Cody Calafiore explains how social media is hurting Big Brother

Leading up to the July 6th season 24 premiere of Big Brother, EW caught up with 11 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 eighth entry is with the season 22 champion who silenced critics after making a move that cost him the win on season 16. (Also make sure to check out our Q&As with Eddie McGee, Derrick Levasseur, Jun Song, Dan Gheesling, Ian Terry,  Rachel Reilly, and Will Kirby.)

It was a move that cost Cody Calafiore a $500,000 payday. After winning the final Head of Household competition on season 16 of Big Brother, Cody had to choose whether to bring Victoria Rafaeli or Derrick Levasseur with him to the end. Bringing Victoria would pretty much guarantee him the win, while bringing Derrick would guarantee the opposite.

Cody chose the latter, and even with the benefit of hindsight, it is a move he would do over again in a heartbeat. Not only that, but he calls it his “proudest moment” of the season. Picking his best friend and Hitman alliance partner aligned with Cody’s mission when he first entered the Big Brother house — to be true to himself. If he did that, Cody reasoned, he would never have to feel shame or embarrassment over his actions — actions being broadcast to a national audience of millions.



CBS Cody Calafiore on ‘Big Brother’

And to anyone that questioned Cody’s skills as a Big Brother player after that decision, he delivered a blistering counterargument in the form of his return on Big Brother All-Stars (season 22). During that campaign, Cody delivered one of the most dominant performances in franchise history — winning four Head of Household competitions, winning four Vetos, never being nominated during the entire season, and then winning the game (over Enzo Palumbo) in a unanimous 9-0 jury vote.

It was a performance that solidified Cody as one of the greats, and when we caught up with the season 22 champ, he explained why he stands by not just his season 16 decision, but all of his actions inside the house. Cody also spoke to the importance of playing the Diary Room game, how contestants these days get in trouble trying to please the social media crowd, and how some hard lessons learned from his initial runner-up prize money influenced what he did with his first-place winnings.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since last appearing on Big Brother.

CODY CALAFIORE: Since I was on Big Brother, Derrick and I actually created a podcast called The Winners Circle, where we cover Big Brother. We also cover Big Brother Canada, and we cover Survivor, but the U.S. Big Brother is our bread and butter. And then I just got back into what I was doing before I left with real estate, and I coach youth soccer.

Besides winning, what is your proudest moment from playing Big Brother?

My proudest moment playing Big Brother is not losing myself to the game, and feeling like I still have my integrity. The first time I played, the proudest moment of mine was taking Derrick to the final two. And I know I got a lot of backlash for taking him and people called me a bad game player, but it would’ve broke my moral code to turn on him and backstab him when so much of my game revolved around what the two of us were doing.

I had another difficult decision in All-Stars cutting Nicole, but I stayed true to what I felt was in my core, which was riding it out with Enzo. And so I feel like I never lost myself while playing this game. I never used the money as an excuse to do things that really I would never do in my actual life. A lot of people you see do things that everybody may look at like, “Oh, wow. I wonder how they’re going to handle that after the show.” And I don’t feel like I ever had any of those moments. So I’m just proud of myself for staying true to myself.

Big Brother

Big Brother

CBS Nicole, Cody, and Enzo on ‘Big Brother’

What is your biggest regret from your Big Brother experience in terms of anything that happened in the house in any of your seasons?

There was a lot of times where I had to do things that might have hurt people’s feelings, but I felt like I was pretty upfront about it — whether it was a nomination, whether it was being honest with somebody that I was putting on the block. The only thing I don’t like that I had to do is lie to people’s faces when I knew they were the ones going home. So I would say that’s probably the biggest regret.

There are no strategic regrets, but that whole aspect of seeing people plea to me, like, “Okay, am I safe? You’re keeping me okay,” and giving that false sense of hope is a heavy regret. But I feel like that’s the part of the game that I couldn’t truly be myself or else it would’ve probably really hurt me. That’s my biggest regret.

What are your thoughts about how you were portrayed on the network episodes of the show?

To be honest, the first go around I was a little frustrated with the edit because I felt like, I understand there’s a storyline, right? And in the first go around, Derrick had a huge storyline. Derrick was the undercover cop, part of Team America, strategic mastermind. And then I felt like they really didn’t give The Hitmen that credit that I felt it deserved right from the beginning of the game.

Derrick and I linked up very early on and it was all over the feeds. And I remember watching the show back and not seeing them really give any focus to it until the fifth week. And I was like, “He and I were working hand-in-hand the entire time.” And so that’s what I would say for the first go around. But it’s understandable.

And I understand they got to make a show and they give the storylines based off of what they feel is going to hit the most. And that storyline really hit. But the second go around, I thought I was pretty true to myself and they got to see all sides of the strategy, the social game, the decisions that I was making. And so I was really happy with the second go around because you got to see the aspect of my game that I don’t think you really got to see that first time that I played.



CBS Cody Calafiore on ‘Big Brother’

What are your feelings on the Diary Room and the interviews you would do in there?

