The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Big Brother’ contestants often make offensive comments. But this episode was still unusual.

The cast of “Big Brother” Season 20. (Sonja Flemming/CBS)

During the closing moments of “Big Brother” last Thursday, host Julie Chen had an unusual teaser for the next episode.

“Earlier this week, comments made by JC and Bayleigh sparked an intense conversation in the house about cultural sensitivity,” Chen said. “Tune in to Sunday’s episode to see this conversation and what transpired after.”

As promised, at the beginning of Sunday night’s show, CBS aired a disclaimer:

That didn’t sound good. As viewers know, “Big Brother” — the long-running reality competition in which people are sequestered in a house and vote each other out, week by week — has had problems in the past with contestants making horrifying comments. It’s puzzling that this continues to happen, because the competitors know they’re always on camera. Alas, some people cannot help themselves.

Even before Sunday’s episode, there were reports of inappropriate actions and comments happening in the current “Big Brother” house (you can read one report here), which compelled CBS to put out a harsher-than-usual statement: “Those involved have been warned about their inappropriate behavior and offensive comments, as well as future consequences. These events will not be part of any future ‘Big Brother’ broadcast on CBS.”

But in an unusual move, the network decided to air one extremely uncomfortable incident. (Typically, these situations are only seen on the live feeds online, not in the edited-for-TV episodes that air three days a week.) This one started with a conversation between Bayleigh Dayton, a 25-year-old flight attendant from Atlanta, and JC Mounduix, a 28-year-old dancer from Los Angeles. Bayleigh admitted to JC, who is under 5 feet tall, that she wasn’t sure what the word “dwarf” meant.

“The people who are little [people] or dwarves are people who have a genetic condition,” JC explained. “I’m just a short guy.”

“Okay, let me ask you this,” Bayleigh continued. “Is there a difference between a midget and a dwarf?”

CBS bleeped the word “midget.” JC started to tell to Bayleigh that “the m-word” is derogatory, and compared it to specific slurs for gay people and black people — CBS bleeped both phrases when he said them. Bayleigh, who is black, looked stunned.

“You’re not allowed to say that,” she told JC. “Don’t do that again.”

The producers cut to Bayleigh elaborating in the private confessional, otherwise known as the Diary Room.

“JC just used a word that is very offensive to the African American community,” she told the camera. “The word is so hurtful because it was a term that was used in order to degrade a certain type of human being. Literally, if he would have said ‘n-word,’ I would have been fine.”

This sparked a long, tense discussion, as Bayleigh argued no one should ever say that word. While she said “midget,” she said she used it because she was trying to educate herself about the term; and that was different from JC using the racial slur in a statement. JC got defensive, and responded that she was taking it out of context, and that he only used comparison to underscore the pain of “the m-word” for little people.

Eventually, Bayleigh walked out of the room. In the diary room, JC tried to explain his side.

“I happen to be very short. I’m also gay, and I’m Hispanic. We’re talking about discrimination. I might know one thing or two. Some people can be very, very cruel,” he said. “When I walk into a supermarket, it’s usually people literally staring at me, like they can’t even believe I’m real or not. . . . This is my chance to just speak up for a community that probably doesn’t even have a big voice.”

Producers also gave Bayleigh a chance to explain her point of view. “Growing up was very difficult for me, because I was a black girl in an all-white community. It was very apparent for me since the time I was young that I was different than everyone,” she said. “I have never really lived a day in my skin without it being pointed out that I am black. And I will not ever let anyone degrade me or my race in that kind of way.”

Later, JC seemed to realize the severity of the situation, and took Bayleigh aside to apologize. Eventually, they started to find common ground, as they both talked about discrimination they faced. Although JC kept saying he didn’t mean to offend her, he was receptive to Bayleigh’s explanations of why his use of the slur, no matter the context, was unacceptable.

The extended scenes were rare for “Big Brother.” In the past, contestants don’t typically learn from — or get called out for — offensive language or behavior, at least in the edited-for-TV version. But in an era where people are more attuned to cultural sensitivity than ever, producers apparently realized they had nothing to lose by showing everything.

Read more:

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ director James Gunn fired by Disney over old, offensive tweets

Here’s how Sacha Baron Cohen fools celebrities into embarrassing interviews

Why the Dixie Chicks are in the spotlight after the Trump-Putin news conference