Big Brother houseguests: smarter than Survivor’s cast?

Last night, the Big Brother houseguests evicted the second of their four coaches, Mike “Boogie” “Uncle Jerry” Malin. His eviction was orchestrated by Ian, who turned against his coach and managed to keep it a secret until his mentor–who Ian first watched on TV when he was 10–learned of it during their goodbye messages. Usually, those goodbye messages suck, having been pre-taped six or seven weeks prior to the eviction (I exaggerate, slightly), but last night’s were spectacular (watch below), including Britney’s mocking of Will and Boogie’s shtick.

It was also awesome that Mike Boogie was evicted: He’s already won the show, and now he’s not even on the jury–and actually watching him is painful, similar to scraping a fork across your teeth, occasionally nicking the gums and causing bleeding, but usually just making all of the nerves in your body shiver uncomfortably.

His exit left me wondering: Why did Boogie leave, and Janelle before him? And why is Dan likely to follow soon? Why does Big Brother not follow the pattern Survivor does, where returnees have an easy path to the end? (I realize last season’s winner, Rachel Reilly, was a returnee and thus doesn’t follow that pattern, but she didn’t have the same easy route to the finale that Rob Mariano did, for example, and also her win is inconvenient evidence for my theory so I’ll just ignore it from now on.)

Are Big Brother‘s houseguests smarter than Survivor‘s cast members, who have repeatedly let returnees win or make it to the very end? Or is there another reason?

Sure, that has to do with game play, and even the yahoos they cast on this show have some strategy in them. I won’t discuss that, in part because, to be honest, I’ve skipped everything but the live shows the past two weeks, having lost interest once producers lost interest in even feigning their objectivity. And the feed watchers know more than all of us, so read their recaps if you want details.

I was thinking instead about the game. Big Brother‘s structure is simultaneously frustrating and awesome. When it works, it works extremely well, power shifting. The power swings happen because one person has disproportionate power, and the format prevents some people from being able to protect themselves (not everyone plays the POV competition, and the outgoing HOH cannot earn immunity that way, so it’s easy to turn on the person who just had all the power).

But the typical result is that those who make big moves, especially when they have power, tend to become immediate targets, and we end up with someone like Danielle winning. Not always, of course, but Big Brother‘s winners are rarely satisfying. Nor are they the biggest strategists or players.

Contrast that with Survivor, where the game gives much less power to individuals (unless you count immunity idols raining from the sky) yet individuals have an easier time concealing their power and strength (Sandra) or flaunting it (Rob, Coach, Ozzy). The newbies spend their time on the beaches staring at the returnees like their are gods, and basically clear a path through the jungle for them. (Yes, Russell Hantz was finally voted off on his third appearance, but he is the returnee exception, not the rule.)

The group has considerably more power on Survivor, so why have we not yet seen an Ian backstabbing Boogie-style situation? Why does that not happen constantly? Even Jeff Probst, who loves returnees and will bring them back frequently, recognizes this is a problem, noting that newbies “don’t know when to get rid of [returnees], and they hang on a little too long.”

Ian didn’t do that; he cut the cord. Ditto for the alliance that formed to turn on Janelle the second they had the chance. Why aren’t Survivor cast members smart enough to do the same?

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.