I wasn’t planning on watching Big Brother Reindeer Games, not least because I never want to see any returning players, even if favorites of mine come back again. But it’s been a surprise since it was first announced.
Even though the writers’ and actors’ strikes were settled as Big Brother 25 drew to a close, most of us were still expecting a celebrity edition in the new year, or maybe a shortened season with BB alums, to bridge the gap until new scripted programming was made and ready to air.
But Julie finally delivered something truly unexpected when she announced on the BB25 finale that Big Brother Reindeer Games would premiere in December, and introduced it with a new holiday-themed video featuring Britney Haynes, Danielle Reyes, and Frankie Grande reprising their roles where they messed up the Big Brother universe, this time unleashing Christmas.
A press release soon followed indicating six episodes of Reindeer Games would air over two weeks. That’s not a lot, especially compared to the marathon 100-day season we’d just wrapped up, but it’s still six hours of primetime television to go up against whatever reruns or stale specials the other networks would air.
Another thing working against this new limited series: it would be totally competition-based. We’d just come off a season where many competitions were heavily skewed to physical players, leaving a bad taste in many of our mouths.
We might as well watch American Ninja Warrior and skip the whole living together thing if we just want to see strength challenges.
And there would be no feeds, which is the whole reason I watch Big Brother.
They pre-taped this one in early December, and the competitors didn’t even live in the house. They were shuttled off to hotel rooms each night, without phones, like pre-season sequester for a typical season.
But in retrospect, we know how long competitions can take in real time and they did three comps each day, so there probably wouldn’t have been much happening even if we did have feeds.
And not having them live in the house would have let production avoid grocery shopping and delivery, not to mention having to provide new cookware, tableware, bedding, etc for just a couple weeks use.
With three comps a day, a lot of the staffing manpower probably went to continually having to build, test, and break down comp sets and apparatus.
When the cast list came out, I still wasn’t enthusiastic. There were a few I was okay with, and a few I never wanted to see again.
The players had been billed as iconic and legendary players, and the stats did warrant those claims, even if many fans didn’t like it. The competitors:
- Britney Haynes Godwin – Season 12, Season 14
- Cameron Hardin – Season 25
- Cody Calafiore – Season 16 (runner-up), Season 22 (winner)
- Danielle Reyes – Season 3, Season 7
- Frankie Grande – Season 16
- Josh Martinez – Season 19 (winner)
- Nicole Franzel – Season 16, Season 18 (winner), Season 22
- Taylor Hale – Season 24 (winner)
- Xavier Prather – Season 23 (winner)
So five season winners plus Britney, Cameron, and Taylor each won viewer favorite votes, leaving only Danielle and Frankie as “untitled” vets.
But Danielle’s a strategic maestro, and many (most) believe she should have won Season 3, and Frankie’s arguably one of the most well-rounded players, combining equally strong social and comp skills.
I don’t think any one fan would have selected this particular group of nine, but overall it’s not a bad selection if you’re trying to stack a cast. It really has someone for everyone.
More familiar faces would also show up as “magical elves” or “elf ambassadors” (depending on which promo material they were mentioned). Those were Derek Xiao (Season 23), Jordan Lloyd (Season 11 winner and Season 13), and Tiffany Mitchell (Season 23 viewer favorite).
Several competitors and all three elves have also appeared on other shows including The Amazing Race, The Challenge, and Celebrity Big Brother UK.
When the house pics were released, it was clear they went all out.
Virtually every square inch of the Big Brother house was decked out in holiday décor, from wall coverings to tabletop items, with Christmas trees, wreaths, toys, candy canes, wall art, garland, and gifts everywhere.
One room was lined with shelves packed full of snow globes. And it looked good rather than tacky. Well, given the fact that decorating every square inch is kind of tacky by default, but they did a stellar job of it.
My interest had perked up a bit so I decided to give it a shot.
The premiere episode kicked off rather slowly, with our usual show announcer Clayton Halsey dressed up as Santa (and looking the part), reading from a book with singsong rhymes and puns, and phrases like “while watching BB on my P+ subscription.”
That led into a short animated intro segment that was cute, and included our cast as cartoon characters sledding in to save Christmas. And then came the requisite intros and resume reminders as the cast arrived into the house one by one, all of them decked out in loud Christmas sweaters.
Twenty minutes into the show, Elf Jordan arrived and she explained the overall premise to them and us. Every day would have three competitions, with one person being eliminated at the end of each show. The sixth and final show would have the remaining four compete in Reindeer Games, resulting in one of them winning $100,000.
Silly me, I was figuring the whole thing and all the comps collectively were Reindeer Games—but officially, those will only come at the end.
And the elves were there to serve as comp hosts and read the rules for each competition. Jordan hosted for the first two shows, and Derek hosted the third, so presumably he’ll do the fourth as well, then Tiffany will host for the final two episodes. Which makes sense: hotel bills would run a lot less by only having to put up one elf at a time for a couple days rather than all three for the full run.
