03 September 2013
This week, I finally decided to tackle writing about the 15th season of Big Brother. I love Big Brother, but this season is one of the least enjoyable possibly ever. No, it’s not infuriating because it’s full of racist houseguests (there have been tons of offensive houseguests in past seasons, read my thoughts on this phenomenon and how it’s playing out this season HERE), it’s mostly infuriating because it’s almost good. There are tons of people either in or evicted from this year’s Big Brother house who could be interesting players if they or their circumstances were slightly different. So, in writing about this season, I took several detours to ask what happened and what might have been. Hence, Big Brother 15: The Lengthy Footnotes. My general analysis (Found HERE) links to 11 different long asides. The first (which I already mentioned) is The Big Brother Prejudice Problem and you can read it HERE. As for Footnotes 2-11 (each one on a different houseguest with a final note on this season’s MVP twist) can be found here.
Part 2- Aaryn: What Could Have Been
I talked quite a bit about Aaryn in my previous footnote: The Big Brother Prejudice Problem, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the nuances of her Big Brother existence beyond the crux of the controversy. Aaryn is one of the great tragedies of this season, because I firmly believe that she had within her the potential to be one of the most remembered and revered players ever. A Janelle of the modern BB era. She’s a competition beast (one of the strongest ever) and seems to have something of a strategic brain in her head (I’m not arguing she would have been a legendary strategist, but there are different brands of BB legend and the Janelle or Rachel fighter archetype was fully within her grasp). The trouble (and we’ll revisit this phenomenon when we talk about Amanda) is that she has a fairly vile personality. Aaryn alienated the house so fully so quickly that she had to spend the majority of her summer playing the game for others instead of herself, in order to ensure basic survival. That completely wiped out the massive effect she should have had on the game considering how much of a competitor she is. Normally, that wouldn’t be much of a problem. So she’s on the wrong side of the house in her first season? Anyone who shows that much prowess is likely to be invited back and will prove herself the second time around (Look at Rachel Reilly- she made an impact in her disastrous first season and walked into better circumstances the second time around to become a beloved, sort of, player). But Aaryn didn’t just annoy the house, she will be remembered wholly just for being the racist chick and thus her chances of being invited back are less than zero. It’s too bad; why couldn’t the most hated contestant in history also be totally useless as a player? This all would have been a lot easier if Aaryn had played Andy’s game (more on That catastrophe in a moment).
Part 3- Amanda: What Happened?
Amanda’s trajectory towards villainy is Far more infuriating than Aaryn’s. We knew the score with Aaryn pretty quickly. The trouble then became having to remember how horrible she is every time she took power or made a decent move (the number of times I caught myself almost about to start liking Aaryn was shameful). But Amanda, I liked Amanda. Amanda was my early favourite. She was the best Diary Room soundbite machine on the show (even if her quips seemed a bit rehearsed), her showmance was the most unexpected and easy to root for I think I’ve ever seen, and she was playing an aggressive game without having to win anything. She was awesome. While everyone else was determined to honour “whatever the house wants”, Amanda was the person dictating what that would be (without anyone knowing she was doing so). But something got to her head. I don’t know if it was the claustrophobia, the pressure of being watched and judged by the audience, or if the power just made her drunk, but the girl went cuckoo-bananas INSANE. What started out as a game that resembled that of one of my all-time favourite players, Danielle Reyes, quickly devolved into something that far more closely resembled my least favourite game ever- Dick Donato’s game. I couldn’t Stand how Dick Donato played Big Brother. It was a strategy based on personal attacks and the purposeful alienation of the other houseguests. He didn’t manipulate or suggest, he bullied and threatened. It was preposterous. The only reason he won (and those who have a weird memory for season 8 might remember this) was because Julie Chen miscalled a crucial HOH competition, giving power to his side of the house over Dustin’s at a point when the numbers were on the line. In the past couple episodes, Amanda has far more closely resembled Evel Dick than his own daughter ever did. The crazier and less strategically sound Amanda’s gotten, the more annoying she’s been to watch. In contrast, someone like Judd is playing a fairly blah game but is completely enjoyable to watch; someone like Helen is kind of annoying but her strategic gameplay was objectively admirable. Amanda’s mind-blowing petulance, massive hypocrisy and completely irrational temper have blinded her ability to read the house (this week’s blindside showed just how deluded she’d become) while destroying whatever goodwill she had built up that might have rescued her even if her strategic abilities faltered. Giving her the benefit of the doubt that I can only muster up the patience to give when it’s been a couple days since I’ve had to watch her scream at someone, it’s clear that Amanda’s problems all arise from massive insecurity. I’m sure the idea that she’s become the season’s villain would horrify her and that she honestly believes that she’s in the right. She’s only biting back hard when she feels attacked. The problem is that she sees attackers everywhere and thus provokes whatever attacks she ends up getting. It’s the most dramatic implosion in series history (and I’m including the disaster that was Chima). She’s the only person left in the house who has contributed to the strategic arc of the season even a little bit and yet she’s become so detestable that giving her credit for that leaves a terrible taste in my mouth. I loved you once, Amanda. Now the only thing I can tolerate about you is McCrae.
