For a few Christmases when we were kids, my sister and I competed to guess what was in certain wrapped presents. We’d analyze the shape, shake the box, and try to feel its texture.
One Christmas, I took a scoop of cat poop, put it into a plastic bag, and wrapped it in festive paper from Target. I told my sister that this gift wasn’t breakable, encouraging her to shake and squeeze it repeatedly. (I still think this is funny, which is why I am a bad person.)
That’s kind of what I expected from Big Brother Reindeer Games: shit in Christmas packaging.
The wrapping was lovely: The CBS Big Brother house has never looked better.
Production designer Scott Storey turned the space into “Santa’s Lodge,” covering all available surfaces with winter and Christmas decor in a way that felt both cozy and classy. The space was so transformed I thought at first it wasn’t even the familiar soundstage house. (The players aren’t staying in the house, so there was no need for beds.)
To turn over the house and film this special season—even though the competition itself lasts just six days—in just over one month? That’s impressive.
The game and challenges? Not quite as much.
I already had low expectations from the alleged “BB legends” and “iconic names,” adjectives repeated by Santa Claus, which they met almost immediately.
Their introductions were the requisite amount of annoying, pretending to pop into existence in front of a fireplace and delivering a rehearsed line. Frankie appeared and said “make the Yuletide gay,” but I was not paying enough attention to that because I was trying to figure out if actually has become an elf or always was one.
Frankie also called himself “star of stage and screen,” which is hilarious considering this.
Santa was played by Big Brother narrator Clayton A.S. Halsey, who you know from television’s most aggressively pronounced words, “Tonight on Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Brother!”
At the end of his segment, Santa demanded Mrs. Claus bring him more cocoa and marshmallows, which is sadly on brand for a show that’s often a parade of televised misogyny.
Thus began Big Brother Reindeer Games’ approximately 45 minutes of content in a two-hour package. Nothing happened for a full 30 minutes, which is when Jordan Lloyd showed up and attempted to read instructions off a scroll.
In true Big Brother style, the editing kept going back to the Diary Room for players to repeat the same coached lines again and again.
And on top of that, we were also given fake sound effects of Taylor eating potato chips that didn’t even match her chewing, and still too much focus on Josh Martinez’s nonsense words masquerading as sentences.
But there was some actual Christmas magic during Big Brother Reindeer Games!
Big Brother always pitches itself as cheesy and fun, which for me is usually undercut by the bad game design and the awful behavior.
But with the holidays as a theme, Big Brother Reindeer Games found its way toward cheesy and fun, in both presentation and content.
The editing winked at us while Santa gave a summary of the overly complicated rules, repeatedly cutting to players looking baffled and/or bored. (The producers decided to keep up their multiverse nonsense, with Santa saying, “Christmas is in danger of being cancelled.” I momentarily worried that I’d accidentally recorded Newsmax.)
The episode did give us three challenges, though not on par with the three challenges of, say, Tough As Nails.
The very first challenge was weirdly low energy—the players walking from room to room for the reveal of one of three clues that together equalled one holiday song—until the gates of hell opened and a marshmallow-headed DJ played some fucked-up dance version of “Up on a Housetop” and the editing turned into what someone who’s never been to a rave thinks a rave looks like (and I know that because I’ve never been to a rave). What a delight!
The elimination challenge, an alleged “showdown,” was a 57-piece sweater puzzle. I’d compare this to Survivor’s puzzles, except Big Brother Reindeer Games gave its players a model, and also interrupted the challenge action every two seconds with a useless Diary Room segment.
Yet a 57-piece multiple-dimension puzzle was actually a challenge, and the best of the three in the first episode.
In another Christmas miracle, BB25 challenge beast Cameron lost that very first showdown to Xavier, an exit organized by Frankie Grande, who rubbed salt in Cameron’s fresh wounds by saying, “I think you’re the first person evicted three times in two months.”
On his way out the door yet again, Cameron got to choose a gift, and won “a year’s subscription to the jelly club.” Was he aware it was a zonk, a reference to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Also, A+ for a reference to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!
Big Brother Reindeer Games really came alive for me because of Britney.
“Honestly, so far, the Christmas surprises are neither fun nor festive,” Britney said, and I perked up. What’s this? Mocking the show from inside the show?
Having won the first challenge and learning that she’d get a reward and have to give someone a disadvantage, she grimaced and said, “Oh great. For solving a riddle? Thank you.” She added, “I’ve been bamboozled.”
Faced with making a decision to assign a disadvantage, Britney was in distress, leaning back in and crying, “Why?” She decided to not decide, telling Cody, “I’m just gonna announce the results of the poll.”
Britney being completely over every single thing was perfect, and so was her reading her fellow players for filth:
- On Cameron: “Cameron just got out of the Big Brother 25 house, and that is evident.”
- On Josh: “He’s the one I see on Instagram flipping tractor tires and pushing dumpsters for fun.”
- On Cody: “He feels warm and just like a really nice guy, which is the perfect formula for winning one of these games.”
- On Xavier: “he’s serving me just a big plate of just air. There’s no meat, there’s no substance, there’s nothing to actually take … no original thoughts.”
- On Xavier: “He won?!?“
More, please, more! The shade and insults on Big Brother are rarely this cutting and hilarious.
And Britney wasn’t alone! The other players joined in:
- Danielle on Josh’s inability to walk a balance beam: “Maybe he had too many meatballs.”
- Taylor: “I’m here to crack some nuts. The guys have got to go.”
- Josh on Josh: “I’m a mess”
- Nicole: “Nothing says the holidays like backstabbing!”
- Frankie: “Everyone prance after me. Everyone must prance!” Everyone else: *ignores Frankie*
Ah yes, it is quite a celebration when everyone ignores Frankie and mocks Josh. Will such gifts continue for five more episodes of Big Brother Reindeer Games? I may actually tune in to see, which is not what I expected at the start of the episode.
Correction: Britney’s Cody quotation has been corrected; its final word is “games,” not “gays.” Apologies for the hilarious error.