The impression made by season 15 of CBS's Big Brother, which aired this past summer, has stayed with fans and critics alike. Racism, homophobia, controversy are all words that were used in reference to the contestants. It seemed as if they had forgotten cameras kept rolling...24-7. The deliberately sequestered house guests had no idea that outside the house, they were making national news headlines for shocking and closely scrutinized comments. Two contestants, Aaryn Gries and GinaMarie Zuckerman, lost their jobs back home during the isolation period - a response by their respective employers to outlandish quotes reflecting prejudices (Gries, the youngest contestant of the season, was blasted for comments about African Americans and Asians, as well as for a risky quote about her openly gay competitor, the season's eventual winner Andy Herren). Some of the offending comments, which contestants would later apologize for, aired on the actual show, but most were heard on the popular BB live feeds.
Another house guest, Spencer Clawson, was unaware that he had launched a police investigation after 'jokingly' referring to - oh, the not so humorous topic of - child pornography. Even the season's winner, college professor Andy Herren (who was not privy to Gries' remark about him), would later discover that he couldn't count on his old teaching job, a consequence of laughing with fellow house guests at racially-charged gossip about players (Even the topic of one competitor's child was not off limits for a couple among this crew).
While more players (including those with less airtime who were eliminated early on) would be called out by live feed watchers, Gries, Zuckerman and Clawson were the top three who stood out, with brash Boca realtor Amanda Zuckerman a close fourth. However, some would say that Amanda, who hails from Long Island, NY, was just jabbering like an uncouth NYC radio DJ, that she meant no harm, especially since she largely poked fun at herself ("the Jewish girl"). Then there were others who saw Amanda as blatantly offensive.
As a viewer, I saw two different Amanda's: 1) the confident Boca Realtor who is tough on the outside but a softie on the inside, especially when she falls for the pizza boy from Minnesota, McCrae Olson, and 2) Amanda the game player who resorts to bizarre behaviors, which she considered game tactics (what others termed: harassing, bullying and controlling methods). I got the chance to speak to Amanda, who I found to be sensitive and actually really quite nice - despite what we saw on camera.
Some topics I planned to tackle: the way she fought with competitors (i.e. Elissa Slater and Candice Stewart), her politically incorrect quotes, the unlikely "showmance" between the realtor and the pizza boy and ...walking around the BB house in underwear!
SHW: Before we start, I want to let you know that I've received many questions (via Twitter, Facebook, email) and I'm going to have to address some of the controversy of the season.
AZ: I want you to as well, because when I address the comments, I believe it's being perceived well. I want the opportunity to clear things up. Bring it on!
SHW: Before we go there: When you first started the game, what was your game plan? What were some mental notes you made when recalling tactics of previous players?
AZ: It's hard to have a specific strategy from watching previous seasons...I was thinking that I'd be more of a floater early on... and then I would strike when the iron was hot...But that wasn't the way it ended up happening. Also, I certainly wasn't looking for a showmance. So expect the unexpected - especially when it comes to my strategy!
SHW: Speaking of "floaters," many viewers did not want Andy to win because they believed he was a floater.
AZ: It's funny that Andy was called a floater because I didn't perceive him to be that way. Early on, he was in an alliance with me, McCrae and Judd (Daugherty) and he was always with me until he realized it was time to stab me in the back and go with the Exterminator alliance. He was a good player and he deserves to be the winner.
SHW: Watching the show afterwards, do you think Judd was as "shady" as you thought during the game?
AZ: Being stuck in that house you tend to overanalyze every single move. Going from the live show questions to the way Judd was acting, to the questions given in the diary room, I definitely overthought a lot of things. I wasn't the only one thinking he was shady but he's actually coming here (to Minnesota, where Amanda was with McCrae at the time of the interview) tonight so we are still really good friends.
The thing that weirded" us out about Judd in our alliance was that he made up a lie about Kaitlin saying she wanted Helen out, but then he told us it was a lie afterwards. We thought "ok, if he lied about that, what else is he lying about?" I don't think getting rid of Judd was a bad move overall because he had control over a lot of people I wanted control over. Once I got rid of him, I had complete control over Aaryn.
SHW: So interesting to hear that you're friends with Judd out of the house because it didn't seem like it would be that way with all the backstabbing that went on during the game!
AZ: Me and Judd and McCrae are like best friends. He's staying here for a week. You have to remember: It's a game! You don't evict people because you don't like them.
SHW: I can't imagine that you're friends with Candice (in one of the final episodes, after both Candice and Amanda were evicted and being held in the "jury house", Candice mentions something about not liking Amanda.)
