Chris E. Hayner

Writer. Jerk. Neat dude.

I peaked young.

MAD Magazine is hiring, which sent me back through my history with the magazine. I was always a MAD guy over a Cracked guy and would already read it at the grocery store while my mom was in the checkout line. Cut to when I was a hormonal teenager who, thanks to the likes of TRL, was as blasted in the face with pop music as anyone else. I liked the Spice Girls, had varying levels of crushes on all of them and when my beloved MAD Magazine took aim at them with the cover of their November 1997 issue, I was livid.

How could something I love betray something else I was into? I was so driven with rage that I actually wrote a letter to the editors of MAD to defend the Spice Girls and their talents. That’s right, I put pen to paper, shoved it in an envelope, slapped a stamp on it and away it went.

A couple of months later, the newest issue of MAD arrive and there, in the pages of the thing I’d loved since I was a kid, were my words. And my name. MAD published my letter. Then immediately began mocking me.

Because it’s MAD. OF COURSE they mocked me. And I loved every second of it. As silly as my letter was, I was officially part of MAD canon. I mean, I wasn’t a spy or a spy or anything like that but I was in MAD Magazine and it was clearly where I peaked.

The issue, which had a cover about wrestling because MAD gets me,is not something I have a copy of anymore for one reason or the other. But after some clever searching of the internet I actually found a scanned copy of it and the letter I submitted.

Behold, teenage Chris.

Patience.

Patience.

I don’t have it. Well, that’s not true. I have it about some things. I don’t where it’s important, though. Like with finding work. Finding a new job isn’t something that happens quickly. In fact, it’s something that happens insanely incredibly slow.

I’m not good at that. As I’ve said before, I’ve been at war with my brain for a few months now. It’s not the first time it’s happened and it likely won’t be the last. And that last bit there stings because I honestly can’t properly detail how little I like it. But here we are.

I’m not good at the waiting game and it’s essentially all I’ve been playing since April when it comes to jobs. It’s the same thing we all play when looking for a new work opportunity. We apply, we wait. We interview, we wait. We follow up, we wait. It’s a never ending cycle of waiting and while I get that it’s not just a me thing (it’s an all of us thing), it still just all adds up to make you wonder if the wait will be eternal.

Realistically, I know it won’t. Something will come along at some point, probably. Or maybe it won’t and I’m doomed. Who knows? That’s what I contend with. I like to know what’s coming and I don’t anymore. I have absolutely no idea what comes next. Certain aspects of that are exhilarating, like how it can be something exciting.

What if it’s not, though?

That creeps in all too often. And that’s what eats away at my patience. If something great doesn’t come along and eventually what I’m doing to stay afloat now dries up, what do I do? I honestly don’t know. And that’s scary.

How do I know it’s scary? I haven’t stopped thinking about it since April. And I likely won’t anytime soon. Because I don’t have the patience I wish I did to just let everything happen. Instead, I worry. But hey, maybe they’ll call soon?

Or not.

Either way, I should try writing about something here besides my brain sometime soon.

Brain trickery.

The brain is a tricky thing. For around three months now, mine has been trying to convince me of how much I suck. After all, why else would one end up without a job? And I know it’s not true. I have faith in my skills and abilities. But the brain doesn’t really care about that. Instead, it taunts me. It’s incredibly fucked up.

At the same time, it’s also really hard to explain to almost anyone. How do you tell someone you’ve in a never-ending battle with your own mind? Instead, I just find myself being around people a lot less. And when I am, I’m distracted. So many times over the last three months I’ve been caught not paying attention to something, and am asked, “Are you bored/angry/ignoring me/etc?” And it’s not an intentional thing. It’s that my brain won’t slow down and simply let me enjoy the moment.

Instead, I’m playing through a series of things in my head, from freelance work I need to do to how long has it been since that job interview I really likes, to whether or not I’m qualified for something I want to go after (spoiler: My brain doesn’t think I am), to what am I going to do about finding a new car. Honestly, it’s just exhausting. It’s what has led to me taking a train up to Northern California a few times this summer. A small break from the overdrive of what’s going on in my head when I’m home in LA.

It’s odd because I’m sure it was there to some degree when I was employed as well, but I always had the office and work trips and projects I was working on to keep me nice and distracted. Now, it’s all I can focus on. And I wish that wasn’t the case. Because I like life and enjoy it most of the time. These last couple of months though, it feels like it’s all going by in a blur.