Part 4- McCrae: You Poor Boy
The trouble with that is that the longer he stands by her, the less I like McCrae. Not that he has much of a choice. We all learned from Alec on Big Brother Canada that you cannot turn off a showmance once you turn it on. You’re stuck with it until one of you leaves the house (which will hopefully be this week for Amanda). McCrae is Constantly telling Amanda to calm down and just generally be less crazy. In fact, he seems to be fully aware of every single thing I outlined in the last paragraph. He’s just trapped, knowing that turning on Amanda would not only invoke her wrath but would likely signal to the rest of the house that he will never be loyal to anyone. At least, that’s what I’m hoping is his thought process for standing by Crazypants McFakeboobs (sorry, that was too mean). When the season began, dorky little McCrae, the ambition-less Pizza Boy, seemed to have hit the jackpot when the hot, successful, older woman turned her sights on him. She was way out of his league, but it started as a play to get closer to him when he was HOH, then blossomed under her hilarious suspicion that he’s actually a tech billionaire, until finally she admitted that she just liked him. The rest of us liked him too and we liked Amanda for seeing past his superficial failings to the fun and smart kid underneath (I still maintain that if he would cut his damn hair and wear some decent clothes, McCrae could be pretty dishy). Whenever we get a real glimpse of him- and not just the downtrodden shell he’s become as his girlfriend turns into a monster- McCrae is this season’s most winning personality By Far. And I do hope he gets to play again (without Amanda), partly because he is fun to watch and a lot because he is clearly a detailed student of the game. I love when fans are in the house because they tend to have a strong sense of how to play. McCrae can predict which competition might be coming up next and can sniff out a twist, because he knows how the show works (and the producers aren’t even close to as smart as they think- See Footnote #11). If Amanda had stayed the course of basic sanity (or even listened to him Once), McCrae’s game might be close to perfect. He’s played subtle and smart, he’s won competitions but not too many, he’s eliminated threats but gotten no blood on his hands, and he’s the less threatening (but more able to win himself the veto) side of the most loyal alliance in the house. I still have hope that, if (when?) Amanda walks out the door this week, we’ll get to see McCrae play his real game from here on out and maybe pull out a win. But, either way, McCrae, luckily, is the sort of contestant who will get invited back. Because he’s great. It’s just hard to see him suffer an inescapable showmantic situation.
Part 5- Andy: AAARRRGH!
