In the past 14 seasons of CBS’ reality show “Big Brother,” where over a dozen contestants live in a house with cameras and microphones capturing their every move, there were some incidents of the houseguests making racial remarks, but nothing like those coming from the current crop.
Those who watched the live 24-hour feed on cbs.com and on cable were flabbergasted at the comments made by three women: Aaryn (pronounced Aaron), a pretty, blonde, blue-eyed model from Texas; Kaitlin, an attractive brunette bartender from Minneapolis; and GinaMarie, an outspoken pageant coordinator from New York City. Online petitions urged CBS to show these incidents on the broadcasts that air now on Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights.
It was even more relevant this year because for the first time, every week, viewers got to vote for the Most Valuable Player, who would put up a third contestant for eviction (in the past, it was a choice between two). If the television audience didn’t know how these women really were, how could they make informed decisions?
Others demanded CBS oust the players for being racist (usually, the producers took someone out of the game only if they got violent). I felt, show America these people’s true colors. They’ll really get it once they get out of the house and back into society. Just have someone comment on why those comments are hurtful.
The hoopla led a modeling agency to terminate their contract with Aaryn, and GinaMarie was fired (she just doesn’t know it yet) from her job as well. Finally, on Sunday, July 7, CBS aired some of the racist remarks.
Aaryn, with Kaitlin and GinaMarie around her, mocked Helen Kim (the only Asian in the house) behind her back: “Dude! Shut up! Go make some rice!”
Later on in the kitchen, Aaryn told Nick: “I look, probably, like a squinty Asian right now.”
When Kaitlin asked about the possibility of Andy being made MVP, Aaryn wasn’t worried: “No one’s going to vote for whoever that queer puts up.”
GinaMarie: “Candice [who’s part black] is already on the dark side because she’s already dark.” Aaryn: “Be careful what you say in the dark. You might not be able to see the bitch.”
In the kitchen, in front of six others (but not Helen), Aaryn spoke in a supposedly Vietnamese accent imitating a nail salon owner: “You say you want long nail. I try and help you. Why you don’t have boyfriend? It’s ’cause you don’t want long nail! It’s only four dollar more!”
Unfortunately, maybe because Helen Kim didn’t know of these comments, she didn’t respond to them, so it fell to the somewhat inarticulate Howard (the other black contestant on the show) to speak to how such comments hurt. Even worse, Helen sought to make a secret alliance with Aaryn, arguing that “sometimes, your enemy is the person who’s going to help you out the most.”
The following day, host Julie Chen, who’s also the moderator of CBS’ daytime talk show “The Talk,” addressed the controversy and admitted she was hurt and shocked that people still felt this way toward Asians. It brought her back to being a 7-year-old schoolgirl being called “chink” and classmates pulling back their eyes to mock her.
I’m glad she educated her viewers on the Asian American perspective, because when it comes to race, we usually only hear the black one.
On the following Thursday’s live eviction show, Chen asked several people if they forgot the cameras were recording what they were saying. Aaryn, clueless to how she’s perceived outside the house, answered, “Well, I don’t forget. I just am a very open person, so everyone who’s here knows a lot about me. And so does America now.”
Chen paused a second. “Yes. We all do.” Several members of the audience could be heard laughing.
Out of earshot of the houseguests, Chen addressed Aaryn’s racial comments, and we saw more footage: Looking at a fish tank, Aaryn asked, “Why do the dark ones stay on the bottom and the white ones go on the top? Are they segregated?”
Does this girl attend KKK meetings? Jeez! Online, several people joked about her parents spelling her name too close to comfort to “Aryan,” suggesting maybe that’s why she’s been living up (down?) to expectations ever since. Of the four people Aaryn chose to have to eat “slop” and suffer through cold showers for a week, three were minorities she taunted: Helen (Asian), Candice (black), and Andy (gay).
Finally, Amanda went to Aaryn’s room and told her she knew she was joking when a “racial thing comes out of your mouth like — but I think the people who are a different race are taking it like offensively, like Howard, Candice and Helen. So I would say like from now on, be mindful.”
