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‘Big Brother’ finally grows up

Return of game’s strongest player makes things interesting
/ Source: contributor

“Big Brother 6” has been known as the “Summer of Secrets.” From the secret alliances (every houseguest entered the game with a secret partner) to the house’s secret rooms (an entire bedroom was hidden behind a wall), there have been plenty of surprising moments.

Some things have stayed blissfully the same. Host Julie Chen is still as incompetent as ever, conducting awkward interviews with the houseguests and asking them relevant and insightful questions that only a morning show journalist could ask (“What would you rather do, spend a week on PB & J, or a week of eating nothing but dessert?”).

But the most shocking secret turned out to be one that we could never have expected: Except for the setting, “Big Brother” has almost become “Survivor,” a human game of chess unfolding three nights a week and all day every day on the Internet.

“Big Brother” began as usual, with vapid personalities banding together in a clique and excluding others, as if walking through the door had turned them into middle schoolers again. Calling themselves “The Friendship,” the clique assumed that they’d just all hang out and tan themselves for three months, and they all but stopped playing the game. They cast off outsiders during the first two evictions, and The Friendship docked at a port as its passengers lounged in their bathing suits.

What they — and viewers, and the producers — could never have predicted was the effect a player named Kaysar would have. The Iraqi-born graphic designer from California was one of the first two up for eviction on week one, nominated only because he was different. But his introspective nature kept him on the top of the game mentally. For example, he was the first to figure out that everyone in the house was playing along with a secret partner (smartly, he didn’t buy the producers’ ridiculous insistence that his partnership was the only one).

The Friendship hits a rock
In the “Big Brother” house, power changes hands on a weekly basis, which is perhaps the most brilliant component of a rather uninspired game. The Head of Household is selected by a challenge that gives everyone an equal opportunity to win, and the new HOH has the power to nominated two houseguests for eviction. It’s an upending and unpredictable component of the game that literally makes long-term strategy impossible.

Thus, when Kaysar won the Head of Household competition, he decided to use his position to disrupt the sanctimoniousness and complacency in the house, reminding everyone that they weren’t just on vacation, they were locked inside the house to play a game.

Kaysar nominated two powerful members of The Friendship, James and Maggie, a move he correctly predicted would cause a major fracture. Eric campaigned against his friend James in order to save his partner Maggie, splintering the larger alliance. Kaysar then allied with James and his partner Sarah, along with three others.

Thus, “The Sovereign Six” were born, and they battled “The Friendship.” The Friendship started sinking fast, as their charismatic leader Eric (aka “Cappy”) was ultimately nominated and took the fall.

Minutes later, though, Eric’s partner Maggie became Head of Household, and vowed revenge. A week after completely changing the game, Kaysar was voted out.

And now, in a turn of events likely to cause whiplash inside and outside the house, Kaysar is back. That was courtesy of America’s Choice, an annual ritual where the audience votes to make a decision that’s typically been monumentally inconsequential. Last year, we got to decide which of the dolts should have a walk-on role in a CBS soap opera, as if anyone cared.

This year, though, the vote had the potential to affect the game, as viewers chose an evicted houseguest to return.

The producers seem to have realized that their show had a following, but that it mostly consisted of people who mock the show relentlessly and seek professional help after wasting three months of their lives watching the show. Instead of filling the season with moronic gimmicks like allowing four “Survivor” cast members to visit the house for a few days, as occurred in season two, producers created a significant America’s Choice question.

Then viewers took over, overwhelmingly voting for Kaysar. He received 82 percent of the vote, a sure sign that viewers like strategizing and appreciate intelligence. With six weeks to go, the game has its strongest player once again.

There is a slight problem, though, and that is that “Big Brother 6” is a little too close to becoming every other season. That’s because the house’s major players have all been (smartly) targeting one another. If most of them get evicted, that leaves a preponderance of dolts.

Beau, Ivette, April, and Jennifer don’t appear to really be playing the game most of the time, unless you count making frowny faces as smart game play. Perhaps they’re playing by stepping back and letting the alpha houseguests eat one other, but that’s unlikely. After Eric was evicted, Ivette was so absorbed in the cultish sadness over the loss of her leader “Cappy” that she couldn’t possibly have been been thinking about anything else; she was also blindsided by the partner twist.

For a moment this past week, April and Jennifer appeared to be making a move, and the game seemed like it could swing again. The two admitted that nominee Ivette was a bigger threat than Sarah, who was also nominated for eviction. But eliminating Sarah had the potential to wound James, who’s clearly the strongest player.

Plus, they are passengers on The Good Ship Friendship, so they stuck with The Friendship’s plan.

Of the players who remain, only Maggie, James, Howie, Rachel, and Janelle have shown signs of engaging the game, at least on the televised version of the show. With James’ girlfriend Sarah gone, he’s possibly wounded, and definitely still targeted as a threat.

Along with his propensity to lie constantly and shift his allegiance to whatever group has power, James has become the player to beat by winning multiple challenges and saving himself from eviction.

Whatever ultimately happens, though, “Big Brother” has finally grown up, completely pulling away from being a fun-to-mock reality show about isolation and becoming an engaging reality game.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.