The Cookout has succeeded: Big Brother 23’s alliance of six Black players—Azah, Derek F., Kyland, Hannah, Tiffany, and Xavier—evicted every other player, so its members are now the final six in BB23’s game. Four of them will also eventually be on the jury, so they’ll help choose who among them will win the show’s largest prize ever.
For the first time in the 21 years of Big Brother’s existence, a Black person will win the game. That’s remarkable for a show that has been plagued with many, many instances of explicit and implicit racism over the years that has been largely tolerated by the producers and network up until very recently. They only banned racial slurs last year! Is it any wonder why only one Black person has made it to the final six over the past 11 seasons?
The alliance’s success is an exceptional accomplishment for many reasons, starting with the fact that large alliances often implode on Big Brother. But despite significant fractures and internal annoyance, the Cookout held together, enacting the plan created by Tiffany the first week in the house. It also managed to keep itself secret, which is stunning.
Large alliances have dominated Big Brother for years (that’s one reason the producers started this season with teams, to try to prevent that from happening again), and it can get predictable and boring, especially in a game that usually finds its drama in constant power shifts. That’s fair criticism.
But this is a large alliance that any Big Brother fan should have been thrilled to watch. An alliance succeeding and not crumbling from the inside is impressive, but even more significantly, the alliance’s structure held—and was brilliant. Each of the alliance members had an external partner/pawn, so if that duo ended up on the block, The Cookout could always vote out the other person. And again, there were (entertaining, frustrating, annoying, hilarious) cracks along the way, though the foundation held.
Now that the alliance has made it to the final six, we arrive at the part every fan of strategic reality TV should be excited about: watching an alliance be forced to turn against itself, which has been fascinating to watch unfold ever since it first happened in season one of Survivor. As Tiffany said in the Diary Room on the July 14 episode, which showed the Cookout’s formation, “I want to keep the Cookout going as long as possible, but at the end of the day, there can only be one winner, so you can just call me ‘The Grillmaster.'”
“Get ready, America, because the Cookout is taking over,” Xavier said in that episode. Alas, some of America is still not ready for a Black winner, or a Black alliance.
Yes, as awesome as all of this has been, there are still some fans who are angry. Racism from Big Brother fans is nothing new, but it is particularly toxic and telling the way some fans are so freaked out by Black people succeeding on Big Brother after 21 years of all-white alliances, mostly white winners, and so much explicit and overt racism.
Also, let’s be clear: Just as reverse racism is not real, The Cookout is not racist. Black people working together is not racist. It is not racism for players to align in a reality TV competition to ensure one of them wins—that’s the goal of an alliance, after all. And they did not align together with the goal of taking out white people, but instead united to elevate each other, and ensure one of them won.
Why do some people think this alliance is an example of racism? Why did some white people see Black people working together and still managed to imagine that being an attack on white people? Why don’t they get it? As the Smithsonian’s Talking About Race guide points out:
Persons who identify as white rarely have to think about their racial identity because they live within a culture where whiteness has been normalized.
Thinking about race is very different for nonwhite persons living in America. People of color must always consider their racial identity, whatever the situation, due to the systemic and interpersonal racism that still exists.
That racism follows people of color even into reality TV competitions, and we’ve seen what happens as a result. And that racism doesn’t just come from players; it comes from the production, too.
Alliances of white people have always been possible on Big Brother. An alliance of Black people like The Cookout has never been possible until this summer. That’s because CBS and the show’s producers have always filled Big Brother’s soundstage house with white people.
This alliance only became a possibility thanks to a change in CBS’s casting, as this is the very first season that Big Brother’s cast not been dominated by a majority of white people. “It is so beautiful, amazing, and historical to come into this house and see people who share my culture, who share my upbringing, and who I can bond with,” Azah said during the July 14 episode of the show, which showed The Cookout’s formation.
What we’ve seen since then is that the Cookout members do have shared experience, but they are also very different people, because of course they are! That’s why representation matters so much: to show the true diversity of people.
In that mid-July episode of BB23, Kyland addressed this in the Diary Room. “When you see someone who looks like me excel or achieve something,” he said, “that can have a positive impact, inspiring a kid to achieve whatever is they want to do.” Kids and all viewers will see someone like him win the game for the first time this season, and that’s something every Big Brother fan—and human being—should celebrate.
Correction, Sept. 10, 2021: This story originally said that The Cookout would comprise the majority of the jury. Since there are already five jury members, and the jury will select between two players, only four members of The Cookout will be on the jury, out of a total of nine. Apologies for my bad math; that sentence has been corrected.