“Queen Ika” is the most legendary player in the five-season history of Big Brother Canada. She’s the rare houseguest known both for her strategic prowess and her big personality. She’s an All-Star returnee, half of a successful showmance, the perpetrator of a “BBCan Museum” moment, and she even holds the title as the first woman to win veto on the series. She’s understandably a fan favourite and, while her dominant (and endlessly entertaining) turn in BBCan Season 5 didn’t win her the grand prize, it did earn her an Outstanding Reality Star nomination in the TV Critics’ Pick Awards for 2017.
How did you come to be in the Big Brother Canada house?
I’ve been a huge fan of Big Brother for a long time, and I was like “Oh my God, it sucks that they’re not in Canada.” They came here and I auditioned for Season 2, and they called me. I got evicted early on that season, but for Season 5 when they were calling back returning players, they called me back, and that’s pretty much how I got there.
How did you approach casting? What angle did you play in order to sell yourself to the producers?
For that, I remember just saying to myself, “I would rather go in and be myself, for them to not choose me for me being myself.” Because if I’m going in, if I wasn’t myself, I’d always be like, “Oh my God, I should’ve just been myself.” That would haunt me more than if you go in, and then they don’t like you, I’m like, “Oh well, they just didn’t like me.” I always hear people say, “Show them who you are, not tell them who you are.” So instead of going in and saying, “Oh, I’m funny and sassy,” I just went in and showed them that I am funny, and I am sassy. When they asked me why I wanted to be cast for Big Brother Canada Season 2, I was like, “Because there’s only one black girl spot, and I’m here to get it.” [laughs] I got the feeling that that told them “she is gonna be outspoken”, without telling them that I am outspoken.
As a big fan coming into the house, did you come in with a strategy?
Oh my God, I thought I knew everything. I thought I was going to win. I was like, “Oh my God, so easy! I’ve watched this show so many times, I’ve studied this.” You go in, and it’s completely different. If you study for a test or an exam, you’ll do well. For Big Brother, you could study, and walk in and still flop.
My first time playing and my second time playing were completely different. My second time, I just told myself, “I’m gonna go with my gut,” because that’s what you have to do in that game. Whatever my gut tells me is what I’ll do.
What would you say is the most surprising thing about being in the Big Brother house that you can’t tell from watching it on TV?
When you’re watching it from home, you don’t understand the emotional strain that people go through, and the emotional hardship. Everything is just amplified. And the people in the house are looking for a reason to not like you. So when they don’t like you, they prey on the things about you that they don’t like, and they all attack it. They’re looking for reasons to justify why they want to evict you and send you home.
What people don’t get when they’re watching it is [the houseguests] are just emotionally messed up. If you’re sad, you feel more sad in that house than you would feel in real life. If you’re happy, you feel more happy in that house than you would in real life. Everything feels like tenfold.
When it came time to do the All-Stars concept, were you hesitant to go back, or were you really excited to compete again?
I was hesitant, for sure. Season 2 was at a different point in my life, and with Season 5, I was working. I was in a career. Financially, it was not really a good move for me. It wasn’t like a straight “Yes, I’m coming.” I definitely had to think about it.
I also thought “they are gonna be calling other people”, and I didn’t have the relationships with the other [past houseguests] that they might have with each other, so I’d be going in with the hugeness of that, because I don’t hang out with these people. I don’t really talk to these people the way other vets might have hung out with each other. So I was like, “Great.” I was going in with this huge personality, this disadvantage because people already think they know me, and I’m going in with people who already have a bunch of connections that I don’t have, so I was scared.
Did you feel like there was pressure to work with the other returnees?
At first- I wasn’t liking Neda [Kalantar] very, very early on but I was scared of showing it, because I knew she was a fan favourite, and I didn’t want people to think I was being jealous or catty. So I hid that for a little bit. Not working with [Neda’s alliance], but not going against them. So earlier on, before it showed that I didn’t like her, I didn’t like her way before that. I was like, “Crap. They love her, so if I go against her, or if I say I hate her, they’re gonna be like, ‘you’re just being jealous,’ or something.” So that part sucked, but that was one of the only things I thought about.
