What a difference a year and a diverse cast makes.
This time last year on Big Brother All-Stars, Cody Calafiore was leading an all-white group of players called ‘The Committee’ that had already voted out the one Muslim player, and would eventually send packing the three Black players and one gay player without a lot of compassion.
It’s been the pattern of the show.
Minority contestants have struggled to gain traction, often put in the Big Brother house with an overwhelming number of white players.
In fact, no African American male has ever won the show in its previous 22 seasons.
CBS was aware of the ongoing accusations of racism on the reality TV show and executives finally did something about it.
Earlier in the year CBS announced that all cast members on their reality shows moving forward would be at least half people of color.
“The reality TV genre is an area that’s especially underrepresented, and needs to be more inclusive across development, casting, production and all phases of storytelling,” said George Cheeks, president and chief executive officer for the CBS Entertainment Group. “As we strive to improve all of these creative aspects, the commitments announced today are important first steps in sourcing new voices to create content and further expanding the diversity in our unscripted programming, as well as on our network.”
And what a huge difference that’s making.
From last years six member Committee:
To this years six member Cookout:
During the first couple of days in the house, Derek Frazier, Tiffany Mitchell, Azah Awasum, and Xavier Prather agreed they wanted a Black player to win the show.
They also pointed out Black players don’t often make it to the jury house, so they decided to align to protect each other as far as possible, with the goal of one of them winning.
The initial four later pulled in biracial players Kyland Young and Hannah Chaddha, naming their group The Cookout.
Four weeks into the competition, no one has detected the alliance, and four white players in a row have been voted out to start the season.
Two more white players, Sarah Beth Steagall and Britini D’Angelo are up for eviction this week.
The Cookout has laid out a deliberate plan in direct reaction to what happened last year.
For his part, Calafiore, on his Twitch gaming channel, has dismissed the accusation that race had anything to do with his strategy.
He’s defended controversial players like GinaMarie Zimmerman and Jackson Michie saying ‘they were crucified’ when they left the show (not acknowledging that maybe their comments and actions deserved it).
He even argued that last seasons cast was ‘as diverse as this seasons.’
But that simply isn’t true.
The All-Star season had an 11 to 5 white advantage in the house.
This season, for the first time ever, there is an even split among white players and people of color, making the dynamic of the game completely different.
The Season 16 cast in 2014, of which Calafiore was part, had a 13 to 3 white player advantage.
What we are seeing this year is that it makes a huge difference when true diversity, backed up by numbers, is included in the game.
So far, four white players have been voted out of the house driven in large part by the strength of the Cookout’s influence.
While Big Brother fans have notoriously not enjoyed dominant alliances, many are rooting for the Cookout members, noting it’s refreshing to watch strong players of color compete.
Social media has been buzzing for weeks, encouraged to see the roles reversed as majority alliances previously, like the Committee, consisted of only white players.
Over the past two decades, Big Brother has been criticized for racism and discrimination.
In 2013, Aaryn Gries referred to Asian people as “squinty-eyed,” called her Black roommate Candice Stewart “Aunt Jemima” and asked her Korean housemate Helen Kim to “go make some rice.”
Zimmerman and Spencer Clawson were also accused of insensitive comments during the season, so much so that host Julie Chen Moonves spoke about it on The Talk.
“It stung,” the host said at the time. “I took it personally. The really sad part was it took me back to the ’70s when I was growing up in Queens, when I was 7, being bullied and being called a chink … the year is 2013! Then I felt ignorant. There are still people who feel that way? Yes, there is.”
However, claims of discrimination continued past Season 15.
Moments before being crowned the season 21 winner in 2019, Michie was shocked when Chen informed him that his houseguests had expressed concerns about his behavior, making choices based on race or age — something he denied, but later apologized for.
Additionally, season 21 contestant Kemi Fakunle spoke out, revealing she was “disgusted” about what was happening inside the Big Brother house, seemingly alluding to aggressive comments made by Jack Matthews during the live feeds.
“The audience is able to view the show during the multiple weekly broadcasts as well as on the 24/7 live, online stream, which captures unedited content of the contestants’ unfiltered moments in the house,” the network and the show’s producers said in a statement in July 2019. “At times, the houseguests say things that we do not condone. We share some of the viewers’ concerns about inappropriate behavior and offensive comments, and producers have addressed specific incidents with the houseguests involved. However, there is absolutely no truth that the casting of the show is racially motivated, that the houseguests’ behavior is predetermined or that the outcome is controlled in any way.”
But it still took another season before meaningful changes were made.
It’s questionable whether Calafiore, or many of the other past victors, would have won in a cast as diverse as this year.
We’ll never know if they possessed the skill and ability to interact with people of different interests and backgrounds.
What’s certain is that the era of overwhelming whiteness on CBS reality shows is over.