On Wednesday night, CBS perennial summer Reality TV hit Big Brother crowned its 16th winner, 30-year-old police sergeant Derrick Levasseur. To the surprise of no one, Derrick beat out 23-year-old Cody Calafiore, his partner-in-crime throughout the season, taking seven of the nine juror votes on his way to the biggest payday of any Big Brother winner. It should have been a unanimous victory as Derrick played a flawless game, winning friends while plotting their demise, hiding in plain sight as the person scheming the most, using everything in his arsenal to convince the other houseguests that he had a final two deal with them and only them. Derrick’s complete control of the Big Brother house was so under-the-radar, and his strategy was so perfectly executed, that while he played possibly the best game in the history of the show, he will not be remembered the way previous winners from Dr. Will to Dan to Evel Dick have been. While Derrick masterminded every move made in the Big Brother house from jump street, his game play has not been entertaining or watchable.
Why is that? Two words – jump street. As in 21 Jump Street, the TV show (later movie franchise) about undercover cops. Derrick is a former undercover cop and it is that skill set which gave him unprecedented power in the house and was destined almost from the very beginning to get him to the end. So what was it about being an undercover cop that worked so well in the Big Brother house? And why does it not make for riveting television or a memorable winner?
1. The ability to blend in
The first and most important skill an undercover cop needs is the ability to blend into his or her surroundings. Being outed as a cop can be a death sentence. Whether it’s posing as a teenager when you’re years older (something fellow houseguest Frankie Grande no doubt wishes he could do) or pretending to be a criminal or drug user, undercover cops have to be able to convince strangers of a made-up identity – a whole new persona that will seem completely real and natural. Meryl Streep doesn’t have her life on the line when she takes on a part, undercover cops very well may.
So the Derrick who walked into the Big Brother house was a creation, a manufactured persona designed to be nonthreatening. He was a Parks and Recreations guy with a bunch of employees below him who helps paint hash-marks on the community football field and kept the red maples healthy. He’s married with a new baby (okay, that part seems to be true). He was a nice guy. Not good looking, like Cody Calafiore. Not in great shape, like Caleb Reynolds and Devin Shepherd. He was just Joe Schmoe, every man, able to mold himself to fit into his surroundings. While 42-year-old groundskeeper Donny Thompson stuck out like a sore thumb in the house, eating and sleeping on a different schedule, not engaging in the same activities as the frat-like houseguests, Derrick adapted. He underwent a physical transformation over time as pudgy-faced Derrick grew facial hair and donned a beanie to fit in with the younger crowd. He talked in slang, peppering his patois with “dese” and “dose” like one of the guys. He adopted Frankie’s habit of saying, “Yes, Rose” when anyone said anything dumb.
While others told boastful stories, he held back. He let Caleb go on and on about his service in Iraq without ever letting Caleb or the rest of the house know that he also has dealt with dangerous, life-threatening situations including a fatal shooting. While Frankie droned on ad nauseum about his famous sister, his millions of social media followers, and his Broadway shows, Derrick just smiled and nodded, pretending to be ol’ boring daddy-o with no exciting stories to share. He let the other Houseguests take center stage as he faded into the background, the affable dad who liked nothing more than puttering around on a lawnmower. Hayden Voss said it the best, “He’s so likable, he’s the family guy.” Derrick had no exciting stories to tell, nothing to brag about. But because of this, he looked boring and uninteresting and his screen time lacked electricity. Zach Rance could not strategize his way out of a paper bag, but he was watchable. Derrick was dull as dishwater on the screen.
2. The appearance of trustworthiness
An undercover cop is only successful if he manages to be accepted and trusted by those he’s infiltrated. Snitches get stitches, as the saying goes. So it should come as no surprise that the word the other houseguests used most often to describe him is trustworthy. Derrick was everyone’s closest friend and confidante. Victoria poured her heart out to Derrick; no fewer than six people were at times firmly convinced they had a final two deal with him. People confided in him despite knowing they were in a game full of liars, backstabbers and cheats. He was never considered to be capable of playing that sort of game. He was the nicest guy in the house.
How did Derrick manage this? By keeping his mouth shut. He never ratted rat out a fellow houseguests, so he was never be put in the middle of an argument. You know the one way to look like you are never lying, never take responsibility for any decision and appear to be going along with the majority. Derrick is masterful at this. He was constantly asking all his allies what they want and letting them know he’ll go along with whatever they want. If you promise nothing, you never have to break a promise. If you never say what you want, you can never be called out when someone hears something contrary. In the jury roundtable on finale night, Zach said one of Derrick’s best qualities was that “he thinks before he speaks.” At the time, Zach had no idea that as an undercover cop, Derrick was trained to be very careful with his words and to use them to build trust in precarious situations.
