Celebrity Big Brother is just one day away and there’s still one thing everyone is talking about: Omarosa Manigault.
The former Trump political aide who left the White House in late December under dramatic circumstances is currently living inside the Big Brother house and competing for $250,000 against a star cast including Mark McGrath, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Metta World Peace, Ariadna Gutierrez, Brandi Glanville and Chuck Liddell.
For the first-ever celebrity spinoff of the CBS series to work, it all depended on its casting. And for the show’s part, Omarosa is definitely their biggest sell.
The other major draw is that she’ll be under close watch given the show’s multitude of cameras and 24/7 live feed feature, leaving the potential for the controversial figure to speak openly about her former boss, President Trump. To find out the details behind Omarosa’s casting and what she can and can’t say about Trump during the show’s 24/7 surveillance, The Hollywood Reporter dialed up executive producers Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan.
“She is fully aware of the 24/7 live nature of the show … The live feed experience is going to be an interesting one because that’s where you’ll hear a lot of these conversations,” said Grodner. “It will be up to Omarosa what she chooses to share and up to her houseguests on what they choose to ask.”
And though Omarosa’s political background and relationship to Trump is likely to come into play, the Big Brother bosses want to make one thing clear: “This is not a political show … this isn’t becoming 60 Minutes.”
Below, THR talked further with Grodner and Meehan about casting Omarosa and what fans can expect this season.
How did Omarosa’s casting come to be? Did that follow right after her exit from the White House?
Grodner: With Omarosa the timing was just right. We were in the process of casting when we learned she was exiting the White House. She wrapped up her obligations to the White House [laughs] about a week or so before we were set to move in. The timing worked well. The other part about her that we knew is that she is a Big Brother fan. We’re not talking about her just being familiar with the show. She is a legitimate superfan who knows many details about all of the seasons.
Meehan: She has favorite players, favorite competitions. She knows a lot about the show.
Grodner: She’s also one of the most notorious reality contestants of all time and has experience like this. It seemed right in terms of timing, what her background is and her interests.
Meehan: If she wasn’t a superfan of the show . . .
Grodner: It probably wouldn’t have happened.
How much influence will President Trump have in storylines on the show this season considering his close relationship with her as well as her recent dramatic exit?
Grodner: [Laughs!] Well, he’s not in the cast. Will there be a tweet? It’s yet to be seen.
Meehan: It would be the first time a president has ever tweeted about Big Brother.
Is she restricted from discussing Trump?
Grodner: That is not a topic we can answer. That’s only a topic Omarosa can answer. She knows what her restrictions are.
Meehan: She’s in the house and it’s really up to her what she decides to do.
Grodner: The unique element of Big Brother is the 24/7 live nature of this. She is fully aware of the 24/7 live nature of the show. And it’s ultimately up to her and the rest of the people in the house to figure out what they want to share and not share. We’re following and documenting what they’re doing inside the house. We’re not following what’s going on outside of the house. Big Brother is very much about the game, the social experience in this house and interesting conversations that certainly come up within the house. The only way that would become part of the show is if she chooses to share this with her other houseguests and talk about it. They know who she is, well not all of them realized she worked in the White House, [laughs]. But many of them of course do and certainly have a lot of questions for her. We’ll see how that unfolds.
Did you expect her casting to cause such a stir in the media?
Meehan: How often do we get CNN or MSNBC suddenly talking about Big Brother and the cast of Big Brother?
How well do you think she’ll do in the game?
Grodner: So far she seems to be trying to integrate and it appears to be happening. Of course, things change on a dime in the Big Brother house and the game has yet to really get going. She’s come here to win and bring a good social game as well as a competitive one.
With Omarosa’s political affiliation do you see how that could turn off some viewers from tuning in? The reaction to her joining the show was mixed.
Grodner: We cast a diverse group of people with a diverse point of view. If you look at our past summer we had extremely liberal houseguests and we also had more conservative houseguests. Look at Cody [Nickson] who represented a lot of that. There were definitely political and social topics that represented all viewpoints. You’re going to find the same thing in the celebrity house. But that’s not what Big Brother is all about. That’s part of it and day-to-day living and eavesdropping on really interesting conversations that represent all viewpoints is always an interesting thing in this house, but really these people also came to play this game for $250,000 and that game is going nonstop.
