What a rat race.
To say last year's "Big Brother" was the most controversial -- and some say, worst -- season in its storied and successful history is a bit of an understatement. The happenings during the season overshadowed winner Andy Herren's victory; racist, homophobic and sexist comments in the house were as constant as being stuck on slop. Outraged fans and critics demanded CBS intervene, resulting in ugly and negative publicity for the show, albeit strong ratings. After the series concluded, the majority of the houseguests were met with vitriol and demands of accountability from various groups. It wasn't your mother's "Big Brother," that's for sure.
This is why there's a lot riding on the venerable reality-TV series when "Big Brother 16" premieres on Global/CBS. It also didn't help that north of the United States border, "Big Brother Canada 2" proved it was the master of the game by including groundbreaking, shocking twists and riveting competitions. "BBCan 2" smashed ratings records without a single ounce of controversy or by casting ignorant cast members. In fact, in a house full of people of different creeds, sexuality and racial backgrounds, the cast movingly came together, not apart.
HuffPost Canada TV caught up with "Big Brother" winner Andy Herren, to reflect on his wacky, $500,000 year and what he's learned along the bumpy road of 15-minute fame -- and how he's dealing with being the most famous rat since Templeton in "Charlotte's Web."
HuffPost Canada TV: Hello, you sexy rat!
Andy Herren: [Laughs] That's awesome! That's the nicest thing anyone has said to me today! [Laughs]
A year later, have you achieved closure from your insane season?
I mean, I'm the kind of guy who achieved closure the minute after I won. I wasn't mad at any of those people. One thing that's annoying about "Big Brother" fans is that they always try to turn you against each other: "Look at what Aaryn [Gries] said about you! Look what Judd [Daugherty] did this day!" I'm like, "I don't care!" I know these people better than the fans do. These are my friends. We shared an amazing experience together. I'm not mad at anyone, you know? So, after the show, I didn't have any baggage. I wanted us all to embrace the unique experience we had and be cool with each other.
When you left the house, you had no idea how controversial the season was?
There's a point in every season where, as a fan, you're like, "I can't wait for these freaks to get out of the house so they can learn the truth. That's when the real reality starts." CBS really needs to do a reunion special after you guys have all watched the show from start to finish. But why do you think racism and sexism was such a throughline for "Big Brother" last season?
I feel like racism was such a huge issue in the United States ... that it caught on like wildfire. Unfortunate things were said but they were in line with what was going on in our country. And we gained a lot of attention because of it. I look at it at two different ways: There should have been attention on the show because some of the racist things said were pretty troubling. But on the other hand, once things were said, fans tried to turn all of us into horrible racists, you know? I'm telling you 80 percent of the cast were wonderful people. We were not villains. Most of us were not raised in hostile, homophobic or racist environments. I feel like the angry fans were grasping at straws by trying to vilify a lot of us. Yes, I found that frustrating, and yes, I understood the reaction because there was a basis to be offended as some comments were inappropriate. And the people who said inappropriate things did learn from their actions. I'm cool with nearly everyone from the cast. I think they're all cool people.
Although it was horrible to watch, the show was emblematic of what was happening in your country, the polarizing divide on racism. And, sometimes, that makes great TV, as long as the consequences are a part of the narrative, but due to it being a game, CBS couldn't address the controversy in the house, which was frustrating. I admit, for the first time watching "Big Brother," I considered not watching. You didn't really say anything offensive, in my eyes ... but you were a bitch, though.
People just called me a racist enabler: "Oh, you were in the room when racist things were said and you didn't speak up." And I responded, "Yes, because I'm in a game and not in real life. Had I stood up, I would have immediately been a target."
After you won and left the "Big Brother" house, it seemed like your feelings were hurt over the reaction you got from fans and some critics/bloggers from your tweets.
