9:45am PT by Brian Porreca
'Big Brother' Bosses Talk Casting Diversity, Lack of Female Winners and Avoiding a Season 15 Repeat
Big Brother returns Wednesday for the season 18 premiere when Julie Chen will return to the small screen and utter the word "twist" more than a dozen times. (Fun fact: Last season the longtime host said "twist" 17 times in the season 17 premiere.) But the biggest question is what will the twists be this season?
Will there be only 12 houseguests or are there four returning players waiting in the wings to get another shot at the $500,000 prize? The Hollywood Reporter spoke with executive producers Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan to get some answers to those burning questions and more.
"How about this? You’ll meet the entire cast on night one. That’s a big one," Grodner teases. "For the first time ever, it’s a two-hour first-night premiere and there’s a lot going down. There’s a lot of action, a lot of fun competitions, there’s twists and turns and reveals and you’ll find out whether indeed there are just 12 or if there will be more than that."
It seems like this season has one of the most diverse casts the show has ever had. Do you agree?
Grodner: We do agree. We think it’s an incredibly diverse cast. We have one of the more diverse casts, for sure. There’s a variety of ethnicities in the house. We have a gay man, a bisexual woman, people from all different backgrounds: Armenian, Filipino, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican and African-American.
I joked to season 17 runner-up Liz Nolan that there are no blondes!
Grodner: (Laughs.) Well, yeah, you never know …
Who currently has the best shot at winning? Last year, when I asked the same question you singled out Audrey Middleton, Vanessa Rousso and Steve Moses. Steve won, so those predictions weren’t bad …
Grodner: Can you credit me for that or was that Rich?
It was you!
Grodner: Ah, I was so good! Vanessa and Steve, they made it to the end and Audrey, well she shot herself in the foot. (Laughs.) Let me think about the cast right now. I think I’ve actually been saying from the beginning, I think Paulie [Calafiore] has a good shot. That’s the only one I’ll say right now and on the girls' end, I’d say Michelle [Meyers].
Meehan: I was going to say Paulie too because of his connection to Big Brother and knowing how to play the game a little bit. Also just being incredibly likable.
Grodner: Yeah, he is. You don’t agree with me on Michelle? I think she’s going to go far.
Meehan: Michelle could. It just depends on, she has an edge to her and sometimes people who have an edge can either work it to their advantage or it can come back and haunt them a little bit.
CBS' new president Glenn Geller has admitted to being a fan of reality TV. What was your first meeting with him like and what mandate did he have for the new season?
Grodner: What we love is that he admits to being a superfan of Big Brother and obviously he seems to be a big fan of reality TV, which is fabulous. He’s been really, really excited and has just been smiling through all of our meetings so it’s always a lot of fun. The most memorable one would be about the house. He was there from the very beginning with the house design and actually is the one that sent it in this direction. We always present a few ideas and he chose this around-the-world, summer-vacation theme. So we have him to thank for that.
Meehan: He’s been very involved, every step of the way so far from twist ideas, which one he likes, the house.
You entered season 17 already knowing you were renewed for season 18. This season you haven’t been renewed for season 19 yet. Are there different pressures this year?
Meehan: That was something unique and different that last time when CBS picked up two seasons back-to-back. Even when they pick up just one season and we find out at the end of the summer if we’re coming back again, there's pressure so it doesn’t feel like any extra pressure. It feels like what we typically do.
Grodner: What we’re used to, yeah.
Meehan: Everyone is super supportive of the show. CBS loves the show. We do really well in the summertime. I think we hold the bar very high every summer regardless and try to keep the show as good as we possibly can.
Grodner: There’s extra pressure that we put on ourselves to make sure we have the best summer ever. And there’s a lot out there with the Olympics and the election so those years are extra tough sometimes.
Recently, tweets written by houseguest Corey Brooks have resurfaced online in which he used homophobic language. How concerned are you about getting into a situation similar to what you faced in season 15?
Grodner: Look, you put a group of people in that come from a variety of backgrounds and who are out there in the world with different opinions and different ways of expressing themselves online. It’s hard to say. We have a pretty good feeling that this will not be a repeat of season 15. So far, they’ve already been in the house for a little bit now. I've lost track of days, but it’s Monday and they moved in on Wednesday and so far there’s no sign of that. I mean, it’s hard to say. These are real people with their own opinions, so it’s hard to completely predict, but we have a good feeling it shouldn’t go that direction.
