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There are many versions of Big Brother across the world, but there is only one Julie Chen.
For superfans of the show, she’s the Chenbot. For the daytime television demographic, she’s the co-host of The Talk. To CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves, she’s his wife and mother of their soon-to-be 7-year-old son.
Titles aside, one thing is for sure: Chen is not only the face of Big Brother — as well as CBS All Access’ forthcoming Big Brother: Over the Top — she’s also a genuine fan of the game.
So, how does Chen think this season will end? Why has the show still never been nominated for an Emmy? The Hollywood Reporter got on the phone with Chen to get an honest take on this season and much more.
It seems like this is the most twisted season yet. Do you like the high number of twists on the show or do you prefer fewer twists?
There were more twists than ever, I feel. I like the twists that work, and everything worked this year. It would have been incredible if Victor won. If he won all those battles and made it back in what a great story. I know some people who are like, “Oh, I’m a purist, it wasn’t fair. Once he was evicted, he was evicted.” But guess what? Every year we’ve had someone who’s evicted that gets a second chance for one reason or another, but they’ve never lasted very long. He earned his place.
At the beginning of the season I wasn’t a Victor fan, but now I’m a huge Victor fan. I voted for him today for America’s Favorite Houseguest.
I think he’s going to win that! He’s won the respect of a lot of people because you really got to know him when he went back in the house. When he left, he was this young hotdog and you didn’t really get to know what a sweet guy he is and good competitor he is.
Do you think this season James was playing to win America’s Favorite Houseguest again or was he playing to win Big Brother?
I definitely don’t think he was playing to win Big Brother! He really disappointed me in his gameplay. He gave away an HoH; he won [only] one. He wasn’t as fierce of a competitor. He was just there for shits and giggles, to be honest. Was he playing for America’s Favorite Houseguest? No, because that would imply him being a little bit duplicitous or phony. He genuinely likes doing those pranks. He’s an all-around nice guy. He was just being him.
We have our final three of Paul, James and Nicole. Over the years, what has been your favorite final three and least favorite final three?
This is definitely my favorite final three because I went home last night and I sat down with Post-it notes — I’m kind of a geek. (Laughs). I sat down to see any combination that is possible for final two and who would win and by how many votes. And I had 5-4 in every combo. And that’s what you want in a final three! I don’t know if James deserves to be there, but Nicole and Paul certainly do. So I would say for the most part when we got down to final five, even six, you didn’t have any floaters. If anything, James put the least amount of effort into this game and got so far. But we know he can be a competitor and we know he can win at endurance comps — as we saw last season — so he gets somewhat of a pass. In terms of unappealing final threes we’ve had, it’s hard to judge because you have three people. I remember the year Maggie [Ausburn] won, and I felt like a floater won. So I was not big on that. The year Derrick [Levasseur] won it was frustrating to watch because Cody [Calafiore] kissed away half a million dollars by taking his buddy [to the final two] instead of Victoria. With Victoria, just make out the check immediately to him. So that was frustrating. Last year was interesting with Vanessa not winning even though she deserved it. But this year I really wouldn’t have a problem with any one of them winning it.
I’m rooting for Paul to win.
I am too because Nicole disappointed me this year. I guess she’s playing the game, but I didn’t like how she wasn’t loyal to anyone but Corey. I didn’t like her being a snake, as Michelle would say. My calculations show that no matter who Paul is sitting against, he wins. He has at least one more vote than the other person.
What did you think of Nicole’s gameplay? It’s the reverse Rachel Reilly effect. In season 12, Rachel was hated by America, but turned it around and everyone loved her and rooted for her to win her second time around. For Nicole in season 16, she was a fan favorite, but this time, although she still has some fans, most superfans and alumni are extremely critical of her game.
The houseguests the second time when Rachel Reilly won still did not like her. She turned around public opinion, which was amazing! Despite being targeted in the house and disliked in the house, her win was so well deserved. She earned it. It was emotional. It was like, “Yes!” With Nicole, I don’t think it’s been fair that online viewers have been slut-shaming her. That’s a little bit unfair. But the criticism of her being a snake and a backstabber, I felt the same way. I didn’t like that. We like Nicole to be kind of naive and innocent, but she’s played the game and she knows the game.
Which showmance did you prefer: Hayden and Nicole or Corey and Nicole?
Oh my gosh! Do I really have to pick one? (Laughs.) I didn’t love the Hayden and Nicole showmance because Hayden seemed like a junior high school boy to me. It didn’t feel like a mature relationship. But neither does this one. Corey is just this big, good-looking lug. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, but there’s not much depth to their relationship. I don’t think there’s emotional depth to their relationship. You saw him [Thursday] night. He was like, “Oh yeah, she’ll always be my friend.” It was just a matter of convenience, friends with benefits.
