Zoe Stratos | opinions editor
Aug. 26 2021
There’s been a lot of buzz in the reality TV world surrounding season 23 of “Big Brother” as an all Black alliance, dubbed the Cookout, is controlling the game for the first time in the show’s history.
Twenty-one years ago, CBS launched the summer hit reality TV show where 16 houseguests are put into a house and cut off from the outside world. There are no TVs, newspapers, radio, Internet or phones. Other than conversations with the show’s host, Julie Chen, and interviews with production in the diary room, the houseguests only interact with each other.
Here’s the catch: they are recorded visually and audibly the entire time for the world to watch. But the premise is simple.
Each week, someone becomes Head of Household (HOH) and nominates two houseguests to be evicted. The remaining houseguests vote on eviction, though competitions allow houseguests to survive their potential evictions and receive rewards.
Over the years, the show has become a staple in the reality TV genre, but is also famous for a lack of diversity in casting — and going as far as casting racist individuals.
Finally, in season 23, we’re seeing an unprecedented six Black houseguests, and one of Asian and one of Hispanic descent.
Half of the cast are people of color this season.
In the show’s 22 completed seasons, the winners of “Big Brother” are most often white men, winning 14 times. The second-most winning group are white women, at five wins. An Asian woman has won twice and a Latino man once.
Due to the 24/7 live surveillance on the house, many acts of bigotry and racism have been caught on camera by these winners and other houseguests, but never brought to the edited shows, nor commented on in the live finale. This leaves a large chunk of viewers out of the loop on what’s really happening in the house, if they don’t watch the live feeds.
That being said, “Big Brother” was hit with its first major accusation of racism during season 21, when fans heard houseguests using racial slurs on the live feeds — which, of course, didn’t make it onto the show. Usually the comments slide by, but the severity and consistency of these acts called for action to be taken by production.
The problems commenced in the first episode, even before comments were made.
During a twist, houseguest, and winner of season 21, Jackson Michie, nominated three — rather than the usual two — houseguests for eviction. All three were racial minorities, and all three were evicted within the next few episodes.
After the Black Lives Matter movement came to the forefront of media attention in 2020, CBS announced in November 2020 that shows, “Survivor,” “Love Island” and “Big Brother” will include at least 50% people of color, including both cast and production, starting in 2021.
And “Big Brother” delivered on that forefront for season 23.
Immediately, the six Black houseguests realized the position they were in and formed the Cookout alliance, saying they were doing it for “the culture.”
They all voiced that this situation may never happen again on the show, and they have to take advantage of finally crowning a Black winner. The fan reaction was a mixed bag.
Unhappy fans immediately took to social media to call out the alliance, which consists of Xavier Prather, Tiffany Mitchell, Kyland Young, Azah Awasum, Derek Frazier and Hannah Chaddha, accusing them of being racist for targeting the white houseguests.
But the problem these fans are ignoring is that in the show’s 22 seasons, white alliances have done the same to the minority groups, while also making microaggressions toward them.
Bangladeshi-American houseguest, Ovi Kabir, was described as a “brown flame.” Chinese-American houseguest, Isabella Wang, became paranoid, so another houseguest claimed, “the proof is in the pudding,” while another houseguest added, “the rice pudding,” — followed by laughter from those involved.
Chen brought these instances up during the live finale where she questioned whether the winner’s, and other houseguests, actions were based on the other houseguest’s minority status. Michie offered an apology, while still denying the allegations.
The Cookout, on the other hand, is propagating a season that truly represents the original purpose of reality TV: let’s put these people with different backgrounds in a house together and see how they interact.
Naturally, they migrated toward each other in a trust and protection sense, though they still cultivated close friendships with white and other POC houseguests, which resulted in one of the most likable and friendly casts we’ve seen in a while.
Additionally, the feed watchers haven’t tweeted or posted one instance of racially charged insults coming from the Black houseguests.
The Cookout doesn’t actively hate the white houseguests, they’re performing a mission that they say is “bigger than themselves.” They formed their alliance based on trust, not hate.
Due to those close bonds they’ve made with houseguests not in the alliance, they’ve received their trust and have been able to control the game from behind the scenes without ever giving a hint to their mission or the alliance itself.
So far, all non-Black HOH’s have targeted other non-Black houseguests, with three evictions. The same goes for the Black HOH’s, which also account for three evictions.
As of Aug. 25, the fourth non-Black HOH is also targeting a non-Black houseguest, which means that the Cookout spearheaded just under half of the non-Black evictions thus far.
One of the most interesting pieces in this puzzle is the lack of regard for past alliances — in any modern reality TV show — built on race, or even sex.
In the 22 seasons of the show, there have been 21 all white alliances that have not only steamrolled the competition, but typically targeted the usual one or two POC houseguests first. Hence Michie’s three nominations week one.
The Cookout is only the second explicit Black alliance, the previous consisted of Da’Vonne Rogers and Bayleigh Dayton in season 22 called Black Girl Magic.
On the other side of the coin, supporters of the Cookout are confused at this sudden callout of racism when all white alliances have done it for years. Some are looking to all men and all women alliances as well, with the lack of callouts for sexism in those cases.
“Isn’t it funny how no one says that all women’s alliances are sexist? They make fun of women’s alliances for being historically weak at this game but they don’t come out with the same vitriol that some of these [fans] are giving to the Cookout,” a Reddit user said.
Seeing that the Cookout isn’t exactly steamrolling the rest of the houseguests, it’s really their gameplay that should be rewarded, with the mission always in the back of their minds.
They’ve allowed the nonblack houseguests to come for one another, while only hinting at protecting fellow members during nominations for eviction. They’ve won under half of the HOH competitions, yet still have all survived the chopping block to this point.
Overall, this season is a refreshing change for “Big Brother,” not only because of its range of cast diversity, but the way they all get along, regardless of race. Having this moment for the Black community is important and calling it racist is only exposing the ignorance of past seasons.
Right now, it’s looking like we’re going to see our first Black winner of “Big Brother,” so why wouldn’t they take advantage of something that may not happen again in future seasons?