'Big Brother 17': Julie Chen Talks Disliking "BB Takeover," Why Show Has Never Been Nominated for Emmy

The reality series host talked to The Hollywood Reporter about a season of twists, firsts and stellar ratings.
Monty Brinton/CBS

This season of Big Brother made history with its first transgender houseguest, a "Twin Twist" like no other, and saw ratings gold all summer long. On Thursday afternoon Big Brother host Julie Chen sat down with The Hollywood Reporter and a small group of reporters for a discussion on season 17 of CBS' hit summer staple.

"I do love this game. My husband and I talk about it all day long," she told reporters. On Austin's ponytail beard: "It's dreadful to be honest. It's just so bad, and I was trying not to stare at it because I knew if I stared at it too long it would be uncomfortable and I would lose my focus." And how Zingbot is the new Don Rickles: "Other than with Don Rickles I've never seen people want to be 'zinged' or insulted. I know Don Rickles now and anytime I see him I'm like, 'Come on, come on! Say something racist! Say something insulting!' And he does! And my husband and I just laugh. I kind of have that same kind of sense of humor with Zingbot."

Below are the questions asked by THR at the intimate roundtable discussion with the host of the twist-after-twist reality series.

This question comes from producers Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan: Is there any chance you will be willing to be the godmother to the "Brenchel" baby?

(Laughs.) Describe the duties, number one. It would in an odd way be an honor, and I'm leaning more yes than no. Depends on how time consuming it would be. I feel like in some ways I am the fairy godmother to all of the houseguests and their future children.

Do you know if former houseguests have reached out to Allison and Rich asking to be on the show again and pitching themselves?

I think Jessie [Godderz] does. He's a good sport. Some do and some do the opposite. Some are like, "Hey, you need me for anything I'm here for you for life. I would love to be on the show again, I would love to be a houseguest again, I'd love to host a competition, anything you can use me for." Others are like, "I need to move on with my life."

Do you think there will ever be an all-showmance season? Past showmances, whether they survived outside of the house or not?

We certainly have enough people to do it. I would love to see that. That being said, I bet you it would be a nightmare to book. I can just imagine some of the demands that people have, which is unfortunate. You get a little — some of the houseguests get a little taste of fame and star treatment and suddenly the demands can get quite long.

Going off that, how do you determine which houseguests are playing for fame and which are actually there for the game?

It's pretty clear when you see the conversations that happen in the house. Even Austin was pretty candid about it during my eviction interview with him. He was like, "Look, I'm 30, I'm a performer, how do I take my career to the next level?" He can't be body-slamming for another 10 years. If people play their cards right they could potentially — I mean, look at Jeff Schroeder. They could create a career for themselves out of the Big Brother fame they receive.

You compared Vanessa to Dr. Will. Why don't you think she owns that she is this strategic player like Dan, Derrick and Dr. Will have been in the past?

I think it's a little bit more difficult for women to say that they are the villain. I think women have this thing where at the end of the day they want to be liked, and that's what she's feeling. I don't think she wants to be booed by the public, and that's why she's not taking ownership for all her evil doings.

Would fans be rooting for her more if she were more open about her game plan?

Yes, if she played more like Danielle did in season three — where every minute she went in that diary room she laughed and had the devil horns — I think people would think she's a hero, but because she's being kind of weaselly about it people are like, "No that's not what we see, that's not cool."

What do you think she likes more: crying or saying the word "deal"?

(Laughs.) I think it's a toss-up. Probably crying, but she's good at it because although we as viewers can tell those are crocodile tears, it works in the house. It's very effective. People see what they want to see and they believe what they want to believe, and you'd have to be pretty heartless with a woman in full tears asking you for forgiveness or asking you for sympathy. It's just human nature.

Is her beanie a tribute to Derrick from last season?

I never thought that! (Laughs.) No, I think it's her. She's not thinking about Derrick. She's probably like, 'Derrick who?'

You don't think James could beat Johnny Mac for "America's Favorite Houseguest"?

James is very well liked, but he's been off the show, out of the house for too many weeks now. He'll probably be second, but I think he'll be a distant second.

After Julia picked Austin in the veto competition, could she have gone back and picked someone else?

That's an excellent question. I don't know the answer to that. Fifty percent of my brain says, "Absolutely not!" And the other fifty percent thinks, "But why not?" They didn't start the clock yet. If she played it off like it was the slip of the tongue then she probably could have.

Has there ever been a twist you weren't a fan of?

I didn't love at the beginning of the season the "BB Takeover." I didn't like it. It wasn't clear what we were trying to accomplish. I felt like, "What does that mean? A person can take over? An element can take over?" Anytime we don't trust the game enough just to be pure game is when we get into trouble. I didn't understand it.

Will the "Battle of the Block" change nominations for the rest of the series?

I have a love-hate relationship with "Battle of the Block." Part of me feels like, "Wow, anything can happen." It also starts dictating and forming enemy lines, which can be good. But part of me thinks, "You know, before we invented Battle of the Block, pure game is always good." It boils down to the personalities in the house. If it went away I wouldn't be sad. If it stayed I'd be cool with it, too. I used to like how Sunday's would end on the nominations, slow motion, and the sour grapes in the diary room. I like it, I don't think we need it.

The Emmys are on Sunday and Big Brother has never even been nominated. Why do you think that is?

I think it's a combination of reasons. When we first launched it was in the shadow of Survivor. Season one was not very good for many reasons, which is why the rules completely changed for season two. When we had America do a kind of American Idol vote-off what I learned quickly was we as Americans don't like discomfort and we vote out the most interesting people. That allowed the houseguests to hide behind it. We were the kind of also-ran [show]. We were like the poor man's Survivor. We were this poorly lit, odd little show from the Netherlands that had Ikea-looking furniture, clinical-looking lighting. It didn't have the sexiness of Survivor. Voters still look at us like a trashy little summer reality show. It's been 17 seasons, when they don't announce our name I tell the same joke every year. I go, "We was robbed!" There are some people out there that love to hate the show and love to hate the Chenbot. I have my critics out there.

Did you not like the "BB Takeover"? What do you think about past houseguests trying to get back on the show? Will James really not win "America's Favorite Houseguest"? Chat about it in the comments below and stay tuned to The Live Feed for all things Big Brother.

The Big Brother season finale airs Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.