Stars finale night is that I know I’m not going to win, and I’ll tell you why: There has never been a woman winner against a man in “Big Brother.” The only time a woman has won “Big Brother” is against another woman. Ultimately, “Big Brother” is a sexist game. Women don’t vote for other women, and men don’t vote for women. But it’s a sexist world, so why should “Big Brother” be any different?
Danielle: Any winner of any season played the perfect game for their season. You guys can’t say, “Oh, they did it wrong” or “They’re the worst winner." You can’t say that because, at the end of the day, they won the frickin' game. You have to understand your houseguests and your audience.
Dan: The end of Season 10 was the last time they did a non-live jury segment where you talk to the jury. Each juror asked you two questions. There were seven people on the jury, so they boil it down on the show to seven questions. Essentially the jury dialogue is exponentially longer on Season 10, so when I got to Season 14, I prepared a very similar speech -- not self-aggrandizing, more like promoting people in the jury -- but it didn’t have the same effect. I felt like, if I got to the end of Season 14, to do that twice would have brought a lot of respect in the voting booth. Afterward I found out it was the opposite.
Jordan: Just how the viewers see it is exactly what happens. Julie announces the winner, you walk out and everyone is cheering for you. You haven’t seen people for 72 days, and when you walk out of the house -- this is going to sound stupid -- you’re like, "How do these people know me?" When you’re in the house, it’s crazy how your mind changes the way you think.
Danielle: When you walk out that door and you see all those people, it’s sensory overload.
Andy: The television audience gets more of Julie Chen than we do. We see her for two minutes in each eviction episode. After I won, we’re on the stage. Julie walks right over to me, gives me a big hug, says, "You played a phenomenal social game,” and then Julie walked off the stage and no one ever saw her again.
Ian: After the episode, security rushed me to the basement offices of the house. There was a short debrief with the show’s psychologist. Producers congratulated me and reunited me with my family. I was shown the check that would be mailed to me. Then there was a party on the lot in a giant tent.
Andy: What I really wanted was to get off the stage and go to the party, but I was in this conference room for three hours after the finale. They told me about the racism and the show making national headlines: “It’s going to kind of suck, but in a lot of the interviews your gameplay is going to be overshadowed by racism.” I was at the wrap party for about 15 minutes before it was over. I got thrown around by like 100 people and I took all these pictures and then the wrap party was over. There was an after-hours wrap party, but me and GinaMarie and Spencer weren’t allowed to go because we had to do press the next day. I was sitting in my hotel room with two security guards who would not allow me to leave. I even said to them, “This is the most exciting night of my life -- if you think I’m going to bed, you’re fucking crazy."
Dan: You take about $200,000 off the top and you pay your taxes. $300,000 in L.A. doesn’t go very far. I invested the majority of it in real estate. I didn’t splurge, I didn’t buy anything crazy. I liked my life prior to "Big Brother" and I didn’t want to change anything.
Eric: Missing out on sports and news stories and celebrity deaths and movie releases and things of that nature was bizarre. You basically have a three-month gap of knowledge in your pop-culture brain.
Danielle: I couldn’t even read for a good two or three months. I couldn’t concentrate.
Erika: When I got out of the "Big Brother" house, I was in the limo to go to the airport, and the limo driver was talking to me. He said, "You’re never going to guess who our governor is: Arnold Schwarzenegger." I’m like, "Oh please, really? I know I’ve been away for a little while, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor?"
William: There has not been a day when, at least one time during the course of the day, someone brings up "Big Brother" to me. At this point, I’m like, "That was 16 years ago! Really?" When a random person walking down the street approaches me, I’m like, "Come on, you’ve gotta know that I’m so far removed from 'Big Brother.'"
Andy: The first two or three months after the show, I was probably approached 30 times a day. I would have to allocate extra time if I was meeting someone somewhere because I knew I would get stopped on the street 10 times on my way to a restaurant. I was very happy that it lasted a little bit and then went away.
Jordan: Of course "Big Brother" was an awesome, amazing experience both times, but I think I’m done. I’m "Big Brother" retired. Three times is a lot and I think people would be sick of us.
Sheila: It was the hardest thing I ever did, and if I were asked to go back, I’d do it again. Hell yeah. I want a do-over.
Jason: I would return if they asked me anytime.
Mike: As someone who’s appeared on other reality shows and hosted hundreds of productions at my bars and restaurants, it’s the purest reality show in that it has its format, it drops people into it and you see what happens. It’s the one show without the setups and the producer control. It’s the same every year: One person leaves happy and the rest are going to therapy.
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