This is why I love reality TV. Most people watch it for the schadenfreude or escapism, but I tune in because if the greatest writer in the world had written tonight’s episode of Big Brother, it wouldn’t have been as brilliant as this was. Tonight’s Battle of the Block competition- including its lead up and immediate aftermath- has to be the greatest scene in series history, or at least close to it. We saw our hero Frankie live long enough to see himself become a villain, then, alone and friendless as villains are wont to be, he crawled to Rudy-like triumph against all odds and expectations to once again feel the glare of the artificial BB lights on his skin and the burn of a hateful house filled with those who once loved him.
Also, Cody held hands with Victoria; what was that about?!
Let’s break it down, shall we? In order to force myself to keep it short, I’ll use bullet points (I make no promises about the length of each bullet point).
First, a little character analysis as backstory (in case you are a crazy person who isn’t watching this Incredible season):
- In this beautifully cast iteration of Big Brother with its TWO fully functional and game-ameliorating twists(!), each and every move- big or small- can be traced back to either Frankie or Derrick or both. Within the realm of manipulators and social strategists, the season’s two biggest stars have, so far, been playing opposite games, in cooperation. Derrick is the classic under-the-radar power player (a performance so quietly dominant that said strategy will likely be forever called Derrick-like). He is never literally in power (competitions aren’t a part of his gameplay) but he’s thinking ten steps ahead and is a master of inception, letting his puppets believe they’re making their own decisions. Frankie is similarly influential and clever though his over-the-radar strategy is bolder, more entertaining, and far more dangerous. He is a casting director’s dream, filling multiple roles in the mandatory roster of BB archetypes: the famous family connection (aka the Frank/the Elissa), the snarky diary room commentator/audience mouthpiece (aka the Britney), the flashy gay best friend (aka the Marcellas), the competition beast (aka the Janelle), the unexpected voice of reason, the strategic flirt, and in a season without Derrick he’d be considered the great manipulator (aka the Will) as well. He also has pink hair and great abs. Frankie’s wildly conspicuous- he’s in on every conversation, he wins a ton of competitions, he’s aligned with everyone (so is Derrick, but he’s more careful), the whole house loves (and therefore trusts) him. At first his conspicuousness had everyone underestimating Frankie and his extreme charm had everyone convinced that he really was looking out for their best interests. That made it possible for him to do things like orchestrate Amber’s eviction with just a few soft whisperings in Caleb’s ear (“how dare she not appreciate you, buddy; she’ll never love you like I do” [paraphrased]). Frankie is a power player and he has been lying through his teeth since the second he entered that house.
- In a stupider season filled with models and pharmaceutical reps, Frankie and Derrick could have ridden casually to the final three where Frankie would have won the final HOH and evicted Derrick’s true ally Cody to form the greatest final two ever (second place: Ian/Dan, third place: Will/Nicole). But this is a house of weirdos and superfans and finally they’re as invested and perceptive as the fans at home. So when her coulda-been-a-contender boyfriend bit the dust in Thursday’s double eviction, cutesy BB-nerd Nicole stood up, looked semi-clearly through the wool Derrick’s planted firmly over her eyes and threw a world of blame Frankie (and Christine)’s way. [A Note about Christine: she vibed early on like a brilliant player but her finger is in too many pies and she’s found her way out of the loop, turning all that strategic potential into a simple flotation device; she’s like a reverse Cody- never judge a book by its glasses or Efron obsession].
- Because of the incredible strength of his personal relationships, Frankie has thus far been able to talk his way out of anything (and talk others into whatever he wants). The most important thing you need to remember about Frankie is that he is beloved and when he says something like “Caleb and I are incredibly close” he should be believed. His relationship with Zach might be the most intimate thing to ever exist in the Big Brother house (and at least four former houseguests are actually married).
- Zach, though clever and aggressive, is the most emotional and innocent person in the house. Frankie is his favourite person in the world aside from his little brother.
- Caleb values loyalty and honesty above all things. He is gullible, unforgiving, rash and relentlessly heartfelt. To him, throwing a competition should be the last of last resorts, a strategy only deployed when the fat lady has truly sung.
To set the stage, the episode begins as the credits roll on the Teen Choice Awards where Ariana Grande picked up two of the year’s top prizes:
- Estranged best friends/former allies Christine and Nicole (the only serious female players left in the house; though, honestly, also the only serious female players to enter the house) are crowned HOH. Since Nicole can no longer trust Christine as far as she can throw her, they fail to work together like every other HOH duo of the summer so far. Christine nominates fan favourite Donny and loudmouth Zach because she has a personal vendetta against the latter (what happened to you, Christine?). Victoria survives nomination (!?!).
- Frankie attempts a big move- secure his safety by throwing his former allies at Nicole’s mercy. It appears to work and might just save him.
- Zach attempts yet again to force Nicole to open up to him (this has never worked even a little bit in the past). By riskily (foolishly?) revealing the truth about the Detonators at exactly the right moment, he lucks into a period of unexpected openness that reveals (though apparently with no consequences) that Cody had an alliance with Nicole and Hayden (no mention of Derrick, which seems implausibly lucky for the master strategist). As the sworn enemies contemplate how they’ve been mutually betrayed, Nicole drops the game-changing bomb: Frankie just came to see her, suggesting that if she nominate all four of his former alliance members (best friend Zach among them), he will join her, Christine, Donny and Victoria to form a new majority alliance.
