‘Big Brother 24’: Julie Chen Moonves Reflects On Last Year’s Cookout Alliance & Why She Changed Her Last Name

Expect the unexpected has become the catchphrase for Big Brother — but occasionally, host Julie Chen Moonves likes to use it to describe herself.

Case in point: Shortly after her husband Leslie Moonves stepped down as CEO of CBS Corp. in 2018, the Big Brother host surprised everyone by using her married name to sign off from the Sept. 13 episode. “I made the change on the fly on a live show in the spur of the moment,” Chen Moonves recalls to Deadline. “I didn’t tell anybody. I was like toying with it and I remember my heart racing while I thought, ‘am I gonna do it?’ It just became a moment.”

Even her husband was surprised by his wife’s sudden about face on camera, particularly since she had been using her maiden name on Big Brother since 2000. “I think he was just like, what happened?” she recalls. “When I married my husband, I chose not to take the name because I thought it could be seen as an unfair advantage. It was a powerful, popular name to have. And I had made my own career prior to knowing him. So I wanted to keep that. And then when his name was getting dragged through the mud, I thought this is the time to make my stand and to let the world know who I am. And it was a sign of support for my husband. I know him. And he is a good man.”

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Four years later, Chen Moonves doesn’t seem to have any more surprise sign-offs up her sleeve — though she will continue to encourage viewers to be kind before wrapping each episode. “It will always be the same uplifting words, which is to love one another,” she says. “I mean, that is the second most important Commandment from the Lord. It was love me first and right behind that, love one another. If we could all do that, the world would definitely be a different place. We need some uplifting words. There is more that unites us than divides us. You just don’t choose to see it.”

Here, Chen Moonves looks back on last year’s all Black alliance that led to BB‘s first Black winner, Xavier Prather, and what more she would like to see from the long-running CBS franchise.

DEADLINE What kind of feedback did you get after last season’s win? 

JULIE CHEN MOONVES I heard it from all ends. I heard ‘congratulations, this is historic.’ I heard ‘this is racist.’ People see what they want to see. But at the end of the day, the right guy won. Xavier had everything it took to win. He won challenges and he knew how to keep a secret and he kept the peace. He kept his lips tight within his own alliance. He never ruffled any feathers. It was incredible and it was about time and it was fantastic. I was happy the way it turned out. I know the show can get silly, it can get super goofy. But at the same time, suddenly you have a season that’s such a game changer. It was very uplifting and it was very hopeful. It gave me hope because we saw within the Cookout that not all of them got along or agreed with how people were playing the game. There were times that people were not completely loyal to the Cookout. They tried to go into business for themselves. And that came back to bite them. You saw people who maybe didn’t see eye to eye on gameplay and personalities come together for the greater good because they knew that they had to. They rose the occasion. That was quite an accomplishment.

DEADLINE Would you ever be open to a season of all Big Brother winners?

JULIE CHEN MOONVES Yes, actually. I have been asking for that for a while, I’m talking going back to season one when the rules were very different and the public voted people out. I don’t know if all these past winners can give a whole month of their time because a lot of them are parents now. But I do think if we did it like a celebrity version where it’s like three weeks of past winners — that might be good for the winter. I think everyone would be game, but we almost have too many people! We have 24 seasons. We could have almost two versions of it.

DEADLINE Can you think of any past players who deserve a do-over?

JULIE CHEN MOONVES I would like Paul Raffi Abrahamian to have a do-over.  I think he’s probably mellowed out and hopefully matured. I mean he’s no doubt so good at the game, but twice in a row [BB18 and BB19] to come in as the runner-up? That’s harsh. I think he should be given another chance for sure. I’ve always thought Danielle Reyes from season three deserves another chance. And Jessica Graf was very good at the game too. Unfortunately she was in this showmance with Cody Nickson and he was a hothead in the house. She knew the game. She’s watched it since the very beginning. So I’d like to see her have another chance at it. Maybe even Chicken George for, you know, the heck of it.

DEADLINE Is the pandemic still having an impact on how you tape the show?

JULIE CHEN MOONVES We thought we were going to start back with a live show audience finally, but at the last minute we are not able to. We are going to try again some point later in the season.

Big Brother 24 premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS.

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