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BB22 premiere: What a pleasant start for a summer season of Big Brother!

BB22 premiere: What a pleasant start for a summer season of Big Brother!
Keesha Smith, Janelle Pierzina, and Nicole Anthony on the premiere of Big Brother 22. (Image from Big Brother via CBS)

One reason I have returned to Big Brother over the years is with hope that it can improve, as a competition and as a television show, and become its best self. The summer seasons the last few years have almost immediately been awful, from outbreaks of racism (including from producers, who designed a twist last year that just opened the door wide open to implicit bias), to the reliance on ludicrously imbalanced twists.

But the live two-hour premiere of Big Brother 22 showed no signs of what I’ve grown accustomed to being disappointed by. It was a strong premiere, with indications that this may actually become a grown-up, enjoyable season of Big Brother. Sure, it had some of what we’ve come to love from the show—technical glitches, dead air, dumb twists—but there were no mentions of showmances, no cloying studio audience, and no eruptions of racism.

The all-star cast was introduced in groups of four, and arrived on set wearing masks. I appreciated modeling good behavior, especially to Big Brother’s audience, which has some members who can be, uh, prone to conspiracy theories and maybe don’t have the sharpest crayons in their pencil boxes. Of course, the contestants had already been tested (the houseguests who tested positive were not there) and isolated, and thus were (let’s hope) not infected.

The BB22 all-star cast returned in groups of four, and stood in front of the new front-of-house backdrop wearing face coverings
The BB22 all-star cast returned in groups of four, and stood in front of the new front-of-house backdrop wearing face coverings. (Image from Big Brother via CBS)

Their intro packages were less cheesy than usual—there was no pretending to discover a key! Hallelujah! (Apparently the new front door wasn’t locked so they never actually needed keys?)

The houseguests did have to wedge in a “I have something to prove” narrative as they introduced themselves, which was as unnecessary as those keys. The thinness of this showed itself immediately, when Nicole Franzel said she had something to prove despite having actually won the game.

“I’m not really quite sure why the fans think Paul was robbed, but he was not robbed. I feel like I have to prove that I deserved my last win,” she said. I do sympathize with her, because it must really suck having your win delegitimized by toxic, sexist fans who’ve bought into the producers’ narrative and bizarre adoration of Paul.

But Nicole has $500,000 and he does not. She is also on this season and he is not, which is a gift to me worth almost $500,000.

The cast just seems more mature: many of them have families now, or are in relationships, or have just aged. Ian looks like an entirely different person, perhaps Ian’s uncle who tied Ian up and put him in a closet when the film crew arrived.

Julie polled them to illustrate this: seven of them have been married since they were first on the show, three people have been divorced, and six of them now have kids.

It all just felt a lot more like Celebrity Big Brother than regular summer Big Brother, and I am 100 percent behind that, considering that both CBB seasons were much better than the average summer season, and Celebrity Big Brother season 1 was a surprising delight.

On the BB22 premiere, there was also the comfort and familiarity of Big Brother trying so, so hard to produce a smooth live show. My favorite parts came when Julie Chen Moonves tried hard to wrangle the houseguests, who sometimes seemed like they couldn’t hear her and/or just didn’t care.

But Julie did have a sense of humor about it, and managed it rather well—at least until she started glitching and repeating her joke until it had been drained of all life:

“I need everyone to take a seat. The last person seated gets evicted tonight! I’m just kidding—you’re not listening. All right, everyone, take a seat. Take a seat. Take a seat. Last person seated gets evicted. Kidding. I really need you to listen to me. All right everyone, time to meet—listen up. … Everyone! No one’s listening. All right, all right. Have a seat. And this time I’m serious: the last one seated gets evicted.”

Scott Storey’s Big Brother house design is gorgeous—edgier than the glamour of the Celebrity Big Brother designs, but still much more elevated and sophisticated than normal.

I particularly love the HOH room’s angled ceilings with faux windows looking out onto a a skyline at twilight, and the front of the house, which is a collection of large LED screens that have been embedded into walls that arrive at interesting angles. Sometimes those screens show a brick background, making it look like a house, but then they transform, with new graphics, to introduce parts of the show, like the HOH competition.

That challenge was divided into two parts, and the first part played out in four heats: four players had to find an object in the house (a nice excuse for a house tour) and then land a ball in the correct hole. The two fastest moved on to the second part.

Round two seemed designed to snap an ankle or two: the contestants stepped from tiny platform to tiny platform, some of which were solid, and others attached with springs. There were no immediate cries of pain or bone popping through skin, but some of those falls made me cringe. Cody fell just once and completed the course in just over 22 seconds, which was impressive.

Other highlights:

  • Production failing to unlock the door on the set. Yes, as Julie attempted to show the have-nots their new room on live TV, revealing that they’d have to crawl their way in, the houseguests tried. But the door was locked. And I guess you can’t just send a PA in with a key because the house is a safe bubble in which no one is allowed.
  • Houseguests complaining about production already, specifically the lack of air conditioning, which was a topic of conversation after Julie Chen said goodnight but the cameras kept showing us what was happening. “They’re going to have to turn on the a/c though,” someone said during the final minutes “I don’t think they figured it out.”
  • Punishing people who won a challenge. Of the five people who won the first half of the HOH competition but didn’t win HOH, one person received $5,000, and the others became have-nots. The logic escaped me until I remembered that is perfectly aligned with the producers typical preference to ensure nothing makes logical sense.