Because Derrick was considered so trustworthy, there were no fireworks when he was on the screen. No one called him out, no one got mad at him. Contrast this to the time that Zach told Derrick that Nicole told Victoria Rafaeli (phew!) about the five-person alliance that Derrick was in. Victoria was devastated to learn that her closest ally had been lying to her all along. Did that come back to bite him? No. Derrick immediately called a meeting to clear the air. He did this to demonstrate how loyal and honest he is – he has nothing to hide. Instead, the focus was on Zach’s lie, not the underlying truth (of the alliance). So Victoria left feeling even more trusting in the man who had lied to her about his other alliance. If she had felt betrayed and violated and had yelled at Derrick and stormed off, it would have made for good TV. But instead, she went right back to snuggling with her only true friend in the game.
3. Make them think it was their idea
Derrick is a good listener and most people love hearing the sound of their own voice. So they would talk and he would reflect back either supporting their decision or gently moving them in a different direction. You would never hear Derrick say, let’s vote out so-and-so next. The same way an undercover cop cannot be the one to suggest the illegal act, Derrick did not overtly make the move – he made his allies think they were in charge of every decision. He told them any array of possibilities was fine with him and then would sneak in the one he really wanted without letting on he had a preference. He told them, repeatedly, that he had their back and would support whatever they wanted to do, and they failed to notice when his alternative suggestion (which they were free to ignore) was what he really wanted. And they did not realize later that when they took that alternative, they were doing his bidding.
To be a good undercover cop, according to Derrick in his pre-show interview with Reality Relapse, you have to learn to adapt to those around you. “Learn their likes and dislikes, their motives, their weaknesses.” Once you know this, you can more easily manipulate them. Big Brother masterminds from the past – Dan Gheesling, Dr. Will Kirby, Evel Dick – let the houseguests as well as the home viewer know what they wanted and how they planned to get it. This year, Derrick was as big a mystery to us as he was to the houseguests. From week to week we had no clear understanding of his game, his real alliance, his plans, his promises. He would tell us in the Diary Room that he had Donny’s back or liked Zach and didn’t want to see him go, but his actions in the house were completely different. He never took ownership of any idea or plan.
Since Derrick played the game of making everyone around him do all the work and did not share with the viewers what his ultimate plan is, as the Dan, Dr. Will and Evel Dick trifecta had, we were disengaged. When other houseguests scurry with a new plan to “shake things up,” we know not to get excited or invested. Ultimately, what will happen is whatever Derrick decided he wanted to happen and we would learn along with the rest of the house. We knew that no big moves would be made unless he approved them in advance, and we knew that nothing that Frankie or Donny or Nicole tried would keep him from running things. The only mystery left was who will be sitting next to him in the final two and how he would get them to think it was their idea to take him there.
4. Be a good liar
Lying has to come as easily as breathing to an undercover cop, or he won’t be doing much of the latter for very long. Derrick appears to be an expert. He wove stories about his life out of whole cloth, adding details to his fabrications, with the effortless ease of a former Enron exec. But this is where his largest disconnect with the viewers came in. Derrick was not just lying to the houseguests, he was lying to the television audience. And that is a no no.
Once Derrick was joined with Donny and Frankie as Team America, he was not only playing Derrick the Leslie Knope of Central Falls, RI, he’s also been playing loyal TA member. He stared right into the camera, talking directly to us, the viewers who voted him there, and lied to us. He told us that he wanted to carry out a Team America mission to cast a hinky vote, but that Donny wouldn’t go along. Derrick had no intention of pulling off that mission. He told us that he would have tried to save Donny with the last mission, but Frankie wouldn’t go along. Derrick had no intention of keeping Donny in the house. He told us that he wanted to keep Team America together and yet did nothing to keep Donny from being voted out.
A good liar, like Dr. Will Kirby, is entertaining when they let us the viewer in on their lies. Dr. Will didn’t lie to us by, for example, pretending to like a contestant that he knew the public liked (as Derrick did twice, after he heard the crowd roars for Zach and Donny). Derrick consistently lied to us in the Diary Room, the only time and place for a houseguest to come clean about their strategy. Dr. Will accepted his dark side and shared his true feelings. Dan embraced his scheming and let the viewers know about his manipulations and strategies. Derrick pretended to be the nice guy, the loyal Team America player who just wants to make America proud but is thwarted by his fellow team members. He threw Donny and Frankie under the bus to the viewers, who can see what’s really going on, and was unfazed. He orchestrated Zach and Donny’s exits, then told US that he’s sad to see them go instead of admitting that he was happy that it brought him one step closer to half a million dollars.. That’s not endearing, it’s scary. And, frankly, not fun to watch.
5. Be a master manipulator
A successful undercover cop gets into the minds of the criminal and uses his skills to manipulate the suspects to do or say what he wants. This is how you get someone to admit to what they’re holding or tell you the name of their supplier. You convince them that they have to spill the information or that they have no choice but to let you search your body or premises. Criminals are, by the nature of their conduct, afraid of being caught and are on guard. A good undercover cop wears down their natural defenses and gets them to be compliant and easy to bend. Derrick used these techniques to his advantage with his fellow houseguests.
