Last year’s season of our favourite ode to claustrophobia was rough. Plagued by unpopular houseguests who disappointed the viewers with both generally weak strategy and seriously questionable personalities, Big Brother 15 was one of the most aggravating seasons in show history. But it was saved by one or two houseguests really worth rooting for. The first of them to step up was political consultant Helen Kim, one of the only true strategic minds of her season and the brains behind the one great game-changing move, the week 2 ousting of would-be contender Nick.
The Best Female Reality Star nominee stopped by the Nominee Interview Series to give us her thoughtful take on her Big Brother season, the headline-making controversies, and the personal struggle that inspired her to take on the game.
Why did you apply to be on Big Brother? Were there any other reality shows you contemplated (or also applied to)?
I applied to be on Big Brother after rewatching Season 14. Ian Terry had won that season, and I felt I could relate to him as a person, even though he was much younger than me (I am 37, and Ian won the game while still attending Tulane University). I had gone through an awful health scare and felt that it was time to live the best life I could live.
Long story short: After I delivered my second baby, I came down with MRSA in the hospital. Now, most folks would not think or be surprised with acquiring a hospital infection after delivery, but my situation was rare. The MRSA was found on my episiotomy – yes, I had MRSA in my vagina. Because of the location, the doctors could not immediately diagnose what was wrong with me (who would?!?!?), and the MRSA eventually hit my blood stream.
There are many fatal and dangerous cases of MRSA, but never a case like mine. I delivered at the most well-known women’s hospital in downtown Chicago and from what I could find, I was the first incident of MRSA in a vagina contracted because of a vaginal delivery. Because the MRSA hit my blood stream, I started to convulse and was in the hospital for weeks. Doctors ordered several surgeries to take out the infection, as well as an 8 hour drip of vancomycin (one of the strongest antibiotics) to kill the MRSA. After a few weeks in the hospital, I was sent home with a home nurse and considered a “biohazard” because I was contagious and was not allowed to be near another individual, let alone my newborn baby. The large doses of vancomycin shut down my body, not only was it killing the MRSA infection, but it was also weakening my immune system to a point I also came down with a high 104+ fever for weeks, pneumonia, bronchiolitis and everything else you can imagine. It took almost one year to completely heal from the infection and regain my strength. The hardest part of it all was giving birth to my son Charlie and losing the opportunity to bond with him until he was more than six months old (Note: At the time I also had a one year old son and was not allowed to be near him as well).
One of the most common questions I receive is did I sue the hospital or the doctors? No, I did not and the reason is because I asked the hospital staff to provide me the best health care and doctors – I just wanted to live – and I would not sue. The same hospital where I contracted the MRSA is the same hospital that got me well. Because of this, I did not feel justified taking any money – I just wanted my health and to be with my family.
The MRSA made me physically so weak, I promised myself that if I ever gained back my health, I would live the fullest life I could, including applying for my favorite show Big Brother.
Big Brother has been my favorite Reality show for more than a decade, and the only show I have ever applied to be cast (I was cast on my first try!). I never would leave my family or quit a six-figure job for any other reality show that I have seen.
Why do you think you were selected?
I believe I was selected for a myriad of reasons: 1) my MRSA story got the attention of the casting directors 2) I am a great mom and 3) I work in politics, and I would play the game by drawing from my professional experience.
While other reality shows have cast people who work in politics, including Omarosa from the Apprentice, Big Brother had not. I made sure to explain to the casting producers that I was different and not divisive like Omarosa. I felt there had not been a good representative of people who work in politics on reality TV in the past and I could be that person. For example, in my profession when you are advocating on behalf of an issue, it is important to get the votes you need – sometimes you need to work with the other side to get to the 51%. Additionally when you are advocating an issue, some of your allies on one issue may be your opponents on another issue that you are working on – so you never want to burn bridges because you never know when you may need someone or some group – I told casting that I would look at targets in the Big Brother game the same way and act accordingly.
What surprised you the most about the Big Brother experience compared to just seeing it on TV?
There are two glaring surprises about being a contestant on Big Brother:
1) The competitions are much harder than they look on television and all of the challenging elements to a competition are not completely portrayed in the show.
2) The ever-evolving relationships among the houseguests after the game. It is so easy to think everyone would be friends after going through an experience like this together – however, that is far from the truth and my season of Big Brother showed the worst sides of people more than any prior season I believe.
What did you learn from watching the preceding seasons that helped you the most with both life in the house and game strategy?
Watching previous seasons can definitely help with game strategy – For example, in Season 14 Dan Gheesling was on his way out and held himself a Big Brother funeral where he was able to build the sympathy of his fellow houseguests which ultimately led to his safety. I tried to use the same strategy the week I was evicted by going around to each houseguest and giving my concession speech hoping they would see or at least think I had been weakened and that it might be better to evict the other person on the block. There are a lot of lessons that can be learned by watching previous seasons, and I wish I had known I would be a Big Brother houseguest one day because I would have taken notes for the last decade!
