After more than three months, 42 episodes and countless hours of watching the houseguests live and interact with each other, the 18th season of “Big Brother” on CBS has come to a close. A summer television staple since its inception in 2000, let’s take a deeper look:
Two newbies emerged as memorable: the eccentric, brash Paul who usually craved “friendship” and his season-long ally, the uniquely thrice-evicted Victor. Amidst a season where it was positioned as advantageous (again) to veteran houseguests, — seasons 13, 14 and 18 have at least one past houseguest in the Final 2 — Paul and Victor possessed much drive, loads of personality and enough nuance within the game to power through to the Final 5, with Paul vying for the ultimate grand prize.
Victor certainly got off to a horrendous start as a novice “Big Brother” player. He admitted he was targeting Nicole (she was the Head of Household at the time), aligned with the loopy madness that was Jozea, resorted to being critical of Natalie’s actions and looks and wasn’t at all pleased with James’ pranks. As a result, he was third player dismissed this season but upon returning via the “Battle Back” contests, he calmed his social game and trusted the instinctual Paul implicitly. With Paul, he was positioned squarely in the middle of two factions: Paulie-Corey-Nicole versus the rest of the house. This provided him cover for several weeks until his second eviction and immediate second return into the game.
Victor began to cement his fan-favorite status during Zingbot week which punished Corey for wearing an All-American unitard that came along with an eagle puppet. Victor borrowed that puppet (named Baldwin) and hilariously portrayed the eagle as an angry, fed-up profanity-laced animal nagging James to give him back his money.
According to popular Big Brother fan forum JokersUpdates.com, Victor was the No. 1 top-rated favorable houseguest for each day since that week.
But by earning the most competition victories this season and his penchant for placing his commitment and faith in others’ intentions (e.g. Nicole and Corey), Victor was ultimately evicted once and for all. Nonetheless, his image was positively revamped from the “El Douchebag-o” reputation early on (a moniker given by the one-and-only Zingbot), and became one of the more popular houseguests ever to reside inside the “Big Brother” house.
Also enjoying a comeback story, of sorts, was Paul. Once a close ally to the bonkers Jozea in Week 1 and earning a victory in an early-season veto contest, Paul’s days seemed numbered at the start of the summer. But he maneuvered his position by joining up with Paulie for several weeks, then became part of the crew that ultimately got rid of Paulie. Later, he helped form the “Final Four” alliance that got him to outlast Michelle and Natalie. Despite landing on the chopping block six times, his varied game shifts, clever strategy moves, and personable interaction with others as his loyal friend/challenge-beast Victor was along for the ride got him to finale night with a supreme chance to win it all and join the elite winners of “Big Brother” lore.
Michelle as a Nominee on Eviction Night
Michelle (or “Meech”) was once in the middle of power alliances, the 8-Pack and Fatal Five. She was even the catalyst in coordinating the 9-player vote that helped keep Tiffany, evict Bronte and confuse the heck out of Frank. But as those groupings fell apart, so did her game position. Her deep wails and loud crying jags rose to irritating levels and rivaled those from BB8 Amber’s, and her game took a tumble when she ultimately sided with James and Natalie. But it was Meech’s bitter attitude that provided entertaining and memorable fodder during each of her three stints as a nominee for eviction, attacking Paulie and “snake” Nicole in her speeches — a welcome departure from the normal cordial words by exiting houseguests.
There’s much to complain about with this season’s twists (as noted in the Ugly section of this article) but one new twist to the series gets some accolades: the Roadkill which introduced new contests playing out inside an RV with its winners were revealed in secret as they earned the power to nominate another houseguest. Of course, the secret part wasn’t sacred for too long _ each Roadkill winner made their victory known but that was theirs to blame — not the aspect itself.
The long-running reality competition continues to be an attraction. Most of its crowd is in the key adults 18-34 and adults 18-49 demographic. Its same-day audience averaged about 6 million viewers per telecast; on par with recent seasons, despite the 2016 edition airing opposite political conventions and the Rio Olympics. Despite its flaws, “Big Brother” remains a ratings-reliable summer reality staple.