Did you see the tweets before he was cast?
Grodner: We don’t talk about the casting process.
This season is airing amidst the presidential election, and houseguest Glenn Garcia has been vocal on social media about supporting Donald Trump. Will this season have a lot of political conversations and arguments?
Grodner: You know, I don’t think we’ve ever seen that. (Laughs.)
Meehan: It’s a group of 20-30 somethings and obviously Glenn is a little bit older than that, but they’re all in there to win a half a million dollars and that seems to not ever come into play.
Grodner: Look, it would be interesting if it came up. It’s a presidential [election] year, certainly everyone is talking about it, but if the history of the show tells us anything, the Big Brother cast does not usually discuss political issues like that in the house.
Meehan: Maybe this Big Brother will be a fun escape from all of the crazy politics this year.
Are there any showmances already blossoming this year?
Grodner: There’s always a showmance! Whether it will be one that we love to hate or one that we love to love, we’ll see. It will be up for debate. Victor [Arroyo] is going to be trying really hard to get into some sort of a romance in this house. He’s not shy about it. Who will it be? Who will he have his eyes on? I don’t know, but if I were to bet I would say he’s going to go after Natalie [Negrott].
Who so far this season is the best in the diary room?
Meehan: Bronte [D'Acquisto] has been pretty great in the diary room.
Grodner: Did you meet her?
Yeah, I was honestly speechless and surprised by how unique she is.
Grodner: She is unique. She’s the definition of quirky. That voice you guys are going to either love or hate, but is that for real? Indeed it is. She is unexpected. She’s a mathematician and she loves math and that’s a big passion for her. She’s been a lot of fun in the diary room and saying things you don’t expect.
Meehan: Michelle is pretty funny.
Grodner: Yeah, Michelle is a lot of fun. She has some interesting phobias that you’ll learn about on night one. Who would be the star on the guys' side? Paulie is pretty good, but the two girls are the standouts right now.
You have two familiar faces this season. Cody Calafiore’s brother Paulie and Vanessa Rousso’s sister Tiffany. What was the decision-making behind bringing them on the show?
Grodner: We’re always looking for the best people that apply and have showed interest about being on the show. In the past, other houseguests’ siblings have approached us or applied, and in some cases it works out like Elissa [Reilly Slater] and in some cases it doesn’t. We want to make sure we have the best people ultimately. Cody was awesome, his brother is promising; he’s charismatic and cute. Tiffany has said that although she looks and sounds a lot like Vanessa, that she is different. It will be interesting to see how different she is.
Meehan: The big thing is that just being a sibling to a previous houseguest isn’t enough. They still have to be great on their own. With Paulie and Tiffany, we saw a lot of great attributes and a lot of fun things about them that make them great Big Brother houseguests. They’re not just on the show because of their siblings. They’re on for their own reasons as well.
Can you tease what the first week has looked like?
Grodner: It’s two hours on Wednesday and one hour on Thursday, so a three-hour premiere. There’s a lot that is going to happen in that time.
Meehan: There’s definitely already alliances happening. There’s definitely sparks of a showmance happening. We did more challenges on opening night than we ever have in the history of Big Brother.
Are there already some fights?
Meehan: It’s a little early for fights. Everyone is still feeling each other out and getting to know each other.
Grodner: There’s certainly blooming flirtations that could be showmances. There’s definitely lines drawn in the sand, the game has gone on quite quickly, which is interesting, and [there are] strong opinions.
Meehan: There are definitely people in the diary room not liking other people, but it hasn't exploded or anything in the house yet.
Last year, Clay Honeycutt gave shoutouts during the live vote and eviction. Are shoutouts prohibited again?
Grodner: We try and discourage shoutouts because we try to keep the show within the house. But that being said, we’re on live television and it’s not always easy to stop that from happening.
Meehan: No one gets in trouble for it.
Are there more than 12 players? It’s a long summer …
Grodner: Signs point to there probably being more than 12 players if you look at past seasons, but you’ll have to tune in to the two-hour premiere to find out.