You orchestrated the season-defining move as early as week 2. When was the moment that you felt like taking down the Moving Company was do-able? What was your key play in making that plan work?
Where do I even begin?!?!?! The Moving Company went down the week Nick was evicted. Nick, Elissa and I were on the block together and I was told Elissa, my closest ally, was the target. I remember Andy telling me that the entire house had decided to evict Elissa and there was nothing I could do – no one wanted to go against Aaryn and Jeremy.
I walked into the Diary Room and started thinking I needed to come up with a master plan. After talking to myself for what seemed like an hour, I came up with two lies 1) Elissa told me Rachel Reilly told her to watch out for other siblings and family members because Elissa was not the only family member auditioning (Note: At the time I was making this up, come to find after the show, that was actually true and Dan Gheesling’s wife was considered for our season) and 2) Based on my questioning from Diary, Nick Uhas is related to Dan Gheesling and that they are cousins.
I took these two lies and went straight to Andy and Spencer with them. After getting Andy’s vote, I was able to secure others with the help of Andy, Elissa and Judd – and voila, Nick was evicted.
I was HOH very soon after Nick walked out of the house, and I knew I needed that HOH because Nick’s eviction was going to put the largest targets on Elissa and me.
How do you feel the MVP twist impacted your game? Have you thought about what your season might have looked like without it?
The MVP twist helped and hurt my game. While MVP was instrumental in bringing down the Moving Company and keeping Elissa in the game, the weeks that Amanda was nominated made me show my cards too early. At that point in the game, I knew that it was important for Amanda to stay because she was a bigger target than me, and I was always afraid if she was evicted, I would be the next biggest player to be taken out.
Another reason I wanted Amanda to stay in the game was because I felt like she kept a wedge among the boys – if Amanda stayed, this kept McCrae from getting too close to Judd, Spencer and Andy from forming another 4 boy Brigade-like alliance. I wanted to see Judd and Spencer evicted, and then Amanda, which would have just left Andy and McCrae. I felt Elissa and I had a better chance against the two of them, and with Amanda gone, Andy probably would have sided with Elissa and me at that point.
If you had won MVP at any crucial point in the game, what would you have done with it?
It depends on the week – I think we were spot on with MVP the first three weeks – after that we needed to evict Aaryn (I wish I had been in the rooms when she had made those racists comments because she would have been public enemy #1).
Watching the edited season back and reading some of the commentary, how did you feel the controversy of season 15 was handled? Were the reactions and fallout fair? Was it better or worse inside the house than we saw? How do you feel about how CBS and the producers dealt with the decision to air the comments?
I was shocked to see the live feeds when I came home – Besides the racial comments made by Aaryn, I was not aware Ginamarie, Spencer and Andy were also making awful derogatory comments. Additionally, it upset me to see houseguests like Kaitlyn, Amanda and Nick laugh at the comments or hardly bat an eye when they were being made.
Long story short, Aaryn has become the face of the racist comments and behavior – while justified she is definitely to blame, so are others. I actually have more respect for Aaryn and Ginamarie because they have admitted to their mistakes and are working on themselves. Other houseguests are in denial and would like Aaryn to continue taking the blame, which is not fair and definitely not right.
I was most disappointed that out of the thousands of fans that apply to be on Big Brother, there are not better contestants. For me, most of my professional colleagues had never watched Big Brother and found the show to be offensive and continue to ask me why I would ever want to subject myself to such bigotry. It is hard to explain to those folks who have not seen previous seasons that BB15 is an anomaly.
Do you feel like your edit effectively portrayed who you are and were inside the house?
I believe my edit was very similar to who I am except I rarely cry in my everyday life but in the game I cried a lot! Maybe after being a Have-Not four times, your emotions just run wild!
Whose edit do you think was the most misleading in either a positive or negative way?
Jeremy received a great edit on the show. He was pompous, inconsiderate and a huge bully in the house – but when you watch the show, he actually comes off charming!
I know you thought he was MVP but surely there were bigger threats to take out during the double eviction than Judd. Did you consider going after anyone else?
I really needed to take Amanda out, but if she left, McCrae would have sided with Judd, Andy and then Spencer – that would have been a hell of a lot harder, in my opinion, to take out with Amanda gone. I knew that if Judd made it to the final two, he would beat almost everyone else in the house. He was very well-liked and made no enemies.
The only other person I would have loved to have taken out during the double eviction would have been Aaryn, but she won HOH!
At what point did you realize you were in trouble?