That’s actually a great question because a lot of people that watch the live feeds, they feel like they know more about the show and they take it personal that people are watching the live feeds and staying up-to-date with it. But I feel like the live feeds are very difficult because I know for myself, when I would get into the Diary Room, that is where I was most honest. And I would give really how I was feeling about all the conversations that I was having.

Because when you’re in the game and you’re in the feeds, you have to say a ton of different things that may contradict something you said previously. And then when you get into the Diary Room, that’s where you really get to open up with the producers as to what conversations were actually real and which conversations actually are what you’re staying true to.

If you just follow the feeds, somebody could look at you and think that you are all over the place. But realistically, you’re just trying to be a chameleon and navigate different conversations based on your trust levels with different people. And so I like the Diary Room and the reason why a lot of times I go based off of what I see in the Diary Rooms when I’m watching the live show is because, at least for me, that’s where I was being the most honest.

There’s always a part of the Diary Rooms where you know you’re trying to make a show, right? So, you may have to give them sound bites that may not be exactly what you’re doing. But think about it: If I win the HOH and I win the Veto, they still have three episodes that they need to do for the week, and we’ve already finished all the competitions early in the week. And so you know you got to play ball a little bit or else they don’t want to work with you either.

So I would say the Diary Room is a big, important part where you have to still play the game and the game doesn’t stop when you’re not playing with your fellow castmates. The game is still going on when you’re in the Diary Room, when you’re working with the producers, because you want to be a good team player. And a lot of people lose touch of that when they get in the Diary Room. They’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to say that. Oh, I don’t want to do that.” And that may make the Diary Room producers, be like, “All right. Well, then we’ll go to somebody else for it.” And then that’s who they really want to work with to be the one narrating the show.

So there are a lot of different aspects to this game that I think people lose sight of when they go in, because everybody wants to be the next Dr. Will or the next Dan Gheesling or Derrick Levasseur. And they think, “Oh, if I say something it could make me not seem like this strategic player.” But you have to always play the game, whether you’re playing it in the house or you’re playing it in the Diary Room.

What was it like coming back to regular society after being in the house? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?

This is probably the part of the game that I like the least, and it’s that culture shock of coming out and dealing with social media. I think social media has become a very heavy influence on the game, and I don’t think it’s in a positive way. I think it makes people scared to actually do things in the game. I’m not saying people need to not be a good person, because I think that social media has held people very accountable, which I think is great.

But I think a lot of people try to play to that outside game. And when you do that, you could then end up coming out of the house and you have to answer to things that really may not have been true to who you were, like you think you need to do something for the fans on the outside and for the game that really ends up ruining your game.

The perfect example of it, and not to hound him because I really think he’s a good guy, was Frenchie. He came out and he acknowledged it right away. He was like, “I felt like I was playing to the fans too much and it ruined my game.” And then you come out and he was not very well received. You just now have to answer to people outside that are hammering you because they just watched you 24/7.

So, that’s the biggest adjustment coming out of the house for me. Because social media has become almost like a court. And it’s really tough to put up with when you come out because your head is still going at 100 miles an hour and you think you need to say all the right things. That’s why my biggest advice to people is, if you go in the house, you have to be yourself. Because now if you’re not yourself and then you come out and have to answer to things that you weren’t really being true to yourself, it becomes another dynamic that makes it harder for you to deal with.

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CBS Cody Calafiore on ‘Big Brother’

Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got out of the house where you regretted going on the show?

I didn’t have that because I felt like I just was true to myself. I know who I am. I know how I feel about everything. And I was never going to say things. I was never worried about something I would say or something I would do because I don’t act any differently in my real life than I acted on the show. So, if the worst thing that was said to me was that I was a horrible Big Brother player and a dumb Big Brother player because I took Derrick and handed him the win, that was who I was and I would never cut one of my best friends for a dollar amount in real life.

But I watched it happen on the flip side. My brother Paulie went on the show and he was trying to be this big character and he wanted to be this big strategic player and do these things and enforce his strategy on weeks that he wasn’t HOH. And then, all of a sudden, he lost himself a little bit. And then when he came out, he had to answer to things that he said and did when he’s like, “Well, I was just trying to play the game. I thought that’s what people want to see.”

You have to find a good balance of that or else you’re going to be held in court, which I call social media, and you’re not going to have any answers to give that make you feel good because you’re trying to please people that are questioning you on something that isn’t really true to who you are.

So I’ve seen both sides of it only because I’ve had a family member play that had a completely different reception than I had. And so that’s the only thing I feel like is really tough. But I never lost myself in playing that extra strategic aspect of the game, so I can’t say that I ever regret going on the show. And I feel like Big Brother is such a big part of who I am today that I couldn’t regret that aspect of my life.

Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your seasons?

Obviously, Derrick and I have our podcast and we just talk all the time. I was just with Enzo this past weekend, and I talk to Dani a ton. Those are the three people that I would say I keep up with the most and have a relationship with outside of Big Brother. We don’t need to just talk Big Brother in order to continue our relationship.

Dani and I don’t talk Big Brother. Because I feel like Dani didn’t came off and have a great experience. So, Dani and I have grown close because I love hearing about Tennessee and Dom and her new daughter. And there’s so much more to our relationship than just Big Brother. She still cracks jokes about how I backstabbed her on Big Brother, and that’s what’s fun about our relationship.

