With yearly promises of spectacular twists and turns, CBS's "Big Brother" saved the best hook for its seventh season. Following in the footsteps of its more successful network sibling, “Survivor,” “Big Brother” takes a shot at the all-star angle.
Some of the most popular contestants ever to play the game are returning for another chance to live in the human Habitrail. The difference with this ensemble: viewers get to pick from the pool of past favorites and cast six of the 12 houseguests joining the show.
On Wednesday night's special episode, host Julie Chen introduced the 20 “stars” America can choose from. Don't expect an equal selection from each season. Most viewers hardly remember the first season and wish they could forget the fourth all together.
Thankfully, the action-packed years (two and six) are well represented. To help voters cherry-pick a balance of nice guys and villains, here's the rundown of the good, the bad and the unnecessary — with a hint at the drama each could deliver:
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The Good Guys
Bunky (Season 2)
While he was a total bore when the things went his way, the slightest friction brought out the tears. Unless loved by all, and that’s just not going to happen, expect Bunky to flow like Tammy Faye.
George (Season 1)
Better known to fans as “Chicken George” from his hen-tending days back when "Big Brother" had livestock. His big power play: very nearly convincing fellow houseguests to walkout three weeks before the finale. He's also the lone candidate from the series premiere.
Advantage: “Big Brother” pioneer.
Howie (Season 6)
A self-proclaimed Jedi master and all-round funnyman, Howie made a habit of hurling exceptionally entertaining schoolyard insults at opposing players. He started out even-tempered but turned into a name-calling, wild-eyed opponent when the numbers stacked up against him.
Janelle (Season 6)
Hiding her strengths behind the image of a snobby, blonde diva, Janelle turned out to be one of last year's most strategic players. Her ability to outlast her allies and her frequent challenge victories proved her an unexpected powerhouse.
Advantage:Novelty (i.e., actual skills).
Kaysar (Season 6)
Voted out and then back in, Kaysar turned the game on its ear. He made his greatest maneuver by busting up the band of his rivals known as “The Friendship” alliance.” It also earned him his final ticket home the following week.
Monica (Season 2)
Not making a big impact at first, Monica finally snapped when she realized others plotted against her. She claimed the spotlight with her repeated declarations that “it's awwwwwn!"
Advantage: Sound bites.
Jennifer Nakomis (Season 5)
Along with a brother she never knew she had, Nakomis was one of the fifth season's sibling reveals — a clunky “Maury” aspect of the game. She masterminded the “six-finger plan,” nominating members of her own clique to gain control of the veto and ultimately oust Jase.
The Bad Guys
Alison (Season 4)
Disliked by most fans and houseguests alike for her gleefully bitchy performance; Alison used lies, flirtation and fake friendships to her advantage. And, hey, it got her to 2nd place (not to mention a spot on another CBS reality show, “The Amazing Race”). While unlikely to be voted in by the viewing audience, don't be surprised if the show's producers put her in to stir the pot.
Danielle (Season 3)
She's one of the greatest players not to win the game. Danielle single-handedly orchestrated the boot of many of her competitors. The strategy? Convincing her roomies that what was in her best interest would actually be their smartest move. While she remained friendly face-to-face, she spoke her mind in the diary room. Before the days of sequestering the jurors until the final vote, she suffered the fallout of her own confessionals.
Ivette (Season 6)
Whether it was jealousy toward challenge winners or intense anger for no apparent reason, Ivette’s emotional instability was the hallmark of her stay. Well, that and her near-obsessive attachment to in-house pal “Cappy.”
Jase (Season 5)
He’s the obnoxious narcissist who played the part of lapdog to his TV girlfriend, Holly. Jase never recovered when his alliance dwindled, falling victim to the aforementioned “six-finger plan.” Most impressive are his skills in preening and ego inflation, which rival those of Howie and Will combined.
Marcellas (Season 3)
A fan-favorite well known for making the worst move in the history of the game, Marcellas allowed hubris to get the best of him. In a grandstanding gesture he chose not to use the veto on himself and, predictably, he was voted out that night. Still, he was the house gossip and always had something hilariously mean to say about the others.
Mike “Boogie” (Season 2)
Most important fact: He’s exactly the sort of guy who gives himself a name like "Boogie." Easily the most irritating member of the “Chill Town” alliance, from his white boy wannabe-hip-hop threads to his not-so-sincere marriage proposal to fellow “chiller” Krista on the finale.
Will (Season 2)
The Richard Hatch of “Big Brother” (sans tax evasion scandals!), Will’s machinations showed the world how to play the game. He lied his way to victory with the novel approach of being upfront about the fact that he was lying.
The Filler (no advantages)
Dana (Season 4)
Dubbed “Mantroll” by a fellow houseguest (though it’s unclear what she did to earn the name, or what a mantroll is for that matter), other than her occasional temper tantrums, Dana didn't leave much of an impression at all.
Diane (Season 5)
She kept her head in the competition until she fell in love with the cute guy instead of getting rid of him. Said cute guy, Drew, sent Diane packing after they made it to the final three.
Erika (Season 4)
Attractive and nice but when did that ever make for good TV? Yawn.
Lisa (Season 3)
A bland spot among a few standout players, Lisa raked in the big prize due to the jury’s anger toward Danielle rather than her own merit. In the casting special she said of herself, “I was the pretty girl in the bathing suit all summer.” That pretty much summed up her appeal.
James (Season 6)
He only stayed in the game as long as he did due to frequent veto wins, but he was clearly more impressed by his own strategy than anyone else.
Michael (Season 5)
Nicknamed Cowboy, he was the other half of the sibling debacle with Nakomis. He joined in the odd alliance of “The Four Horsemen,” who carried him to a second place finish. He didn't bring anything special to the show, but he was good for an unintentional laugh or two.
The same flash that made “Survivor: All-Stars” a show to watch should do the trick for “Big Brother.” There's no trudging through a slow start while getting to know new faces and figuring out the loves and the love-to-hates. And since most contestants already know each other, the mind games should kick in from the very first episode.
Ultimately, whether this season takes off or not will all come down to who plays the game. The best viewers can hope for is a good mix. While one or two obnoxious housemates make for good times, a trifecta of Howie, Jase and Mike “Boogie” would grate. There's only so much goofy sideways hat-wearing that even the biggest fans can endure.
Voting is open until June 28 on CBS' Web site. "Big Brother 7: All-Stars" premieres July 6.
Ree Hines is already wearing her "Danielle 2006" campaign button.
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