Julie Chen on 'Big Brother': "Overt Racism in the House" Is "Hardest for Me to Watch"

"We can't really manage the house guests, because you can't dilute or infect the game."

"When I first was hosting Big Brother, I was also anchoring the news in the morning at CBS, and I got sent to cover the war," Julie Chen tells The Hollywood Reporter during its Reality Emmy Roundtable. "This was before we knew that there weren't weapons of mass destruction, so every time the alarm went off, you had to say, 'gas, gas, gas!' put on your gas mask and run to wherever you were — the bomb shelter, the bottom of the hotel, whatever. It was a life or death situation."

"So, we were with the military, we all had to run into this bunker. Until we got the all clear. And I remember thinking in that moment, 'Forget Big Brother, that silly little reality show. This is real life. This is life or death. This is where it's at.' "

Chen said during her time of terror, the U.S. military members remained "cool, calm, and collected," and asked her, "Can we talk to you about Big Brother?"

"In that moment," Chen concludes, "I thought, 'Who's to judge?' "

When it comes to controlling or managing the talent on Big Brother, Chen says, "we can't really manage the house guests, because you can't dilute or infect the game," but she does wish overt racism could be managed in the house.

"The thing that was hardest for me to watch was when we had overt racism in the house. This girl named Aaryn, we thought she was going to be America's sweetheart, the girl next door, this blonde from Texas. In the interviews, now looking back, I think she knew how to give those beauty queen answers. But after a few weeks, that beauty fades, when the inside comes out and the inside is ugly. I mean ugliest to the bone. And she starts saying homophobic things, racist things."

When it comes to juicy content that they couldn't air on TV, Chen says, "there was a huge orgy. It was kind of crazy, it started in the Jacuzzi…. And it couldn't air on CBS and it never became a storyline, thank God, because how do you cut around that?"

Chen joined Nigel Lythgoe (So You Think You Can Dance), Mark Burnett (Survivor, Shark Tank, The Voice), Craig Piligian (The Ultimate Fighter), Cat Deeley (So You Think You Can Dance) and Bertram van Munster (The Amazing Race) for the Roundtable, where the producers and hosts talked about what it takes to create content that has lasted more than a decade in a genre that seemed like a fad.

The full Reality Roundtable can be seen on Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter when it premieres Sunday, Sept. 13, at 11 a.m. ET/PT on Sundance TV and HollywoodReporter.com.

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