Elissa warned me while cleaning the bathroom, however I had a sense because others stopped talking game with me. I felt before my eviction week, I was involved in a lot of game talk, but the week I was nominated, I could sense no one wanted to talk game anymore.
Did you have a remaining gameplan for if you survived the block or won re-entry after you were evicted?
Of course my gameplan was to target Amanda and, if she won veto and took herself off the block, to target Andy (because he could no longer be trusted).
If you watch the live feeds, I never stopped playing the game even after I knew I was being evicted. I wanted to make sure Amanda would be targeted, as well as Andy, and made sure Ginamarie and Elissa worked together after I left. When Amanda was finally evicted, I felt that even though I was in jury, I still played a small role in her eviction.
Did you have any clue how many sides of the house Andy was playing?
One of my biggest mistakes was trusting Andy. I knew he had great relationships with so many people in the house, but I always thought he was most loyal to me – maybe he was at some point in the game, but then he changed sides – who can blame him – he won the game!
I learned a lot about my game through Andy. However, I can’t explain my mistakes and everything I have learned because it would give away my game if I ever got a chance to play again.
Other than Andy (who you voted to win), which houseguest would you have been happiest to cast your jury vote for in the finale?
No question, Elissa. After watching 1) how the entire house mistreated her early in the game 2) Amanda’s bullying of Elissa and 3) the derogatory comments made by Spencer, Andy, Ginamarie and others about Elissa and her family, she deserved to win – so happy she won America’s Favorite Player. A lot of people, including Amanda who cried behind a trash can, would have cracked if these things happened to her, but Elissa never even sweat. Love her.
What were your favourite and least favourite competitions of the summer?
My favorite competition was “Overnight Delivery” because I won HOH – but I always love the mental challenges – I wish my season had more mental than physical.
My least favorite was the first HOH – holding onto that popsicle was the hardest challenge physically for me.
Is there anything you wish you didn’t do on national television?
Is there anything you didn’t do that you wish you had?
Won the jury comp and stayed on the wall longer to come back into the game. If I had beat the other jury members, I would have been safe that week because Elissa won HOH and then probably the next as well because Ginamarie won the week after (Ginamarie actually tried to save me the week I was evicted). Knowing that Elissa, Ginamarie and I would have gotten out two of the three those weeks (either Amanda, Andy & McCrae).
What’s the one move you think you could’ve made to get yourself to the end but couldn’t see at the time?
Everyone knows this – take out Amanda the week Candice was evicted.
What was one of the biggest aspects of your season that didn’t make it to TV?
Jeremy’s bullying. His edit was too good – that person you saw on TV is not the real person that I saw in the house.
Would you play again?
I love Big Brother and feel good about my experience. I can hold my head up high and walk away proud.
However, there is still a part of me that would like to play again because I hate losing. I have never come in worse than second place in anything I have ever done, and to leave the game before the Final 3 is a bruise to my ego.
I do have other goals in life, so what I am doing [at the time of a potential offer] will also factor into whether I would play again – but I would be lying if I told you I don’t think about it every day.
If you could play against any former houseguests, whom would you pick?
Elissa Reilly is one of my best friends in life, and it would be so wonderful to be in the house with her again. But at the same time it would be even more challenging for myself with Elissa in the house because I would not ever want to go against her. Our friendship has grown so much since our season ended – our friendship has grown beyond Big Brother, so while I would love to live with Elissa again because I know we would have so much fun, it would be hard to play for myself against someone I care about so deeply.
What have you been up to since the show?
While I was on the show, my 83 year old father was battling gallbladder cancer that had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes. I got back from Big Brother on September 19th, and my father passed away on October 31st. Because I am an only child and my mother does not speak any English, I have been taking care of my mom and handling my dad’s affairs.
Additionally, I have been spending time with my husband and children.
Professionally, I am keeping some things to myself, but I am doing even better than I was prior to the show.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
One of the most special things about being on Big Brother has been the fan support. I did not realize that so many fans would reach out to me after the show, especially sharing their own health stories after hearing about my MRSA scare. I am one of the few houseguests that did not open a PO Box for fans to send me fan mail. Instead I provided fans an email address where they could reach out to me. To date, I have responded to more than 400 unique fans via email about the game, my life and anything else they have asked.
Additionally, because I was such a huge Big Brother fan before playing the game, I gave all my Big Brother stuff away to my biggest fans versus selling it on ebay like many other houseguests did. Reason being, I felt as a fan I was lucky enough to be a part of the show and that many of these fans will never get the same experience – so why not at least give them a piece of the show for free by giving my biggest supporters my Big Brother memories.
Finally, thank you for the nomination – I am touched. Win or lose, I appreciate the opportunity to tell my story.