CBS perennial summer hit Big Brother draws to a close tonight after thirteen weeks of scheming, backstabbing, and manipulating. The season promised to be the twistiest season ever, and producers gave us Team America, a superstar’s sibling, an undercover cop, a rewind button, a juror buyback and the new Battle of the Block. When the dust cleared, despite these twists, Big Brother 16 will go down as one of the most predictable seasons ever as Rhode Island police sergeant Derrick Levasseur is crowned the eventual winner and awarded the largest cash prize in Big Brother history.
The 30-year-old former undercover cop has played a nearly flawless game, creating numerous, tight final two alliances with houseguests who never compared notes, and manipulating almost all the decisions made in the house. Before Julie Chen congratulates him and hands him his check, Derrick’s name has already been added to the pantheon of the great Big Brother winners, spoken of along with Dr. Will Kirby and Dan Gheesling. Unlike those superstar players, however, Derrick’s game has not been flashy or entertaining. Much like the difference between actual police work and what we see on CSI, playing a perfect, methodical game is mundane and tedious. It does not make for great TV. Derrick hasn’t given us catchy soundbites, funny Diary Room sessions, or explosive, memorable moments.
For that, Big Brother 16 turned to its eclectic, often electric, cast. There was Donny Thompson, a 42-year-old groundskeeper from North Carolina whose claim to fame was having been former American Idol contestant Kelly Pickler’s gardener. America took an instant liking to Donny and voted him into Team America on the strength of his gentle demeanor and friendly personality. However, despite his soft-spoken nature and country twang, Donny could be bitingly funny. The juxtaposition of his slow drawl with the clever one-liners caused all the houseguests to question whether there was something more to the mild-mannered Donny. He memorably remarked that there wasn’t, which only made him more lovable in America’s eyes. When voting opened for America’s Favorite Houseguest, Donny was one of the most frequently mentioned choices.
The other houseguest whose name came up in the discussion about America’s Favorite was the complete opposite of Donny. A recent University of Florida college grad, partying frat boy and self-described unemployed con man, Zach Rance was abrasive, loud, and unpredictable. While Donny was an early favorite, as his Team America vote demonstrated, pre-season Zach led the list of the least liked contestants. But early on viewers, especially of the live feeds, saw a different side to the unfiltered, excitable yet sweet 23-year-old. Zach spoke lovingly about his little brother, entertained the house with his humor and questionable dance moves, flirted with his fellow houseguests – male and female – and single-handedly brought the “real” back into Reality TV. He also gave us a welcome contrast to Derrick’s calculated game by being spontaneous and uninhibited. His ZachAttack hashtag and @ranceypants handle has taken over Twitter and his social media presence skyrocketed after his relatively short, but impactful, run on the show.
Another standout, and also in the running for America’s Favorite, was the adorkable Nicole Franzel, a 22-year-old self-described Big Brother superfan. With her oversized glasses and broad mid-western accent, she was at first unnoticed among a sea of models and over-the-top female characters. But in no time, Nicole became the heart and soul of the show. She was part of the most G-rated showmance in Big Brother history, a chaste, slowly blooming relationship with Hayden Voss, the laidback pedicab driver from Long Beach. She was smart, feisty and a good sport, whether wearing the “Germatard,” a one-piece lederhosen outfit which included an over-sized stein and bratwurst, or rocking a frog suit. She was one of the few players to try and make a big move and one of the first to figure out Derrick’s game, but to no avail.
Some players were memorable for all the wrong reasons. Devin Shepard for having his game blow up so quickly, going from the top of a six person alliance to out the door in just about a week. Brittany Martinez for having to kick a soccer ball 2,400 times as a punishment and then getting kicked out (get it) the same week. Victoria Rafaeli for cutting up her own hat to spite Zach. Joey Van Pelt for the scary, gender-bending alter ego she unleashed before she was evicted. Jocasta Odom for 1) speaking in tongues, 2) wearing a bowtie, 3) thinking she was part of Chilltown with her phone calls in the Diary Room, 4) being the first person actually blindsided by a vote this season. The married Christine Brecht for her excessive flirtation with young John Travolta look-alike Cody Calafiore. Amber Borzotra, not for her stunning good looks or level-headedness despite the insanity around her, but for being the object of one Beast Mode Cowboy’s scary obsession. Caleb Reynolds for thnking Beast Mode Cowboy is a good nickname. Pow Pow for … who was she again?
And then there’s Frankie “Ariana’s brother” Grande. The 31-year-old self-proclaimed Social Media Mogul was actually two people on Big Brother – one before the big reveal, one after. When he first went into the house, he was the funny, clever, talented former Broadway performer who lit up a room. He immediately grabbed the attention, and more, of Zach Rance who started questioning his sexuality over his attraction to the out and proud Frankie. The two started a steamy showmance and their seeming affection made them America’s darlings, dubbed Zankie. But after Frankie came out – as the brother of worldwide superstar Ariana Grande and a YouTube personality in his own right – a monster was born. A self-absorbed, paranoid, hurtful, acidic monster. His personality was too big for the Big Brother house and his bitter exit was one of the few unexpected moments in an otherwise by-the-numbers season.
In just a few more hours, the winner of Big Brother 16 will be revealed and Derrick Levasseur will finally finish up what he’s worked all summer long to accomplish. It will be less of a surprise than Matthew McConaughey winning the Oscar earlier this year or someone not being able to spell his name write the first time. With one person running roughshod over an entire house, and outcome so obvious so early on, you might think this season was a complete bore. But thanks to creative casting and the ability of some people to surprise us, Big Brother 16 actually managed to have its share of Reality TV stars.
That’s why the real race tonight will be for America’s Favorite Houseguest. America voted from last Friday through Monday for their favorite, the one they found most deserving of the $25,000 consolation prize. It’s really a four-person race, and the only mystery left in an otherwise unsurprising finale. Will it be Frankie Grande, whose sister has tweeted her millions of followers to vote for him, Donny, who is genuinely and unanimously loved, Zach, who gave us the funniest and most heartbreaking moments of the season, or Nicole, who gave us spunk and determination. That alone is worth tuning in to see.