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Dear CBS: More Big Brother stunts like Reindeer Games, please!

Dear CBS: More Big Brother stunts like Reindeer Games, please!
Britney competes in a Big Brother Reindeer Games episode 3 challenge (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Last year delivered many reality TV competition surprises, from The Traitors to The Devil’s Plan. But I may have been most surprised by CBS’s Big Brother Reindeer Games.

Okay, sure, my expectations for Big Brother couldn’t possibly be lower! It has so much potential, and squanders that constantly, from its manipulative twists to themes that evaporate.

Midway through Big Brother Reindeer Games, Hamsterwatch detailed what worked so well about it.

After reading her take, and thinking about it when watching the final three episodes, I realized why it was such a surprise and a delight for me:

This six-episode season lived up to the promise of Big Brother more than the three-month-long version ever has.

A person in a red jumpsuit holds a trophy over her head; fake snow and a Christmas tree are behind her
Nicole Franzel won Big Brother Reindeer Games, but really, we all won with an actually fun season of Big Brother (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Big Brother often pretends to be light, fun summer TV, and then comes the racism, the manipulative editing, toxic fans pouring gas all over the fire, et cetera.

But Big Brother Reindeer Games actually managed to be light, fun television. From silly costumes to the incredible over-the-top Christmas and winter decor, everything worked.

It even—gasp!—had a coherent theme that continued across all six episodes.

The episodes were filled mostly with challenges, three per episode, that incorporated light strategy.

The first challenge’s winner chose two people for the elimination challenge, which allowed them to save themselves. That’s not a new idea, but it sure was a refreshing change from the stale HOH/veto format.

And those challenges were pretty great overall. I mean, they put the hamsters in a hamster wheel!

A person in a large hamster wheel trying to run up its inside; in the background is a snowy landscape and a candy cane
Danielle Reyes in Big Brother Reindeer Games’ hamster wheel challenge (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

With the players not actually living in the house 24/7, it’s certainly more of a traditional reality TV competition. Like on Tough As Nails, the players were only filmed during competitions, and then went to a hotel every night for some downtime.

The summer show’s schedule packs most everything into a few days, leaving the cast to just sit around for days with nothing to do.

Pre-taping six episodes is much easier on the production, and produced a lot more payoff for us.

Even though each episode followed the same general structure, it didn’t feel as repetitive or deadening as the summer show often can.

A person dressed like an elf holds a scroll
Derek Xiao is one of three Big Brother alum hosting Big Brother Reindeer Games (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Bringing back Big Brother alumni, even though they may not have been the promised “iconic” “legends”, allowed the show to just jump right into competition. After all, who needs to be reintroduced to Frankie Grande? And if you do, just slam your fingers in a door and you’ll be caught right up.

The cast surprised me, too: Players who I thought might go far because of their challenge performance on earlier seasons—Cameron, Cody, and Josh—were out in three of the first four episodes.

That’s not what I expected from them on a challenge-focused competition. If Josh Martinez can’t win Big Brother Reindeer Games, what hope does he have of winning The Challenge?!

Using alumni as hosts worked as well as it does during the summer show; occasionally awkward, but gets the job done.

Best of all, it turns out Big Brother does not need Julie Chen Moonves to read off a teleprompter or even be present.

A person dressed as Santa Claus holds a large red book, and sits in front of a round window with light streaming in
Big Brother’s announcer Clayton Halsey dressed as Santa Claus to introduce Big Brother Reindeer Games (Image from Big Brother)

All of this created a winning formula.

Of course, there are things I’d tweak—cutting out the Diary Room rehashes of what we just saw, for example—but this mini-season soared over the show’s usual low bar.

The Big Brother house sits empty the rest of the year, and I’d love to see it used for a couple more stunts like Big Brother Reindeer Games.

Should CBS abandon the actual Big Brother for short seasons like this? I mean, sure! But of course it will not: Big Brother fills three nights a week for three months, makes a ton of cash, and gives Julie Chen Moonves something to do besides hosting God 101.

The production team was able to turn over the house and film Reindeer Games within a month of the end of a regular season, which is incredible.

So it seems like they could fit in a few more seasons during the year, especially since this was an unusual, highly compressed timeline. (Regular seasons usually end in September, and there was likely considerable overlap with pre-production. After all, back when CBS aired Celebrity Big Brother in the winter, production designer Scott Storey was designing that house during the summer season.)

Let’s take advantage of that soundstage space and this format!

Big Brother Reindeer Games can become an annual tradition.

How about others, like Big Brother for Halloween, Thanksgiving, April Fool’s Day, or Valentine’s Day?

Oh, scratch the last one; that’ll just invite shoving past BB showmances down our throats, and I don’t have a good enough gag reflex to handle all of them on one show, even if it does last for just six days.

They don’t need to be holiday-themed, though the festive fun certainly contributed to the enjoyment.

I miss the era of fun, light shows like Santas in a Barn, and Big Brother Reindeer Games proved Big Brother has a real opportunity to fill that gap. What do you say, CBS?

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Happy discussing!

Bad Mitten

Thursday 4th of January 2024

"Players who I thought might go far because of their challenge performance on earlier seasons—Cameron, Cody, and Josh—were out in three of the first four episodes."

- Very surprised to see Josh make this list considering he barely won comps in his original BB season (I believe only 3 wins including final HoH) and is awful at the comps in the Challenge. Feel like you should have listed X since he won way more comps in BB but that wouldnt fit the 3 out of the first 4 narrative.

Andy Dehnart

Friday 5th of January 2024

You're right about X. Josh, though—maybe I've bought Josh's own narrative from hearing him talk about himself so much this past year, but isn't he considered to be a challenge contender, on Big Brother and The Challenge? I know he's never actually won!