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The Celebrity Big Brother finale has arrived.
Omarosa Manigualt Newman, Ariadna Gutierrez, Mark McGrath, Marissa Winokur and Ross Mathews have all made it to the final stretch and will compete in hopes of walking away with the Celebrity Big Brother crown, in addition to the $250,000 grand prize.
Throughout this year’s star spinoff of CBS’ summer flagship series, there has been the usual gameplay viewers would expect to see in a reality TV competition series, but there was also a political storyline in just about every episode.
The casting of Omarosa shortly after her dramatic exit from the White House trumped the show’s headlines this season as the former political aide talked quite frequently about her former boss, President Donald Trump. As the show comes to an end, so does that storyline from Omarosa (for now).
Ahead of the season finale, The Hollywood Reporter called up host Julie Chen and executive producer Allison Grodner to see whether or not fans may be seeing this celebrity spinoff again, who may be winning the game and what viewers should expect to see from the upcoming season 20 of Big Brother.
Looking back at the season as a whole, did it work the way you thought it would? What were the biggest surprises for you?
Allison Grodner: The best surprise for us was that these people went in the house and embraced the game, the way of being in the Big Brother environment, and really took to it quite quickly. We were all pleasantly surprised that it feels as much like Big Brother as it does with such a short schedule and with a group of celebrities.
Julie Chen: It exceeded my expectations. I knew when we got Omarosa that there was going to be built-in intrigue and interest off the bat, but we didn’t know how much she was going to say [about her time in the White House.] I was shocked when they were asking the deputy press secretary in a White House briefing about Big Brother. That was an “Oh my God” moment for me. I’m thinking, “I’m a daughter of immigrants and the show I’m working on is being brought up at a White House press briefing.” Only in America.
This season, two players asked to be voted out of the game during a live show. What was your reaction to that?
Grodner: It’s not our favorite gameplay. In another round of this we would discourage that more in some way. Both of those Monday live shows were awesome episodes of television and to have the live evictions go the way they did, they were set up to be such amazing evictions that it was unfortunate that it happened that way.
Chen: It disappointed me, but it didn’t surprise me. We knew that might happen because they’re celebrities. $250,000 doesn’t change these people’s lives. It’s not like regular Big Brother where life-changing money is on the line. Some of these people could have used this money more than others, but nobody desperately needed it. We knew there was a chance we were going to get people going, “I’m out!”
Is this timeline of having five players in the finale something you always had planned?
Grodner: We knew that if we went in with this many celebrities and didn’t have anyone outright quit on us that this is the scenario that would most likely happen. We cast what we did because we didn’t know how a celebrity cast would take to the Big Brother environment. And we fully expected we would have at least one person walk out. As it happened, they didn’t walk out. They waited until they got on the chopping block on eviction night and then asked to be voted out. It happened differently than we expected. So, there you have it. Five people in the finale, which will give us an anything-can-happen scenario. It’s going to be fast and furious.
Who was your favorite exit interview this season?
Chen: Brandi was the most surprising because she was very honest, grounded and wasn’t flustered. A lot of people get flustered and I get PR answers from them and they want to put their best foot forward. Whereas Brandi is the type of person who is used to becoming famous by not putting her best foot forward. She wasn’t even really going to behave sitting there with me. She was polite, but she wasn’t being a phony about her feelings, and I appreciated that. And Metta crying, that really stood out. That was the most touching. I enjoyed that one because he was very human and relatable.
Omarosa was the biggest draw this season. Out of everything she has said about her time in the White House, what did you find the most shocking?
Chen: Getting billed for peanuts on Air Force One. (Laughs). But that’s just silliness where I’m like, “Wait, what?!” But it was really surprising that she doesn’t seem that bitter against Donald Trump. She seems more bitter against his inner circle. She painted out this picture of how she couldn’t get any respect or have her opinions or voice heard because it was an all-white-boys club. Not only is it an all-boys club, it’s an all-white-boys club. And she didn’t lump Trump into that. She said at times Trump would say, “Well, what does Omarosa have to say about it?” He seemed to at times still rely on her and respect her views. I think at the end of the day she would go back to work for him if he personally asked her to. She doesn’t like John Kelly and others who have his ear.
Do you think Omarosa was being genuine with her actions inside the house? Were viewers introduced to the real Omarosa on the show?
Chen: I do. What we saw in the house is that she is multi-faceted. We all are. What we saw is the real Omarosa and that she can charm you until the sun comes up and then if it serves her she can turn on you on a dime. You always have to watch your back with her. That being said, she is fascinating to watch. She is magnetic.
