'Big Brother 17': Former Runner-Up Talks Haunt of Second Place, Returning Players' Demands

Daniele Donato - H 2015
Sonja Flemming/CBS

Daniele Donato - H 2015

The Big Brother season 17 finale is a day away, and while one person will be crowned the winner, two will lose out on the $500,000 prize. Of those two, one will be this season's runner-up, and although they'll be $50,000 richer, they are still likely to be haunted by losing the coveted title.

"Coming in second place, imagine how much that would haunt you for so long being runner-up," Daniele Donato (seasons eight and 13) tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Every day for a really long time you think, 'What did I do wrong? Was my speech wrong?' " 

Although she lost in her first season to her father, Evel Dick Donato, in one of the most memorable seasons in the show's history, her second run in the Big Brother house brought a different prize by the name of Dominic Briones. Donato married her season 13 castmate, and with the recent baby news from Rachel Reilly and Brendon Villegas, the Huntington Beach native says, "I am so glad that Rachel is pregnant because now everyone can stop acting like it’s a competition for us to get pregnant. We definitely do want a baby — I’m just glad they took the pressure off of us.”

Here, Donato talks to THR about the changes over the years on the CBS reality series, why finale night speeches do and don't matter, and which five players she would be bringing with her for an "all-star" season.

You first appeared on Big Brother in 2007. What have been the biggest changes to the show?

Now, everyone has it down to a tee of what competition it’s going to be, and people are outplaying the game. There needs to be some huge game twist because I don’t want to see people outplay the game. I want the game to outplay people. Everyone says that they don’t want twists, but when you don’t get twists, you get these people who just walk all over everybody. I actually had an epiphany the other day, and I remember there’s been three seasons — season 14, season 16 and season 17 — and each season, I’ve been like, “How are these people this stupid that they let one person dictate everything? This can’t be real. These have to be the stupidest people in the whole wide world.” But I’ve come to the realization that maybe it’s not the people that are stupid, that maybe the player is just that good, mixed with these stupid people. 

How do you think this season compares to your two seasons in terms of entertainment value?

Season eight was insane. I’m not just saying this because of myself — I was probably one of the more boring people — but every character was so dynamic. Seasons six and eight, and obviously seven, those have been the three best casts of all time because they were so dynamic all over the board. I’m not disappointed with the cast — I think the casting was great this season — but I just think the way that they played they are outplaying the game. As soon as Vanessa and her squad steam-rolled the game, it got boring to watch. In the past, you have two sides of the house, and it was never like that [this season]. People used to be literally fighting and hating each other, and now it’s just everyone loves each other and gets along.

Who has a better chance of staying together when the show is over — Austin and Liz or Shelli and Clay?

I am totally rooting for Shelli and Clay. Shelli was a great player, and I don’t understand why people didn’t like her. She seems like a genuine, honest, really nice person, so I didn’t get that. They seem normal and down to earth. It’s so funny because every time a guy comes into the house Liz is like, “Oh my God, he’s so hot.” This is not going to go over well as soon as they leave the house. Between her and Austin all that they both want is to become somebody. 

Julie Chen said that booking an all-showmance season would be a nightmare, and the demands would be high. Would you be one to have demands, and who do you think she might have been talking about? 

(Laughs.) I know that in most seasons when people come back that the demands are pretty high. I can say that when I came back, my demands were pretty low. I totally know what she means though, and I definitely agree.

She also admitted that past houseguests reach out to EPs Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan and pitch themselves for the show. What do you think about that?

I can’t imagine people reaching out to Allison and Rich and pitching themselves, but I’m sure a lot of people do. That’s so sad!

You've been to finale night as a juror and final-two houseguest. Is there anything that goes on behind the scenes that fans don't get to see?

It’s so different now than it used to be. In season eight, we were alone together in the house for a week — after everything’s done you’re like, “I just want to go home, whoever wins, wins. Let’s just go home.”

This season's win might come down to finale-night speeches. How much time did you take to prepare yours?

Oh my God, my final-two speech — first of all, I had just turned 21, so I was a little kid who was naive at the time. I didn’t really prepare a speech at all. I kind of already knew I was going to lose by the jury questions and their reactions. 

In the show's history, when a female sits next to a male in the final two they lose. If Vanessa sits next to Steve, will she lose?

Vanessa will beat out Steve, but I don't know if everyone will vote Liz to beat Steve. 

In order to win, what do they need to say in their finale night speech?

As a specific juror, some people go in there saying, “I’m going to ask this person this question, and if they answer this way, I’m voting for them. If they don’t, I’m not.” That’s some people, and other people already have their mind set of who they’re voting for and who they’re not. It’s kind of 50-50 where your speeches don’t really matter, but more along the line of the answer to the question a specific person is asking you might matter. 

Which runner-up in the past deserved to win over the winner?

Me, obviously. (Laughs.) I feel like there have been quite a few that don't necessarily deserve to win. 

Was there any other season that finale speeches really mattered?

Dan [Gheesling’s] speech kind of ruined it for him because he was such a brown-noser to everybody. It was so obvious. Andy [Herren] loves to brag about how great his speech was. I’ve told him I hated him in the game. He was horrible to watch. I hate Game Andy, I hate Twitter Andy, but I like real-life Andy.

Was there anyone this season you were surprised didn’t make it to the final three?

I think everyone was rooting for James. I was so sad to see him go. He was a great player, and I think everyone would have loved to see him in the final three.

What do you make of all the recent Twitter wars between former houseguests?

There are so many that go on all the time, but I think sometimes people are tired of listening to other people. It’s so funny how judgmental past players can be to the current players, and I think they need to realize they struggled in the game, too, and a lot of them didn’t do very well in the game. For them to judge people is just mean. And then there’s other people who just start fighting, I don’t know if it’s for attention or what. It’s weird.

If you could return for "all-stars," who’s coming with you? Give five names.

I would have to say Eric [Stein]. I would want to say Dom obviously because I’d want him to be there to keep me company, but I feel like I’d be a bigger target, and he wouldn’t want to come. He probably wouldn’t play good. I’ll let him stay home. My heart will miss him. I’d bring Andy just so I can have fun. Strategic-wise, I would bring Diane [Henry]. She’s my favorite player of all time, and probably Donny [Thompson] and Nicole [Franzel].

Do you stay in touch with people from both of your seasons?

Eric, Jen [Johnson], and Kail [Harbick]. I’m actually really close to Kail. From 13, obviously my husband, and Rachel, Brendon and Kalia [Booker]. I see Jeff [Schroeder] every now and then. Most of the people I’m friends with are the people who haven’t kept up with the game too much and are more normal. (Laughs.)

Which season did you prefer — eight or 13?

I had more fun in the house as a whole season eight, but I enjoyed the experience a little bit more the second time in season 13.

But season eight you came in second place. Season 13, not so much …

Coming in second place, imagine how much that would haunt you for so long being runner-up. Every day for a really long time you think, “What did I do wrong? Was my speech wrong?” You overthink everything.

Who will face the forever haunt of coming in second place this season? Who is winning the game? Would you watch a season with Daniele, Eric, Diane, Donny and Nicole back in the game? Sound off in the comments below.

The Big Brother finale airs Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.