Also, evicting Gary [Levy]. I knew he was a huge fan favourite. I knew people loved him a lot, and I just felt like, “Shit, people are gonna literally hate us for evicting him.” But he wasn’t good for my game, so he had to go.
You’re known for speaking your mind but it sounds like you were actually really editing yourself. What were some of the things that were happening that you weren’t expressing?
I would say definitely, firstly, early on, I really didn’t like Neda’s attitude. I didn’t like her as a person very, very early on, but Canada gave her this huge advantage [five weeks of immunity]. It means that they like her. So if I’m saying I don’t like her, it makes you question, is it me? I don’t want people to think I don’t like her for jealous reasons, or catty reasons, when she was just a bitch [laughs]. That sucked. It meant I definitely kept my feelings about that particular issue to myself quite a bit more than I normally would have, because I just didn’t want to send the wrong message.
Your main ally throughout the season was your showmance Demetres [Giannitsos]. From a strategic point of view, what were some of the reasons why you guys made such a good team, and complemented each other’s skillsets?
This is the thing about Big Brother that maybe people don’t realize. When you go into it and you form bonds with people, you should form those bonds because you like them as a person, and you care about them as a person, and everything else will come.
I didn’t know if it was a good move for me to work with him on a game level, but I just believe that I trusted him the most. I trusted him more than I trusted anybody else in that house. I’m like, “I trust him the most. I know for 100% sure that he has my back.” That is a luxury in that house, you know. I’d rather work with this one person where I know for sure that he’ll have my back, I’ll have his back, and he won’t backstab me. I know he’s having conversations, and it’s not about throwing me under the bus. So it started from there, and it just worked out that he was great at [competitions], and I was great socially. We complemented each other very, very well. We didn’t plan the complement. It just happened organically.
What is your status with Demetres now?
We’re still in a relationship. We’re still together. So when we were in the house, we didn’t know how to make it work because he was in Edmonton, and I was in Toronto. Now, we’re in a long-distance relationship, and he’s making plans to move here, so we’re still going strong.
If you had to pick your top three most important moves throughout the season, what would they be?
I would definitely say it was saving Demetres Week 1. He was gonna go home, and they didn’t really show it on the show, but I worked really hard in keeping him that week, and he stayed. I think what people also don’t realize is that Demetres and I, we shared a bed from Night 1. If that did not happen, we wouldn’t be as close as we are. So a big game move was building that relationship with him, and trusting him was a huge game move for me, for sure.
Building the social relationships that I did was a huge game move as well, because I was able to ask those people for favours when I needed it. Asking Sindy [Nguyen] “let’s get out Neda”, I couldn’t have done that without building that relationship early on. I made a conscious decision to approach every single person differently. It wasn’t like when I played the game before. I knew that going in a second time, everyone’s different, so you have to approach every single person differently.
I can’t approach Sindy and Dillon [Carman] the exact same. But with Dillon, I could say, “Oh Dillon, your niece is so cute, oh my gosh – she reminds me of my son,” blah blah blah. Sindy, just give her compliments all day [laughs]. The girl just loves compliments. I would just compliment her on her hair, and her outfit every day. I tell you, I have never given someone so many compliments in my damn life. Compliments. You have to know what these people need, and then just work people that way. So, socially, building a great social relationship with people definitely was a huge game for me, just because it got me out of tough situations when I needed it, and it got them to get people out when I wanted them to. It kept me and Demetres safe when he couldn’t win something [laughs] cause I couldn’t win anything. That was huge.
I would say third, following my gut. I always say that I’d rather go home on following my gut than go home on somebody else’s mistake. If I didn’t follow my gut in that house, I would’ve gone home and lost sleep, just because I was feeling so angry at myself. So following my gut was huge for me, and if it led me wrong, I could live with it. But most times it was right, so I would say definitely, following that relationship with Dem Night 1, I would say my social relationships, and my gut, for sure.
