Big Brother 14 truly surprises, shifting from disaster to Dan, idiocy to Ian

While “satisfying” and “Big Brother” aren’t often used in the same sentence, Dan Gheesling and Ian Terry were an exceptionally satisfying Big Brother final two, and not just because they were obviously the smartest people in the house.

Ian clearly deserved his win and the $500,000. He began the show as the superfan who embraced being on this ridiculous show, but also made courageous and/or head-slapping decisions (taking punishments, inviting himself into alliances) that all paid off for him. And though he seemed like he could have freaked out at any point, and sometimes did, he made smart decisions, often in the moment–like revealing and then using Dan’s promise on his grandfather’s cross against Dan in his final arguments to the jury. Ian also chose to sit next to an incredibly strong player at the end, honoring an alliance and giving himself the biggest competition possible.

While Dan did not win Big Brother, but he nearly single-handedly brought it back from the dead. Not to take anything away from Ian, but it was Dan who gave us the strongest and most shocking game play throughout the season.

“Dan’s just a dirty player,” Shane said last week. He’s right, but Dan is also a ridiculously effective player, emphasis on the “ridiculously.” How could Danielle buy into Dan’s absurd argument to veto his nomination? And then trust him again when he asked her to throw the final HOH competition? The things Dan did shouldn’t have worked but did, and thus even the attempt would have been impressive, but they were consistently successful. Heck, he got both of his competitors to throw HOH competitions, and likely would have won the game had the third HOH competition gone his way.

Annual tangent: The final HOH competition is, as always, stupid and basically random–and after he won, Ian even admitted to just guessing answers. It’s as if the producers want to remind us at the very end of the game that the whole game was about their random whims, not the players’ decision-making. But I digress.

Dan’s ability to continually earn the trust of people he’s betrayed truly is a gift. In the game, he used the tools available to him: his personal relationships, his family, his religion. There was something really disconcerting about Dan’s attitude about it, though, the way he seemed nearly giddy at the emotional wreckage he’d left in his wake, particularly his strategic punching bag Danielle.

Still, I was actually surprised Dan didn’t win, only because he seemed to be doing what he needed to do: transparently kiss the jury’s ass (even while they were voting!) and apologize for something he’s not really sorry for. This is nothing we haven’t seen before on Survivor and other shows. However, he was up against both a bitter jury of people he betrayed and a strong competitor, never mind that he’s already won, and thus the 6 to 1 vote makes perfect sense.

Overall, the 90-minute finale was the same paint-by-numbers finale, with scripted questions for the final two, the jury’s verbal masturbation session, and an awkward reunion with the finalists still in the house. I would have loved to see the HOH competition start Sunday, which was an empty episode, so the winner could have been revealed early, giving us time to hear from Ian and Dan in the studio. Of course, that’d involve changing the way things have always been done.

What’s remarkable about this season to me is that all of this interesting human interaction, game play (vetoes used consistently, true blindsides), all emerged from probably the biggest bunch of blatant Big Brother bullshit in its history: the unfair reset of the game. It actually did work to save the season, and while it’s impossible to separate what happened before that (Danielle learning to trust Dan, for example) with the post-reset game, it did seem entirely new, and it was easy to forget the the stunt casting and absurd power given to the coaches that all happened just over two months ago.

Of course, Big Brother benefits from short attention spans, and I shall now proceed to do my annual purge of it from my brain, which will allow me to come back next season to see if this D-list, half-assed show can surprise me, which it most certainly did this year.

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.