Julie Chen teased that there will be “a new way to prevent” eviction—other, I assume, than just being the producers’ favorite—and perhaps in a related twist, the houseguests will soon learn more about the “Safety Suite,” which is the first of “new rooms in the house [that] will be revealed to you, and each room will twist up this game like never before,” she said.

I cannot say I am looking forward to things twisting up this game. But that’s because just seeing some of these players again—Kaysar, Kevin, people whose names don’t start with K including Da’Vonne, Ian, and Christmas—was really great.

And it seems like, as a group, they really have the potential to be both strong players and cast members without devolving into violence and bigotry and delusion. That’s the kind of miracle 2020 needs.

The BB22 All-Star cast

BB22 All-Stars, Big Brother 22 All-Stars

Here’s the full all-star cast of Big Brother 22, from CBS, which includes the network’s brief descriptions of each contestant’s past on the show.

Bayleigh Dayton, 27
Season(s) Previously Played: 20
Bayleigh had a “showmance” with fellow Houseguest Swaggy C. They’re now married.
Hometown: Kansas City, Mo.
Current City: Los Angeles
Occupation: Model

Christmas Abbott, 38
Season(s) Previously Played: 19
Christmas broke her foot during the first week in the house. She had surgery and remained in the game, ultimately placing third.
Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
Current City: Raleigh, N.C.
Occupation: Fitness entrepreneur

Cody Calafiore, 29
Season(s) Previously Played: 16 Runner-up
Hometown: Howell, N.J.
Current City: Howell, N.J.
Occupation: Soccer coach

Dani Briones, 33 (will turn 34 on August 20)
Season(s) Previously Played: 8 and 13
Dani was the runner-up in season 8, and married her fellow Houseguest from season 13, Dominic Briones.
Hometown: Orange County, Calif.
Current City: Orange County, Calif.
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom

David Alexander, 30
Season(s) Previously Played: 21
David played a good social game during his short time on the show, but didn’t have the whole BB experience because his game was cut short, due to a surprise opening night twist.
Hometown: Atlanta
Current City: Los Angeles
Occupation: Senior sales rep

Da’Vonne Rogers, 32
Season(s) Previously Played: 17 and 18
Da’Vonne was the first Houseguest to figure out the twin twist in season 17.
Hometown: Inglewood, Calif.
Current City: Inglewood, Calif.
Occupation: Acting coach

Enzo Palumbo, 42
Season(s) Previously Played: 12
Enzo was the founding member of “The Brigade,” one of the most famous and successful alliances in BB history that helped him get to the final 3.
Hometown: Bayonne, N.J.
Current City: Bayonne, N.J.
Occupation: Insurance adjuster

Ian Terry, 29
Season(s) Previously Played: 14
Winner Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Current City: Houston
Occupation: Management consultant

Janelle Pierzina, 40
Season(s) Previously Played: 6, 7 and 14
Janelle finished third two seasons in a row and won the first America’s Favorite Houseguest in Season 6.
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Minn.
Current City: Minneapolis, Minn.
Occupation: Real estate agent

Kaysar Ridha, 39 (will turn 40 on August 10)
Season(s) Previously Played: 6 and 7
In season 6, Kaysar was the first Houseguest voted back into the game by the viewers. He was also a member of the first All-Star season of Big Brother.
Hometown: Irvine, Calif.
Current City: Irvine, Calif.
Occupation: Biotech executive

Keesha Smith, 42
Season(s) Previously Played: 10
Keesha was voted America’s Favorite Houseguest for her season and ultimately placed fourth.
Hometown: Sterling, Ohio
Current City: Los Angeles
Occupation: Waitress

Kevin “KC” Campbell, 40 (will turn 41 on Sept. 18)
Season(s) Previously Played: 11
Kevin was the first houseguest to be evicted on finale night, placing third. Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Current City: San Diego, Calif.
Occupation: Ad agency executive

Memphis Garrett, 37
Season(s) Previously Played: 10
Runner-up to BB legend Dan Gheesling, and part of one of the most famous duos in BIG BROTHER, “The Renegades.”
Hometown: Collierville, Tenn.
Current City: Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Occupation: Restaurateur

Nicole Anthony, 25
Season(s) Previously Played: 21
Nicole placed third and was voted America’s Favorite Houseguest for her season.
Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.
Current City: Long Island, N.Y.
Occupation: Podcast host

Nicole Franzel, 28
Season(s) Previously Played: 16 and 18
Nicole won season 18 and was the first female to beat a male in the final two.
Hometown: Ubly, Mich.
Current City: Ubly, Mich.
Occupation: Social media influencer

Tyler Crispen, 25
Season(s) Previously Played: 20
Runner-up and America’s Favorite Houseguest. Currently living with his girlfriend, Angela Rummans, who he met in the house.
Hometown: Rossford, Ohio
Current City: Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Occupation: Entrepreneur/social media influencer

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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