Jun Song recalls Big Brother montage that focused on her weight gain
Leading up to the July 6th season 24 premiere of Big Brother, EW caught up with 10 former U.S. winners from the show with a set of questions designed to have them look back at their time in the house as well what life has been like since leaving it. Our sixth entry is with the season 4 winner. (Also make sure to check out our Q&As with Eddie McGee and Derrick Levasseur.)
Jun Song made history when she won season 4 of Big Brother back in 2003. That's because Jun became not only the show's first Asian winner; she became the franchise's first Asian champion in any country.
It's not an accomplishment Jun thought much about while she was playing the game, or even in the years after it. It was only much later after hearing from fans about how much seeing her on their TV screen meant to them that it started to mean something to Jun as well.
That's just one of the topics the season 4 champ tackles while looking back at her time in the house and how the franchise has evolved since. Whether remembering a montage that poked fun at how much weight she had gained, revealing she felt like she was still being monitored after leaving the house, or hoping that her former show will "stop rewarding toxic and dangerous behavior," Jun has plenty to say when it comes to Big Brother… including the fact that she may not be done with it after all.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Big Brother.
JUN SONG: Well, I won my season of Big Brother back in 2003, so it's been nearly 20 years since! I guess the biggest change has been my move to Belgium in 2011 after getting married, and becoming a mom in 2012. I've been lucky enough to have several career changes in my lifetime, and even opened/operated a Korean takeout joint here in Ghent from 2014-2017. That was an experience I'll never forget!
These days, I'm living the single mom life raising my son Noah pretty much alone and loving every minute of it. My love life is pretty much in a Do Not Resuscitate state, but I've never been more successful professionally. I work with tech companies of all sizes to get their content marketing strategies in place. I've never been at a loss for words, so I've managed to turn that into a lucrative business for myself!
Besides winning, what is your proudest moment from playing Big Brother?
While I was in the Big Brother house, I never thought consciously about the fact that I was "representing" anyone. I never appreciated the fact that I was the first "Asian" person to win Big Brother. I guess I was very selfish in that way, just walking away with the $500K and going back to my life. Only years later, when I started receiving fan mail and messages from people, did I realize the significance of my win. Many people have written to me to say that seeing me being myself on a major television network made them feel seen and heard... that REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
But for years, I was so busy being a "model minority" that I'd forgotten the beauty in being a minority in the first place. I think having my son, and trying to help him balance his Korean side and American side and Belgian side, opened my eyes to the importance of embracing all parts of yourself. And although it took me a long time to appreciate this, I'm glad I did come around and have pride in my win as the first Asian-American. It's now a crown I wear proudly.
What is your biggest regret from your Big Brother experience in terms of anything that happened in the house?
To this day, my biggest regret remains the same. It was in the last few days remaining in the house. Only AIison Irwin and I remained in the house. The hours dragged on and all I wanted was to go home already. During our downtime, Ali and I loved to s----talk about the other Houseguests. We'd sit there painting our nails or laying in the sun, and just take jabs at all the people we'd voted out that summer.
I said quite a number of inappropriate things about a lot of people, but I was at my worst when I lashed out at Robert Roman's daughter. I'd never met her, and she was only 5 years old at the time, but my disdain for Robert spilled over and I called his daughter a name and it was aired on the live feeds. CBS never aired it, and it would have really hurt Robert's family had it been aired. Though I'm glad they didn't air it, I'll never forget how it felt to watch that footage back and hear myself say those things. It made me sick to my stomach that I stooped so low. I apologized to Robert for that.
What are your thoughts about how you were portrayed on the network episodes of the show?
Going into the show, I understood that everyone was cast for a reason. I knew that I fit a certain "typecast" and I played it up. I played the "role" of the superficial NY banker during my casting process, and in the Diary Room as well. I didn't mind. It's a television show after all. I had fun with it. I knew it would help me as well. If my fellow Houseguests thought I was harmless and super girly, that I wouldn't be anyone's target for a long time. So I was well aware of how I'd be "portrayed" on television because it's something I played into voluntarily.
I was, however, surprised to learn afterwards that they devoted a whole montage to my weight gain in the house. I don't think that was very cool. And I don't think that would fly nowadays. Watching that episode where the producers decided to focus on my weight gain definitely didn't help my post-show recovery.... But it is what it is.
What are your feelings on the Diary Room and the interviews you would do in there?
I enjoyed the Diary Rooms immensely. The thing is, in season 3 (the season before mine), producers made the mistake of allowing the jury to see the Diary Room sessions before final votes. This swayed a lot of votes, unfortunately. Everyone knew about it. So when I was cast for season 4, I was told explicitly that my Diary Room sessions would not be shown to the jury members before the vote. So I used my Diary Room sessions as therapeutic brain-dumps.