The Season is Too Long
Observing this 18th season that began in mid-June, you can see there really IS too much of a good thing. “Big Brother” originally began its seasons after the Independence Day holiday but in recent years, it began in June. But the extra weeks haven’t enhanced the proceedings; in fact, they’ve detracted from them. This year, the time gave the show an opportunity to inject three twists that would allow an evicted houseguest to return back into the game and grounded its final weeks (and episodes) to a snail’s pace. And consider that Da’Vonne, Zakiyah and Bridgette, the season’s first three jurors, have each spent more time in the jury house (Da’Vonne 48 days, Zakiyah and Bridgette 41 days each) than one entire “Survivor” season (39 days).
Big Brother Rookies
Most of the rest of the newbies had very little to offer, whether they were out-of-fit (Glenn) or out of their minds (Jozea, Bronte), too bland (Zakiyah, Bridgette, Corey), too salty (Michelle), or too sugary (Natalie).
Like seasons 13 and 14, “Big Brother” invited back multiple past houseguests to live with a bunch of newbies for season 18 — BB14 Frank, BB16 Nicole, BB17 James and BB17 Da’Vonne. On the surface, all four were generally fan favorites with Frank and James each winning America’s Favorite Player in their original respective seasons, Nicole was one of the few welcome personalities from the dull 16th season and Da’Vonne, while being the second one evicted in her season, quickly stirred the pot.
But as events played out, their presence became more of a distraction than an asset. Frank and Da’Vonne made for notably loud arguments, but both their downfalls were caused by each of them playing the same style of game that got them evicted in their previous seasons. Meanwhile, Nicole and James each entered into their own different “showmances.” Somehow, it didn’t destroy their position in the game, for they both reached the Final 3, but it seemed as if they preferred residing on their beds more per day than actually socializing and strategizing. They each have stated that it’s time to play “Big Brother”… with three weeks remaining in the game. Perhaps they preferred winning the show accidentally!
Entering the season, James from “Big Brother 17” had been among my top-5 favorite houseguests of all-time. But his “Big Brother” 18 appearance and lazy approach to its game this season has taken him off that list, leading to the realization that I had favored him for two sole reasons: his lone bold game move of nominating Clay and Shelli and being the lone fun personality among an unpopular non-bubbly final BB17 mix.
In addition, circumstantial evidence (e.g. vowing to share Care Packages and divvying up prize money with other houseguests after the season) seems to point to an alleged pre-season agreement between James and Nicole to keep each other safe. Even if a supposed agreement hadn’t taken place, a prior houseguest would always possess a major advantage of having “Big Brother” experience over a new entrant (as James loved to say, “this ain’t [their] first rodeo!”), proving the unfairness of mixing All-Stars and newbies within the same season.
The “Derrick” Effect
No doubt, Derrick Levasseur is one of the all-time best winners in “Big Brother” history. His advice on how to play the game can be valuable to any houseguest. But as a viewer, that’s bad news — of course, Derrick was a vital reason his 16th season was one of “Big Brother’s” dullest.
Paulie and James both had proclaimed taking Derrick’s coaching and words to heart before they each entered this season’s house. Derrick had a knack at making the soon-to-be evicted comfortable before each of their eventual dooms two years ago which may have been the impetus in James’ frequent decisions to notify the intended parties of his game decisions (e.g. telling Paulie, Corey and Nicole about evicting Zakiyah instead of Michelle) hours beforehand. While “Big Brother” 18 wasn’t without its blindsides, there would have been plenty more (and sweeter) to occur.
America’s Favorite Player
The annual honor of becoming America’s Favorite Player, the non-Final 2 houseguest voted by the public as their favorite of the season, may have officially gone past its peak. Fans haven’t taken too kindly at the houseguests who strongly vied for this prize, particularly James and Nicole. Their near-daily aim to please the production staff (and in their minds, us viewers by proxy) had dampened the game to the extent where they each seemed handcuffed in not making nor creating any bold game moves. At one point late in the season, James even joked with Natalie how she felt “breaking up” with America’s Favorite. With excessive preening like this, it may be time to put the America’s Favorite aspect to rest.