- An amusing series of whispered bathroom conversations spreads word of Frankie’s betrayal throughout the Detonators.
- Derrick takes no prisoners- he launches a plan to nominate one of their own (obviously not himself) opposite Frankie to throw the BoB competition and ensure Brutus’ departure. It is an uncharacteristically short-sighted plan from Derrick (no other comp threat this season has been given two chances to pull themselves off the block; even if you ensure Frankie loses the BoB he still has a shot at the veto) but momentum is strong and Derrick knows the risk of giving Frankie time to talk his way to safety.
- Zach, heartbroken and furious to hear that his friend would suggest he be nominated, volunteers to go on the block alongside his #Zankie-mate.
- As Derrick tells Nicole exactly how to use her HOH reign (how is he So Good at this?!), Nicole informs Caleb that it was Frankie who orchestrated Amber’s eviction. What looks like a vengeful confession may have been meant as insurance, the plan for Frankie’s blockmate switching from Zach to Caleb as the HOH watches him seethe and vow to lose the Battle of the Block to facilitate Frankie’s eviction (Nicole couldn’t trust Zach’s love for Frankie to not come charging back and ruin the plan).
- Nicole nominates Caleb and Frankie. The former stares at the floor as the latter readies himself to battle for safety alongside his friend and trusted ally, “Beast Mode Cowboy”.
The Competition, a reality TV scene so riveting, heartbreaking, triumphant, moving and foreboding that its like will probably never be captured:
- Derrick is our host, dressed as an NFL commentator and narrating the action in a profound metaphor for the entire season (he’s never being discussed but his voice is in everyone’s head, telling them how things should go).
- Like all Battles of the Block, this rope-pulling puzzle is all about teamwork and communication. One simply cannot do it alone.
- As Frankie psyches himself up he looks at his partner and does a very Frankie thing- sees a problem, identifies it, pauses, then sets about fixing it by staring lovingly into Caleb’s eyes and pleading with him.
- Caleb then does a very Caleb thing and lays his heart on the line. He tells the truth, tearing the curtain off Frankie’s deceits and making no secret of just how alone in this house Frankie is. He sounds a little bit angry but mostly he sounds sad. Frankie tells Caleb it isn’t true. Caleb- an entrancing figure of misguided heroism and utter sincerity who has made this season incredible almost as much as the great strategists have- looks deep into Frankie’s eyes as though he’s bruised his very soul and utters a devastatingly simple line to put a stop to all the excuses: “Frankie, it is true”. Then he sits on the sidelines and leaves Frankie to compete in a two-man competition alone.
- It’s gut-wrenching. It’s heartbreaking. It’s beautifully dramatic.
- It should have ended there. Donnie and Zach should have wiped the floor with Frankie, leaving him abandoned and tearful but definitively on his way out the door. But the world is way more awesome than that and Frankie is one of the world’s more awesome dwellers. So he trembles a little, looks helplessly at his would-be lover Zach who hasn’t spoken to him in days, wraps the ropes meant for four hands around his two tiny wrists and says “bring it on” [paraphrased].
- It’s inspiring. It’s melancholy. It’s preposterous.
- Frankie Wins.
- The competition is a tense one and there’s a particularly thought-provoking moment when Zach panics and adopts Frankie’s partner-less handicap in an attempt to replicate his success, but the point of the matter is that Frankie wins. Frankie wins a two-man competition that he was forced to play by himself. If that were in a movie, you’d call it too implausible to believe.
- The most interesting reality is that if Caleb had been able to fake it, to stand by Frankie long enough to at least appear to be helping him, Frankie would have lost the competition and would be going home this week (veto dependent, of course). Holding one of the ropes, Caleb would have been able to sabotage Frankie’s performance no problem. But because he’s Caleb- heart on sleeve, temper out of hand, righteousness on parade- and because the person in question was Frankie- insightful, attentive, unflinching- Caleb couldn’t hide his intentions and ended up tapping out completely, leaving Frankie to battle on his own. But he knew he was on his own (as opposed to depending on someone poised to let him fall) and thus was able to adapt and turn a handicap into an advantage.
- As the final ball drops into place, Frankie’s determined composure crumbles. He celebrates by declaring his win for his recently passed grandfather and for the rest of his family “Team Grande” (including Ariana whose identity he is either tired of lying about or planning to use to his advantage this week, though what advantage it could possibly give him I know not).
- He throws himself into Caleb’s arms, shaking and mumbling “I’m so sorry”. The cowboy holds the Broadway dancer tightly but refuses to relent.
- Frankie goes to Zach, I choose to believe looking to win back his love just as much as he’s looking to find his footing back in the game (hint: only Derrick can grant you that now, Frank). Zach rebuffs him.
- My heart breaks at the love lost as Frankie’s defences visibly go up and he rubs his safety in Zach’s face.
- Zach will likely find himself in the jury house this Thursday- betrayed, confused, and without his best friend.
It’s now impossible to root for all of my favourites at once but, my god, what an incredible episode of television.