I had no filter and said anything and everything I wanted in there. I needed it. Because when you're in that house with all the cameras and microphones and nowhere to hide, you come to appreciate the bit of privacy you get in the Diary Room. I enjoyed the Diary Room immensely. Back on my season, we weren't really spoon-fed lines to regurgitate. We had much more freedom to express ourselves and be spontaneous.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being in the house? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
For me, the culture shock was immense. Maybe because I was in that house until finale night, cut off from the outside world like that for 3 months... it was brutal, just being thrown back out there in the real world. It felt surreal. I almost didn't know how to act or what to do first. Going back to my apartment, it felt so foreign to me. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being monitored 24/7.
I felt like I was still being watched. I kept pushing my hair over my shoulder, because I'd gotten so used to production telling me that my hair was obstructing my microphone. It felt scary going grocery shopping, surrounded by people everywhere after having been isolated for so long. I truly underestimated how difficult it would be adjusting back to my old life. One of the first things I did was order myself a new laptop and basically get groceries and basics delivered to my home. I didn't go out for a long time. My friends understood. My priorities had shifted.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got out of the house where you regretted going on the show?
You know what... during the last week of my season, when it as just me and Ali left in the house, I had this gut-wrenching premonition that something was really, really wrong. The producers will remember this, because all I wanted to do was sleep and shut everything out. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and grief out of nowhere. I joked that it was because I was stuck in the house alone with Ali, but I knew something was up.
I'd never taken Tylenol PM before, but I tried it, hoping it would make me conk out and sleep off the nasty feeling in my gut. Only on finale night did I find out that my dad had been in a coma for a week. It's like my body had tried to tell me that something was terribly wrong. It was kidney failure and diabetes that killed my dad a year later. I always wondered what would have happened if I'd not gone on the show. Would my dad still be alive? But I try not to dwell on that question.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
There is only one person I still remain in contact with from my season, and that is the one and only Jack Owens. He is an extraordinary human being and I'm so grateful to have built a friendship with him (and his family). We keep each other in the loop about life and all the changes that come with it, and he's still very much a mentor to me in my pursuit of a writing career.
My content marketing business pays the bills by day, but I still hope to finish my personal writing by night so I can become a published author. Jack is my role model. He's full of wisdom and grit. That combination, plus his writing skills, makes him the coolest author I know. I didn't go into the Big Brother house wanting to make friends. But the true friend I made is the one I have in Jack.
Do you still watch Big Brother, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I've only watched a handful of seasons in their entirety (not including mine, which I've never seen) because I used to blog about them. The seasons I find most entertaining are the earlier ones (seasons 2 through 8) and ones with either super aggressive women or seasons where HGs dare to go against the grain and "not vote with the house" (seasons 12, 13, 23). Even before I went on my season, I'd never actually watched the previous seasons. I can't say I was a super fan, and I don't even know if I'd qualify as a super fan now?
Who's one player from another Big Brother season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I would LOVE to play with some of the fierce femmes of Big Brother. Screw the bros. Ugh, if I had to choose: Play with Claire Rehfuss, because she has got a heart of gold and knows that there are more important things in life than "just a game." Play against Danielle Reyes because she is a scrappy survivor and I know she'd never just let me win but we would have SO MUCH FUN trying to beat each other.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Big Brother, what would it be and why?
I truly believe that we need to stop rewarding toxic and dangerous behavior. It's a symptom of the systemic problems we have as a society. But CBS couldn't get their priorities straight for a very long time. I hope they're on the right path now. There were a handful of years that I just did not want to associate with Big Brother anymore, and not because I wasn't proud of my experience/win, but because there was just so much ugliness and noise.
I understand that human behavior is sometime unpredictable, and production must be more often reactive than proactive. But I'd love to see producers take more accountability for some of the outcomes of Houseguests' behaviors, especially when there are events that trigger their audience's own traumas. There have been too many times where CBS' silence made them complicit in racism and misogyny in the house.
What did you do with your prize money from winning the game?
I bought a condo in Manhattan! After taxes, I basically got half the $500K payout. The smartest thing to do was to invest it in real estate. I didn't give a single penny to anyone else, though nobody really asked me for any of it. I just put most of it into buying my apartment and took time off of work to spend with my family during my dad's last year on this earth. I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I would only play in an All-Winners season, to be honest. Nothing else would be worth it. I don't want to play against just anyone. We've had winners try their luck a second time and fail. We've had plenty of never-got-close(rs) clamor for chance after chance and come up short. Give me an All-Winners season and I'll drop everything for one last summer of mayhem and mischief. I've still got it in me.
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