Enzo, he’s like an older version of me. We’re just two knuckleheads that like to have a good time. And so when we talk, we talk about Italy in the Euros. Enzo and I really never talk about Big Brother. And so those are the relationships that are more about life and more about what’s going on in our day-to-day than just that experience that we had together that brought us together. If you’re just always talking Big Brother, it just always seems a little inorganic.

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CBS Cody Calafiore on ‘Big Brother’

Do you still watch Big Brother, and, if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?

Of course I still watch Big Brother! But it’s tough. And if it wasn’t for The Winner’s Circle, I probably wouldn’t have watched Big Brother 23 as heavily as I did. Because Big Brother 17 was one that I really loosely watched because when Big Brother comes back on and you hear that music and stuff, you get this weird jittery feeling. It’s like, “Ah, I don’t think I’m ready for it.” And then I was forced to watch 18 because Paulie was on it, but it made me excited to watch Big Brother again.

And then I continued, but 19 was a little tough for me to watch because I didn’t like a lot of the stuff that was happening. And then 20 I was obsessed with. And then 21 I lost interest in because of stuff that was going on. And then when I was brought back for 22 and was in sequester, I was watching all Big Brother. I wanted to watch it all. And I actually went back and watched deep seasons. I watched season 2, season 7 — seasons that I had never seen before.

I would say hands down by far, my favorite season is the first All-Stars. I thought it was just an incredible group of people, an incredible group of personalities. And it was very unfiltered back then, so the drama was fun to watch. And so season 7 is hands down my favorite.

Who’s one player from another Big Brother season you wish you could have played with or against and why?

A person I would have loved to have played with, because we would’ve been attached at the hip and I feel like we would actually do so well together, is Danielle Reyes. Because I feel like she and I are so similar in our morals, but also understand the strategy of the game. I think that the game was stolen from her on season 3 because of how the jury voted. I feel like it was a bitter vote and Danielle should have won season 3.

And Danielle is just such a down-to-earth person. I’ve been so blessed to have met her in person. I feel like she’s somebody that would see the game differently than me, but in a way where we would compliment each other so well. So, I would love to play with her. I would not want to play against her.

If you could make one change to any aspect of Big Brother, what would it be and why?

I like what they’ve been doing recently where they’re adding competitions that add an additional aspect of safety. On season 20, they had the fans voting something in and it gave powers and punishments. And then in that same season they had competitions that gave power. And then you saw something similar to that on season 18.

I really like the team aspect and I think that that could be something that they implement each season because it adds a completely different dynamic. You still have the HOH and the Veto so it’s the same game, but it’s also different because you have to play to your team. But if you don’t play outside of your team, you’ll be done the second the teams get relinquished in the game and are done.

And so that’s something that I like that they could bring back more consistently, because I feel like it can add a different dynamic each season and you’ll see it grow, and then maybe it’ll allow them to find something new when they let that aspect go. I know a lot of people aren’t really fans of the teams, but I just loved that aspect on season 18 and on season 23.

Cody Calafiore during the CBS Big Brother 16

Cody Calafiore during the CBS Big Brother 16

Cliff Lipson/CBS Cody Calafiore on ‘Big Brother’

What did you do with your prize money from winning the game?

It went away. I didn’t touch it. It’s gone. I don’t act like I have it. I didn’t do anything with it. And it’s just sitting and I’m waiting to see what my next opportunity’s going to be. I’ve talked to Rachel. I’ve talked to Derrick. And I really want to diversify it a little bit just to go different routes, but I’m still so new to it because it’s not every day do you walk into that kind of money. And so I want to make sure I’m doing right by it to set up my future and my kids’ future. And so I’m still learning and navigating what I should really be doing with it.

But I got to be honest with you. I was very stupid when I came off the first time. And I learned my lesson. After season 16 and getting second place, and then the notoriety that we had thanks to someone like Frankie being on our season, it gave us this whole different element of ways to make money. And I was very stupid. I was going into New York City a lot. I was spending money. I was traveling a lot. And then the next thing I know, a year and a half later, I’m like, “Wait a minute. Where did my money go?”

And so after coming off this second time, the biggest thing I wanted to do was not act like I had just walked into that kind of money, go back to what I was doing with work, and let it be something that I can think later about, about how I can financially set myself up moving forward and not just blow through it. I didn’t want to be stupid with the money because you just never know what curveballs life is going to throw at you. So, I wanted to be much smarter with the money this second go around.

Finally, would you play again if asked?

Oof. That’s really, really difficult. It would have to be an all-winners season. It was very different emotionally for me this second go around and it weighed on me much more so than the first season when I was 23-years-old and I was young and I was single. Going on the second go around, it took me three weeks to get really locked into the game because I was missing my girlfriend and wondering how she was holding up, and there was a whole different aspect to it.

And who knows how long down the line the next time I’ll be asked. I don’t know how these people do it and leave their kids. I saw it weigh on so many of the parents in the house. And so it would be really difficult. That’s a decision that’ll be made if the call ever comes and when the call comes. So, it’s tough to answer that question.

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