What was the decision-making behind no “Battle of the Block” this year?
Meehan: We always look to twist up the game and keep a new crop of houseguests on their toes so we thought it would be fun to introduce something new and something different. We have something new and different that we will reveal in our first Sunday show.
How will the new competition impact nominations?
Meehan: We can’t reveal the specifics other than the fact that it will definitely change how everyone plays the game.
Former houseguests are critical on social media about the twists and the cast, and every new season they will tweet about the show overall. What do you have to say to them?
Grodner: Past houseguests who like to talk about everyone? (Laughs.) I don’t know, what would you say to them, Rich?
Meehan: We always try to keep the game fun and interesting and we always try to keep the engine of the game intact, but like to have some fun outside of that. Everything is always done for cast fun, to twist up the game, some things work better than others, but it always seems to deliver good content.
Do you have a favorite twist from over the years?
Grodner: We just redid it so now I don’t know. I’m definitely partial to the “Twin Twist.” I’ve always found that to be really fun.
Meehan: The enemies twist from season eight, the way it played out with Dick and Daniele [Donato] was pretty amazing. There were several characters involved in human drama because of that twist. Some of the America’s Player twists are always fun from an interactive point of view for viewers.
Grodner: We like them all. I know it’s a lame answer, but we like the twists for what they bring to the game and what they ultimately teach us about how to keep the format fresh.
Will America get to play the game this season?
Meehan: Yeah, we definitely have an interactive element that will be revealed in the near future. It’s going to be really fun for fans and something that we’ve never done before and they’ll definitely be able to impact the game.
Rachel Reilly was the last female winner and that was five seasons ago. How likely do you think a female winner is this season?
Grodner: I hope so! It’d be nice to see another female winner. Michelle is strong, Bronte possibly, Zakiyah [Everette]; they all know the game pretty well and that could help. It’ll be interesting because we have a very interesting mix of people who really know the game and people who really don’t and I think that’s fun to see when they come in here with a fresh approach.
In Big Brother history when a female sits next to a male in the final two, they lose. Why do you think that is?
Grodner: You tell me. Big Brother is a big social experiment and ultimately it’s as much like how it is out in our world and our society.
Meehan: Sometimes when men are devious and villainous it’s seen as a pro and when women do it, it’s seen as a negative. I don’t know if that’s the sole reason why there have been fewer woman winners, but there definitely seems to be a bit of a double standard.
Grodner: That occurs everywhere, unfortunately. Powerful, smart women who make it to the end sometimes are not seen as the same charismatic likable guys.
Meehan: Truthfully, they have to get there. A lot of times whether it’s guys or girls that sit in that second chair, some of the more powerful players tend to take weaker players to the end.
Grodner: That’s true.
Meehan: A lot of the times the person sitting there maybe didn’t play the game as well as the person that did win. You have to look at ultimately who is sitting in that chair. If Vanessa made it to the end last year, she probably had a good chance of winning, but it wasn’t her. She was one spot short.
Are you saving the next all-star season for Big Brother 20? It makes sense, right?
Grodner: Ha! You never know. Certainly we’ll see where we are and think about it and look at the pros and cons of doing that. It’s tough because I think our audience ultimately likes to see a little bit of both or an entirely fresh cast. But we have some fan favorites and legends and really good players who have played the game over all these seasons, it’d be fun to see them back in the house.
Will all 12 of this year's houseguests move in together?
Grodner: How about this? You’ll meet the entire cast on night one. That’s a big one, so make sure you go to kick back and get comfy, it’s two hours of Big Brother fun. We’re in the middle of screening it now. (Laughs.) Get the popcorn out, get comfortable! For the first time ever it’s a two-hour first-night premiere and there’s a lot going down. There’s a lot of action, a lot of fun competitions, there’s twists and turns and reveals and you’ll find out whether indeed there are just 12 or if there will be more than that.
Who will be returning to the game? What do you think about the controversial tweets sent by Corey? Will there be a season 15 repeat? Check in to The Hollywood Reporter's Facebook at 4 p.m. PT to ask questions live about the upcoming premiere and find out an unrevealed secret THR knows about one of the returning players.
Big Brother 18 premieres June 22 at 8 p.m. on CBS.