“Big Brother” champ Andy Herren, 26, of Lake View talks about being the show’s first openly gay winner, his hopes for returning to work at College of DuPage and his biggest regrets about this controversial season:
Q. What will you do with the $500,000 prize money?
A. “I know that I’m going to be careful with it. I want to use it as a stepping stone for the rest of my life. I’m young and I’ve never had any amount of money like this. I don’t do my job because it pays me a lot. I do it because I love it. But I’m sure once I get back to Chicago I’ll have a few drinks with it. I’ll probably travel a little bit now that I’m off from work.”
Q. Speaking of work, are you aware that College of DuPage recently posted a statement on its Facebook page that appeared to distance itself from you? (The posting read: “Andy Herren has formerly worked for College of DuPage as a part-time instructor. He does not currently work for the college. Any behavior or language he uses on the CBS reality show ‘Big Brother’ does not represent the opinions or values of College of DuPage.” Herren has taught speech communications at COD since the fall of 2011. Herren said he was supposed to teach this summer and fall but had to break his contract to be on the show. COD officials have declined to talk about Herren’s employment status, citing personnel issues.)
A. “I am aware of it. The part of me that hopes there’s decency in the world thinks that [Facebook] statement was basically saying just, ‘Yeah, he wasn’t working for us right now.’ Hopefully they see that I’m not a terrible person and they will welcome me back come January. Any student that I ever had will attest to the fact that I love my job and I pour my heart and soul into it. I would be devastated if I couldn’t be back doing it.”
Q. Did it hurt your feelings to read what COD had posted?
A. “It did a little bit. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely said some stuff in the house that I regret. I just wish anyone who thinks I’m this awful, vile person for the things that I said, I wish they could spend the amount of time in that house that we do. It messes with your head. I can look back on it and I regret what I said. At the same time, while I was saying it, it was such a weird emotional state that I was in, I don’t really feel it reflected who I am as a person. I hope people can see that I’m a very decent, good-hearted person and I would never want to purposely put down anybody.”
Q. What do you regret saying?
A. “I regret all of the Elissa comments.” (Herren talked about wanting to punch Elissa in the throat, for example, and called her an a–hole “a bunch of times.”) “It irritated me because she has this air about her where she thought she never did anything wrong. And she did a lot of things wrong. You could never call her out on it because if you did she would instantly target you. I had all this steam building up inside of me that I had to let loose after she left. I went about it in the completely wrong way. I could have just thought everything to myself. I really don’t dislike Elissa either. The minute I walked out of the house I regretted everything I said.”
Herren added that he regrets using the “C” word.
“I do improv comedy. I’m around very crass, vulgar people all the time. Words like the C word and stuff like that, I know are words that really can offend people but that word is like nothing to me. When I say that word — I should have been much more conscious of who I was around. The people watching, it breaks my heart if I offended them. The people in the house I was saying it to weren’t offended by it. They knew I didn’t mean anything hateful by it. Even though I can completely understand people being like, well, that word’s never OK. I don’t ever say that word from a hateful, mean place. For it to be taken like that kind of breaks my heart.”
Q. This season generated a lot of controversy after several houseguests were overheard on the live feed making racist and homophobic slurs. Would you describe the house as a hostile, intolerant environment toward gay people or minorities?
A. “No. I feel like this season, it sounds like it’s been tainted so much by a few comments. This was not a house where I ever felt threatened or uncomfortable by anything anyone said. But I completely disagree with the racist things that were said and the anti-gay things that were said. I didn’t know Aaryn had said some of the stuff that she did. The racist stuff really did bug me. I pulled [African-American contestants] Howard and Candice aside and told them I didn’t like it. That was something I definitely noticed and it made my skin crawl. But I had no idea the magnitude of how big it became outside the house.”
Q. Would you say any of the people in the house are racist or homophobic?
A. “Aaryn said really stupid, awful things. But I think deep down Aaryn is a good person. I don’t think she’s this awful racist she’s being portrayed as.”
Q. How do you feel about being the first openly gay winner of “Big Brother?”
A. “I feel very good about it. I hope I represented gay men and gay women everywhere pretty well. I hope people can look to me and see that a good decent gay guy can win this show.”
Q. In one example of a gay slur heard this season, Spencer called you Kermit the Fag. Did that bother you?
A. “I’m the last person in the world who gets offended by anything. Spencer knew that about me and he knew that a comment like that, since he was such a close friend, would not offend me. Part of me is disappointed in myself for not sticking up for the use of that word never being OK because I hate when that word is used hatefully. But it was used in a joking friend sense. It’s an ugly word, but at the same time it did not offend me. But I understand it could have offended other people.”
Q. While you were in the house, your friends in Chicago started fund-raising on your behalf for the Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention service for gay youth. What do you think of that?
A. “That’s awesome. It’s a testament to my life outside this house, that I have friends that would do that. I wish I would have spoken up a little more in the house when I think about how the F word can really offend gay people. I don’t want anyone watching this show thinking that word is OK to say.”
Q. Why do you think you won?
A. “I played the best damn game of anyone in that house. I never stopped plotting and I never stopped strategizing and I never stopped thinking about what my next move would be and it paid off.”
Q. You’ve been studying improv at iO in Chicago for more than a year. Did that training come in helpful during the competition?
A. “It made it so I could lie on my feet really well. I was able to pull things out of my ass when I needed to.”
Q. What was the hardest part about being holed up in the house for 90 days?
A. “The boredom and the downtime — it really starts to mess with your mind.
Q. Any regrets about being on the show?
A. “The things that I said in the heat of the moment I regret, even though I think a lot of them were taken out of context because I meant them to be jokey. At the same time, I completely understand the opposite end of that spectrum and people thinking those jokes are offensive and inappropriate and never OK. If I said anything that offended people then I am very sorry because that is the last thing I would ever want to do.”