And it’s my own fault, really. When I first got let go from Tribune Media, I made a deal with myself. I would leave the house at least once a day. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of shutting myself off from the world. I’ve done it before and it doesn’t help anything. But there are times when I’m out and about, alone or with people, and I just want to cut bait and go home. Not because I’m not enjoying myself or anything like that. But because I feel the pressure of life and the world closing in on me and an escape seems like the easiest option. It can’t catch me at home.

I don’t know the point of this all, I just needed to put into words what is happening in my head. So if we’re hanging out and I seem distracted, I promise it’s not you. It’s totally me. And I hope we can still be friends. Besides, it’s always darkest before the dawn, as Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight. But then he became a villain, so that could be bullshit.

That’s all I got.

One year later.

It’s been a year. A year since I was sitting at my desk when my mom called sobbing. She said she had bad news and immediately a billion different things went through my head, most involving family. Had something happened to my brother? Grandmother?

The one person that didn’t float through my head was my dad. Because my dad was teflon. He was the constant, always there and always will be. Nothing could take him down. He survived Vietnam, he survived living in constant pain and he survived a fire that destroyed practically everything he owned.

But that’s who she was calling about. My dad was dead. He was less than one month away from turning 66 he just didn’t exist anymore. And that crushed me. And it still crushes me. I spent a week with his sisters earlier in June and it was beautiful. We, along with my mom, brother and brother’s girlfriend, spent hours talking about dad, sharing our best Dan Hayner stories and all i could think of how much he would have enjoyed being there. After all, who doesn’t want to hang out with their big sisters?

I’ve realized some things over the last year, some of which was helped along by the TV show “You’re the Worst.” I was really angry with my dad the day he died and the weeks that followed. This is where things get real. He died after drinking too much and foolishly riding his quad without a helmet in the mountains. It was an extremely avoidable mistake.

If he had just not had anything to drink that day. If he had not gotten on the ATV. If he had been wearing a helmet. If only someone, even me, had called him right before he left. There’s so many if’s that have run through my mind. But hindsight being what it is, I can see now that after the Butte fire that did so much damage and burned practically his entire life to the ground, he wasn’t the same.

With each visit I had up north, I saw my dad getting progressively worse. He was…lost. And scared. Here was this 65-year-old man who suddenly had to start from scratch and couldn’t handle it. I’d ask him what his plans were, what he was going to do when he got his settlement from the fire — which was a very preventable blaze with the blame falling on Pacific Gas & Electric — and his answer was always the same. “I don’t know.” He couldn’t make decisions.

The fire and the losses were his tipping point. I’d never seen my dad scared before, not even when he was going in for brain surgery…Which is another story entirely.

He didn’t do fear. He was teflon. But that was then — pre-fire Dan Hayner. Post-fire Dan Hayner was a different person and one who regressed further into himself every day. He didn’t even make it to the fire’s first anniversary, which I think would have pissed him off.

I think back to the last time I saw my dad, just a few weeks before his death. I was visiting home and he was there, quiet and tired. Very tired. I wish so badly I would have known that was the last time I’d get to hug him or tell him I love him. I don’t know what I’d do differently, other than memorize every single microsecond of it.

That’s not how life works, though. Bad things happen and you have to keep moving forward. That’s why now, a year after his death, I try not to think about the last eight months of his life. Because that’s not the Dan Hayner he’d want to be remembered.

Instead, I’m thinking about the guy who spent a good chunk of his life standing in a river panning for gold. The guy who bent up a fork at the Sizzler once because it made me laugh. The guy who took me fishing all night when I was a kid so I could get a Cub Scout badge that a friend of mine already had. The guy who told me wild stories about UFOs he claimed he’d seen and watched episodes of The X-Files with me — all because I was an obsessed little kid. The guy I’ve come to realize is responsible for most of my weird sense of humor.

I miss that guy. And I love him. Every day. I hope you found your peace, dad. And I hope you found Buzz. He’s looking for you and you know that dog. He was never comfortable unless he was leaned up against you.

On the dangers of fandom and online negativity

It’s been two weeks since I was laid off by Tribune Media. I got the call that Screener was closing up shop while having dinner with one of my very best friends and her parents in a small town outside of Krakow, Poland — the first time I’d been to Europe not for work.