Grodner: It’s an interesting platform for her. She has been seen as one way this whole time and has been a part of reality shows that are edited. It’s really hard to hide who you are 24/7. If you’re tuning in to the live feeds you’re going to see someone who is three dimensional. That was interesting for people who had formed preconceived notions of who Omarosa really is.
What were the challenges in airing Omarosa’s Trump storyline along with the full game of Big Brother?
Grodner: When will we ever have someone go right from the White House into the Big Brother house? It was important for us to include that in the storyline because people wanted to see it.
On premiere night, when she randomly got safety, was that rigged?
Grodner: My response to it is absolutely, 100 percent, it was random. Everyone here saw what happened behind the scenes. No one in the house questioned it, which should be a clue to everyone. They know what happened and they know it was absolutely random.
What was your reaction when it happened?
Grodner: It was funny. Even I hit my head on the table. I thought, “Of course everyone out there in the Twitterverse is going to think that we set this up to keep Omarosa in the house.” I swear to you we did not. People will believe what they want to believe, but you can ask any of these contestants. We do everything on this show to make sure it is as fair as absolutely possible.
Julie, viewers were really entertained by you mocking her asthma with a fake cough.
Chen: I don’t know what you’re talking about! I had a tickle in my throat. (Laughs.) When we first played back the tape of what was going on in the episode to the studio, the whole studio was laughing and grumbling. Even they thought she was faking. So I thought, “OK, it’s universal. She’s such a bad actress. Everyone knows.” She couldn’t pull that one off.
Omarosa has a history of being combative in interviews. How do you predict your interview with her will go?
Chen: She’s smart. She knows if she’s nice and charming to me, it could only potentially help her.
What are the chances that Celebrity Big Brother is coming back? Who would you want to have join next season’s cast?
Chen: There’s a good chance, maybe an 80 percent chance. The only problem is when do we do it and how many nights. It does take up a lot of primetime real estate. People I would like to see on it, I have to say maybe NeNe Leakes. I’d love to see Anthony Scaramucci or Sean Spicer do it.
Was Scaramucci a contender for this current season?
Chen: We formally asked him and he turned it down. But now he will see the attention Omarosa got.
Who do you predict sitting in the final two on finale night?
Chen: It could be Ross and Marissa. I don’t think Mark will be there. It could be Ari though.
Grodner: Ross is in a really good spot. The question now is, will he be caught? Ari as well has a good shot.
Most of the jury will vote on the winner after being able to see everything that has happened this season. Do you foresee a bitter jury?
Grodner: I don’t know. We haven’t had this happen since season two and three. It wasn’t an option for us to do a sequestered jury, so it will be interesting to see how this will play into the vote.
Did you talk about other ways the winner could be picked? Was an “America’s Vote” discussed?
Grodner: No. We really felt like this is Big Brother and Big Brother is played with the houseguests. To keep the integrity of the show, we thought this was about the houseguests and their game and that they would ultimately get to vote for who would win.
Who has your vote for America’s Favorite Houseguest?
Chen: Definitely Ross. He’s so funny and loveable. He’s smart, he’s sharp, witty and quick.
Grodner: Usually by the end of the summer there are some people that the audience has decided they don’t want to see anymore. (Laughs.) What’s nice about this group is that there is no one who is truly hateable.
Viewers have pointed out that there was more gameplay in these three weeks than the entire duration of season 19. Do you agree?
Grodner: (Laughs.) There has been a lot gameplay and that is attributed to how this cast embraced the Big Brother game and how competitive they really are.
This upcoming summer will be the show’s milestone 20th season. What do you want to see and what don’t you want to see?
Chen: I want to see a whole new bunch of people. I don’t want to see veterans come back. I would love to start out with 20 brand new people. Could you imagine 10 women and 10 men? That’s a lot of story to follow.
Grodner: I can’t tell you at this moment, but we’re really looking forward to having a season that stands out and makes it worthy of 20.
Shannon Elizabeth said she would do a regular season of the show. Would you want to see that?
Chen: I’d like to see Shannon Elizabeth in it this summer. I wouldn’t consider her a veteran because she only played the celebrity version and it was only a couple of weeks for her. I really would love to see her play the game not as a celebrity, but as a true gamer that we all know she is.
Grodner: That would be amazing. Shannon is a really good competitor and loves this game and it would be great to see what she would do in a season where she has more time to work. If you have the time that the summer cast has to really turn things around and to have other things happen, it would be interesting to see what she could do.
Would anyone else in this season do well in a summer season?
Grodner: They all would except for maybe Metta. It would be interesting to find out who would be open to it.
Would you want to see Shannon play in a regular season? Who will win Celebrity Big Brother? And should season 20 be all new house guests? Chat about it in the comments section below. And stay tuned to the Live Feed for all things Celebrity Big Brother.
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