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''Big Brother 8'': Burning questions answered!

We asked exec producer Allison Grodner about a decision to punish rule-breaking Jen, how exactly America’s Player works, and more

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Say it ain’t so — Big Brother 8 is more than halfway over! We asked executive producer Allison Grodner to take a time out from refereeing the latest fight between Dick and Jen to talk about America’s Player, the overuse of the backdoor strategy, and what makes this season so craptastically better than the others.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Anyone who watched Big Brother: After Dark this week saw how Jen went off slop to eat burgers and cottage cheese. Why did you penalize her? (Jen’s punishment will be revealed on tonight’s show.)
ALLISON GRODNER: We always reserve the right to give penalty nominations when rules are broken that are not safety violations or something so extreme that you should be ejected. But this was unprecedented [someone who was already nominated breaking a rule].

Why not give her a penalty nomination next week?
At this point, our feeling is that the offender should be penalized within the week the offense took place. So this is a new way of dealing with rule violations by the nominees themselves.

What else is unprecedented about this season?
The unprecedented use of the veto, especially the [subsequent] eviction of the replacement nominee. Jen has been on the block four times. The amount of arguments and fights in the house on a regular basis. We’ve had very dramatic turnarounds over the years, but this season we’ve seen even bigger surprises — the Dustin eviction, for one. What’s also incredibly unprecedented about this season is America’s Player [the contestant, Eric, secretly performs tasks mandated by viewers at home for money]. The viewers are involved, and he’s still in the house.

Have you thought about changing the rules to avoid backdooring (targeting a replacement nominee for eviction)? It really puts strong players at a disadvantage.
It’s possible. One of the adjustments that was made last year was the random drawing of ping-pong balls [to choose players for the veto competition]. That encouraged people from backdooring. This year, people just seem to be getting lucky in terms of the ping-pong balls! It’s hard to say how much we’ll change. Nakomis coming up with the whole six-finger plan back in BB5 was genius. These people are playing like that and we’ve had more HOHs change their mind [about who should be on the chopping block] midway through the week than we’ve ever had before — though I don’t think it was always their intent to backdoor somebody.

What about making the rule that if you win the veto, you can only use it to save yourself?
I feel like that takes some of the strategy out of the game. People have alliances and friends in the house. This is what is so interesting about the veto — what happens if you use it or don’t use it if you aren’t on the block. We wouldn’t have had Jameka saving Jen, or Dick saving Daniele — another thing that’s unprecedented about this season.

Was Jen admonished for destroying Dick’s cigarettes?
There is a rule about destroying personal property in the house. It would be a big mess [if allowed to continue], so we have to have some rules to prevent all hell from breaking loose.

But how do you justify admonishing Jen when her shirt was vandalized with mustard?
Obviously it was an America’s Player situation [Eric was told to do it]. She was able to wash it and it was fine. If that had been a situation in the house, we probably would have admonished the person who did it. But Jen doesn’t know who did it!

Jen was contending that she was admonished for destroying Dick’s cigarettes, yet Dick was never admonished for his foul behavior toward her. Is that true?
That’s not necessarily true. By the way, we don’t discuss who is admonished and so forth in the Diary Room. But I will tell you as an overall note that when people are close to crossing the line in terms of violence in the house, they are warned. Jen doesn’t necessarily know [what, if anything, happened to Dick]. They don’t know what happened with her with regards to the cigarettes. We don’t discuss people’s Diary Room visits with the other houseguests.

NEXT PAGE: Was there an America’s Player card accidentally left in the Diary Room? ”We know better than that!” says Grodner

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Fans watching the feeds see the houseguests come out of the Diary Room and start talking about how the producers attempted to sway their vote. Cynical viewers think you are trying to strong-arm the houseguests into doing your bidding. How do you respond to that?
ALLISON GRODNER: [Sighs] We are the only show that is heavily scrutinized because of the live nature of the Internet, which is also what makes the show so terrific. We can’t manipulate the houseguests because we know we have the viewers watching us. That’s something that we are very much against here. We do ask the houseguests to talk to us in pros and cons so we can understand their line of thinking. It’s important for us to do that in order to understand the strategy, which can get so complex. That’s what is happening. We are very careful to ask balanced questions. We will ask them to weigh both sides.

Does Eric have to do everything America tells him to do?
When it comes to the vote, yes — that’s a given. He needs to make every effort to complete America’s task to get credit for it.

And if he says no?
He has never done that, but he basically has a contract with America to be America’s Player, which means he will do his absolute best to try to complete a task.

How much has he earned so far for completing the tasks?
He has his first $10,000. I think he’s closing in on another $5,000. For every five tasks, he gets $10,000. He will have $30K if he completes all of his tasks this week.

If Eric makes it to the final two, will he be able to tell his fellow houseguests that he’s America’s Player?
That would certainly be part of the finale, but I’m not saying when he’ll be able to reveal it. That needs to be determined. He needs to be judged on how he played the game and how he’s perceived. So the question is: Should he reveal it before or after? It’s my opinion that it should be revealed after in order for him to have a fair shot of winning this game. But that has yet to be determined.

Why didn’t Julie Chen tell Kail about Eric being America’s Player during her exit interview?
We had a tight show. It’s live TV. Sometimes you have to make decisions about what’s important. I believe she was told the next day on The Early Show.

How did you feel about the banner flown over the house that accused Amber and Eric of lying and compared the Late Night Crew to BB6‘s Nerd Herd?
It’s great that there seem to be so many fans involved with the show who feel compelled to do something like that. I don’t condone them whatsoever. They interfere with the game. Was this the most intrusive banner in BB history? No. Those occurred in BB2.

There is a rumor going around that Jen somehow managed to stumble upon an America’s Player card in the Diary Room…
I heard this. Where did that come from? We know better than that! What’s fascinating is the conspiracy theories that fly through this house. I believe there was one moment — and the video is available on YouTube [of players talking about it] — where Eric leaves the Diary Room and Jen says, ”Mr. America!” And he kinda goes, ”What?” It was just her doing her thing. But that was exaggerated by viewers. We are very careful about America’s Player envelopes.