OK, right from the beginning, initially, I was shocked at how much I was hated. Sure, I said some pretty bad things about Elissa [Reilly], and I've apologized. And now we're good friends again. But, listen, I don't feel like I was that offensive of a player. What you saw on Twitter was me being hurt because I played my ass off ... and so many people were saying, "Oh, you're a terrible winner; you should have never won." And I was like, "Damn! For all my hard work to be slighted, well, it really bugged me." But then, I was only bugged for two days. I said, "You know what? These people don't know me. If you met me in everyday real life, and you don't like me, then fine I may be a bit hurt, but anonymous people on Twitter? Who cares." I'm not kidding, after those two initial days, I got over it and moved on. I never even think about it anymore. These people on Twitter are so outrageous that all you can do is poke fun at them or enrage them even more. Or just laugh about it.
I wanted you or Amanda to win, even though she let her game all fall apart in the end.
Amanda and I had an amazing relationship. I feel we had the best alliance in the house. It was so symbiotic because we needed each other. I gathered intel and gave Amanda the information. She was the aggressor, she got the work done. But then, I realized Amanda would win the game because she would beat me. She was the only person I was scared of, which is why I had to cut her.
Do you think there was any homophobia involved when fans began calling you a rat? I mean, ratting people out is part of the game.
[Sighs] I don't know. Part of me is frustrated because I wish I had been a little bit cockier in the Diary Room. Instead, I was always so nervous that my plans were going to fall apart. As a fan I knew, if you get too cocky, you're going to go home. I was always so scared to be evicted. I could have gone into the Diary Room and said, "I'm the mastermind; I'm controlling everyone." I was more like, "Oh, I hope my plan works!" Had I been a bit more domineering and stronger in my confidence, I would have come across as more of a master manipulator instead of this sneaky little rat who was playing everyone and backstabbing them.
So is that your biggest regret in your game play?
Yes, it really is. I look at it in a couple of ways: a better diary room showing from me could have made me look like an in-control player but, in the same vein, I played the best game I could, and that was a sneaky little rat. Luckily, no one really caught on. I mean, look at Amanda, once she got cocky, she was evicted. But it's hard to say I regret anything because it ultimately paid off for me in the end. Had I done anything differently, maybe I wouldn't be speaking to you right now. It's a little frustrating that I had complete control in the game and I'm looked at as a rat, but someone like a Dan Gheesling is a master manipulator. One thing I did that I didn't love was some of the nasty things I said about Elissa. I was not proud of that because we initially had a nice rapport with each other. Luckily, all is forgiven. Other than that, I played with integrity. The people I was loyal to, I was, until I had to win it for myself.
There's a lot riding on "Big Brother 16," especially after Canada kicked ass in its first two seasons without having to rely on controversy and by focusing on return-to-game dynamics. What do you think of the US's version's new twists: two Head of Households in one week? What the hell? What's the point of winning HoH now?
I know ... it's a bit weird. But I've thought about this and I think there's some logistical issue that we're not realizing and they'll announce it when the show premieres. I feel the same way, why would anyone want to win HoH? But there must be more to these twists than they've revealed.
Let's talk money: are you being smart with it? Or blowing it all on drunk tweeting? [Laughs]
I have been smart! I've never been out of the United States so I've been travelling internationally. Also, I've been working with a financial planner and investing.
Good rat. As the only out gay winner of "Big Brother," what did you think of "Big Brother Canada"s Kenny Brain's strategy of lying about his sexuality in the house?
I loved "Big Brother Canada" and I loved Kenny. He was one of my favourite players. I was so bummed he left before the jury. Yes, I thought him being in the closet was stupid. I was like, "Just tell everyone, already!" "Big Brother Canada" had cast such a nice, lovely and accepting group of people that it seemed pointless, and it was bound to come out sooner or later. And, in the end, his sexuality didn't make a difference in his game when he came out.
Finally, would you do an all-star season?
Yes! Are you kidding? And I would win the whole thing.
"Big Brother 16" premieres on Global at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, June 25. It airs on CBS in the U.S.