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[Warning: Do not proceed if you have not watched Wednesday’s finale.]
The 26-year-old, a Chicago-based public-speaking professor, laid low during much of the season, aligning with power players and not ruffling any feathers — a key point that would ultimately give Herren the $500,000 grand prize with a landslide 7-2 vote over fellow Exterminator GinaMarie Zimmerman.
After the finale aired Wednesday evening, Herren spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in Studio City, Calif., about his plans for the $500,000, what the key was to his victory and his thoughts on the season’s big controversies.
Prior to heading into the house, did you ever think you would win?
I didn’t. I had goals going into this game: Don’t get voted out first. Make it to four votes. Survive this double eviction. Stuff like that. So every week, I felt I got closer and closer to it, so toward the end, it really did start to seem a lot more real and I thought that I had the chops to do it. I always had my eye on the prize throughout the whole season, and I thought I played a very meticulous game that benefited me in the end.
What was the story behind choosing GinaMarie instead of Spencer after you won the last HOH?
I chose GinaMarie because Spencer was — GinaMarie is my very close friend, but I almost would say Spencer was an even closer friend to me in the house — GinaMarie and I had pledged loyalty to each other the first week in this game and I knew the journey would see me as disloyal and I needed a loyalty card to play if I wanted to have a well-rounded game. I thought if I could show them that I held loyal to someone … I never nominated her, she never nominated me, I brought her to the end with me, that that would be the ace that I needed to win.
Did you think you could beat either GinaMarie or Spencer at that point?
Oh, I also thought I could beat [GinaMarie]! I thought she would be a tougher beat than Spencer, but at the same time I thought it was still doable and I thought I could crush her in the debate because that is what I do for a living.
So ultimately it didn’t matter who was sitting next to you.
I thought I could beat either one of them, yes. I really did! (Laughs.)
How do you think you handled the jury questions and the final speech?
I’m very proud of what I said. I think that I covered my bases, said what I needed to say. I was very happy with it. I think that I did a good job.
Were you surprised that it was a 7-2 vote in the end?
I wasn’t too surprised. I thought Aaryn would’ve voted for GinaMarie because they were so close. Judd, I think, is a wonderful guy and cares a lot about both of us. I thought he was a little more strategic. Being such a strategic lover of the game, I thought I would get his vote and I was surprised that I didn’t. At the same time, I hold nothing against him. I did think that I was going to do well with the votes based on how I played and what I said in the debate.
Was there a move or decision you made this season that if you had a second chance, you would do over?
I think I would have handled my HOH week when Jessie was evicted a little differently. I cared about her and she was someone who became a friend of mine really early in the house. I knew that she needed to go, but the way I kept her in the dark about things and kept giving her hope: “I’d love to work with you and want to.” I don’t think that was fair to her, and I care about her a lot more than that. I also think I left Howard a really mean goodbye message and I felt bad about that. I thought he was coming after me and I was wrong. I think Howard’s amazing too. But other than that, there wasn’t a lot that I regretted. I think I played my cards right when I needed to.
Was the key this season to stay under the radar?
For the first half of this game, it was definitely key to me. Jeremy would do inconsiderate things all the time and I wanted to call him out on them or yell or say that he was being rude. But I was just like, bite your tongue. And it’s going to feel a lot better when he’s evicted before you and you’re winning money at the end. It worked. I never ever wanted to be at the center of any trouble or any controversy. That’s why when some of the racist or bigoted things were said, I didn’t really speak up; I would pull the people aside and tell them that I was sorry about the things that were said that I didn’t condone. But a part of me wishes I would have been a little more vocal about how I didn’t approve of that. At the same time, I think people knew where my head was and it was nothing I was thinking.
What are your feelings about the season being shrouded in controversy?
A little bit, yeah. I had no idea there was such a big deal. I know things were said in the house that people didn’t like and I didn’t like them either. But at the same time, I had no idea it was going to be this grand scope of things, that it was going to be so controversial. I really hope that myself and a lot of the people who weren’t really involved in that can come out of it with America knowing that none of that was at the helm of me or most of the people in the house.
The College of DuPage issued a message on Facebook last week saying that you do not “currently work” for the college and that “any behavior or language he uses … does not represent the opinions or values” of the college. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t know what to make of that because I wasn’t essentially teaching there. I didn’t have a full-time job. I was adjunct faculty, and so I worked semester to semester. If I lost my job over this, I’m going to be very upset because I don’t think I did anything to merit me losing my job. Sure, some of the stuff I said might have been ridiculous or vulgar but at the same time I did comedy and things like that so people understand it’s my personality. I never said anything that I thought was super mean. I mean, ughhh, maybe a little toward Elissa. I never said anything I thought was really, really malicious or hateful or racial or things like that, like a lot of the controversy of the season stemmed from. And I hope they understand that. You can ask any of my students that I have taught before, I am a caring, loving professor who loves what I do. If this hurt my career, I would definitely be upset about that. Hopefully people will see the true me and realize that if I’m associated with that stuff, it’s wrongfully so. I hope all will be well.
Do you have plans for the $500,000 prize?
I have no idea! I want to be careful with it. I really do. I’ve never had even close to the amount of money like this. I want to be as careful with it as I can. I’d like to travel, because I’ve never really been able to do that. Other than that, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I’m going to be as smart as I can with it.
No big splurge?
No, hell no! I’m not buying a new car or anything. I will not be splurging right away. I just want to get back to my normal life. I want to get back to Chicago with my friends and my family.
Are you and Helen (who also lives in Chicago) going to watch the season together?
Of course we are! Hell yes! Helen’s my girl. I would love to watch the season with her! I cannot wait to.
Who do you think you’ll keep in touch with after this is all over?
I honestly think I’ll keep in touch with mostly everyone, especially Helen, Spencer, GinaMarie — we’ve been through so much together — and McCrae became good friends of mine in the house. Jessie, Candice. Everybody. I really do think I will have lots of friends when I leave.
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