A Brief History of Big Brother Controversies

When a reality show gets too real...

By Chris Harnick Jul 05, 2018 4:59 PMTags

Hey, Big Brother contestants, CBS is watching. The network issued a statement warning Big Brother season 20 contestants after racist comments and questionable behavior made headlines.

"Big Brother is a reality show about watching a group of people who have no privacy 24/7—and capturing every unfiltered moment and conversation in their lives. At times, the houseguests reveal prejudices and exhibit behavior that we do not condone. The producers have addressed two such incidents that were seen recently on the 24/7 online feed," CBS said in a statement. "In both cases, those involved have been warned about their inappropriate behavior and offensive comments, as well as future consequences. These events will not be part of any future Big Brother broadcast on CBS."

Meet the Big Brother Season 20 Contestants

Big Brother season 20 contestant JC Mounduix tried to touch his housemates' genitals with ice cream scoop. Rachel Swindler and Angela Rummans, both white contestants, discussed skin color. Both instances ignited fan outcry. But this is far from the first time CBS had to issue a statement like the one they did regarding the early season 20 comments. Big Brother is known for controversy, especially when it comes to the live feeds.

In season 19, Paul Abrahamian was criticized for applying black makeup, appearing in blackface while trying to depict African American contestant Dominique Cooper as a snake. That same season there were transphobic comments, racist remarks, rape jokes and inappropriate touching. Season 18 also featured contestants making racist and insensitive remarks on the live feeds, as well as homophobic comments from contestant Corey Brooks' social media coming to light.

Season 15 of Big Brother was also not immune to contestants, including Aaryn Gries, GinaMarie Zimmerman and Spencer Clawson, being accused of making controversial remarks, including racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments. Several of the contestants involved lost their jobs and CBS began airing a disclaimer ahead of the episodes.

Big Brother season 14, which aired in 2012, featured contestant Willie Hantz, throwing food and head-butting Joe Arvin. He was expelled from the house after the incident. Season nine contestant Adam Jasinski made controversial remarks regarding people with developmental disabilities. He said he worked for an organization, which then denounced him, and said he would donate to Autism United. During season eight, Amber Siyavus came under fire for anti-Semitic remarks
Justin Sebik, a contestant in the second season of Big Brother in 2002, was removed from the house after holding a knife to another contestant's throat and threatening the other cast members.

Wild Reality TV Scandals

CBS's stance on the comments made by contestants has been consistent—Big Brother's premise is to show contestants interacting and playing a game at their best and worst. That people have prejudices should come as no surprise, but as CBS said in a statement, they do not condone the comments or behavior shown in the feeds. The network said it will not air the comments or inappropriate behavior on proper broadcast…but should they?

Would airing these remarks and actions spark a larger conversation about prejudice and acceptable behavior? CBS did so with season 15. The news is out there, the comments have been heard, but CBS is missing out on doing something more than provide a few hours of entertainment. Until then, it seems the cycle of Big Brother controversy will continue year after year.

Big Brother host Julie Chen was set to appear on E!'s Daily Pop, but the scheduled appearance has since been canceled. Big Brother airs Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays on CBS.