Andy Herren, a professor from Chicago, was the big winner of "Big Brother," scoring the grand prize of $500,000 after being crowned by a jury of his fellow houseguests.
But Herren's victory during the live finale of the CBS reality show, which isolates several participants from the outside world for the entire summer, was not really the big story of the night.
His win was overshadowed by the dismayed and uncomfortable reaction by many of the contestants after learning that this season was tarnished by controversy revolving several racist and homophobic remarks uttered inside the house. At least two contestants, Aaryn Gries and GinaMarie Zimmerman, were fired from their jobs due to the comments.
Gries, Zimmerman and other houseguests who have been sequestered either in the "Big Brother" house or another location for contestants that had been evicted had no idea of the public fallout from the controversy until they were informed by producers following the finale.
The furor sparked national headlines, as well as outrage from the show's host, Julie Chen, and her husband, CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves.
In exit interviews, many of the houseguests said they were upset that the controversy overshadowed the season.
"I'm really sorry that the season may be seen in a negative light," said Herren, 26, who was the target of homophobic insults by some of the houseguests. "If anyone was offended, I certainly am sorry. There are a lot of wonderful people in the house, and I really hope all this doesn't dampen the entire season."
Herren was selected as the winner over runner-up Zimmerman, who became one of the season's most notorious cast members after making a number of racially insensitive comments.
Many of the houseguests said the challenging nature of the game, isolation from the outside world and heated personality conflicts were factors that could have contributed to the inappropriate behavior.
"I am really sorry for anything I may have said that offended anybody," said Amanda Zuckerman, a Florida real estate agent. "There was never any malicious intent by me or anybody else."
Gries, a 22-year-old college student from Texas whose racial and homophobic slurs ignited much of the firestorm surrounding the season, also said she was sorry for her remarks: "This has been a great learning experience for me. I have really grown a lot."
Zimmerman of Staten Island, N.Y., who was fired from her job as a coordinator at a beauty pageant agency because of her comments, said they were not reflective of her true feelings. "I do apologize. That's not me. Sometimes things were said out of anger. I'm Italian, and I have a big heart. I'm used to being around a lot of different races."
Asked what she would do differently if she had to do "Big Brother" all over again, she smiled and said, "Probably keep my big mouth shut."