I don’t want to harp on this for too long (because this post is already Epic) but Andy was, in large part, the reason I finally decided to write about this season of Big Brother instead of just continuing to publish Michael’s sarcastic Haikus. I HATE Andy’s game. I hate it. It’s mind-bogglingly alienating to watch, not to mention wildly shortsighted. I’m not someone who gets disproportionately annoyed with “floaters”; I’m happy to watch a fun personality float by (as long as they don’t win) and often I think great strategists seem like they’re floating when really they just aren’t in a numbers position to have influence just yet so they’re ensuring their survival until they can make a move (Dan Gheesling, for example, floated through much of seasons 10 and 14 after his alliance was decimated both times, until he could rise up and dominate the final few weeks). I thus don’t mind Judd, actually was rooting for Jessie, and am still kind of hoping Spencer will be the dark horse of the season (see Footnotes 8 & 9). But Andy- AAAAARRRRRGG!!!!! Even if Andy takes the final few weeks of the season and plays superbly, I will never get over how he played the first 3/4 of the summer (or how whiney he’s been about it, for no good reason). Based on the entrance videos, I thought he was going to be Great. He was fun and cutesy with the dark edge of being a determined liar- he showed great promise. But then he played the most cowardly game I’ve ever seen. Andy is playing each week with the singular goal of not being the following week’s nominee. It’s absurd. The jury house is now lined with people who Andy has personally betrayed, because he was too scared to make any moves other than smiling and crying until he knew he wouldn’t have to face that person the next day. That is the most surefire way to ensure that you will get zero votes should you, by some miracle, make it to the end. The biggest effect he has had on the game has been by preventing it from becoming interesting. He, like Dawn in the most recent season of Survivor, played a tattle-tale-based game wherein he convinced everyone he was their ally only to block their moves by ratting them out. Instead of joining up with an interesting rebel alliance, Andy has hidden behind whoever he felt could protect him, rebelling only when the powers that be had such small numbers that it ceased to seem like a rebellion. Andy is the Peter Pettigrew of this season and it just makes me So Mad.
Part 6- Elissa: Unexpected Hero
The first thing I would like to say about Elissa is that I really don’t like Elissa. She’s annoying as hell, has played a generally very uninteresting game, and has said countless really really mean things without getting any attention for it (I believe Amanda 100% when she says that she feels personally victimized by Elissa. That scene with the bathing suit made me massively uncomfortable and she uses the word “disgusting” in reference to human beings Way more than is acceptable). But this is how horrible this season is- Elissa is the closest thing to a hero we’ve got. She has this weirdly superhuman athletic ability that crops up at exactly the most climactic moments, she puts herself in direct opposition to whomever is the villainess du jour (first it was Aaryn, then it was Amanda), and she has a way of attaching herself to people who are far more admirable than she is (first it was Helen, a real strategist who was a rarity in the house for being genuinely not mean in any way; now it is Judd, someone so sweet and likeable that Elissa facilitating his survival becomes a credit to her). It was Elissa’s unexpected HOH win that allowed the new outsider faction (assembled from pieces of the old outsider faction plus Moving Company survivor Spencer and Coalition of Evil Hotties outlier GinaMarie) to outlive McCranda and their detestable 3AM alliance (I am rooting for McCrae, but his alliance-mates were Amanda, Aaryn and Andy, that thing had to go Down). But the most interesting, impressive and notable thing about Elissa is her complete control over her temper. The single greatest asset you can have in the Big Brother house is a firm hold on your emotions and the steadfast way Elissa has refused to rise to Amanda’s taunting (let alone the vast amounts of hatred hurled her way early in the game) is downright heroic. The girl has nerves of steel. She might be one of the most depressing people to cheer for in BB history (she’s only in the house because of her sister, she’s made very few legitimate game moves, she’s snarkily judgemental but never gets called out on it because her victims tend to be worse than she is, and she literally contemplated dropping out of the jury once evicted) but she’s what we’ve got this season and she at least is remarkable in her one little way (and anytime it looks like she’s about to fall out of an endurance competition but she yogas herself back into position- that’s always cool).
Part 7- Judd: Why The Hell Were You Evicted?
