Ross Mathews did not win the 2018 season of Celebrity Big Brother. He was, however, voted America’s Favorite Houseguest by viewers. And it likely had something to do with his unexpectedly revealing conversation with fellow contestant Omarosa Manigault-Newman.
As a red carpet correspondent for E!, Mathews has interviewed dozens of high-profile celebrities over the years. But none of those conversations had quite the impact of his chat with Omarosa, who had been ousted from her nebulous position in Donald Trump’s White House less than two months earlier.
Cozied up on an L-shaped couch together, Mathews asked Omarosa to reassure him that things were not as bad as they seemed in the Trump administration. “No, it’s going to not be OK. It’s not,” she whispered dramatically, adding “It’s so bad.” And that was before she said Vice President Mike Pence would be even worse.
“That aired? People saw it?” Mathews asked excitedly of the Omarosa bombshell in an interview with Entertainment Tonight moments after he was let out of the Big Brother house. Reached by phone the next day from his Palm Springs backyard, Mathews tells The Daily Beast, “I am so excited about how it all went down.” It’s no wonder he’s feeling good—this is the first time he’s seen the sun in a month.
Mathews, who also serves as a judge for RuPaul’s Drag Race, knew he got a good scoop from Omarosa, but even now he is learning just how much the comments dominated the news cycle earlier this month. The whole thing has the man formerly known as “Ross the Intern” from Jay Leno’s Tonight Show reimagining the possibilities for his future—that is, assuming Omarosa’s dire warnings about the fate of the world don’t come true.
Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
How does it feel to be back in the real world?
It feels weird. I’m right now standing in my backyard in the sun. And until this morning it had been 30 days since I had seen the sun. We didn’t go outside except for every other night for an hour, but we were under a ceiling so we couldn’t see the sun, we couldn’t see the sky, we couldn’t see anything. So it feels amazing.
Yeah, I bet. Why did you want to go on Celebrity Big Brother and do you feel now that it’s over that it was worth it?
I wanted to go on Big Brother because I have, for 19 seasons, watched and said, “I know how I would play this game.” I love this show. I love this game. And I always felt like, if I could make it into the house, I knew exactly what I would do. And so when they asked me I was like, you can’t say that for 19 seasons and then say no when they ask! So go in there and play the game you know you can play.
And how different was it from what you had imagined after watching it for so long?
It was way harder than I ever imagined it could be. It throws you off your axis, just by the nature of the game, cutting you off from the outside world. It reminds me of the feeling you get when you first step off a merry-go-round. You’re just kind of dizzy and discombobulated. And then, throw onto that fact, you can’t trust anybody that you’re surrounded by. Oh, and they’re strangers. And you’re just trying to get your footing. It was really tough. And then the boringness of it. The fact is, with these competitions sometimes, they need to separate you. And production takes a long time, so sometimes they put you in a room for six hours. I was in a room for six and a half hours just by myself, staring at a wall—with no music, no books, no anything. And that can be such a mindfuck.
When you first got out of the house, you didn’t know that your intense conversation with Omarosa had even aired on the show, let alone that it became a top news story for about 48 hours. What was it like to find that out?
Well, I assumed it would make news. In fact, as soon as the conversation was over I ran to the Diary Room and said, “Did you guys see that?!” I know what a scoop is. I knew what I was doing when I talked to her. I was curious. I knew she never talked about any of this, outside of the interview with Michael Strahan. And she certainly hadn’t said anything like this. I was just trying to get any juicy scoop that I could and she was willing to talk, which shocked the hell out of me. So I thought, shut up Ross and keep asking questions until she stops talking. I assumed it would make news. I kept asking the producers, “Is it the number one story?” I said, “Make sure they spell Mathews correctly, only one ‘T.’” They said, “We can’t tell you anything Ross, I’m sorry.” But I knew it would be big.
To miss your 15 minutes of fame in this case must have been odd, right? To not be able to experience it?
Oh my god, all I do is have CNN or MSNBC on in the house. So when I got out, my partner Salvador said, “All those shows you watch? You were on all those shows!”
What do you think it says about our culture that cable news covered her comments non-stop like that?
I think it is a sad state of affairs. It is not OK that the White House had to comment on a conversation I had in Celebrity Big Brother. We should not be living in that kind of world. But the fact that we are says something. I don’t know what it says, but if I figure it out, I’ll get back to you.
You seemed genuinely concerned for the country in that clip.
Well, I am! I think anyone that’s paying attention should be genuinely concerned. And here’s someone who had, not a front row seat, but a co-starring role in it all. And I just needed her to tell me, “You know what? The media’s making a bigger deal out of this than it is. We’re fine.” She did not say that!
So how did that make you feel when she said the opposite?
It made me want to eat pizza and cake for the rest of the day. If we’re all going down with the ship, honey, then eat the carbs. That’s what it made me think: just start eating carbs. I really felt a lot of despair then. I was feeling multiple things. I was feeling fascinated. I was feeling excited, because I knew I was getting a scoop. But I was feeling, that’s certainly not the answer I wanted for myself. That’s certainly not the answer the country wanted. So I felt like we’re all fucked.
In addition to the cable news coverage, it also got a lot of attention from the late-night shows. Jimmy Kimmel said he thought Omarosa was making up a lot about her experience in the White House. Do you think she was telling the truth?
I don’t know when she’s telling the truth or not telling the truth, but I know she’s seen some shit.
Is there anything she confessed to you that didn’t make it onto the show?
Can you share any of those?
I don’t want to say yet, but I asked questions every single day. I asked about Mueller, I asked about being subpoenaed, I asked about if Hillary Clinton would be a good president, I asked everything.
Is there one thing she said that stood out to you, whether it appeared on the show or not?
Well, I was fascinated to hear that she worked for the Clinton campaign, for the 2016 Hillary campaign, prior to working for Donald. She worked for an organization called Ready for Hillary and she said that Hillary would have made a fantastic president. So I just don’t understand—she’s never a woman that doesn’t have a strong opinion. So the fact that she could be willy-nilly, like, “Donald’s the one that called so I went and worked for him.” I don’t understand. And I’m not talking smack about Omarosa. You’ve gotta hand it to her. I know people that are good at what they do, and she is the best at what she does. I’m not sure what she does, but whatever it is, she’s the best at it.
So what’s next for you now that you’ve had this experience? Does it make you want to do more political interviews?
Listen, I think people thought of me as, you know, sort of an amusing little clown that they’ve seen for a couple of seconds or minutes on a late-night show or a red carpet. And I am absolutely that. But there is a lot more to me. And I’m so glad on this show I got the opportunity just to take a deep breath and chill and have people really get to know me. I am fascinated by everything pop culture, and that of course includes politics. I’m passionate about it. I just feel really good that America voted me their favorite player. When I grew up, there were not people like me on television because we weren’t allowed to be on television. And now, on a major network, millions of people voted for me! And that, to me, is more important than any title of “winner” of Big Brother than I could ever ask for.
Well, congratulations on that and good luck with everything coming up.
Thank you—and listen, I would love your support when they nominate me for a Pulitzer Prize for my investigative report on Omarosa.