Julie Chen is as essential to Big Brother (US) as Zingbot, OTEV, and slop. But since she’s taken time off to be with her family in light of her husband’s firing from CBS, it’s reasonable to assume she won’t be back for Season 21 — unless the show moves to another network, or if they keep Julie despite the ugliness of the board fight and the allegations against Les Moonves.
(She’ll be back on Thursday for Big Brother, according to her statement. Imagine the panic that would ensue inside the Big Brother house if the players were told Julie Chen would no longer be the first face they see when they exit the game. Think of the paranoia that might result, with some wondering if it’s a game twist.)
Who could pick up after Julie? Who could say, “#ButFirst” with that perfect mix of muted anticipation, seriousness and melodrama, for what is, in its essence, a game show? Let’s not forget Julie Chen came from hard news, as she’s apt to recall as frequently as possible during her musings on The Talk. Her eyewitness-on-the-scene reporting style brought a distinct feel to Big Brother. On Thursday nights, the week’s shenanigans — and the coming eviction — are treated with the unbiased veneer of a broadcaster. For about 42 minutes you forget it’s just a silly little program, although at times it really does become a microcosm of real life.
No one could ever replace Julie Chen. But it might be fun to see these former Big Brother contestants give it a go.
Jamie Kern Lima
By far, my number one choice of past Big Brother contestant to take on the former Chen duties would be Jamie Kern Lima. It’s unlikely she would want the job, since in 2016 she sold her company, IT Cosmetics, to L’Oreal for $ 1.2 billion and stayed on as CEO.
But assuming she did want to return to the fold, she comes with great credentials. Like Chen, Kern Lima was a news reporter after her time in the house. She’s self-made, starting IT Cosmetics from scratch.
It would be like Big Brother coming full circle, with Season 21 harking all the way back to Season 1. Those of us who are old enough to remember, and actually tuned in to watch, remember how controversial the show’s very concept was in 2000.
In light of the allegations against Moonves (which have absolutely, completely, nothing to do with Julie Chen), it’s somehow fitting to have a fierce, successful woman as the new face of the show.
John (Johnny Mac) McGuire
If Jamie Kern Lima would be the replacement closest to Julie Chen, Johnny Mac — the Rockstar Dentist from Season 17 — might be the furthest. John McGuire is no Chenbot. His diary room sessions were apparently so loud during his season that some of his fellow house guests could hear him talking. Those of us at home laughing uproariously at his game commentary were among the first to see his true personality, which was a bit more subdued in the house.
Imagine Johnny Mac doing the post-eviction interviews. Or leading into the week’s flashback clips with a rousing, “#ButFirst!” Johnny Mac alone could turn Big Brother from a reality-game show hybrid into a comedy, at least once a week.
Like Kern, his return to Big Brother seems unlikely — because he is a practicing dentist, after all. But maybe he could take a trip to L.A. during the BB season to keep us up to speed on the game — and maybe to take the ego-driven players (there are always a few) down a notch.
Britney doesn’t strike me as the hosting type, and I believe she’s said she would not come back for a third shot at the Big Brother crown. But she is so inherently likeable, it’s tough to leave her off of the list.
And the miscellaneous list…
- Victoria Rafaeli, to celebrate the floaters;
- Amber Borzotra, because I think she lost (unfairly) because she refused Caleb’s advances;
- Aaryn Gries, for redemption;
- Jun Song, for those of us who never saw her season but want to know what she was like;
- Jennifer “Nakomis” Dedmon, to honour her contribution to the Big Brother game by inventing the backdoor eviction strategy;
- Daniele Donato, because she’s cool;
- Jessie Godderz, because he appears every season anyway and probably wants to do more than flex his muscles;
- Dan Gheesling, so he can tell every evictee what was wrong with their strategy;
- Jodi Rollins, because she never got a chance to play.
Of course, this could all be wildly premature, and the Chenbot may be with us for another 20 more seasons. Which would be great. Because no one can say, “Welcome. To Big Brother” quite like Julie Chen.
[Main image of Julie Chen from CelebrityABC/Flickr.]