With the curtain drawn on the most controversial edition of CBS' reality show "Big Brother," cast member Aaryn Gries, whose ethnic and homophobic slurs made national headlines, is bracing herself to face a new reality — that many people feel she's a racist.
But the 23-year-old college student from San Marcos, Texas, who was unaware of the tempest her remarks created until emerging from the show's imposed isolation earlier this week, is determined to reverse that perception.
"I'm trying to show that I'm remorseful, and I hope that comes across because I really do feel very bad," she said in an interview with The Times. "If I don't move forward, I will be stuck in this, and it will eat me alive. I can't treat this experience as a negative. I have to take it as a positive because it's made me a better person."
Reflecting on her "Big Brother" experience less than 24 hours after Wednesday's live finale in which professor Andy Herren was crowned winner, Gries showed few signs of fatigue. Following an emotional reunion with her mother, Elizabeth Owens, who flew in for the finale from Texas, Gries spent most of the night scouring the Web to look at show footage that portrayed her in a less-than-positive light.
As a contestant in "The Big Brother" and later as a member of the jury of evicted houseguests that determined the winner, Gries had been sequestered all summer and had little clue about the fallout. Her first hint came during a tense exit interview with host Julie Chen this summer after being evicted from the house.
Said Gries, who was fired from her job in a modeling agency as a result of her remarks, "When I heard the news, it was obviously devastating."
Her controversial behavior lit up social media. In one episode, while referring to African American houseguest Candice Stewart, Gries said, "Be careful what you say in the dark, might not get to see the bitch."
In another, she flipped over Stewart's mattress, taunted her and used an insulting black accent. In another instance, Gries told Asian American houseguest Helen Kim to "shut up, go make some rice."
Chen lashed out at the slurs by Gries and another houseguest, GinaMarie Zimmerman, calling the comments "extremely hurtful." Chen's husband, CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, also labeled them "absolutely appalling."
Gries attributed most of her missteps to the stress of the "Big Brother" fishbowl, where contestants live in a house cut off from the outside world.
Acknowledging much of her behavior was wrong, she said her insensitive comments were never meant to be taken seriously.
But Gries knows there may be those who might be reluctant to let her off the hook.
"I would ask them if they've ever made a mistake, if they've ever needed forgiveness, and would they want that forgiveness from the world if they were in a similar situation?" Gries said. "We all make mistakes, and we all need forgiveness."
In the early weeks of the show, Gries dismissed warnings that her comments were being interpreted as racist: "I didn't view myself as racist. I thought at the time it was just people trying to make me look bad for the game."
But Gries got a rude awakening during her exit interview with Chen. When Gries entered the studio, she was greeted by an audience with cheers and boos.
"I definitely heard the boos," Gries recalled. "My brain just completely shut off, I guess, like a psychological protection. I kind of zoned out because I realized what had happened was serious, more serious than it was ever meant to be."