I joke on a regular basis. I’ve joked that my experience on Big Brother 4 caused me to suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
But I didn’t.
Did I find it unpleasant and disconcerting to find myself back all of a sudden again in “reality”? Yes. But I had also found it surreal and uneasy when I walked into “reality show” mode three months prior. Being in the Big Brother (“BB”) house you have to adjust. Leaving the BB house is just as big an adjustment, perhaps bigger.
PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, and Big Brother is certainly NOT a normal situation to put yourself in. But it comes down to the person you are when you sign that contract and walk through the doors for a chance at half a million dollars. We say “you are what you eat” but as a VOLUNTARY houseguest in the BB house, you are what you are…going in and coming out. I had a great life when I started that summer. I went in it to win it and I left a winner going back to a great life.
I had my share of drama in and leaving that house but I would never take away from those really suffering from PTSD and say that’s what I went through. And having spent the duration of the game actually in the BB house to eventually win, the length of time spent in there is irrelevant. PTSD can be caused by an event lasting a few seconds, as long as the damage is done.
PTSD by definition is an illness…an anxiety disorder that is treatable. The syndrome occurs following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical/sexual assault in adult or childhood. Note the “such as” because there are only so many events we can list off the top of our heads. Big Brother might be trashy at times, but I would never consider it life-threatening (minus the knife-incident in Season 2 and the death of one microphone in Season 11).
I’m not here to discount other BB alum’s claims that they did suffer through PTSD. I don’t think anyone but a licensed professional can provide any real insight into this. And I am no medical professional, unless there’s a costume and roleplay involved…on any given Saturday night.
There is, however, a period of vital re-adjustment once the season of Big Brother is over. But it’s not synonymous with this very real and serious disorder. And if you are diagnosed with PTSD, the likelihood of you going back into the BB house is slim to none. So we, BB alum, can cry ourselves a river but we shouldn’t expect a “life vest” to save ourselves. CBS does what it can to ensure you are “okay” post-season, but really, your life is your own and you do with it what you do.
But I can only tell you about my experiences from the moment I left Studio City behind to pick up my life…and my check for $500,000…and so, in chronological order:
So, I had just won by a vote to 6 to 1 against Alison Irwin…the only vote for her coming from Nathan Marlow. Our finale was by far the most awkward in BB history. It was done in the actual house with Chenbot on the flatscreen. I was surrounded by the last seven evictees who wanted nothing to do with voting for a winner…except dear Jack Owens and David Lane. Incidentally, David (and Amanda) were the first ever BB USA HGs to have sex (together) in the BB house so I can see why he didn’t mind losing at all. Right.
One would think the jury took a dump on my lap I looked so unhappy. The jurors were so bitter that I thought I’d end up with one of their keys in my neck. But inside I was rejoicing and laughing at Ali’s one vote from Nathan. I’m still laughing.
So as soon as Julie told me Bob (my most recent ex at the time, as opposed to Jee who I spent most of the summer with because of the X-Factor) was outside waiting for me I booked it. I ran out those doors and threw my fat ass into Bob’s arms (whom I was still in love with at the time and the reason I had signed up for BB in the first place because I wanted to get out of NYC to forget about our breakup four months prior…phew, taking a breath now) and cried. Even Bob shed a tear.
While hanging on to Bob for dear life I turned to see Ali rejoicing her second place win with her parents and then I was told both she and I had to go into the studio to be interviewed by Julie Chen (“Chenbot”). Ugh. Really, all I wanted to do was sleep/spoon in a quiet room for a week. But I went into the studio with Ali while Chenbot asked the usual scripted pointless questions like when circa 1982 reporters would ask newly homeless tornado victims “How are you feeling?” But when Chenbot asked me if I would keep in contact with Ali and remain friends I said in the clearest voice “No”. It didn’t matter though because Ali was so happy to be in front of a camera again and Chenbot was running low on batteries and incapable of understanding my desire to get away from the both of them.
When I left the studio after that awkward post-BB4 interview, I was whisked away off the BB house lot. Bob was with me, as was a “bodyguard” who turned out to be super cool but my mind was so numb I don’t think I could point him out in a lineup if I had to. I was rushed into a conference room in another lot next door and told my family was on the phone waiting to talk to me. I didn’t think anything of it when the producers closed the door to the conference room without meeting my eyes. I was in the room with Bob and there was a telephone at the end of the conference room table. It turned out to be my brother on the line and I screeched into the phone “Holy fuck I won! How crazy is this?! And Bob is here with me!” and my brother answered laughing and saying how awesome it was.
My brother’s tone then changed immediately and for a second he wasn’t seven years younger than me anymore. He sounded older. Old.
He took a very serious tone and told me with a very heavy heart that “Dad’s in the hospital. He’s been in there for 8 days. He’s in a coma.” I thought it was a sick joke.
I had turned to Bob with tears blinding me. I repeated verbatim to him what my brother had just told me and I half-listened to more details through the phone.
I hung up after a few minutes and as if on cue, the producers walked in at that time to tell me I’d be flown home the next day. But only after my post-season interview with Julie Chen on The Early Show. I was then presented with a check for $500,000. It’s strange the money wasn’t wired and instead presented as a physical check. I don’t know if things have changed since, but the stress of holding one wisp of paper worth $500K was immense.
I wondered that night if my greed and need to win had resulted in finding my dad in such a condition. I was angry that my family had decided by a vote (how ironic) eight days earlier that they would not notify the producers because they didn’t want to take the experience away from me. I was disturbed because that entire last week something in me had clued me in that something might be very wrong. I had asked to speak to the CBS shrink in the diary room just a few days prior though I couldn’t explain what was at the time a gut feeling that something really bad was happening beyond my control. I never thought it would be that my dad was laying in a coma back in NYC, but my god, it creeps me out even now to think my instincts were right.