Almost instantly, I was resolved to not let the news bother me. After all, I still had several days of vacation ahead of my that would find me going to a wedding in Scotland. Besides, anyone who knows me know I was less than ecstatic with the way things were going. I was looking forward to whatever came next — instead, it found me. Now comes the time for something bigger and better. I’m actually excited about it.

There was, of course, a downside. And it came via social media. After noting that I was available for hire — and getting an incredibly supportive response from so many — I saw a few tweets starting to trickle in, taking joy in the fact that I was “fired” because of something I wrote about a character on a TV show that they disagreed with some time ago.

It really bothered me, not because they were whining at/about me (That’s pretty normal) but because it’s not just me. The entire Screener team was let go at a time when work isn’t just falling from the sky. A lot of people are now unemployed (Not fired, by the way) and that’s unfortunate.

Luckily, we had a talented writing staff that I’m confident will find their way. But I can’t help but wonder about the negativity that can arise from people who consider themselves fans.

Here’s a secret: Just about every one of us who writes about TV, film, comics, you name it — We got into it because we’re fans. We’re such big fans that we made a point to turn the thing we love into a career. That doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of it. Or have a point of view that others disagree with. It’s the nature of opinions.

Being gleeful about an office full of people that find themselves out of work, though? That’s a bizarre place to exist. It’s a mix of internet anonymity and lack of maturity, really. It’s all fun and games when you taunt people on the internet, hiding behind a clever name and the avatar of a fictional character.

And the sad thing is I’m the anomaly. This is the piece of the internet that straight, white males normally aren’t exposed to. Practically everyone else deals with the negativity, aggression and downright disturbing side of the internet on a daily basis and that’s just … not okay.

The internet can be a beautiful place. But it can also be profoundly sad. Why is that? For some reason, my mind always comes back to anonymity and how it’s trained people to think it’s okay to say whatever they want, regardless of how horrific it is. My experiences are minor compared to what so many people go through daily. After all, I’ve only had one person request that I commit suicide.

But even just that one instance, which came from a superfan of yet another show, is too much. As humans we should aspire to be better. Now more than ever it’s important for us all to aspire to be better than we are.

That’s all.

Crisis of life (and death)

I don’t know what to do. That’s a thought that keeps bouncing around in my head, over and over. I don’t know what to do and it’s driving me crazy.

When my dad died a little over a month ago, the shock of it didn’t completely hit me. I was angry, I was stubborn and I was smart or foolish enough to keep myself distracted. For a month I worked practically non-stop on a variety of things, not giving myself the room to think, reflect and let it soak in.

That changed this weekend when I went up north for dad’s memorial. There, in the Railroad Flat Community Center, as the American Legion folded a flag in my dad’s honor while a recording of taps played and someone pretended to play a bugle, it hit me. He’s gone.

I’m not going to see him again. Living in LA, I only saw him when I went up to visit. Dad hated the city and his leg gave him so many problems that traveling was never fun for him. But this was my second time up (the first being when I found out he was gone) that I didn’t see him and when Taps started playing I finally realized that he’s actually gone.

That’s the kind of thing that sends a normal person for a loop. Someone who feels like he’s constantly teetering on the edge of depression, though? That will crush your world.

I spent the next two days not understanding what to do with my life. Suddenly, life was a thing that can be taken away. If I’m not happy, is it all wasted?

What’s more, now it’s clear to me that the people I love won’t always be there. I spent so much time not hanging out with my dad, I forgot to make so many phone calls, I spent so much time away … and all I can think of is how I could have spent more time with him, having more experiences with him. Fuck, I could have just spent more time talking and laughing with him. It’s what we did best.

Now all I can think about is the rest of my family. They’re not going to live forever and neither am I. Am I wasting time by just spinning my wheels by myself, not taking advantage of all of the time with them I possibly can?

When people grow up, some movie away but some don’t. I left the house at 18, moved to LA for college, spent many years here before winding up somewhere in the middle of the state. I then made trails for Wisconsin before coming back to LA. That’s the life I’ve made for myself and it’s led me to some weird things.

But there’s nothing like a death in the family to make you question whether it was all worth it.

I sincerely hope it has been and will continue to be. At the moment though, it’s hard to not think “It’d be nice if I could go over and have dinner with my mom tonight.” Then I’d probably go over to Kevin’s and play Xbox.

Instead I’m packing my bags to take off on another weird and cool trip tomorrow, where I’m going to play with the cast of one of my favorite shows and watching wrestling in NYC for a few days.