You say you couldn’t win anything- and you were definitely more known for strategic gameplay and causing drama- but back in your first season you were the first female veto winner in the entire franchise. Do you feel like you were pigeonholed as someone who wasn’t a comp threat?
Yeah, on Season 2 I definitely won more comps. But on Season 5, I threw some comps early on that I didn’t need to win, but when it came down to the ones I needed to win, I couldn’t win them.
I didn’t win a single competition on Season 5, so people will forget what I did on Season 2, and they’ll say “Oh, she doesn’t know how to win comps.” But my social game came out a bit more. I do feel I’m a well-rounded player, it’s just that on Season 5 I didn’t win the competitions I won on Season 2. So people do forget that I can win comps. It’s just that I couldn’t when I needed one! [laughs]
But I definitely appreciate [the fans] at least recognizing that I am a strategic player. Usually you have players who are really strategic, and are just very boring. I did everything that both kinds of players did- I was entertaining, but people sometimes forget what a great game I actually played, because my personality is a little crazy [laughs]. Most people just think, “Oh, she’s just in your face, and intimidating, and Demetres won all the comps”. They don’t realize that, at one point, we were both on the block. We didn’t win veto, and we both got away on Kevin [Martin]’s HOH. Kevin used his veto, took me off, and we got away scot-free that week. That’s a great social game. No one’s ever done that. You can’t sit on the block, not winning HOH, not winning veto, be a target, and still stay on the house; it doesn’t happen! [laughs] But people will remember the speeches I made, and they’ll remember the looks I gave, and they’ll remember me yelling at them. It just stands out more, I guess.
Aside from Kevin, who went on to win the season, who would you say was your biggest threat through the season? And when you watched it back, did that perception change at all?
I pretty much knew who the targets were, and who we had to get out. Big Brother’s pretty simple- you go after people who, if they won HOH, will come after you. Immediately. That’s just how you play the game. People try to complicate it, but it’s that easy. My gut feeling, I would say, around Dillon’s HOH, was I was working way too hard on Dillon for Dre [Gwenaelle] to ever have my back. I was just like, “This girl has my back so much. Why am I working so hard with Dillon? She’s close with Dillon. Why am I working so hard?” But I tried to brush it off a bit, and watching it, it’s like “Great. My gut was right. She was being shady.” Honestly, thank God Dillon and Karen [Singbeil] flat out told me what she was up to, because I would have killed myself if I let that girl blindside me and get me out. Because I had her back the whole time.
So I would say Dre was the biggest threat for sure. Her resentment for me, I was very surprised about it, watching back the show as it got towards the end. That surprised me. But nobody else really, really surprised me. It surprised me a bit how early our alliance was just so threatened by Demetres and myself. I didn’t realize that they hated us as much as we hated them [laughs]. Dre surprised me, just because she was someone that I wasn’t going after, and she was actively trying to get me out. But I’m so happy when I found out when I did.
Did you feel like the edited version of the show portrayed you and your gameplay accurately, or to the best of your memory, and who would you say on the season was portrayed the least accurately on the broadcast version?
When watching the show, I kept in mind that there are 15 other people, 14 other people, 13 – as the weeks go by- that they have to capture. So it’s not the Ika Wong show. They can’t just edit every single thing I did or didn’t do, or meant to do, and put it on a show when there’s 15 other people that they have to capture, right?
People will say, “Oh my gosh, when you got Neda out was so good, oh my God!” But I’m telling you, I literally flipped the vote to keep Demetres within 10 minutes of live evictions. It’s not easy, so I wish I’d gotten credit for that. I wish they’d shown how hard I worked on that, because it wasn’t very easy at all. And that was very pivotal in my game, because Demetres changed the entire course of my game, his game – and our lives. It changed our lives. So I wish that they’d shown a little bit more.
