Julie Chen Julie Chen

What's Julie Chen doing inside the Big Brother house? To help kick off the 13th season of the CBS reality hit (premiering Thursday at 9/8c) the one and only Chenbot spent four hours playing the game with her chatty cohorts from The Talk before the real contestants showed up. Footage of that will air on The Talk Thursday. Chen gave TV Guide Magazine the scoop.

TV Guide Magazine: You've hosted Big Brother since 2000 but we always see you outside the house playing puppet-master. How'd it feel to be a contestant?
Chen: I was so excited! After all these years of hosting, I finally got to play the game and I was so ready! The day we got our official instruction sheet with all the ground rules I felt like the houseguests do when they're presented with a key. Holly Robinson Peete, Sharon Osbourne, Sara Gilbert and Leah Remini all took part and we do a fast-forward version of the game, with a Head of Household competition, nominations for eviction, the total experience. [Laughs] And I do mean total — slop included!

TV Guide Magazine: Didn't knowing the game so well give you an unfair advantage?
Chen: Maybe a little bit, but not really. I've interviewed enough houseguests over the years who said they've watched every season and were prepared for everything — but that all goes out the window when the game starts. There is no way you can really prepare for Big Brother.

TV Guide Magazine: Last time you hosted Big Brother you weren't also hosting a daily talk show. Plus, you still have your correspondent duties on The Early Show. And you're a mom to a son who's almost 2. How is all this going to work itself out?
Chen: It was much harder when I was juggling Big Brother and still [anchoring] The Early Show. I'd have to be at the L.A. office by 2am every morning to prepare for the day's news and go on air live via satellite at 4am. I'd be done at 6am, go home to rest a little and be back at Big Brother by 11am. Now that was brutal. Plus I had so much homework to do to stay on top of current events. But it was the best training possible. After that, this is going to be a breeze.

TV Guide Magazine: We love the new loosey, goosey Julie Chen on The Talk! After nine months with the show you've finally got your groove on. Discuss.
Chen: [Laughs] I think I've finally found my calling! All those years when I was delivering the news I couldn't editorialize and had to do it with a straight face so no one at home would know how I really felt. I used to get paid to not be myself. Now it's the exact opposite and I love it!

TV Guide Magazine: At first you seemed hesitant to spill deets on your personal life. What changed?
Chen: I'm still finding my way with that. I still call my sister and my husband [CBS chief Les Moonves] and ask for permission to tell a story. The other day I wanted to talk about the time I was a child and walked in on my parents having sex. They're old-school Chinese immigrants and I worried that they'd be horrified. I'm like, "Mom? Dad? Can I tell the story?" Though they deny it ever happened, we had a good laugh and they were OK with it.

TV Guide Magazine: Every new talk show needs a shake-down period, a chance to grow and develop and find itself. It took years for The View to really become The View. Do you feel that people, especially those in the media, have been fair to The Talk? Or have they been impatient?
Chen: It is what it is. A talk show, like most TV programs, is always a work in progress. It's just like life itself, always changing with the times. In a way, we're like a comedian doing stand-up — you're always adding fresh material and staying on top of what's new and what's next. Hopefully, The Talk will be around for many years to come and, hopefully, we will never stop bringing our A game. We don't ever want to feel like we've finally got it down.

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