That’s the thing, neither end of the spectrum is the downside. I just need to be better about finding the balance and recognizing when it’s out of whack.

That’s my crisis of life. I need to be better and I need to feel better about it all. But I only feel like I’m drowning.

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Dad.

It was going to be a relaxed fourth of July weekend coming up for me. I was heading up home, to Stockton, to spend time with family and do a whole lot of nothing. That’s all out the window now.

Last night I got a call from my mom telling me she had some bad news. I could tell by her voice it was really bad, but I didn’t expect her to tell me my dad was dead. Now, not even 12 hours later, it still hasn’t hit me. It doesn’t really make sense.

Because of all the things I associate with Dan Hayner, dead isn’t one of him. I made a joke to my mom one time a few years ago that when the world came to an end, all that would be left were the cockroaches and Dan Hayner. He was just that tough.

He wasn’t though and all it took was a terrible decision for all of that to go away.

As some of you may or may not know, there was a forest fire last year that burned up a huge chunk of Northern California, including my dad’s house and most of his belongings. Looking back on it in hindsight, he was never really the same after that.

He seemed scared and lost in ways I’d never really seen before. That fire shook him. It also caused an uptick in his drinking that became more and more obvious with each visit up north.

He was always a drinker, but over the last few visits it seemed to have more of a grip on him than he did it. That’s why it’s horrifying but not earth-shatteringly surprising that it played a role in his end. And that fucking hurts to think about.

And it’s not the only thing.

As I was trying to sleep at about 2 a.m. this morning, it dawned on me that if I am ever lucky enough to have children, they’ll never get to meet their Grandpa Danny. He never got to be a Grandpa and I think that’s something he would have been really good at. I also never got to live out a life goal I told my brother about once of riding motorcycles with him.

It’s the weird little stuff like that that’s haunting me right now, a million different things that are ringing through my head as I realize the next time I come to town he won’t be there to say “How have you been, boy?” with a goofy smile on his face.

That’s the stuff I don’t want to think about.

Instead I want to remember the weird, good stuff. Our relationship was strained during a chunk of my teenage years, but we came out on the other side as friends in a way I didn’t expect us to. We had a number of long, good, silly talks over the years that I wouldn’t trade for anything. They’d range from what was happening in my life to motorcycles to movies to, really, anything.

It was in those talks that I realized we had very similar personalities sometimes. Very quirky senses of humor that would have us laughing about the stupidest thing for way too long.

That’s the stuff I want to remember. And memories like sitting with him on the patio on my Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Pete’s cabin in Wisconsin, just basking in how perfectly quiet that place was. He told me once it was the kind of place he’d love to live.

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Likely for the same reason he chose to live most of his life in the mountains. He hated cities and all the noise and people that came with them. I don’t blame him.

To be honest, I don’t even know where to go with this. Worlds are failing me. I just really miss my dad.

I’m not a cat person, I’m a Spooky person.

It’s been a very weird week. As many — or most — of you know, I had to make the decision to put my sidekick cat Spooky Mulder to sleep on January 30. It was something I secretly feared was coming but had trouble voicing because I didn’t want to face the reality.

Her health had been declining and the various fixes just didn’t seem to be fixing things. This isn’t about her death though, but rather her life.

When I moved to Wisconsin in 2009, I was already in the midst of my second bout with depression. I had been laid off from my job and had no real course to follow in my life, leading me to packing my things in the car and moving cross-country. When I got there I found a new job and an apartment after a stay with two very good friends who put up with my sad sack attitude. But still, even with things getting back on track, I was miserable.

I didn’t go out, I didn’t talk to people I didn’t have to and I essentially barricaded myself in my apartment and assumed I’d made a horrible decision in moving to a place where I didn’t know many people. Then someone — and I don’t remember who — suggested I think of getting a pet.

I immediately wanted a puppy. I was going to name him Mick and he was going to be my new partner-in-crime. That was, of course, until I learned that dogs weren’t allowed in my apartment complex. Cats were, though.

I’ve never been a cat person, but I knew I needed something in my life because I was feeling worse and like more of a mess by the day. So I went to the animal shelter and saw a long line of cats, all of which were assholes. They hissed at me, tried to scratch me or just ignored me and say in the corner.

Before I left, I decided to take one last look at the kennel area and found one cage I thought was empty before. The nametag on the unit said “Ritz” and in the back corner of the dark room was a ball of black fur. I asked to see that cat and the worker warned me that she wasn’t very human-friendly and was pretty sick.