There were definitely some things that they didn’t show; other people got credit for some things. But, at the same time, people will watch live feeds. Those people know what I did, and I feel like [the editors] did a great job overall. Even if they don’t show every little thing that I did, overall, people still know that “Wow, she played a really good strategic game, and she was entertaining”. I feel like that’s what they captured, and that’s what I was. I would say kudos to them, because it’s hard. It’s not easy, capturing all these people.
I will say Neda should write Big Brother a huge thank-you card, and probably give them $100,000, because they could have made her look a lot worse. When I watched that show, I was like, “That’s all they showed? Really?” She definitely owes Big Brother a big thank-you card, because she was horrible. What you saw wasn’t even a fraction of how disgusting she was.
I would say everybody else pretty much got an accurate depiction of who they actually are, especially with what they had. That season was so dramatic, and I think production and Big Brother did a great job at showing people, even if they didn’t show every little thing. You still left with the sense of who that person was.
This season, you went back to do the BBCan museum of legendary moments. We saw you destroying the letters, and all of the current contestants were like, “Oh my God, the Queen!” What is it like living with that legacy, and what have been some of the most interesting interactions you’ve had?
[laughs] It is definitely so flattering that people respect what I did on Big Brother. I can’t tell you how this feels to just have such a strong appreciation of the show, the people who run the show, just how much work it takes to go into it. Being a huge fan of the show, and to leave, and to have people consider me one of the greatest players who have ever played, it’s honestly mindblowing. You feel great. But honestly, every person who is a fan of someone calls them a queen. [laughs] You can’t take it to heart too much. You can’t say, “Oh, she’s queen.”
I would say, honestly, meeting Demetres is probably the biggest thing I took from Season 5. It literally changed my life. He’s changed my life. I would say meeting him was the greatest accomplishment of being called back, for sure.
Would you go back for another All-Stars season?
I’m tired. [laughs] So I’m not quite sure if I would do that. And that would be another few years, and who knows what we’ll be doing in another few years. We’ll see.
You watch the American show, right? Would you go on a crossover season, and if you did, who would you want to team up with?
Hypothetically? I don’t think this will happen, but say it did, who would I team up with? Do you remember Dani Donato? I would love to play with her. I feel she is the original badass. When she came on your screen, you were just, like, “She’s a bad bitch.” She is a bad bitch, and she was just a great gameplayer. In real life, she’s an amazing, amazing person, and she’s reached out to me, and been very, very nice to me. It just makes you respect her so much more. She was brought back twice, and I like what she did both times.
I’d love to have Janelle [Pierzina] out there, just because Janelle is the queen of Big Brother, as well. I’m not quite sure if I’d work with her, but it’d be nice to have her there. But I would say I’d work with Dani Donato. Hands down, no question. I’m not quite sure about anybody else. [laughs]
What are your thoughts on the new season so far?
First, I’m just happy that Big Brother came back, and that we’re watching another season. I feel like the production value is great, and I feel like they did a good job. Season 5 is a hard shoe to fill, but I feel like they’re definitely trying! [laughs] I’m enjoying watching the show a lot this year, and I was just there last year, so I could just relate to how they’re feeling, a bit. So interesting.
Tell us a little bit more about what you’ve been up to since the show.
I’ve honestly just been trying to get back into real life. My relationship with Demetres is a huge thing. We’re long-distance, so we see each other once or twice a month. It’s a lot of travelling on both of our parts.
I’ve been doing some corresponding work for ET Canada, which is great. They got me interviewing and doing stuff that I would not have been able to do before going on the show, and that’s pretty much all that’s really changed about my life. Demetres, and doing the things that I wasn’t doing before, obviously, like corresponding. Stuff like that. Building my relationship is a huge part, because it wasn’t there before Season 5, so my life has just drastically changed.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I hope I win. [laughs] I’m joking. Thank you guys for considering me. This is cool.