I like Judd. Everybody likes Judd. There’s very little point in talking about how fun Judd is (but Judd is adorable, guys). I also think Judd is playing a smarter game than he’s given credit for, staying on the right side of the numbers, only making alliances that aren’t going box him in, passing on exactly the right amount of information to the right people at the right time (not in a rat-y way), laying low but staying important. But Judd is not an evil mastermind. The moment when the whole house decided that Judd was an evil mastermind and needed to be spectacularly backdoored was perhaps the most mystifying moment of the season. It was an epic blindside with the sort of dramatic buildup that should have been reserved for the game-changing ousting of Helen (or even Nick, which was early but made the biggest impact of the summer). Guys, it’s just Judd. At least when there was a massive conspiracy theory that Howard was the house’s biggest threat, it was rooted in his history with a toppled alliance, the fact that he was close to an actual rebellious strategist (Spencer) and the reality that he wasn’t interested in working with the people in power. But the Judd conspiracy was based entirely on the idea that he was MVP (see Footnote #11) and other stupid crazy things like him being Howie’s cousin (from seasons 6 and 7). It was a big example of this particular house being crazy, paranoid, and full of sheep willing to believe the word of a couple crazy people. Ugh.
Part 8- Spencer: What Could Possibly Be
I’ve expressed this in other areas of these footnotes and my Main Analysis, but don’t you guys think that, in a season where he’s able to get a little more traction with people a little less afraid of the powers that be, Spencer could be a dominating strategist? He has a very intriguing sense of the game, so much so that I almost wish the Moving Company had stuck around so I could see Spencer work from within them to (I think) ultimately topple them. I sincerely hope that both he and Nick are asked to make return appearances to test out the gameplay that we saw only the potential for but not the results of. But, then again, Spencer still has some game left to play this season…
Part 9- GinaMarie: A Cultural Study
I addressed the GM issue in Footnote #1: The Big Brother Prejudice Problem, but I think it’s worth noting again how startlingly she shows us how sincerely limited a good person’s perspective can be. Because I do believe that GinaMarie is a good person. I think she’s shown a lot of genuine humanity in the house. And I don’t want to talk about her intelligence because she knows her own limitations in that area (I love a little self-awareness) and it does no good to pick on the girl (though I would like to pick on the American education system- what the hell is going on in New York public schools? Judd, the subtitled man, had to help her with her words this week!). But how has she never met a Korea person before? How does she not recognize what’s offensive and what’s not? (I think Aaryn knows what’s offensive, she just thinks it’s funny to be offensive). GinaMarie is as fascinating to me as Helen is to her, as a cultural oddity. I didn’t know they really made people that cartoonishly “Staten Island”. I really think there’s more to GM, I just wish it were easier to locate within the tiny box that’s been put around her.
Part 10- Candice: Double Identity
Candice was an interesting figure, especially in this season of such well-publicized racist remarks. She’s a well-educated, well-spoken, incredibly well-dressed (she even rocked the Clownitard to great effect!) black woman who is uniquely conscious of racial dynamics having been adopted into a white family. Watching Howard and Candice navigate the hostile waters of the house’s early weeks together was incredibly interesting- Candice wanting to stand up against the remarks, Howie urging her to play the pacifist and lead by an example of tolerance. The main part of Candice was very easy to root for- she was playing well (her read on the early power threats was near supernatural) and she was incredibly likeable (the compassion she showed GM after Nick’s eviction was really admirable). But when she got mad, Candice turned into an entirely other person. She was petty and loud and completely incapable of expressing herself rationally or eloquently. The classiness that had put Candice a step above most of the other houseguests (certainly this pathetic crop of women, except perhaps Helen) completely disappeared when she was in fighting form and she somehow reduced herself into the very stereotype that her combatants were unfairly accusing her of being. She became what Amanda grossly referred to as “Shaniqua” (because that is the term used to describe the archetype that Angry Candice resembled tragically closely, Amanda of course being completely obtuse about what terms are acceptable for use by a white woman on national television). GM’s crazy temper turns her into Turbo GM (basically a Big version of the GinaMarie that’s always there) but the effect of Candice’s temper was like condensing Amanda’s season-long arc into a matter of seconds: she’s normal and smart and likeable then WOAH, SHE’S A CRAZY PERSON! Then she’s back to being normal and smart and likeable again. It was crazy to watch, and honestly really not helpful in the fight against racial prejudice for the season’s only African American female to reduce so easily into a severely negative stereotype of an African American female (which leads, by the way, into the argument that there Really should be more than one or two representatives of minorities in the house, so that they don’t become responsible for representing their entire minority instead of just themselves).