It turns out this cat, Ritz, had been found in an abandoned home. When the owner was foreclosed on, he just left his animals there and went away. She was living among a bunch of dogs and hadn’t been cared for in some time.

I didn’t care, I still wanted to meet her.

So I went into the room and sat in the chair. They brought in the black cat with a white streak down her face and chest and set her down. I’d like to say she came up to me instantly, but she stood back and stared at me for a minute or two.

Then she walked over to me, sniffed my leg, rubbed her face against it and proceeded to lay down on my foot and take a nap. That’s when I knew she was mine.

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Ritz quickly became Spooky Mulder. She came home with me, got put on medicine to fix her ailments and made herself at home in my apartment. Having her around is the biggest reason I came to love Wisconsin. Having her in the house really perked me up and made me interested in going out and meeting people, making it home rather than just a pit stop.

One of my favorite memories of her happened when my friend Kevin came to Wisconsin from California for WrestleMania weekend. I had a bunch of people over — most of whom couldn’t care less about wrestling but were in it for the good time — and we partied. Spooky plopped herself down in the middle of the living room almost immediately and became Kevin’s pillow for the evening. She didn’t mind a bit. That’s the kind of cat Spooky was — not really much of a cat at all. She just liked the contact.

She also liked to keep me awake all night, running laps up and down the hallway while I was trying to sleep.

When the time came to leave Wisconsin, Spooky and I hit the road. We traveled cross-country together, with her spending most of the time laying on the center console, acting as an arm rest. She got to see all kinds of things and seemed to really enjoy the ride.

Through her time in California, she definitely slowed down as she got older. She still always wanted to play though, even if it just meant wrestling my hand or trying to block whatever I was watching.

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Over the last year she also found two people to spoil her rotten in my mom and Grandma. After deciding that boarding was not for her anymore, I started taking her to my mom’s house when I had to go out of town. It was like a vacation for Spooky whenever she got to up there as they waited on her hand and foot. They loved it just as much as she did and that makes me incredibly happy.

Those times are over now, though. I sat with her Saturday as she went to sleep for the last time on her favorite Ninja Turtles blanket — the softest of the two she had.

I’m devastated she’s gone. It hit me hard that afternoon and even worse on my drive back to LA the next day. However, then I was off on a flight to London and was too busy and tired to dwell on it much.

Last night was my first one since she’s been gone, though. It wasn’t easy. it’s strange not having her waking me up for food or wanting to be picked up onto the best to sleep for a while. Working from home today was bizarre because she wasn’t at my side on the couch while we watched TV.

That stuff just won’t happen anymore.

It’s strange. My mom asked me if I’d be looking to get another pet anytime soon and I just can’t even fathom it at this point — which she agreed with. Getting another cat seems strange because Spooky wasn’t a cat. I mean, she was a cat. DOn’t get me wrong. But she wasn’t a cat, you know? She was more than that. She was my little buddy, my confidante for the last six years and seriously the best roommate a guy could ask for.

So no, no new cat for me anytime soon. Besides, whoever that cat would be wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to Spooky Mulder. She was too damn cool for school.

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On Wisconsin or: The Importance of Remembering the Little Things

I don’t really like voicemail. If you leave me voicemails, I’m sorry. Chances are I rarely listen to the messages you record. I just call back to see what you want, usually deleting the voicemail without a second thought.

I’ve done that with all but one message that’s been sitting in my voicemail box since December 2012. It’s from my Grandma Doris. It’s not a super important message or anything. She’s just checking in to see how my packing was progressing — I was preparing to move back to California from Wisconsin — and she wanted to know if I’d see her the weekend after Christmas. And, because she’s my grandma, she told me she loved me.

I don’t know why I never deleted it. For some reason, it was always a comfort to see “Grandma Doris” in there whenever I went to toss voicemails. Now I’m really glad I did.

I got a call from my mom yesterday who heard through the family phone chain that my grandma was sick and the outlook wasn’t good. It wasn’t a call I was expecting and hit me hard in the moment. It pales in comparison to the call I got from my cousin Sara this morning at around 4:30, though.

My Grandma Doris is gone now and it’s not something I was even remotely prepared for. But, as a writer, I’m doing what we do to cope: I’m writing my thoughts down to get them out of my head for a little while.

