It’s summertime, and that means that for the 16th consecutive summer, a bunch of strangers moved into the “Big Brother” house hoping to survive weekly evictions and win the $500,000 prize.
The first contestant we were introduced to put a smile on my face. He’s originally from Sumter, South Carolina, now lives in Wichita Falls, Texas, and he speaks with a good ol’ Southern boy drawl. And he’s Asian! James Huling openly addressed the seeming incompatible juxtaposition of his ethnic heritage with his cultural background:
“I stand out in the South. Everybody’s gotta take a double look on me… when I talk to ’em, it blows your [sic] mind … I was adopted when I was a baby. I really don’t know my true ethnicity. But being country, that’s what it’s all about. I love everything about it.”
James was seen fishing, driving a tractor, and shooting his rifle. Unfortunately, unlike most of the 16 contestants for this year’s show, we didn’t see any of his friends or family members. All we know is he has an older brother and sister and a three-year-old daughter who’s living with the mother. James’s status is ambiguous, but given the way he ogles some of the admittedly attractive women in the house and only sent his love to his daughter, I’m guessing he’s single.
I’ll wager he’s either Japanese or Korean, though with the moustache and goatee, probably Japanese. Hell, he looks like me during my 10-year “beard period.”
James was one of eight houseguests who entered the “Big Brother” house on last week’s Wednesday night premiere. The other eight were added on Thursday. One of the big surprises was Audrey, a hot 25-year-old digital media consultant from a small town in Georgia who revealed, “I am the first transgender person to be on ‘Big Brother!’”
The reaction was surprising: Immediate cheers with comments like “You look amazing!” “You look awesome!” Not a single uncomfortable response from any of the other seven contestants, even though many of them are from the South.
James initially said, “What?!” But in the diary room, he said, “This is my first time ever meeting a transgender person. Wow, you know what? It kind of just threw me for a loop. But people are gonna judge her. And I can relate to her as well, you know, being Asian and growing up in the South. I got that all the time too. Definitely, Audrey’s pretty cool.”
It was a nice comparison and a relief that he didn’t fit the profile of a close-minded redneck.
For the second year in a row, the program is instituting “The Battle of the Block” competition where each week, two contestants are chosen to be “Head of Household.” Each will nominate two houseguests for eviction. The two who survive a competition against the other two nominees are safe for the week and the HOH who nominated them is dethroned and eligible to be nominated for the chopping block.
In the first HOH competition amongst the initial eight, the contestants had to catch 10 tomatoes without falling off their ever-shifting footing while being bombarded with tomato sauce and other sprays. Clay, a former Texas A&M football player, thought he had it in the bag, yet he didn’t last 30 seconds.
James, who looks to be about 5’5”, was the first to catch a tomato, and he quickly assumed the lead. Austin, a 6-foot-plus-tall wrestler, said, “James is like a tough, physical threat. There might be a little bit more to James than just an old country boy.”
As he collected his eighth tomato, James feigned surprise at his success (“Beginner’s luck!”) to Jace, a professional skateboarder. Eventually, James was the last to fall off his stand and Jace exclaimed, “You’re a frickin’ beast, dude! You’re a beast, dude!”
In the diary room, James proudly proclaimed he was a competitor who wasn’t going back to Texas just yet. The following night, we met the other competitors, including Jason, the gay, obnoxious supermarket clerk from Massachusetts who I wanted evicted asap. Unfortunately, he won the second HOH competition.
Together, he and James decided to try to put up four pawns so they could “backdoor” Jace. Sounds like a plan. He’s too extroverted, never stops talking or trying to sound hip, and has the most unfunny banter with Austin.
In the “Battle of the Block” competition, Jason’s two pawns won, saving themselves and dethroning Jason as HOH. That leaves James in a great position as sole HOH for the week, able to control the final backdooring of Jace.
Asian Americans seem to only appear on the show only every other year, so it’s nice to see James as a reminder that Asian Americans come from all walks of life and, like many of us, he may look short in stature, but he’s a formidable opponent.
CBS’ “Big Brother” airs three nights: Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday (eviction night).
The Luau Continues Department: On Tuesday, I was a call-in question on the “Native America Calling” radio show out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, discussing the white-washed film “Aloha.” The discussion got pretty emotional at times, especially from documentarian Anne Keala Kelly, who resents people combining Hawaiians with “Asian settlers,” because she feels the oppression Hawaiians have experienced is much greater than the latter group.
She was also upset that the two Hawaiian roles in “Hawaii Five-O” are played by Koreans (Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park). Kelly suggested that if people really care about the telling of Asian or Hawaiian stories, non-Asian/non-Hawaiians should help those filmmakers tell their story as opposed to trying to fit it into their own movies, which are bound to be misguided. You can hear the podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/native-america-calling
No One’s Ever Gonna Forget Department: It’s encouraging that mocking Emma Stone’s playing a ½ Hawaiian/Chinese in “Aloha” has really taken off as a meme, which Wikipedia defines as “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” On Facebook, someone posted a video of existing “Star Wars” footage with the heads of white people replaced with people of color. Towards the end, we see Emma Stone smiling as she appears in “Aloha,: as if she’s really a minority.
In his “La Cucaracha” comic strip, Lalo Alcaraz mocked the idea of the actress as Asian on a theater marquee.
The Hollywood Reporter asked novelist Kevin Kwan, whose book “Crazy Rich Asians” has been optioned as a motion picture, who his dream cast would be. He joked, “Personally I’d like Emma Stone to play every single role in the movie. (Laughs) We’ll just CGI her… It’s so perplexing to see how casting in Hollywood is so defensive. I think audiences are much more accepting of casting choices. When ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ came out, there was initial interest from a producer who wanted to change [the heroine] Rachel Chu into a white girl. I tell that story to book clubs in suburban middle America and they go crazy: ‘Why does Hollywood think we would want to see this movie with white people?’ They don’t need every film to be chock-full of the latest stars.”
Amen to that.
Mahalo Department: Tim Goodman, the TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter, has weird taste when it comes to comedies. He’s hated most of the ones I liked (e.g., “The Neighbors,” “Cristela”) but thankfully, loves “Fresh Off the Boat.” In fact, in his assessment for what shows deserved to get Emmy nominations for “Outstanding Comedy,” he included “FOTB.”
This week, he polled television critics across the country asking which actors and shows deserved to get nominated. For “Lead Comedy Actress,” Ellen Gray of The Philadelphia Daily News mentioned Constance Wu on “FOTB,” saying, “She’s a longshot but floored me every week. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be happy if Ellie Kemper won for ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ or Gina Rodriguez for ‘Jane the Virgin.’”
Sonia Saraiya of Salon.com agreed: “No discovery this year seems as crucial as Wu’s incredible comedic talent.” Wu already got nominated for Television Critics Association (TCA) and Critic’s Choice awards, so there’s already some evidence that she could score that Emmy nod. I’m crossing my fingers. We’ll see when the slate gets announced on July 16.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the 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.