If you’ve watched Big Brother 16 this summer, you have been witness to a master class in, to paraphrase Dale Carnegie, how to win friends and manipulate people. 30-year-old police sergeant and former undercover cop Derrick Levasseur has moved through the Big Brother house as effortlessly as Fred Astaire and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s love child on the dance floor. He has never been nominated for eviction and never faced a serious threat to his game. He has been father, brother, best friend, confidante, and crush to the other houseguests and he has completely controlled every decision made over the past 90+ weeks without drawing any negative attention. On Wednesday, September 24, he will be crowned the winner and awarded over $550,000 in total prize money.
How will he have accomplished this feat?
There are a few techniques that he has used with uniformly great results. Some viewers (especially of the live feeds as opposed to just the TV broadcast) have questioned whether he has gone too far, or whether he has played a dirty game, but no one doubts his skill and success at doing what he came for – taking home the $500,000 prize. He ingratiates himself by being everyone’s best friend. He positions himself as the defender of the weak. He takes umbrage on any attacks to his honor or integrity. He makes the houseguests believe they have free will, while strongly suggesting that if they take a path different from his he will be hurt, shocked or embarrassed for them. He downplays his own abilities while pumping up the other houseguests. He deflects attention to his game and refuses to engage in conversations he can’t win. He reminds the houseguests that what he is playing for is more meaningful, more important than what they are.
Here are some examples of how Derrick Levasseur has placed his stamp on Big Brother 16. Step one, become Dad-Bot. Remind everyone that you have a young child at home who you miss terribly and who you wouldn’t be leaving if not to better her life by winning Big Brother (all true). Simultaneously, convince everyone that despite this, you don’t believe you have an Olaf from Frozen’s chance in hell of actually winning the game. Then sit back and hope they don’t notice the inconsistency. You’ve sacrificed time away from your first born at a crucial age in her development so you can NOT win Big Brother? No one has pointed this out and no one questioned Derrick’s claim that he’d never win.
Step two, find and nurture a close ally who is strong, can win competitions, and will never betray you. In 23-year-old former underwear model and college soccer player Cody Calafiore, Derrick found the perfect partner. He’s young, sheltered, not a rocket scientist, and from a close-knit Italian family, with a very tight bond with his own father. Cody was gold. He never talked behind Derrick’s back, never questioned what the partnership would mean for him, never doubted that Derrick was the weaker of the two and that their alliance would guarantee him $500,000. Derrick flattered Cody and self-deprecatingly mocked himself. Give the alliance a nickname, a signature move, and you’ve bought undying loyalty.
Here’s where things could have gone wrong. To get to the end, either you or your partner needs to win the final Head of Household competition. If you get to the final three with another strong competitor, someone who could win an endurance competition (part one), your plan could come up just short. Enter, step three.
Bring along a weak competitor who has undying, unquestioning loyalty to you. Let’s call her Victoria Rafaeli. Victoria is 22 years old photographer from an Orthodox Jewish background. Derrick saw in Victoria a weak player more concerned by her reflection in the mirror than studying for competitions. She felt alone and isolated from the other houseguests, as did Cody in those early days in the house. Derrick was her lifeline. Victoria told Derrick about her attraction to older men and her vulnerability about her looks. Derrick supported her and listened to her for hours. Hours. He convinced her that they had a final two deal, that they were the secret alliance in the house. That he had her back 100% and that she could trust him because he has a daughter and would want someone watching out for her. By doing that, he helped make sure Victoria never formed a bond with anyone else in the house and was unwaveringly loyal to Derrick.
Derrick did a masterful job hiding the bond that he and Victoria had. He told the other houseguests that she wasn’t that intelligent and their talks were tedious, but he only had to put up with it for a few more weeks. “I’m trying to stay around Victoria but it aggravates me when she talks. It’s tough, it’s strenuous. It’s really, really difficult.” He told that to Cody – his closest ally – on September 1. He told Cody that she never talks game to him, instead she drones on about whether he thought her father would be mad at him. In this conversation, he mocked Victoria and imitated her and talked about how he looks at the camera as she’s talking, rolling his eyes. How could Cody, or Caleb who was in the room at the time, ever think he had a pact with someone he was making fun of like that?
Step four, get people to doubt themselves and only trust you. This is where Derrick really shines. There are two conversations he had late in the game that demonstrate the power of telling someone that the reality they see is wrong and they should not trust their own eyes. Nicole Franzel was a Big Brother super fan who, unlike many of the recruits for this season, knew how the game was played and knew there would be secret alliances, lying, backstabbing, and the rest. Despite this, Derrick was able to exert some crazy mind control powers. On September 3, Nicole was crying on the outdoor couch, telling Derrick how she had finally put all the pieces together.
