LOS ANGELES | When host Julie Chen heard a contestant was making racial slurs in the “Big Brother” house “my blood started to boil and I said, ‘I’m not going to put up with this.’”
Initially, she wanted contestant Aaryn Gries pulled from the house but then she realized “It’s not about you, Julie.”
Mocking both Asian and black houseguests, Gries set off a flurry of Internet comments surprised that kind of behavior was even tolerated.
“I wondered what kind of life she led before joining the show,” Chen says.
“I haven’t heard a negative comment made toward me based on my race since I was in the second grade on the school bus going to public school in Queens, N.Y.,” Chen says. “Back then, people would pull their eyes or call you (a racist name) but this was the 1970s!
“To hear it now is astounding. No one looks at themselves in the mirror and says, ‘I’m an ugly racist pig.’ Everyone thinks they’re normal, but there is no normal.”
When Gries is voted off – and exits the house – she’ll face Chen’s questioning. Already, the reality show’s host has drafted three sets of questions for the 22-year-old Texan. Her goal is “not to dump on her” but to “open her eyes to how hurtful and ugly these things are.”
Chen suspects Gries has gone through life oblivious. “Most of the nation feels that she was always the pretty girl, the popular girl everyone wanted to be friends with for all the wrong reasons. She was very popular in high school and college and probably never had anyone challenge her.”
When Gries mocked 37-year-old Helen Kim, “the game became a little less fun for me,” Chen says. “I had to get my ego in check. But doesn’t she realize the show’s host is Asian? And that she’s on TV?
“For the majority of my life I’ve lived on two coasts and there’s a lot going on in the middle. We can all learn from this.”
Chen suspects the objects of Gries’ comments are tolerating her because it could serve their game: “If it’s just me and you sitting together at the end and the jury pool shapes up to be what we think it will be, I will tolerate your insensitive comments if I can win $500,000.”
Chen says there’s always “that one bully in school who is looking to pick on someone who they think is in a weaker position so they can feel empowered.”
At the beginning of the season, Elissa Slater was expected to be the lightning rod. She’s the sister of a former winner – Rachel – who polarized every house she was in.
“She has shades of her sister,” Chen says, “but she’s not as in-your-face with her comments. She’s married and a mother, so she doesn’t have the new romance and she isn’t trying to impress anybody. She’s an interesting houseguest to follow.”
Still, Chen says, the nation is watching Gries, who will have plenty to explain when the show is over.
“I want to get to the bottom of who she is and why she said the things she said.”