AZ: I have nothing against Candice. She is a wonderful girl and (one thing you don't get to see because of editing) she was actually probably the funniest person in the house! I think we would have gotten along outside of the house. She wasn't really about "playing the game" when she took things personally (and acted out) when we evicted her man Howard (Overby). But on a personal level, I have nothing at all against Candice. She's really funny!
SHW: Which former BB contestant/s do you think you would be most comparable to?
AZ: My personality was a female Evel Dick (Donato) meets Dr. Will because I feel like I could have the charm and the same kind of attitude they had, but Amanda Zukerman is an Original! - Love me or hate me, it's still something different.
SHW: What surprised you most about the game when watching the show afterwards?
AZ: The number one thing that surprised me was the racism. No one was aware of what was going on in the real world. We had an idea that Aaryn might have been perceived as having said racist things, but other than that, we didn't know. I had some level of awareness that comments I made were being taken to heart by people, but not that I was perceived as racist!
SHW: Some of the people I spoke with, either in person or on Facebook and Twitter, said that this was the way they saw you: You joked around in a politically incorrect style like an NYC radio DJ, that you made risqué comments but you certainly didn't intend for them to sound racist, especially since you poked so much fun at yourself. Can you explain it to the others who didn't see it that way?
AZ: I regret the things I said because it wasn't my time to try to be a comedy host. My biggest regret in the game is that I said things that were hurtful to people and there was never that intent behind anything I said. I really want to apologize and hopefully, we can move on from that!
SHW: Early on, you warned Aaryn about the comments that she made. Was it overtiredness... or what exactly happened that you didn't carefully censor your own comments, knowing how they could be perceived?
AZ: My point to Aaryn was specifically about hurting people's feelings with what she was saying. There was no malicious intent with what I personally said. I have a racy sense of humor. Viewers really looked into every word we said and the (admittedly) stupid comments that I made were not about me having malicious intent. My stupid, ignorant comments were not meant to hurt anyone's feelings. Yet, I can't - WE can't - make any excuses for what came out of our mouths. All we can do is apologize for the hurtful things and that people were offended by those things we said.
Spencer, in addition to Aaryn, got in a lot of trouble for things he said, especially when he talked about child porn - that launched a police investigation.
AZ: Spencer has a raunchy sense of humor and I am 100 percent sure that he's not into any of those weird things he talked about. Aaryn is really young and from a small town and she is really remorseful about the things she said. This was a learning experience for her. (When I ask Amanda about speaking with Aaryn for an interview, she mentions that Aaryn is currently working with a PR team and limiting interviews, generally trying to lie low as she quietly repairs her image and focuses on charitable endeavors and "giving back").
SHW: My friend Deborah Blaiberg wants to know if wearing underwear around the house was a part of your game strategy?
AZ: (Laughs). No, I am a full figured woman and...sometimes it is too much of a hassle to get all dressed, but I am happy with my body and I was just comfortable in the house. Although I was embarrassed about what my parents got to see of me and McCrae. I thought they'd be watching the show, but I didn't realize they would check out the feeds! When I watched past seasons, I didn't even go on the feeds - I just watched the show.
SHW: You mentioned that Elissa Slater, the houseguest in perpetual yoga mode who kept calm at all insults hurled her way, was "passive aggressive" and that much of your behavior towards her (perceived as "bullying") was a result of that. I did see Elissa taking some jabs at your one-piece bathing suit and personally, I didn't like that, whereas overall, I really liked Elissa!
AZ: The Elissa-bathing-suit-comment-Elissa is the same Elissa the entire season, but that's how editing works - So much of that type of behavior wasn't shown. We had our moments of friendship and she can be a really great person, but there was truly something about her that the rest of house didn't click with. Part of the passive aggressive nature is being unable to show anger (as we see with Elissa when she is constantly provoked) and it finally got to be too much. You see that I reached my breaking point.
SHW: I think Elissa was great with being strong not to attack back competitors (you and Jesse), and that her sister Rachel - having been on two past seasons of Big Brother - had something to do with that.
AZ: Elissa has a huge fan base because of her sister (former Big Brother winner Rachel Reilly) and that helped her win "America's favorite" (which comes with a monetary reward), but there are some things you don't see on the show. When Aaryn was leaving the house, Elissa told her to blame all racist comments on me. Fortunately Aaryn didn't do that. She owned up to comments she said. Now though, I hold nothing against Elissa. We were in a stressful situation in the Big Brother house and at some point we'll talk and make amends and move on from what happened in the house.
