“Big Brother,” the CBS reality show isolating contestants in a custom-made home, marked the first evictions of its 25th season during Thursday’s live episode.
But houseguests were stunned to learn that the first houseguest to leave didn’t do so because of the usual vote, but because he had used a racial slur.
During a taped segment, Reilly Smedley, the season’s first head of household, informed her fellow contestants that Luke Valentine had violated the show’s code of conduct and would no longer be in the house.
The Florida-based illustrator was dispatched shortly after using the N-word during an impromptu conversation that aired on the series’ live feed — a 24-hour, multi-camera look into the “Big Brother” compound that that complements edited episodes on CBS.
The remark startled two white houseguests, who quickly left the room. Valentine tried to back down and apologized to a black houseguest who was also in the room. Then he said, “I won’t give that…”
CBS issued a statement Wednesday that Valentine had violated “Big Brother’s” code of conduct and that there was zero tolerance for the use of a racial slur in the house.
Houseguests reacted with open-mouthed horror when Smedley informed them of the exit. They then discussed the incident for a few moments.
Jared Fields, the only black male houseguest, said in a separate interview that he feels no animosity towards Valentine: “I don’t associate ignorance with malice.” He did, however, indicate that he supports the punishment.
The fall is the latest in a long line of racially motivated incidents that have overshadowed the series since it premiered. Most recently in 2019, black contestant Kemi Fakunle publicly condemned “degrading and threatening comments” from other house guests and accused a producer of encouraging her to use a stereotypically black accent. (The producer was reprimanded and received training on unconscious bias.)
The cast of “Big Brother” was historically dominated by white candidates until 2020, when top executives at the network mandated that the cast of all CBS reality shows be at least 50% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Colored).
Even recent triumphs by black houseguests in a format traditionally won by white contestants have drawn controversy. In 2021, an all-black alliance called Cookout was accused of “reverse racism” by some viewers for campaigning for the series’ first black winner.