Meehan: There’s 11 people in the house. The tone and style of our show isn’t changing just because she has a political background.
Grodner: This isn’t becoming 60 Minutes.
Meehan: There could be some interesting conversations that are fun, but it’s still Big Brother at its heart.
Grodner: Big Brother will never become 60 Minutes you know that. We poke fun at things. It’s goofy. Then it’s the drama and soap opera of the game in the house. This is not a political show. The live feed experience is going to be an interesting one because that’s where you’ll hear a lot of these conversations. It will be up to Omarosa what she chooses to share and up to her houseguests on what they choose to ask. Everyone in the cast has something interesting to say.
During the first live feed tease you gave viewers she looked as if she’s right at home.
Grodner: Absolutely. She’s really is fitting in, It’s a question we all have because her reputation precedes her especially from her reality show days and what she might do in there. It will be interesting to see how she does, but she does have to overcome that. And from the glimpse you saw it appears that she’s working the social game quite well.
Meehan: All different types of people win the show. Depending on what your reputation is and how you play you never know. Just because she comes in with that reputation [things] can happen in a lot of different ways in the Big Brother house.
In that sneak peak viewers also witnessed an alliance between her, Shannon Elizabeth and Marissa Winokur.
Grodner: You know what happens to alliances. They change quite quickly. We’ll see.
Who in the cast do you predict going far?
Grodner: Some of our superfans like Shannon, Marissa and Omarosa are coming out fast and playing the game hard. I wonder if some people who are not superfans, like Metta World Peace is someone who could sustain for a bit because he’s not going to be seen as a threat, which is pretty funny that Metta World Peace is not seen as a threat.
What was the cast’s reaction to Omarosa moving in?
Meehan: They were very surprised when she walked onstage.
Grodner: There was quite a dramatic entrance.
Have there been any arguments yet?
Meehan: Everyone’s getting along fine right now.
Grodner: With those first nominations everything changes.
Is there a major twist this season?
Grodner: We will tease that there will be a twist in the premiere. There will be a new vote put out to the public.
How do you plan on changing the competitions this season to cater to this new cast?
Meehan: They’re going to be getting messy and the competitions are going to be just as hard as they always are. We’re not changing the difficulty level, but we are changing the themes of our challenges.
Grodner: Night one you will get the gist of what it is. There are celebrity themes to some of these things and it’s a lot of fun. It’s very tongue in cheek.
Meehan: Every competition has a celebrity theme to it in the tone of Big Brother.
When I interviewed Keshia she admitted that if the show gets to be too much that she would consider quitting. Do you see her or anyone else quitting?
Grodner: No. It’s not a surprise. They knew what they were getting into.
Meehan: We’ll see what happens.
Grodner: We’ll see how volatile this house is. When the game gets real and people start being evicted, feelings get hurt, alliances form and people feel left out of things all of that is part of the Big Brother game. But they all know what they signed up for. Keshia looks like she’s playing and she’s in.
Who has surprised you the most in terms of how they’ve adjusted to living in the house?
Grodner: Chuck Liddell! On night one, he and Metta were sitting there with the girls getting press-on nails and facials.
Meehan: And about two hours ago he was getting a mud mask in the bathroom by Ariadna.
Grodner: He has what I call a resting Chuck face. But he’s having fun in there and is a really nice guy. And a lot of the cast were impressed when he walked in. He has some real fans in this house. Omarosa and Mark McGrath are big Chuck Liddell fans.
What are you looking forward to most about this special edition of the show?
Grodner: The unexpected.
Meehan: This season we have no idea with this group of people how they’re going to play and what they’re going to do.
Celebrity Big Brother premieres Feb. 7 on CBS.
What are you predicting Omarosa will do in the Big Brother house? What are your hopes for how this season will play out? And who is currently your favorite celebrity houseguest? Sound off in the comments section below and stay tuned to the Live Feed for all things Celebrity Big Brother.