Big Brother makes smart changes; its players do dumb things

In its first Sunday episode, Big Brother 16 revealed several minor but smart changes that improved the show. Its players are freaking out over floaters, becoming paranoid, forming and abandoning alliances, which is bad for their games but decent entertainment, the kind we expect from this show but didn’t get much of last year.

The most significant change: The tedious key-draw ceremony, utilizing the table’s turntable, has been eliminated in favor of an immediate reveal of the HOH’s decision. They turn a key; the nominee’s face appears on a screen. Besides cutting down on the time that the whole thing takes, this is far a more dramatic reveal, because there isn’t dwindling suspense as to who might be chosen.

Unfortunately, the first two HOHs used their power lamely–or at least, their reasons were lame. Few HOHs have ever given good rationale for their decisions, but nominating the first four people to have fallen during the challenge is just weak. It’s not like that challenge affected the team, for example; in fact, it partially made it possible for the HOHs to win.

The new format means that, on the TV show at least, nominees last about a half hour, which isn’t a lot of time. (Since these events occurred before the feeds started, it’s not exactly clear how much time elapsed between the challenges; once the show settles into a weekly pattern, I’m curious how much time the producers will give nominees to stew and the HOH to reign before the challenge undoes that.)

Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the nominees was Caleb crying, literally, over his own nominations’ effect on the nominees. “I’m a real sentimental guy,” said the guy who beat a pig to death with a stick. “At the end of the day, I still have a heart for people,” said the guy who called the president a racist, Islamaphobic name and referred to all gay people with a slur.

Meanwhile, the opening sequence of flying squares has been replaced with a Real Housewives style introduction, though thankfully the editors have continued with the tradition of exiting the recap with a funny moment from the previous episode.

While I appreciate the change in music cues, I’m not a fan of the show’s use of the exact same music that Syfy’s Face Off has been using for what seems like every episode for six seasons. Even if there is a shortage of musical cues to license, why select one that’s so prominently (over-) used on a relatively popular series?

On to the game. The first Battle of the Block was played to give two nominees and their HOH immunity. A variant on a familiar Survivor challenge of throwing water from one player to another, the challenge featured what I think may have been the smartest prop decision in the show’s history: a faux champagne glass with the vintage year of 1984.

Brittany and Victoria won immunity thanks to the fact that they actually, well, tried, which is far more than Paolo–now nicknamed Pow-Pow (I suppose that’s the correct spelling)–did. She couldn’t even stay on a swing, destroying her block partner Donny’s chances at immunity.

Donny, by the way, is easily my favorite houseguest, and that was before he proved himself to be quite the funny guy, though, as he said when someone told him he was a comedian, “I’m not, I’m really a groundskeeper.”

In many ways, Devin’s paranoia about Donny were justified; he’s correct that Donny’s popularity, easy-going nature, and charm will get him far in the game. Donny could easily be ignored as more aggressive and visible players get nominated and voted out.

Players like Devin. Because although Devin (who has a daughter, apparently) isn’t stupid and has good instincts, his follow-through is atrocious–and hilarious.

Devin is making the classic mistake of standing out too early, and he’s standing out as someone’s who’s paranoid (even justifiably) and will make decisions behind his alliance’s back, which is utterly stupid. Also dumb: Devin basically decided to bail on his alliance with Donny in order to stay with the guys, they guys whose trust he betrayed. Having a two-person side alliance is super smart, and he could have used that to his and Donny’s advantage.

When he went “AWOL,” as Cody said, and told Christine and Amber about the men’s alliance, Devin then tried to retroactively get the guys to decide to bring women into the alliance. This became very bizarre when he started telling the other men that “everyone needs to stay cool and calm.”

That’s kind of like going out to dinner with friends, setting the table on fire while they’re in the bathroom, and then telling your friends that it’s cold and you’d like to warm up, maybe by gathering around a fire. Then, when everyone looks at you in horror and flees the restaurant, you yell after them, “Hey, calm down. Sit down right now. I know how to put out fires. Also, I have a daughter.”

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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.