So with Bob, and the bodyguard escort, I went to the hotel I was originally sequestered in. The lobby and the staff seemed different to me…perhaps because I was a “different” guest this time? I was the winner of Big Brother 4.
I remember first checking into my hotel room that night and feeling so alone. Bob was in the room next door, but after spending 24/7 with other people in the BB house, I just felt very very alone. I kept grabbing for my mic that was no longer there. I kept looking around as I took my first real bath looking for cameras that were no longer a part of my life. It seemed so quiet that I flushed the toilet several times in lieu of pinching myself. Bob ended up spending the night in my bed with me foregoing his own room. He rubbed my back until I cried myself to sleep. He was with me the next morning when I did my post-show interview with the Chenbot for The Early Show.
I put on my bravest face and tried to suppress my anxiety about my dad while I gushed in Chenbot’s face about my win when what I wanted to do was shout at the camera “My father is in a coma!”
They, of course, did my makeup like I was a geisha girl or an extra from Mulan but I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was get on a plane and see my dad. And I did just that.
I got recognized at the airport and on the plane and when I landed in NYC and even my cab driver of all people was babbling about my win as he drove me into Manhattan. Can you imagine how odd all of that was? Despite the intrigue around it all?
My dad was at Beth Israel Hospital and when I got to the ICU the staff knew who I was. Apparently my dad had WOKEN UP from his coma while I was on the plane and one of the first things he asked was whether or not I had come home and if I had won. Can you believe it? It’s pretty unbelievable. It’s like he knew his baby girl was coming home to him.
After eight days of being in a coma my dad was so skinny and his face so gaunt yet through his coke-bottle glasses he told me he was so proud of me and that he had told everyone he could about what I was doing that summer. He grabbed Bob’s hand (Bob never left my side) and thanked him and we all cried and laughed and then let my dad get some rest. I remember staying a while longer because I was so scared he wouldn’t wake up. I left to see the rest of my family and cry and laugh and curse them out for keeping my dad’s condition from me. They, of course, in all their Korean morale and justification told me I couldn’t have done anything to help him had I left the BB house and yes, they were right but had my dad passed while I was in the BB house I don’t think I would be where I am today. While talking to my family I kept brushing my hair back over my shoulders out of habit because that’s what I would do in the BB house so production didn’t get their ears blown out by my hair scraping on the mic.
Bob offered his place for me to stay and decompress for as long as I wanted but all I wanted to do was go back to my apartment on the Upper East Side and sleep. After my first night at my place I woke up and instinctively felt around for my mic. When I came out of the shower to get dressed I thought, “Put on the mic”.
I went to see my dad again the second day and he asked me if I had kept my side of the “bargain” and followed through on all my CBS obligations. I told him no, I had just done The Early Show and rushed back. With what energy he had, he told me firmly I should finish everything I was supposed to do because I had been given such an opportunity and walked away with $500K. He would not have it any other way.
So I returned to Los Angeles. I attended the Wrap Party. CBS paid my way back and back and back again. They even paid for Bob to be with me. For all the haters out there I can only say: CBS may be an entity but staffed by people…like you and me. They are good people. The Wrap Party was bittersweet for me. I was happy to see Shapiro and Grodner and Kroll and Wollman and everyone who hugged me with sincerity. I was happy to see Jack again and meet his beautiful family. I avoided Chenbot when she made her mechanical cameo as a “proper” host. I was fat and tanned and $500K richer but my dad was on my mind.
Bob returned to NYC after the Wrap Party and I stayed to film the episode of “Yes, Dear” before coming back home for good. I did not “hang” with my fellow HGs or BB alum. As far as I was concerned, I was done with LA and though I was “under contract” with CBS for another few years, I was doing it from NYC. It had never been my intention to “make it” in Hollywood. I had merely set a goal to win Big Brother and done it.
I was working at Citigroup for five years before I went on Big Brother and I had taken a four-month personal leave of absence for it. I did not return to work but instead spent time with my dad and the rest of my family. If I was not at the hospital or my parents’ house I was at my apartment. I did not go out whether it was to eat or drink or watch a movie. Fresh Direct had just started up in NYC the year before and so I had my groceries delivered to my door.
It was not PTSD. There was no drama and no flashbacks or “shakes” or anger and irritability. It was me, taking time and space for myself and making choices to ensure I could transition back to my life again. And my friends and family loved me enough to understand that and gave me my time and space.
It took me two full months to stop looking up to check for cameras and to stop the phantom mic pains. Anyone who cared about me let me have those two months and were there for me after. Anyone who wasn’t there should never been in my life in the first place.
And in that time I bought myself a new laptop and saved the rest of my money until four months later when I bought a condo in Manhattan with my winnings. And then in June of 2004 my dad passed away after fighting his failing kidneys.
I am not the only one to have lost a father. I am not the only one to have experienced the thrill of of win in Big Brother. I manipulated the HGs during my season and I even called Rob’s little girl “that little bitch”. Just a snapshot of what my life was like in such a short amount of time.
I am one who takes accountability and responsibility for everything that is my doing, including the summer of 2003, and blame noone.
I don’t call it PTSD. But we can call it BBSD if you really want to call it something.
And I would do it all again.
P.S.: This post written in response to Rachel Reilly’s multiple claims that she had PTSD as a result of her time on season 12.