'Big Brother' Host Julie Chen Breaks Down Season 16's Best Moves and Her Pick to Win

"I love how this season unfolded because you didn't have the pettiness," she tells THR ahead of Wednesday's finale
Bill Inoshita/CBS
'Big Brother' host Julie Chen

With fall television in full swing, another season of Big Brother is nearly in the books.

After spending nearly 97 days in the Big Brother house, the Final 3 are set. Either Derrick Levasseur (the 30-year-old undercover cop), Cody Calafiore (the 23-year-old ex-soccer player) or Victoria Rafaeli (the 22-year-old photographer) will be $500,000 richer come finale night on Wednesday. The season was tame compared to last summer's controversial antics, though it lacked any substantial power moves or blindsides. There was some star wattage (Ariana Grande's older half-brother, Frankie Grande), a life-changing event (Jeff Schroeder and Jordan Lloyd's engagement) and a fair share of controversies (Christine Brecht and Cody's "flirtmance").

Ahead of the 90-minute finale, longtime host Julie Chen talks to The Hollywood Reporter about how the season played out, why she was impressed by Christine, The Hitmen's domination and her pick to win it all.

Compared to last season’s controversial cast, this year’s houseguests were at the opposite end of the spectrum. What is your take on how the season unfolded?

I love how this season unfolded because you didn’t have the pettiness of last season or this group herd/power in numbers mentality from last season. This season the houseguests were smarter, in my opinion, more mature and more focused on playing the game rather than being in the popular kids' clique or hooking up in a showmance, so it was more about why we created Big Brother, to show the human condition. To show the choices people make in life. What happens in Big Brother happens in a lot of offices, schools, you kind of gravitate toward people that you have common ground with, but if you’re in a workplace, and a promotion is going to go to either you or someone you're social with, you’re not going to bow back and not advance your own life just so your co-worker can advance in the company. So it’s interesting. It shows loyalty, betrayal, bonding. I loved how this season unfolded. Last season was a little more ego-based, a little bit more frivolous.

You got to meet the houseguests immediately after they were evicted. After having that face-to-face time, did your perspective or opinion on any person change? If so, how?

I was very taken aback by how much the audience booed Christine. To her credit, she stood strong and that could not have been easy. You’re on a live television show, the first time you're face-to-face with me, that can be a little bit jarring, and you have the whole live audience booing you, that you probably think is a fair representation of how America feels, whoever’s been watching, and the fact that she was, no doubt, hurt but managed to be composed during the interview, that was impressive. That told me this woman is stronger than we think. Everybody who came out, they were the more polite version of who we see them be in the house, which is a side to them, so I didn’t feel differently about anybody. I wasn’t surprised.

Was there a houseguest who exceeded your expectations or one you were most disappointed by?

I think everybody was surprised that Victoria got to the Final 3, for kind of doing nothing but being Victoria. But before she even got picked to go to the Big Brother house, she told us, “I get what I want by having other people do it for me.” I guess this game was no different. I think she’s the kind of woman who’s had boyfriends eating out of the palm of her hand, whatever she says. I think in her own way this game has played out the way she lives her life. She didn’t have to lift a finger, and she got to the end. There’s something to be said to having that skill.

Power moves were very rare this year. Who in your mind made the biggest one this season?

I guess Nicole made pretty good power moves because she wasn’t afraid to nominate those who intimidated others in the house. She figured, in her own way, these are my words, “Go big or go home.” She’s like, “I’m not going to do the safe nominations and name two weaker players.” And you have to applaud that. You have to also, question, if you’re going to be prepared to make a power move, you better win every single thing that comes your way. Power moves might be impressive to watch in the moment, but it may not be the wisest move for your endgame.

The Hitmen with Derrick and Cody, which formed on Day 2, seems to be the one alliance that remained steadfast in their mission, adapting and winning when needed. Are they this season’s best alliance?

They are the best alliance this season because they each picked early on a trustworthy person. Cody is never going to double-cross his mentor in this game, Derrick, and Derrick is not going to double-cross Cody because he’s got this game locked up. He doesn’t have to take Victoria to the finals to win a half million dollars. He’s got it in the bag. That being said, if Cody stood in his way of winning a half million dollars … Derrick is a smart man, he’s playing for real life, he’s playing for his baby daughter and his wife. Who knows what he would do if he had to?

A lot has been made about the inclusion of Frankie Grande in this season’s cast, and how his connection to Ariana Grande may have given him an advantage. What is your opinion from a game perspective?

I don’t think it quite translates. Yes, Ariana Grande may have a huge following, but her average fan is probably really young. They don’t necessarily watch Big Brother. They like her music but don’t really know what she stands for, and in Big Brother, you’re either rooting for or against people strictly based on what they stand for. Frankie obviously had a very large following in the beginning, because he got voted to be a part of Team America. But then, as the weeks wore on, as his cockiness came through a little bit, I think he lost a little bit of his fan base fair and square on his own behavior, not having to do with Ariana’s popularity going up or down. It’s independent of him, so it was an interesting little fact that he has this younger sister who had one of the big hits of the summer. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t translate into anything.

Derrick has the potential to win $575,000, which includes $50,000 for the Team America member making it to the end and $20,000 from Team America tasks. How do you think the other jury members and houseguests may take that and the Team America news?

There’s going to be mixed emotions. People who love the game are going to love that this is a new aspect to Big Brother [in Team America], and I think there is going to be some hard feelings and egos, but that’s going to be a feeling toward America. They might ask themselves, “How am I deficient? Why didn’t they pick me for Team America? What is it about his personality that’s so much better than mine?” I think you’re going to have some self-reflection when it comes to that.

It’s been a while since Big Brother has had a full-fledged all-star season. If you were picking the houseguests to represent season 16, who would you want to see return to the game?

I think you’d want to see Derrick play it again because anybody who’s watched this season, they’re not going to trust a word he says. They’re going to know he’s an undercover cop and they’re going to watch him like a hawk, so it’d be interesting to see what new strategy he can quickly come up with. I’d love to see Donny play again because he’s also someone who knows the game inside in out and is very rootable. Frankie and Zach would be hilarious to watch, and probably Nicole.

Since this is the longest season of Big Brother to date, at 97 days, how likely is it that the grand prize could also increase to $1 million?

If we ever get invited to the fall schedule we’d have to make it a million dollars. But as long as it’s a summer reality show, on a summer reality show budget, it would have to stay at half a million dollars — which is still life-changing money.

With the finale approaching in a little over 24 hours, who has the best chance?

Any way you slice it, Derrick’s going home a half million dollars richer. I just don’t see him losing to either Cody or Victoria. I don’t see him not sitting in the Final 2, I just don’t. Cody is not going to stab his mentor in the back, it’s just not in his nature, and if it were ever Victoria making that decision, she loves that guy. She has no bond or connection to Cody. Derrick has a big check coming his way, my prediction.

Big Brother crowns the season-16 winner during the 90-minute finale at 9:30 p.m. PT/ET Wednesday on CBS.

Email: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
Twitter: @insidethetube

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