Aaryn: “That’s the most obnoxious, annoying thing I’ve ever heard … I’m not even gonna acknowledge it because it’s the biggest joke.”
After Amanda reiterated her reasons, Aaryn didn’t budge: “I appreciate you telling me that, but I really just think that is the most immature thing ever. They call me Barbie and all sorts of (bleep) about me being blonde all the time. So I don’t – what’s the difference? I wish that I cared more about this, but I don’t.”
When the segment ended, Chen simply said, “We’ll be right back.” And for once, no one in the audience applauded.
On this past Sunday’s show, CBS ran its first-ever disclaimer pointing out, “At times, the houseguests may reveal prejudices and other beliefs that CBS does not condone.”
After having an argument with Jessie, Aaryn inexplicably took the bed that Candice and Howard slept on and turned it right-side up. When Candice returned, Aaryn started talking in a black, sassy dialect — “Whatcha gon’ do, girl? Whatcha gon’ do, girl?” — and snapping her fingers.
When Howard entered the room and Candice explained what Aaryn had done, he said nothing, leading Kaitlin to laugh and mock him: “[He] won’t back you up at all!”
Outside, Candice felt betrayed, asking Howard why he didn’t say anything. He explained that he’s trying not to explode, and he wants to stay in the game. Candice cried, and it was heartbreaking.
I saw this as a metaphor for how people of color often have to put up with racist treatment in order to get along at work, at school, or in organizations — places where they need to remain in good standing.
After the Foul Four (Aaryn, Kaitlin, GinaMarie, Jeremy — though he remained silent) began picking on Jessie for betraying them and voting out their ally, Amanda joined the debate and pointed out that they all bullied people; that’s why Jessie flipped alliances.
Despite Amanda’s suggestions they be nice to others, they continued to mistreat people. Turning to Aaryn, she said, “I tried to clue you in. You’re (bleeping) racist on this show! OK? And when you get out of this house, you’re going to have a lot of people (bleeping) hate you. That’s why I came to you in a subtle way trying to help you!”
Aaryn: “I didn’t say anything racist!” Unable to believe what she just heard, Amanda paused, then responded, “I heard from my own ears, and everybody else in this entire house talks about it.” Aaryn pleaded that “it’s not true!”
After it was over, Jeremy, who’d been on his stomach the entire time lying low, mumbled, “Y’all are not making it better.”
Later, Candice went to Helen’s Head of Household room (this week, she could nominate two people for eviction) and told three of her alliance members what happened. Finally, we got Helen’s take on all of this. She explained that she usually didn’t like to get down to the same level of someone who’s vulgar, but with racial slurs, “it’s so low as low can go, it’s another level of maliciousness. And you have to understand, Candice, like you feel awful about it now. But everyone who’s ever been discriminated against is rooting for you right now.”
Andy added: “They’re gone, Candice! They’re outta here. You are beating them. You’re winning!”
Helen: “That is unnecessary, what they did. But we’re gonna vote them out! So you’re gonna have the last word. OK?” She high-fived Candice. It was a beautiful moment of camaraderie between white, black, gay, and Asian.
Later, Aaryn apologized to Candice: “I’m sorry. I mean, anybody that knows me knows that just because I’m Southern, and I say things that probably are inappropriate all the time [what?!], I have nothing against any other race. And if I make a comment that seems like I do, I don’t want it to be taken that way. I don’t want to offend you.”
Candice accepted her apology and even apologized for anything she’s said to offend her. In the diary room, Aaryn explained, “She took my comment wrong.” Candice told the cameras she didn’t believe Aaryn was sincere and from now on will treat her as if she doesn’t exist.
Sunday night, Helen nominated Aaryn and Kaitlin for eviction. Wednesday, we’ll see who the MVP (maybe the audience will give it to Candice out of sympathy) adds to the chopping block, and Thursday, we’ll see who the players send packing.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.