On Tuesday night, Big Brother contestant Luke Valentine was caught on the show's live-feed camera using racist language. By Wednesday afternoon, the show's producers had reportedly expelled him from the show. For a show like Big Brother, this marks a real improvement from the ways in which producers have responded to racist incidents in the past. It's also the second time this week bad behavior was caught on camera and led to a cast member’s expulsion.
Via a statement from CBS and Big Brother's producers, "Luke violated the BIG BROTHER code of conduct and there is zero tolerance in the house for using a racial slur. He has been removed from the house. His departure will be addressed in Thursday night’s show."
The incident occurred late Tuesday night and was captured on the show's live feed, which streams 24/7 on Paramount+. Luke was talking to fellow houseguests Jared Fields, Cory Wurtenberger, and Hisam Goueli and was referencing something that had happened in the "cheese room," punctuating his sentence with the N-word. Valentine quickly grimaced and tried to replace the racist word with "dude." He then turned to Jared (who is Black) and jokingly said he'd meant to say "narwhale [sic]." There was no argument happening at the time, nor did Luke's word choice spark one in that moment, though Hisam and Cory immediately left the room, with Cory telling Luke to go to bed.
Social media was in an uproar about the incident all Wednesday morning, though nothing had been addressed yet by the contestants in the Big Brother house. There was speculation that the show might urge the houseguests to talk through the incident themselves. That was the case last season when white contestant Kyle Capener admitted to some of his allies a racist assumption that all of the Black contestants were banding together against them. Production didn't intervene then, and Kyle was eventually exposed and evicted from the game in the normal course of game play.
Arguably, the incident with Kyle last season was more harmful to that cast's Black contestants, since he was using his racist assumptions as a pretext to target them for elimination in the game. Luke, by all indications, was being chummy with his cast members, Jared in particular, but crossed the line by using a racial slur. The use of that slur was a cut-and-dried violation of the show's code of conduct, and production acted relatively swiftly to remove Luke from the game.
It was the right decision. Had the show left it up to the houseguests to police Luke's word choice themselves, it would have placed an unfair burden on the show's Black contestants. It would also have placed them at a competitive disadvantage with the non-Black houseguests, who wouldn't be tasked with dealing with Luke's racism while making their own game decisions.
While Wednesday night's Big Brother episode will only cover the time period up through the Veto ceremony earlier in the week, Luke's actions and expulsion will be dealt with on Thursday's live episode with host Julie Chen Moonves.
The Big Brother incident came just days after Below Deck Down Under aired an episode in which producers had to intervene when Luke Jones, a bosun on the docked Northern Sun yacht, climbed into bed naked with Margot Sisson, a fellow crew member who was asleep at the time. Producers and camera crew members told him to leave the room, and when he tried to shut them out, they shoved their way into the room and physically removed him.
At the same time, shockingly, another crew member, Laura Bileskalne, was in another room making unwanted sexual advances on a deckhand named Adam. Again, producers needed to intervene to get Laura out of Adam's bunk and ultimately out of his room. Both incidents were depicted in Below Deck Down Under's back-to-back episodes on August 7. Laura and Luke were both fired from the show and the boat.
While very different in their circumstances and particulars, the Big Brother and Below Deck Down Under incidents reflect a newfound speed among reality TV productions to act and, in some cases, intervene against inappropriate behavior. Big Brother has a long and checkered history with racist behavior among its cast members, and the show’s been rightly criticized in the past for allowing both explicit and implicit bias flourish on their show. Reality shows have also been lax in taking action to prevent sexual harassment and assault on shows ranging from The Challenge to Survivor. Drawing a line in the sand when it comes to racist language and taking action to prevent people from being sexually violated is a pretty low bar to clear for reality TV productions. We can be thankful they're starting to clear it at last.
Big Brother airs Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sunday nights on CBS, with episodes streaming next-day and 24-hour live feeds on Paramount+. Below Deck Down Under airs Monday nights on Bravo and streams next-day on Peacock.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.