What did you think about the jury fight that aired on Thursday? Are you Team Paulie or Da’Vonne?
I’m kind of team no one. If I had to choose I feel like, you know what, Paulie? Be a gentleman. But that being said, Da’Vonne had some low blows there like, “Talk to me when you’re six feet tall.” That was immature and just rude. He can’t change his height! And she was looking to press his buttons. But to me, Paulie, rise above it and be a gentleman. Keep your mouth shut. They were both wrong, but you don’t bring someone’s kid into the argument.
This season had the most entertaining jury house yet. Will the show explore more of the jury house?
I would love to see something like that. I pitched a few years back that we have a show going on, maybe just an online version, with cameras in the jury house. I forgot the reason we were told no — or I was told no rather. (Laughs.) But it never happened. Maybe one day. You never know with Big Brother: Over the Top happening.
Everyone talks about Dr. Will Kirby, Dan Gheesling and Derrick Levasseur as being the three best players to win the game. In your opinion, out of those three who really is the best player?
Derrick is probably the best player because he’s the most mature and he won it by knowing how to keep his mouth shut. That being said, Will was the most entertaining and he was crafty in a completely different way. Derrick was wise, Will was the most entertaining and crafty, and Dan Gheesling — that funeral was a genius moment, but he didn’t have the consistent entertainment value that Will provided.
Which evicted houseguest this summer were you the most excited to see be voted out?
I actually was excited to see Corey voted out. As someone who works on the show, I want a close vote. And I honestly think James made a mistake for his game, because if he kept Corey he would have had a better chance to win. Corey would have taken James to the final two over Paul. And if James sat next to Corey in the end, my calculations show that James would win over Corey. So he cost himself the game. I don’t think he can win against Paul, and with Nicole, the swing vote is Da’Vonne from my calculations. Da’Vonne likes James, but according to her jury house interview she said, “Love her or hate her, you got to give it up for Nicole because she is playing the game.”
Which houseguests this season were playing for fame versus playing the game?
In the beginning, Paul was playing for fame because he was like the loud outrageous guy, and he really didn’t know much about the game. He had never watched the show and once he got what Big Brother is about, then he played. And he stopped being the loud, outrageous character in the house.
Why hasn’t the show done another all-stars season? Which five players would you want to see on it?
When it’s all-stars it can get a little bit too much inside baseball with the chatter among the houseguests. We get new viewers and fans every year, especially with grade school kids anywhere from fourth grader to 10th graders. It’s summer vacation, they’re not old enough to drive and sometimes they check out the show or at camp they watch it online. You never want it to be too much like, “Oh, I don’t know what they’re talking about!” There’s something nice about meeting new characters whether they are fans or not. It’s like a new relationship. You want to meet new people that are exciting. If I could have my five come back, it would be Janelle [Pierzina], Evel Dick [Donato], Will and Mike Boogie, and Rachel Reilly, no question! Are you joking? That would be the ultimate all-stars season.
As a host, what are the biggest challenges of preparing for the finale versus the weekly live shows?
I have to jog my memory and remember everyone’s name! That’s number one. Timing is key. You want to give everyone a little bit of their time in the sun and a little bit of air time. And it’s 16 people and that’s tough. And yet, you also don’t want to fill the airtime with something that’s not compelling or interesting so timing it, it’s live, being able to get off the air on time and being able to also build in ad-libs. You never know what someone is going to say on live TV. There have been seasons past where someone asks someone else an uncomfortable question or you expose someone’s bad behavior in the house by showing a piece of video tape and then getting that raw reaction from the person who was the victim or backstabbed, you want to allow for those things to breathe.
The Emmys are on Sunday. Where is Big Brother‘s nomination? It has gone so many seasons without a nomination.
I know! We’ve been on 17 years and haven’t gotten a nomination. I just don’t see it. I’ve stopped caring at this point because if I had to choose between accolades or renewals on the air, I pick the renewals. A lot of those shows that were hot and popular when we first went on they’re not even on anymore! Remember The Weakest Link, Fear Factor or the primetime version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I’ll take getting a pickup over an Emmy any day!
You don’t have too much time between the finale and Big Brother: Over the Top. As soon as the finale ends this year what’s the first thing you plan on doing?
Having a double scotch! (Laughs.) Let’s see, it’s on a Wednesday night. Oh yeah! I have a very relaxing weekend ahead of me of my 7-year-old’s birthday and I’m getting a puppy. So I think I’m going to be longing for the days of doing Big Brother. I’ll be missing the days where I was relaxing doing two jobs [when I’m] planning a 7-year-old’s birthday party and house-breaking a puppy!
Does the show deserve an Emmy? Will Victor win “America’s Favorite Houseguest?” Who do you think will win the game? Take THR‘s poll here and chat about your pick in the comments section below. Make sure to stay tuned to The Live Feed for some Big Brother finale surprises coming your way.
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