Grandma Doris was truly one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. My earliest memories come from a family trip we took to visit her and my dad’s side of the family in Wisconsin when I was two. That trip was so good that it imprinted itself on my brain forever. We made other trips in the years that followed, but living in California meant there was always a bit of a disconnect with that side of the family.

Then I found myself moving to Wisconsin in 2009. It was a new adventure for a few different reasons. I was attempting to build a life somewhere new and looking for a job. The secret mission for me though, was to get to know the side of the family I’d met before on a number of occasions, but never had the opportunity to really know.

It started with a drive up to the top of Wisconsin not long after I arrived. I went straight to my Grandma’s house and as I arrived to her apartment complex, the first thing she did was give me a hug.

Wait, that’s not true. The first thing she did was walk to a different door than I was at. Confused, we talked on the phone for five minutes before I realized I was across the street at some other building that was definitely not her apartment complex.

Together, we went to my aunt and uncle’s house the next day and I got the full-on family introduction. Everyone was older than they were when I was barely a teenager, of course, but I immediately felt welcomed.

grandma-doris-photoThat visit also happened to coincide with a party celebrating my cousin Emily’s senior year of high school. That’s where the picture above was taken. I’m the guy in the old Aerosmith hoodie, Grandma Doris is the lady all the way to the right. You know, the happiest looking person in the room.

This was the first of many really great times I got to have with my Wisconsin family throughout the three years I lived in Madison. I went up there for long weekends, holidays and even ice fishing — just once for that, though. I couldn’t afford to flip any other cars, no matter how much fun the trip was.

After the first year I spent Thanksgiving with my Wisconsin family — and there’s a lot of them — I related it to friends back home as spending a holiday inside an episode of “The Waltons.”

Everybody was happy and smiling and just excited being around each other. After dinner, everyone gathered around to watch football and plan their shopping out for Black Friday. It was awesome and something I was happy being a small part of.

Still, every single time I was there the highlight was getting to spend some time talking to Grandma Doris. She’d ask me if I’d found a nice girl to settle down with yet, I’d laugh and say no. She’d ask how my dad was doing or about things she’d been told I was writing about on Facebook. She was, for lack of a better term, a grandma.

And I am very glad to have had her. I’m happy I got to go to her 90th birthday party and have a greasy breakfast with her at a diner near her house. Happy she liked my dream idea of buying the out-of-business movie theater in Amery and reopening it.

I was so excited to be planning a return visit to Wisconsin — my first since moving back to California in January 2013. I was stoked to go to the family reunion and spend some time seeing everyone, catching up on  lives and just being around the family.

Instead, I’m flying out for a short visit Thursday afternoon to attend her funeral. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I get to see my family and reconnect with people I don’t talk to nearly enough — even if Facebook does help. I just wish it were under better circumstances. And I wish she were there to talk to. She will be, though. I just might not be able to hear her voice.

But that’s fine, I have my voicemail and it’s not going anywhere.

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The time I won Big Brother.

big-brother-15-keySo my job has afforded me many cool opportunities. Like, too many. It’s weird. I’ve gotten to talk to TV and movie stars I’ve loved all my life (Danny DeVito), I’ve gotten to go watch movies at the Walt Disney Studio lot (Iron Man 3 and Monsters University). I just get to do things that it makes no sense I’m allowed to do.

All of those things are nothing compared to one specific event, though. On June 10, I was able to achieve a dream I’ve had for over a decade. I got to move into the Big Brother House. Big Brother is a reality TV show that started while I was still in high school. It’s the only one of those shows I watch and I’ve been with it since the beginning.

Every year, before that season’s house guests move in, CBS and the production team invite several members of the media to ‘move in’ for the day and compete in a week’s worth of the game compacted into that 12-hour period. I got to go and represent Zap2it.

Just walking onto the CBS lot in Studio City was a little weird. So many TV shows have been and are made there, including Parks and Rec. It was fun seeing Lil’ Sebastian signs just leaning up against the wall. The real fun happened when I got to the Big Brother green room, though. They mic’d us up (Everyone in the Big Brother house wears a microphone) and we got to chit chat and evaluate the competition we would be facing.

I only barely knew one person there, but there were a couple I immediately dug. One was because she sounded Canadian. Anyone who knows me, knows of my love for the Great White North.

jillian-maclaughlinWhen we were put into random groups, I was among the first three people to enter the house, which was kind of amazing. Walking through the door and seeing what I’ve been staring at on TV since 2000 was very surreal. Immediately you jump into action and pick a bed as your “place.” Then the house search begins. While other people come in to find their beds, I just explored. I touched everything, I counted stuff, I just took it all in.