Incidentally, unless Julie shows up on the finale—which is doubtful since she wasn’t on the premiere—this will be the first season of 30 that she hasn’t appeared on. (That’s 25 regular seasons, plus three Celebrity editions, plus one Over The Top, and now this holiday spinoff makes 30: hard to believe but here we are.)
The series is determined by competitions, but it also has a social component. These people have a shared (if bizarre) experience, many knew each other and they all knew of each other.
The premiere had a bit of light drama right away as Nicole and Britney appeared to hash out a personal issue between them. (It wouldn’t be a vets season unless there was some prior personal issue to hash out.)
Cody, Frankie, and Nicole, who were all on Season 16, agreed to join forces, but Nicole admitted in Diary Room that was a ruse, that she still had a grudge against Cody for betraying her on Season 22. Britney and Danielle agreed they had to get the comp beasts out early, and a tentative alliance was formed with Danielle, Josh, Taylor, and Xavier.
And it turned out those preliminary alliances and agreements to work together would be a big factor in these games.
Each episode starts with a Naughty or Nice challenge. That’s been music-themed for the first three shows, along with visiting musical guests—that’s different! So far they’ve had a marshmallow-headed DJ Scroogee, a group of Victorian-garbed carolers, and a piano-playing lounge singer.
The Naughty or Nice challenges have taken place inside the house, and they’ve had to hunt around for clues to solve a puzzle or riddle. The winner gets an advantage for the next competition, and also selected someone else to get a disadvantage, bringing the social game aspect into play.
That second competition is the Jingle Bell Brawl, and those have been variations of veto comps we’ve seen in the past. So far they’ve had to run letters to Santa back and forth across balance beams (including a sabotage element), hang and balance ornaments on very wobbly tree branches, and stack tiny puzzle pieces with tweezers.
Jingle Bell Brawl has been played as both individuals and teams, and it’s been mentioned they’ll also play as duos as some point. The winner (or winners) earn safety for that episode, and they also decide who plays the third round, which determines who gets eliminated. Cutthroat!
That third round, Santa’s Showdown, has had great comps so far. They’ve had to assemble a 57-part puzzle that included some 3-D elements, run around to retrieve toys that fit logic-puzzle criteria, and maneuver a giant human hamster wheel to move a ball through a maze.
The hamster wheel maze on the third episode was done individually with a time limit and if successful, that person was safe but they had to select who went next, and each successive run had one minute less to complete it. That setup resulted in tears and angst of epic proportions, and ran for a very suspenseful 45 minutes of the third show.
Now for the spoilers, if you haven’t seen the episodes yet.
Going in, this season felt like it’d be a slam-dunk for the proven comp beasts and most of us figured the strong social gamers and personalities would be leaving early. But no.
Because these comps were well-rounded and designed so anyone could win, Cameron was the first to go, despite having won three HOHs and two vetos on BB25. It didn’t help that he was the “new guy” who didn’t have any established relationships with the other vets.
Then Cody followed him out on the second episode. That was definitely unexpected since he was in the most solid duo within this cast, with Frankie, but they competed against each other and Xavier for the logic puzzle.
Danielle went out on the third episode, having failed the hamster wheel maze. Britney selected Danielle to do it when they were down to just a two-and-a-half minute time limit, partly because Xavier (who’d already completed it) had told her he was working with and protecting Danielle, who Britney was also working with. Oops!
Eliminated players got to select a parting gift from a mountain of them under a super-decorated Christmas tree.
Cameron got a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club in a nod to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Cody got a fruitcake, and Danielle got $5,000. Those parting gifts are also a nice touch, and I’m hoping they’ll keep having some variety and chuckles as we go.
So all in all, they really got a lot of things right with this series. They’ve had good comps so far that aren’t skewed to bro-jocks automatically winning, and they’ve got cutthroat angles to add drama.
They’ve been including some fun edits and bloopers like Cody taking several tries to pronounce “Jingle Bell Brawl,” along with some slow-mo replays of triumphs and losses.
The attention to detail has been impressive, and includes new holiday-themed outfits for everyone for each show.
The gametalk edits have been sufficient to explain the social dynamics of the moment without getting tedious. They’ve given the impression on the shows that the cast is living in the house as usual, without actually saying so. And that’s fine: what the tv-onlies don’t know won’t hurt them, or us.
On the down side, they’ve continued the dumb habit of having competitors repeat the comp rules in Diary Room segments right after the rules have been explained, and we have the usual Diary retells describing the comps while they’re underway.
But that’s balanced out by having Britney on the show, the all-time Diary Room queen. Her deadpan delivery, quick wit, and frequent sarcasm continue to be high points in most episodes, as they were on her prior seasons.
So all in all, while I didn’t think I’d like this limited series, I do. And I’m looking forward to the next and final trio of episodes (which air December 18, 19, and 21).
I’ve posted a recap page with the results of each episode at Hamsterwatch.com, where I normally write up daily recaps of the Big Brother feeds.