Two weeks ago today, the moment many “Big Brother” watchers were waiting for finally came to pass: Aaryn Gries, the 22-year-old model from Texas who had unknowingly already been fired from her modeling agency for saying numerous racist things on the CBS reality show, was finally voted out by her fellow contestants and was therefore subject to being interviewed by host Julie Chen.
The moderator of “The Talk” had already expressed her hurt at some of things Gries had said about Asian people.
Like many, I was out for blood. I wanted Chen to not be self-conscious about being Asian and to confront Gries on the slams she made against Asians, blacks, and gays. As a guest on “Late Show With David Letterman,” she later revealed she knew of those expectations:
“This was the one interview that everyone wanted to see this summer because of the things she said. And you know, how was I gonna handle it was the big question. And… a lot of journalists that I’m friends with, they’re like, ‘Oh, you gotta ask her this and you gotta do this’ and they all wanted me to have my claws out, which is you know, two wrongs don’t make a right. I have to just put on my journalist hat and just kinda play it straight down the middle and read back verbatim and give her a chance to respond.”
It was one of the most riveting “Big Brother” exit interviews ever. When Gries walked outside the house onto the “Big Brother” stage, there was the prerequisite applause, but toward the end, there were audible boos. Chen told her, “We have a lot to talk about, including the mixed reception you just got.”
After asking questions pertaining to why she was voted out over Andy, Chen said, “In the early days of this game, you said some pretty harsh things about your fellow housemates. Amanda even tried to warn you, give you heads up that your words, others were interpreting as being racist. How do you respond to that?”
AG: “Being Southern is a stereotype, and I have said some things that have been taken completely out of context and wrong. And I do not mean to ever come across racist. I —(laughter from the audience) that’s not me. And I apologize to anyone I’ve offended for that.”
JC: (After pointing out the contestants knew everything they said would be recorded and broadcast on the Internet) “So when you say the intention was not to hurt anyone, let me just read back a few of the things you said (loud gasps from the audience). Referring to Candice, you said, ‘Be careful what you say in the dark. Might not get to see the bitch.’ Referring to Helen, you said, ‘Shut up! Go make some rice!’
AG: (Shaking her head in disbelief). “I didn’t —”
JC: “And referring to Andy, you said, ‘No one’s going to vote for whoever that queer puts up.’ Can you see how those things could be interpreted as racist and as homophobic?”
AG: “I do. I do not remember saying those things. And I — those things were (loud jeers and disbelieving groans of “oohhh!” from the audience) — that was not meant to be serious. And if I said those things, I feel horrible. And I regret that. I don’t even know what else to say about that. But I’m not —”
JC: “Being locked away for 70 days from friends and family, outside world, do you think playing ‘Big Brother’ has taught you anything about yourself or taught you anything?”
AG: “I — I definitely do. It’s taught me a lot about people, life, and just life in general. I mean, I feel like a completely different person leaving the house. And I love everyone in there and honestly, Andy and I are great friends. Candice and I are great friends. I love Helen more (laughter from the audience) than anything. And that hurts me that-that-that I would say something like that.”
JC: (After she plays pre-recorded messages from the players) “Any final thoughts?”
AG: “No. I just — I honestly — I feel horrible. I feel like in Texas, we say things that’re — sometimes we joke, and we don’t mean it. And I really feel bad that this is how it‘s being seen and how I’ve come across to people. I don’t want to seem like that person. And I really do respect everyone in this game although we’ve had some hard times because we’re all fighting for our lives in the game.”
JC: “You know, you’re in a unique spot because when this is over, you’re going to get to go home and watch a whole lot of footage of yourself living for 70 days. After you watch all this footage, I hope and I think you might have a new perspective on things (applause from the audience, Chen shakes her hand). Thanks.”
It was hilarious to see the crowd openly boo and laugh at Gries’ lame attempts to defend herself. I was proud of Chen for setting her up well: Open with the generic question about the racial things Gries said, give her a chance to rationalize them, then read the actual comments and tighten the screws. It was great television. To watch it, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0mPCMDbRSs
On Letterman, Chen revealed, “When she first got picked to be one of the housemates, we all thought, ‘Oh, she’s gonna be America’s sweetheart!’ She’s a beautiful-looking girl, you know, long blonde hair, just kinda like girl next door. But you have to remember, when these people try to get picked, it’s kinda like a job interview. You’re putting your best foot forward. It wasn’t until a couple weeks in the house that she said some pretty ugly things.
“I think there is a lot to be learned. I think still today, you know, we think we’ve come so far when it comes to race relations and our views. But the fact that someone is college-educated, who can move into a house where they all know — they all know, I mean, we’ve been on, like you said, 15 seasons now — they all know everything they say and do is being broadcast live to the Internet and potentially getting on the network broadcast? To say such ugly things? That’s heartbreaking.”
Chen said she was happy Gries apologized but felt the booted contestant blew it by trying to attribute her racist comments to being from the Lone Star state. “And I thought, the one base you had, you just offended another huge group of people! Guess what? Not everyone from Texas talks like that!”
Letterman ended it by quipping, “The great thing about freedom of speech is it takes care of dumb people.” Chen laughed.
I will say this: When her side was winning and she felt confident they could vote out whomever they wished, Aaryn showed her true colors and made those racist remarks. But Helen Kim and others miraculously managed to turn two key people in an alliance against those in power, which turned the game in their favor and against Aaryn.
In order to survive, Aaryn had to be humble and do the bidding of Helen and her friends, putting their choices — not hers — up for eviction. Helen, who has a maternal side, was very good about praising people and making them feel good for the tough things they had to do.
In an interview while still in the house, Aaryn said Helen was one of the best people she’s ever met in her life. I believed her. I assume that like many people, Aaryn had stereotyped impressions of people she’d never really interacted with or known on a close level — like Asians — but when she got to know them as individuals, she could accept them.
But after the eviction, Aaryn’s mom revealed her daughter had cousins of Japanese descent and had gone to the prom with a black boy. All of which makes this animal even more confusing. Theories, anyone?
I hope that when the finale airs on Wednesday, Sept. 18, Chen reveals to both Aaryn and GinaMarie about the loss of their jobs just so we can see their reactions on camera. I know, I’m sadistic.
Channel Surfing Department: Although most networks run cheap reality or game shows during the summer months, CBS has aired first-run dramas like “Under the Dome” and “Unforgettable.” The former included a recurring character who worked at a radio station (Jolene Purdy, who’s the Hapa version of Melissa McCarthy — yep, she’s obese). Sadly, she was killed off this Monday when she realized Big Jim, the local councilman, was responsible for some murders.
James Hiroyuki Liao became a new regular on the latter series, which stars Poppy Montgomery as a woman who has total recall of everything she did on every day of her life. Liao played a computer tech guy (thankfully, with a sense of humor) who helped Poppy and her partner track down suspects.
Liao, who came to MANAA meetings a few years ago, has a very thick New York accent and is sometimes difficult to understand. But since the show takes place in New York, it was perfect casting. The finale aired this past Sunday.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.