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It’s Time for ‘Big Brother’ to Twist Itself Back to Basics

It was the middle of June 2017 and we were introduced to the 16 new houseguests of “Big Brother 19.” The prospects for a new season were promising, especially considering there were more people aged 30 years old or above than in any previous season — one of whom (Jason) exhibited lots of enthusiasm and another (Christmas) who had an incredible life story.

And then, the show invited one more person into the house…

Paul Abrahamian.

The 24-year-old fashion designer and musician from Tarzana, California was first introduced to “Big Brother” fans in 2016, having competed in the series’ 18th season. Despite residing with four returning players at the start and being nominated for eviction six times, he managed to last all the way to finale night and missed winning the grand prize by one mere jury vote.

Paul may not have been among the most endearing of that season’s houseguests but he certainly received much praise and respect for his game play.

That was the Paul of “Big Brother 18”.

The Paul of “Big Brother 19”, while still clever, was more entitled, more preening and more egomaniacal.

The setup to this season certainly fed into that ego. Despite being the lone returnee in a house with 16 other players, any notion of Paul being an underdog was stripped away on the very first night for he became the most advantageous houseguest in “Big Brother” history.

Paul helped make eight houseguests safe on Day 1 by giving them each “friendship” bracelets. This method had a profound effect upon the game providing him an immediate alliance. Elena, Mark and Jason each had especially noted their bonds with Paul all throughout the summer due to those bracelets.

And in another contrivance on premiere week, viewers were asked to vote for the houseguest to win the season’s first Den of Temptation reward called the Pendant of Protection which granted that person three weeks of safety. Like most other elections, people tend to vote for who they know. Compared to the 16 other houseguests, Paul was the only known figure to “Big Brother” fans back then, paving the obvious path for a reward of lengthy immunity.

The show has incrementally upped the tilting factor for its supposed favorites at each season and it outdid itself this year. “Big Brother” ran amok this summer assisting Paul. Not surprisingly, several of the challenges Paul had won on “Big Brother 18” were re-featured on “Big Brother 19”. Of course, Paul won them again.

But even the twists that didn’t directly help Paul, like the Ring of Replacement and the Tree of Temptation, flopped in their own flat way. The Halting Hex reward, given to Paul-nemesis Jessica, disappointed the moment she openly revealed it to all her fellow housemates after Josh became Head of Household.

While the show loves touting the motto of “expect the unexpected,” the pattern of new houseguests latching on to a past houseguest had to be expected. Most new players have always looked upon past players in awe, as if they possess invaluable expertise. And the results of that awe make it apparent that any returning houseguest holds a supreme edge.

For the five seasons that “Big Brother” has mixed at least one houseguest from a previous season alongside rookies, four of them involved a returning houseguest reaching at least the Final 2; two of those players (Rachel on BB13, Nicole on BB18) won the entire game and the other two (Dan of BB14, Paul of BB19) were each immune for at least the first three weeks of their respective summers.

The very first season that implemented returnee/newbie mixing was “Big Brother 11” in 2009 when BB10’s Jessie Godderz whose sole production advantage was assuming the role of Head of Household upon entering. He had only lasted until Day 40 within the house to become that year’s first jury member, and yet he still managed to accrue several minions (allies) among the newbies for support.

It’s quite evident Paul had made great maneuvers in the “Big Brother 19” game. He helped coordinate himself into a spot where he was able to play houseguests against each other all while escaping practically scot-free. But as frustrating as it has been witnessing the other houseguests continually fall for Paul’s directives, the biggest letdown of “Big Brother 19” was the cloud of Paul favoritism by the producers. How could anyone truly bask in Paul’s strategic moves with the show figuratively holding his hand through the rough times? What if Paul hadn’t received such advantages? Would Paul have been so adored by others in the house if not for his first-day “friendship” alliance? And, the biggest question: how would this season have turned out if Paul had not entered?

We can only imagine what would have occurred. For the avid fan, however, we can also have a growing fondness in recalling a time “Big Brother” was on an even playing field like seasons 2 thru 6 — the series’ golden age. We were then introduced to the show’s best players ever (and who remain so, to this day) in Dr. Will, Janelle and Danielle Reyes, among others. Those original casts seemed much more competitive than recent ones (especially “Big Brother 19”), who have featured several men and women looking to pair up into showmances (perhaps as a nod to the continuing popularity of ABC’s “The Bachelor”) and not prioritizing aiming for the $500,000 grand prize.

The ratings for “Big Brother” have maintained well throughout all its recent contrivances, so there will be incentive to keep twisting itself. But instead of tweaks and alterations that compromise fair game play, how about a twist that involves casting people who don’t fit into cookie-cutter roles (e.g., the gay guy, the Bible-thumping African-American female, the nerd, the dumb jock, etc.)? The biggest draw for the loyal “Big Brother” fan is observing how a new cast handles the dynamics of being secluded from the outside world together.

We entered “Big Brother 19” excited for that very prospect. What we got was a redemption play for a polarizing “Big Brother” veteran. Another season lost by the wayside.