In one of the most telling parts of the juror roundtable broadcast before the vote on Wednesday night, self-proclaimed Big Brother superfan Nicole Franzel said of Derrick, “When he betrays you, you feel guilty. He made me feel guilty several times saying I’m going to look back and I’m going to be so disappointed in myself.” As Frankie noted, none of Derrick’s multiple final two alliances blew up in his face. Donny noted that Derrick was so good at manipulating that as people were evicted, he had them work the jury to get him their votes.
But all this manipulation did not translate to interesting TV. When other puppet masters have pulled strings in the past, the audience enjoyed watching the puppet dance. This time there was no joy in watching Derrick work. He told Frankie they had an unbreakable bond after both their grandfathers died during the summer. That seemed like too personal an event to turn into gameplay. He convinced Victoria to ignore Cody’s reveal of the final two alliance he and Derrick had from Day 2, to ignore the many other alliances he was involved with without her knowledge, and to try and help his game the week she thought she was going to be voted out. But seeing how smitten 22-year-old Victoria was with the Rhode Island cop – to the point that she questioned whether his wife was actually his sister – was more upsetting than engaging. His manipulation of the young and vulnerable was more like shooting fish in a barrel than landing a great white and was not riveting to watch. Which leads us to the last reason Derrick’s win may not be as memorable as one might think it should be.
6. Be smarter than the people you’ve infiltrated
The final reason that Derrick was the best and least interesting contestant this show has seen was that he had been given the weakest set of opponents yet. The so-called super fans (Nicole Franzel and Christine Brecht) had zero clue what he was doing and have done very little to control their game. When Nicole was Head of Household and could make a move, she failed by not nominating two members of the large alliance (why sacrifice Jocasta who would NEVER have voted out Nicole?). He spends HOURS alone with Cody, alone with Victoria, yet neither thought the other could be his real final two?
The Big Brother 16 houseguests had no clue how to play the game. All-guys’ alliances are a staple of Big Brother and this year the Bomb Squad started out that way (with six of the eight men), until Devin decided to add two women to make a half-a-house alliance which was as irrational as it was unwieldy and quickly dissolved under its own weight. Joey Van Pelt tried to form an all-girl alliance only to have the girls immediately shut down the idea and spill it to the guys. Had the girls gone along with the plan and kept it quiet, someone like Christine might have been in a great position, straddling two powerful groups. Instead, she was the low man on the totem pole and the first of the core group to be evicted. Superfan Nicole could have started an alliance with her showmance cohort Hayden Voss and Donny and others not clearly in the “bro” group, but she instead trusted sweet, nonthreatening nice guy Derrick. Zach, right after outing and potentially torpedoing Derrick’s game, immediately took the blame on himself and told everyone that Derrick was a good guy who had their back.
Not only were the houseguests not smart enough to play a good game of Big Brother, they were not smart enough to pick up the many clues Derrick had dropped about his true identity. After Frankie’s big reveal about how he’d been hiding his sister’s identity and his social media fame, there were of course rumblings again about whether everyone was who they claimed to be. Derrick actually said, “most of us” are who we say we are. No one picked that up. Very briefly, Frankie entertained that Derrick might be a cop when he seemed defensive when Nicole said she didn’t like cops. But Derrick quickly deflected attention and Nicole went on to say that he was “too cool” to be a cop.
No one noticed when he talked about peoples’ motives and their profile, when he jokingly put a badge around his neck and joked about being a cop, when he organized a neighborhood watch, when he seemed to have all the cop lingo down pat. Nope. They ignored that his favorite movie was 21 Jump Street. They continued to be suspicious that the guy with the Duck Dynasty beard and a drawl slower than molasses in February was a college professor, but the street-sounding jamoke with confidence and a penchant for cop slang couldn’t be lying about being a Parks and Rec person. Even though he admitted to NEVER HAVING WATCHED THE SHOW OF THE SAME NAME.
[K]Nope, no red flags there.
Before going into the Big Brother house, Derrick spoke to Reality Relapse about how his undercover past would help him in the game: “I worked in undercover for a long time where I had to not talk about things, so I’m used to being confidential. … I’ve been in situations where if I make a mistake I could end up dead.” Derrick succeeded; he made no apparent mistakes and positioned himself to make the biggest score of his life.
In the pre-season casting interview, Derrick explained that in the three years he was an undercover cop, basically, his job “was lying to people, finding their common interests, learning how to exploit them and use them against them. I want to be the guy behind the scenes. That goes back to profiling everybody. Finding out what their motivations are, finding out what their likes and dislikes are, try to develop a common interest with all of them and then use them against each other if I can.”
Derrick Levasseur went into the Big Brother house to play a “behind the scenes” game, filled with duplicity and manipulation. It was the perfect strategy and he carried it out flawlessly. It just didn’t make for captivating TV. When fans think back on season 16 they may remember soft-spoken Donny, Froot Loop tossing Zach or the adorkable Nicole, but Derrick may fade into the background as the greatest, yet not most interesting, player ever.