Part 11- The MVP Faux Pas
Last but certainly not least, I have to talk about the season’s big twist. I loved it in theory. I thought MVP was a great idea that- best case scenario- would reward and encourage bold game play and- worst case scenario- would set up likeable players for unfair success. It opened up tons of possibilities for super sneaky strategizing (I really wanted someone to earn MVP and use it to take down a problematic member of their own alliance without having to publicly turn their back on them). Alas, I (as I always seem to) underestimated the power of the Big Brother producers to get in their own way. First of all, the MVP twist could only ever work in a season comprised entirely of new cast members with no ties to the game as it’s been previously played. Deploying a twist with so much potential in a season with the sister of a popular past contestant is just stupid, and also wildly unfair (of course she’s going to win it, she has a built-in fan base!). The way to counter that, though, would have been the implementation of a very basic rule: you can’t win MVP twice in a row. Simple. I even would have been okay with them introducing that rule partway through the season because they, for some reason, didn’t foresee the Incredibly Predictable problem of the same person winning every week. I would have even been okay with illegal producer tampering with the votes so that the second choice person won when they realized that Elissa was quickly destroying their precious twist (though that’s clearly not ideal). But no, what did the producers do when the twist was botch (by them!)? They made “America” the MVP. I’m very tired of the solution being to just make America choose everything (this was also the weird out the producers took when the promising Saboteur twist went belly-up). It created some fun paranoia the first week Elissa wasn’t MVP but, because the contestants had no idea it was within the rules for America to be the MVP, it ended up backfiring on the game of perfectly innocent people who were then suspected of making the secret nomination (mostly Judd, so another unfair twist had to be invented to let him back in the game- good one, Grodner). Then, not even halfway through the game, they scrapped the MVP and third nominee completely, putting it firmly on the failure pile alongside almost every single other twist in BB history (veto aside; veto was Genius). I would really like the producers to consider trying again. It was a really really good idea, it just needs some tweaking and a season with a clean slate cast (and a rule about winning it back to back). One more try and MVP may be a great success yet.
It’s interesting because, though it was a Massive failure, the MVP actually had a huge effect on the game. In the first weeks, the MVP nominee went home every time, opening the door for Helen’s outsider coup and the subsequent entire trajectory of the season. But because Elissa was Rachel’s sister and not just the MVP winner based on honest popularity or a strong first impression (let alone gameplay), Helen’s side of the house did not actually earn the advantage they were given. The house was taken over by a faction who may not have actually been the best gameplayers. Would Helen (or Amanda) have been able to beat Nick or Spencer without the unfair way the MVP twist unfolded? I honestly don’t think it’s likely. Without the twist, we probably would have seen the Moving Company eliminate a few more inconsequential players (my guess: Elissa then Judd) before Nick or Spencer decided to turn on Kaitlin, then Jeremy (at least that’s my prediction) and the season might have been more interesting. As I’ve said before, I think Nick staying in the house would have saved this season from its strategic draught and he definitely had at least another few weeks in him if there hadn’t been the MVP twist (or Elissa to win it every week). If the MVP twist had been set up more effectively (meaning no Elissa), I think it would have gone to McCrae (he made the strongest first impression by far) and I hope he would have used it to surreptitiously turn on Jeremy without outing the Moving Company, thereby setting himself up on both sides of the house, serving his showmance and keeping the powerhouse alliance alive without its obnoxious wildcard. Now isn’t that a move you would’ve liked to have seen? Alas, the producers were likely so excited by the prospect of forcing two houseguests to wear giant chicken suits that they didn’t have time to really think their big twist through.