Show Romances aka Showmances
When the house mixes a good looking group of strangers, it seems destined that there’d be at least one romantic pairing per season. This season, there were three: Corey and Nicole, James and Natalie, and Paulie and Zakiyah.
“The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” continue to draw significant young crowds each week but its success shouldn’t signal that its niche in the reality TV genre is something that should be transferred to a game-oriented program such as “Big Brother.” As history dictates, showmances are an aspect of “Big Brother” that’s supposed to be detrimental to one’s game. Yet two people — Nicole and James — involved in showmances made it to the Final 3. However, their showmance involvement made their games (and personalities) often passive, stagnant, isolationist and lackadaisical; not a good recipe for a fan audience who craves witnessing good strategy and intrigue.
The same can be said for their respective partners. Corey, whose top daily priority was kissing and cuddling Nicole (and couldn’t care less about studying for future competitions!) was as interesting as watching paint dry. Although Natalie’s affable nature shined through, even her constant playfulness and frivolity with James gradually became overwrought with corniness. Her closeness to James brought her to the point of sacrificing her own game for him — certainly, the opposite of what a player should be doing.
Siblings of Past Houseguests
Unfortunately, the two siblings of former houseguests who were also part of this cast — Tiffany, sister to BB17 Vanessa, and Paulie, brother to BB16 Cody — were a bust. Tiffany repeatedly proclaimed she was nothing like her sister Vanessa yet showed stark similaries otherwise. Paulie’s approach to the game was much more active than his brother Cody’s, but it was his over-aggressive manner, his misogyny towards several females and an egomaniacal attitude that set him as the uber-villain of the house and a fan least-favorite.
The Rest of the Season’s Twists
“Big Brother” fans know the motto: Expect the unexpected. Each season unleashes various twists in the game that try to shake up the house and keep the players active. The twists unveiled for the 18th season seem to have played out in one disappointment after another.
Most would likely pin targets upon the four houseguests from previous seasons, but like season 13’s pairs and season 14’s teams, through this season’s team twist — splitting the house into teams of four with immunity at stake if a team member earns Head of Household — the All-Stars were able to stay in the house for longer than they should have been.
The “Battle Back” gave the first five eliminated houseguests a chance to re-enter the game — similar to the defunct feature of Redemption Island from “Survivor”. Victor was then able to return the first time.
“America’s Care Package” gave viewers a chance to interact with the show by voting rewards to their favorite players, although some of the Care Package results were seen by most loyal BB fans and observers as questionable, to state the least (e.g. the unfavorable Nicole and Corey).
The Round-Trip ticket twist provided someone the chance to prevent his or her own eviction through solving clues within the house. It was supposed to be the “Big Brother” version of the hidden immunity Idol from “Survivor.” There was a modicum of suspense (manufactured as it was) of whether or not an evicted houseguest had the Round Trip ticket, but, after five evictions within its eligibility, no ousted houseguest had possessed its ticket.
The failure of the Round-Trip twist led to the most contrived, egregious twist this season: the Jury Re-Entry. One of the first five jurors could come back into the house and possibly could become the next Head of Household — a twist originally seen back in “Big Brother” 15. Victor made “Big Brother” history by being able to re-enter the game twice in one season; a great honor for himself and, by association, Paul, but a very dubious setback for production who aimed at getting the controversial Paulie back in the house.
We understand the twists exist for the purposes of entertainment but when a multitude of them fall short — sometimes profoundly so — it often sours the game as well as the show.
Overall Grade: C
Very ambivalent about how BB18 wound down. This season has lessened my opinion of Nicole and James — two past houseguests who I liked in their respective original seasons. “Big Brother 18” wasn’t the worst season of the series with Paul making it to the end, but I personally cannot help feeling the season could have been so much more.