Eventually we all sat down in the living room for introductions and I was pleased to learn that the girl who sounded Canadian was in fact from Canada. What’s more, she’s from the part of Canada I dig most, Nova Scotia. I’ve been twice and plan to go back within the next year and a half.

Not only that, she was a cast member on Big Brother Canada. Actually, she was the winner of Big Brother Canada, Jillian MacLaughlin. She was the first person called into the diary room (DR) to talk to the camera and instantly another of the media folks (Matt, who had been in the house three times prior for media day) started plotting to get her out. He cited the way she won her season as reason enough. I knew a bit about how the Canadian version went and wasn’t quite as convinced. I also didn’t want to not trust the Canadian, because they’re all so nice.

dan-gheeslingNot long after we were surprised to find Dan Gheesling (Winner of BB 10, runner up on BB 14, such an awesome guy) walking through out front door. He said he was there to take someone out of the house with him and that we needed to start talking about who should leave. Immediately, Matt said Jillian has to go. He was also a little pissed that no one backed him up on that idea. That’s when Dan dropped the bomb: He wasn’t taking anyone out of the house, but was there to host a Head of Household competition.

Now Matt had created a huge target on himself and the last person he would need to win the HOH is Jillian. The HOH was simple, Dan gave us two options of fake reality shows, and whichever one the majority picked as a better idea was the right answer. Anyone who picked the other one was eliminated. I got knocked out when people didn’t pick Paranormal Paratroopers, which is bananas. Ghosts are amazing.

In the end, of course, Jillian won and Matt was left on the hot seat. The one person he didn’t need to be king or queen of the house was in charge. Jillian’s first duty was to choose Have Nots for the day. The Have Nots can only eat the “slop” provided by Big Brother for the day. Slop is notorious in the house because, well, it’s gross. As something of a superfan, I’ve always wanted to try slop. I also wanted to get on the house’s good side, because at the end of the day one of us would be evicted and branded the day’s loser.

So I volunteered to be a Have Not. Why wouldn’t I? It was just for a day, and it might make people like me because I’m saving them from it. It also gets me on Jillian’s good side as it’s one less person she has to choose. Let’s be honest, I wanted to team with the Canadian. Matt had the same idea and volunteered, because he needed to save face after targeting Jillian.

From there, the game was on. People started breaking off into smaller groups to plot, and everyone wanted Jillian’s ear to see where she stood for evictions. The first person to pull her away was a guy named Jarrett. Some thought it was pretty aggressive of him to jump into the game like that, but it made sense. We’re only there a day, it’s an accelerated version of the game.

Matt was most upset by Jarrett pulling Jillian away, or so he wanted us to believe. When it came time for me to have a moment with Jillian, it was clear Matt was going up. When she floated the idea of Kerry (another guy in the house), I wasn’t opposed. He had been mostly quiet so far and was the one we had all talked to the least.

big-brother-15-nominationsOnce nominations finally rolled around, I was never more relieved than to see my key come out of the box. As you can see by the photo, in the moments leading up to my key being pulled, I was very nervous. We all were. It’s strange, but even being in there for just a day, you get wrapped up in the game of it all.

When all the keys were pulled, it wasn’t entirely surprising to see that Matt and Kerry had been nominated for eviction. The only way one of them could guarantee their safety was to win the Power of Veto competition. Matt expected to be nominated, but I think Kerry was definitely caught off-guard. He seemed a little stunned that he was chosen. Naturally, Jillian let him know that the true target was Matt and she would do what she needed to make sure he went home.

Not long after, Jillian emerged from DR with a bunch of colored bandannas. She said it was time to pick partners for the POV competition. I saw orange and, it being my favorite color, I immediately called dibs. When Jillian threw the bandannas down she and I both grabbed orange. I’m not sure if she wanted to team with me or not, but hey, I called dibs so I knew what color I was going for. From there we all suited up in overalls and goggles, for what was sure to be something very messy.

big-brother-power-of-veto-povAnd messy it was! We we stepped into the backyard, it was themes to a chili cookout, but this was unlike any chili I’d ever seen before. Each team has 12 giant bowls of “chili” lined up, each of which contained a puzzle piece. At the end of the line was a puzzle board. Seems simple enough, grab the puzzle pieces, assemble them, win. Of course, the twist is you can only get the puzzle pieces with your head and face, meaning you had to go fishing for them with your mouth, hence the goggles.