She revealed to him that she had figured out everything. She understood how the pairings had lined up. Frankie Grande was controlling Caleb Reynolds, Derrick had sway over Victoria. There were these firm alliances and she was powerless to break the bonds. She was poised not just to figure how the house was aligned, but to reveal the truth to everyone in the house. She told him that she felt that everything she said to Derrick gets back to Cody. She had figured out Derrick’s game, his core alliance. As soon as she said that, he stopped her. He asked her to repeat what she just said. For once, his game was at risk. So how did he get Nicole not just not reveal what she had figured out, but to believe she was wrong?
“Look at me real quick,” he told her. Firmly. Twice. “Look at me real quick.” She stopped what she was doing and turned and looked at Derrick. “I’m gonna tell you, straight up and I haven’t said this all season. If that’s truly what you feel, you’re gonna look really dumb on camera.” Nicole chuckles, says, “Good.” Derrick repeats for the third time, “Look at me real quick.” Obviously, he learned that technique somewhere, to get the other person to make eye contact with you. To get them to trust what you’re saying. “You’re going to look really dumb on camera,” he tells her for the second time. He knows Nicole is a huge fan of the game and figures out her vulnerability. She doesn’t want to look like a bad game player. So despite the fact that she is 100% in what she’s saying, he gets her not only to change her mind but to apologize to him if she hurt his feelings.
Yep, Derrick is not only able to get his fellow houseguests to question their own sanity and ignore the truth that’s right in front of them, he gets to be morally outraged if his integrity and honesty is ever questioned and further gets them to apologize to him. He takes the moral high ground often when it suits his purpose. He claimed to be outraged when 23-year-old University of Florida grad Zach Rance called Victoria dumb and dependent, saying that if he were out of the Big Brother house he would break Zach’s jaw for saying that. He later repeated this, twisting it to how Zach “disrespected” Victoria and other women in the house. Yet when another houseguest talked about two of the guys “double teaming” Victoria and “taking all her virginities,” he laughed it off and defused the conversation with a little joke about her father watching and punching out his computer then regretting it.
The conversation with Nicole is not the only example of how he controls to the point where they feel they have let him down. As the last week of Big Brother has dragged on to its inevitable end, Victoria has been reminding Derrick of what she believed to be their final two deal. He has told her not just that she was wrong, that he never made such a promise to her. He has gone on to tell her that he’s tired of talking about it, that it hurts him that she keeps bringing it up and that she owes him an apology for constantly nagging him about taking her to the end. Victoria is playing for the same half a million dollars everyone else is playing for and has every right to campaign for herself. But Derrick is so adept at turning tables that she ends up looking like the bad guy for asking him to take her to the end. She’s hurting his feelings; she’s not being fair to him.
When it was down to the final four, September 14, Victoria, who previously had very little to do with fellow houseguest Caleb Reynolds, started bonding with him. She hung out with him and got tipsy with him, suddenly she was a huge fan of his. If given the choice, she would vote for him to stay over Cody. This did not work for Derrick. He needed Victoria to be just his, not to form a bond with anyone else, and certainly not vote with anyone against his closest ally Cody. Her bonding with Caleb would only risk his position in the game.
So how did Derrick deal with her developing a friendship with Caleb? He scolded her, as a good father who’s only looking out for her well being would. Don’t drink and then go hang out with Caleb. Don’t talk to him. As he walked away, having finished his chiding, Victoria said, “I friggin’ told you that.” Derrick spun on his heels. “What? Say it. You told me what? What did you tell me? Okay.” Victoria said, “Are you serious?” He continues, relentlessly, “What did you tell me? What did you tell me?” shakes his head, “I don’t know, wait, what? What did you tell me? What did you tell me? Are you going to tell me?” Berating, browbeating, telling her how she’s let him down, chastising her for talking to houseguests without him present. Just more bullets in the arsenal that he uses to keep her in line.
Now, Derrick’s game hasn’t been invisible, nor has he not benefitted from some luck. Donny Thompson recognized how well positioned Derrick was back when there were still nine houseguests left, right before the season’s first double eviction. He realized Derrick had a final two deal with everyone in the house. But, luckily for Derrick, Donny was voted early on in the show as part of Team America with Derrick and was unwilling to take action against Derrick, believing that their secret three-person Team America alliance with Frankie would protect him. The Big Brother rewind button saved him from losing Victoria and instead helped him target one of the two stronger competitors in the house. At other times, when there was a houseguest who might compromise his game, Derrick set into motion the shunning and alienating of that person. He sent down edicts that no one should be seen talking to that person alone. And his allies went along, not at all questioning why they couldn’t talk to whomever they wanted in the house.
No, Derrick’s stunning march to the end is a direct result of his ability to control his surroundings, his own emotions, and those of his competitors. He controls the spread of information. He controls the topics of discussion. He controls the narrative. He has at all times kept focused on why he’s there – to win money for his family. He pretends to care about his fellow houseguests, each and everyone will point to Derrick as their best friend in the house, the only one they can truly trust. Yet he has never forgotten that his only alliance is with his wife and daughter. That single-minded focus may make him some enemies when the houseguests watch the live feed flashbacks, but it will make him much richer in something more valuable than friends. Money.