Asian Americans are used to not being supported when they’re treated unfairly because of their race or when they’re subjected to racial slurs (e.g. “’Jap?’ That’s just an abbreviation for Japanese! ‘Chinaman?’ What’s the big deal? How’s that different from ‘Irishman?’”). So it was nice to see a white woman come to the defense of the lone Asian American contestant on CBS’s reality show “Big Brother” Sunday night. But it was more complicated than that.
It all began when Raven told Jessica to go over and talk to Cody because he looked sad. Jessica, who’d already paired up romantically with Cody, declined: “Pao Pao’s over there, so I’d rather not.” As Paul explained to viewers, Pao Pao was the nickname of a female Latina/Asian, Paola Shea, from three years ago, who kind of resembles current player Alex Ow in looks and temperament (which is very short).
Megan, who interrogated people in a Middle East prison and now walks dogs for a living, went over to Alex and told her, “I was sitting over there and they’re telling Jessica she should go talk to Cody. She like, ‘No, Panda is over there. I don’t want to deal with that.”
“Oh my God!” the ever-excitable Alex exclaimed.
“I can’t believe they called you ‘panda.’ Isn’t that a little racist?”
In the diary room, Alex said she usually lets things brush off her shoulder, but, “Then I started flashing back four generations. And I’m a deep-seated Asian American [what the hell is that?!] My family is not gonna take this comment well, even if it was just a joke.”
Paul then went to Cody and Jessica and told them what Megan did. “Apparently, you’re a racist.” Jessica was upset: “I cannot believe she’s calling me a racist… I literally want to snap her in half.”
Jessica talked to Alex in the break room, insisted she never called her by a slur (she didn’t mention the Pao Pao nickname either, though), and asserted that because Megan is on the block (two contestants are nominated for eviction each week and one is voted out by the others), she wanted to create a distraction by having others fight with each other.
Despite the fact that Alex considered Megan her closest confidant in the house and said she took racial slights seriously, she quickly turned on her, totally believing Jessica. Instead of having a private talk with Megan, Alex immediately confronted Megan in the kitchen in front of everyone, blasting her for accusing Jessica of being racist.
Megan insisted she heard Jessica call her “Panda,” but the accused asked if anyone had ever heard her say it, and there was silence. Alex told Megan, “Don’t talk to me. We’re not friends. It’s done.”
In the diary room, Megan began falling apart: “No one’s gonna believe me, no matter what I do. And no one trusts me. I’m shaking. I’m shaking. That is so hurtful! I think I’m a good person! I think I’m good and nice to people! I don’t know if I can handle this!” She started crying. “I can’t do this.”
This was only the third episode of the season (the show airs on Wednesdays, Thursday and Sundays) but for some strange reason, Megan had received undeserved hatred from two houseguests. Josh, a loud and proud self-proclaimed Cuban American who ended every sentence in his introduction with “baby” (ugh!), accused her of rallying people against him, which she never did: “Everybody has a good heart here and you’re a fake and a bully!” This manic depressive nut case should never have been let on the show. He cries everyday, gave in to paranoia in the first week, and is obviously mentally unstable.
Then when Cody (I call him “Robot Tom Cruise” for his slight resemblance to the star but with mechanical looks and arrogant robot-like personality) won Head Of Household (he gets to nominate two for the chopping block), Megan went up to talk to him to try to get on his good side, and he didn’t seem to say a single word. Surprise, he nominated her and, unlike most players who usually used the excuse “I don’t feel a connection with you” or “We barely talk to each other”— especially since this was the very first nomination — said quite bluntly, “I just don’t like you that much.”
Megan said in the diary room: “Josh attacks me. Cody attacks me. I feel like everyone’s attacking me. I’ve never felt this anxious in my life. I don’t know if I can handle it. I thought I could, but I don’t think I can.”
Alex turning against her was the last straw. Megan spent hours in the diary room and would not come out. The houseguests began to wonder if she was OK. Finally, Cody asked everyone to gather in the living room where he read a card from the producers: “Due to an urgent personal matter, Megan will no longer participating in ‘Big Brother’ this summer.”
It turns out Megan had a flare up of PTSD and had to pull out. She told the Desert Sun that while stationed in Virginia, she was sexually assaulted, and being yelled at by men in the house made her physically ill. It was a sad, premature end for someone who seemed to have a good heart. Too bad she apparently has a hearing problem. “Pao Pao” doesn’t sound similar to “Panda,” though I have to say, Jessica tends to mumble her words. I played back the tape and while she certainly didn’t say “Panda,” it didn’t even sound as if she said “Pao Pao,” though according to Paul, she’s been using that nickname repeatedly.
So a well meaning White woman, sincerely looking out for an Asian American woman, ended up being blackballed by the rest of the house for her erroneous accusation. However, the “real” Pao Pao agreed with Megan, tweeting that she thought Jessica calling Alex by her nickname was, in fact, “a little bit racist.” She later released a statement: “I’m not trying to call Jessica racist. I just think that it’s inappropriate for her and the entire house to refer to Alex as Me, just because we are both from Asian descent. I know that we have similar personality traits but we are completely different people.”
Cody had to name a replacement nominee, and though his allies urged him to put up Alex, he secretly respected her as a competitor and wanted to keep her. While exercising together, he laid it out on the table for her: “The amount of like, respect I have for you is greater than anybody else has [sic]… That’s why I’m looking for anything, Alex. I’m serious, like I’m looking for, like, anything. [Would you ever] consider, like coming over? Kinda like joining?”
“There’s only so long I would last.”
“If you were HOH next week, who would you put up?”
“I was thinking the best thing to do would be break up like, you guys.” (His alliance includes three couples). Oh, reaaal smart.
In the diary room, she explained her numbskull response: “Well, that’s not me. I don’t kiss ass; people kiss MY ass.”
Cody nominated her. In the diary room, Alex went off: “I’m pissed off!… (yells) I’m coming for you, Cody!”
And given this ridiculous first week, I’m hoping Alex goes home followed quickly by our mental case Josh.
Guy Aoki is the Founding President of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) the first all-volunteer, non-profit organization solely dedicated to monitoring the mass media and advocating balanced, sensitive, and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans. For almost 25 years, he wrote the “Into the Next Stage” media column for the Rafu Shimpo and for 17 years wrote syndicated radio shows for Dick Clark. His views do not necessarily reflect those of any organization.