In two separate instances this summer, Big Brother 19 houseguest Cody Nickson came under fire from fans after he was shown on the live feeds making disparaging comments about transgender individuals. His remarks were never featured on the show itself.
First, in July, he repeatedly used the term "trannies" during a conversation with Jessica Graf, another houseguest whom he began to date on the show. When she tried to muffle his mouth, Nickson replied, “What? Tranny? I don’t give a shit. They can tuck away their dicks all they want. Do you really think they’re fucking gonna to come at a Marine Corps infantryman for fucking saying the word tranny?"
Then in August, Nickson and another houseguest, rodeo clown Jason Dent, each referred to Big Brother 17 contestant Audrey Middleton, who is transgender, as "it" in conversation. Middleton later released a statement on the incident.
Following Wednesday night's finale, Dent apologized for using such cruel language. "It was absolutely ignorant," the Iowa native told BuzzFeed News. "I wouldn't know a transgender person if they walked up and shook my hand." Dent went on to say he has absolutely no issue with transgender people and welcomes the opportunity to learn more. "That's how you learn to grow; by getting in those conversations. That's how you become less ignorant."
Graf also stressed education while defending Nickson, her maybe-boyfriend. "I think comments like that are made from a lack of information and ignorance of a situation," she told BuzzFeed News. "That's why when Cody was saying 'it' I was rolling my eyes and telling him to stop; not because I think that he was right — I definitely didn't — it's just a lack of information. For example, I don't know anyone that's transgender. That's not me being discriminative against other people. It's just I actually haven't met a transgender human being. I don't fully understand it and I'm sure Cody is the same way and I think with an education on the situation, that ignorance would disappear and statements like that wouldn't be made."
However, when asked if he agreed with Graf's assessment, Nickson dismissed the idea outright. "People are going to love me or hate me and it doesn't matter; I can't do anything about it," he told BuzzFeed News. "I have a very close-knit group of people in my life that I love and I need to get close to after this. Beyond that, I'm not out to appease anybody or say anything to give anybody hugs out there. If anybody wants some hugs they can find it somewhere else."
Nickson first entered the Big Brother house in late June and made it all the way to jury, which meant he was sequestered from the outside world — no phone, no internet, no television — until the Sept. 20 finale. So when he was informed by BuzzFeed News about President Trump's proposed transgender military ban, the former Marine Corps infantryman was instantly elated. "Ah! I didn't know that," he said through an uncharacteristically large smile. "You can't even have an arched foot and get in the military. You can't have psoriasis and get in the military. So to change your entire genetic makeup and try and be in the military...I don't know how they would get in and somebody with an arched foot can't get in."
Big Brother 19 is far from the franchise's first brush with controversy; Big Brother 15 was the notoriously racist season and Big Brother 18 was the most misogynistic in show's history. Some posit that being cut off from the outside world has an almost Stanford prison experiment-esque effect on the houseguests and brings out this kind of behavior. "No matter what you're doing in the Big Brother house, it's wrong: If you're not speaking up, it's wrong; if you're speaking up too much, it's wrong," BB19 houseguest Elena Davies told BuzzFeed News. "No matter what you're doing, people are going to use your actions as a reason to place a target on your back. I didn't speak up as much as I would have staying true to my moral compass ... and I regret that." This was a sentiment echoed by several of the people who were present for Cody's anti-trans comments and didn't speak up.
But host Julie Chen sees it differently. Big Brother doesn't change its participants — it exposes them for who they truly are. "I feel like the show not only teaches houseguests how other people view the world and how other people live, I also think it's a lesson in who you are as an individual because you're faced with these situations that you may not be in with your real world," Chen told BuzzFeed News. "I always say it's like a mirror that's held up to your face and some people realize Wow I'm not as perfect as I'd like to think I am. Everybody has a good side and a bad side. We all have flaws. Big Brother just points it out to houseguests real fast."