SHW: Explain the "allure of Amanda" and how you were able to control the other contestants for so long - until GinaMarie's big move, putting you on the block?
AZ: The number one thing is that I'm loyal. If you watch throughout the game the only time I went after someone is if I saw or heard that they were going after me. With Judd, I wasn't sure and my one mistake and I feel so bad about and can't even watch the episode - was his eviction. Mostly, I was able to read who was loyal to me and who wasn't. As far as GinaMarie, she accidentally fell into the Exterminator alliance because she happened to be walking by when it was forming. It wasn't really her big move, but a move by the Exterminators that she carried out.
SHW: What does the future hold for McCranda? Rumors are flying that you will be contestants on The Amazing Race.
AZ: McCranda is in Minnesota this week and then we're going to Florida next week. We're open to all different opportunities in the future.
In terms of our relationship, we want to be able to get to know each other in the real world, not move too fast, but get to be together as Amanda and Mccrae (rather than McCranda) and see how we work together. Hopefully he'll move to Florida in the winter. Who knows!
SHW: When GinaMarie fooled you into thinking she would keep you and oust Elissa, did you have any inkling that something was shady? Andy's behavior (i.e. not wanting to confront GM about her nominations to put you and McCrae on the block, his going against you in the ballet-bowling competition when you were dizzy, sick and weak) didn't alert you that something had gone awry?
AZ: I was 100 percent blindsided by the GM nomination. You can see on my face that I was shocked and crying and I realized I had lost control of the game and would probably be going home - though afterwards I heard McCrae was the target. It didn't really make sense to me when I heard that. While the game was going on, McCrae had said that Andy was acting weird, but I totally thought that he hadn't voted me out of the house and that Elissa had - despite her promise to keep me. The fact that Andy turned against me at that time really shocked me because I had kept him the week before. When you see me screaming at Elissa (in that week before my own eviction), that was purely strategic. The reason I was doing that was because Elissa was going to put Andy on the block for eviction, and when her mind is set, it is set! I wanted to shake her so much so that she was a 'wounded animal' and Andy would go and console her so she would change her mind about putting Andy on the block.
It did make sense for Andy's game to get rid of me at that point. But even though I had Elissa's ring (as an assurance that she would keep me), I still thought Elissa was the one who voted me out. I was also caught off guard when I was evicted. Had I known that was for sure happening, I probably would have worn a dress!
SHW: What was the deal with all the rants?
AZ: This is a game and you have to be convincing in the game. Whether I was "bullying" Elissa, that was a game move and it has to be believable. Jesse's "Killer Kowalski Rant" wasn't believable and convincing, so no one took her seriously. The reason for this type of behavior from contestants is that you keep yourself a big target and then people want to keep you in the house because they know someone else is going after you. It was similar to when I dressed up like Granny and went after Elissa in my rant. This was misconstrued by Elissa's fans but I wanted her to be so shaken up that she would bond with Andy and then Andy, who I was loyal to, would be safe.
SHW: I'm still somewhat confused personally about how taunting and ranting helps players, but there's definitely something else going on in the house that must be causing players to act out in bizarre ways.
AZ: We don't sleep very well and what people don't realize is that we're on lockdown at times where we can't go out for days. We get no sunlight. So we go a little stir crazy from being under fluorescent lights for that long.
There's absolutely no entertainment (i.e. television) nothing battery operated, nothing like that, no writing utensils, you can't even have eyeliner in case you would use it for writing, so we had to trust people in the house. We had a chess table, a pool table, a swimming pool and an elliptical machine. But basically, there was a lot of talking to each other and getting to know each other.. .which was pretty entertaining in itself. I found McCrae, so I wasn't bored at all!
SHW: What's the hardest part about coming back into the real world from the BB house?
AZ: My family knows how I really am and they love me for who I am...I am a people pleasure by nature, so getting out of the house knowing that I didn't please people - that I offended people - is really hard for me. I'm dealing with that every day and I'm trying to give back to the community.
I'm not that bad, I promise!
Right now, I'm focusing on doing positive things, giving back to the community.
SHW: Would you do reality TV again or did this experience - with what you thought of the editing - turn you off to it?
AZ: I would be open to it! Look at Rachel Reilly. She didn't have the greatest first time around on Big Brother (Season 12) and she had haters. Then she came back the next season and voila, everybody loved her! I'm absolutely open to it! I have a lot to offer and a lot of good that America would want to see
...besides my boobs!
Follow Shira Hirschman Weiss on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ShiraWeiss