I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the physical competition, because I know my limits and I know how insane some of the physical competitions on the show can be. This one wasn’t too bad, luckily. There was some hustling involved and a lot of near-vomiting because of the “chili,” but nothing I couldn’t handle. The chili itself was a weird mixture of gelatin, sugar water, tomatoes, cheese and sour cream that had been sitting in the sun. Really disgusting.

This was a must-win competition for Matt, because he was the obvious target and needed to pull himself off the block. It wasn’t meant to be, though. Matt didn’t win POV, and neither did Kerry. In fact, Jillian and I won the contest. I totally carried my fair share and, luckily, was able to piece together the puzzle to score us the win. Not before I got utterly confused and told Jillian that there was still a piece in the chili though, which led her to dunk her head in all 12 bowls. There was no missing piece, I was jut flustered. Still, we pulled out the win and decided that I would take the POV duties on my shoulders, as she already had HOH. Matt’s hopes now rested on me pulling him from the block.

This is where the strategy came into play. Prior to the POV competition, Matt pulled Jarrett aside into a private room to “have it out” with him due to Jarrett getting Jillian’s ear early on. Matt thought Jarrett was selling him out. At a certain point though, Jillian pulled me aside convinced that Jarrett and Matt were working together. After thinking it over, it made some sense. There was a contingent of people who had been in the house together at least once before. They had played the game together before. Those people were Matt, Jarrett, Patrick, Dru and Brian. If the previous media day house guests were in fact working together, Matt would have the vote to stay, sending Kerry packing at the end of media day. There were nine players that day, the two nominees could not vote and the HOH only votes to break a tie. If Matt had four friends voting to keep him, he isn’t going anywhere.

That’s when the idea sparked between Jillian and I. What if I take Kerry down and she replaces him with one of the folks who had been in the house with Matt before? Kerry would be thankful for coming off the nomination block and hopefully vote the way we wanted. Jarrett couldn’t go up. He was chosen to host the POV competition, which made him safe from nomination. That left Patrick, Dru and Brian. We were both unsure about Patrick, but felt confident that Dru and Brian were definitely loyal to Matt.

I leaned toward Brian because of the others in the house, Dru was the one I’d met before and we set up a sort of alliance before going into the house. We were going to keep each other safe, because we drive the same car and are awesome. So Brian it was. I felt bad, because he’s a good guy, but to get Matt out of the house it needed to be done.

Before the ceremony, Matt told me to not just fall in line with Jillian, but to shake things up. What I big-brother-15-evictiondon’t think he expected was the way I planned to shake things up, by saving Kerry and sealing his fate. After he delivered one of the very best POV speeches I’ve ever heart, calling Jillian a puppet master and saying I shouldn’t use the veto because she wouldn’t want it, he seemed truly surprised that I saved Kerry. Brian was equally surprised to find himself nominated, but again, it needed to be done.

When the vote came in, Matt got one person who wanted to keep him, Dru. The other five, myself included voted for him to walk out the door. Casting a vote to evict was another in a long line of surreal moments throughout the day. Taking a seat in the DR and choosing who you want to leave it a very strange moment. Luckily, unlike a couple of the votes it seems, I wasn’t conflicted. Matt’s a cool guy, but he had to go.

When all was said and done, Matt was out the door and it was time for production to reveal the day’s winner. See, when voting for who should be evicted, we were also asked who played the game best that day. Imagine my surprise when I found out I’d won that vote. I didn’t understand why at first, but I feel a large part of that was my head was still swimming being in the house. Truthfully, I was still coming down a couple days later.

Looking back on it now, I don’t know that I was the best player of the day, but I know I achieved my goal. One of the first questions I was asked in DR at the beginning of the day was how I’d play the game, what my strategy was. It was simple, I was going to be as nice as I could to everyone. I tend to be a friendly guy when I’m trying, an I wanted to use that to my advantage to not alienate anyone.

It’s not the game of a floater, it’s that of someone who isn’t looking to make enemies. I was able to pull out a competition win when I needed and worked with someone to put together a strategy to make sure the ‘villain’ of the day went home.

That ended my one and only day in the Big Brother house, for now anyway. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t make me want to apply for the show proper. It was one of those moments where I thought “I think I could handle this.” Maybe I will. If not, perhaps I’ll at least be able to go back next media day to defend my crown.

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