What Big Brother 8 Houseguests Should Have Learnedby David Bloomberg -- 07/09/2007
There are many things that Big Brother contestants should have known before they set foot in the house that will have them on camera 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After all, each year for the past six years, this season’s players could have spent their summers watching every move of previous houseguests and thinking about what they could – or should not – do.
This season’s players have more history to draw on, but each time the producers throw in new twists as well. However, everybody comes in with the same potential knowledge, so there are some general things the players should have been able to determine even without full knowledge of all the twists, and some things they can do in response to the “enemy” twist this season.
The first run of Big Brother does not have much to tell us about the current version of the game. In that version – as in most non-U.S. versions – players were voted out by viewers rather than by each other. As Chicken George found out in All-Stars, it really is a completely different game when you have to convince viewers to keep you around as opposed to convincing those you are playing with.
Similarly, there are some parts of the previous series that won’t come into play here. Starting with Big Brother 4, evicted houseguests were not shown diary room excerpts that viewers saw, or other “private” comments. This means houseguests should feel free to fully express themselves in private without worrying that it will get back to the voting jury – as happened to Danielle in Big Brother 3. Also, because producers cracked down on houseguests looking up at banner planes after Big Brother 2, nobody should have to worry that the viewing audience will send messages about what they’re up to or who they’re double-crossing.
At least twice out of six times in what I’ll call the “modern” Big Brother era (that is, not including the first series), the jury has been forced to choose the lesser of two evils: Will vs. Nichole in BB2 and Jun vs. Alison in BB4. In BB3, BB5, and BB6, there were likeable people actually available for the vote – though in BB3 that was in part due to some incredibly stupid play by Reality TV Hall of Shamer Marcellas Reynolds, who failed to use the Golden Veto to save himself. And in All-Stars, personality issues were overcome by great game play on the part of Mike (with a lot of Will’s help).
So what does that mean for somebody who wants to win? And what should the Big Brother 8 contestants have learned? Let's take a look at these various rules. Each week, we will look back at this and compare how each losing player did or did not accomplish these goals.
1) Make Machiavelli Proud: Scheme and Plot
In the Big Brother house, you don’t need to know how to cook, how to mow the lawn, or how to fix the plumbing. You do need to have learned from Renaissance schemer Niccolo Machiavelli. Big Brother: All-Stars reinforced this even more as the six-to-one final vote tally showed people were voting for game play rather than personal reasons.
From the very beginning, you have to start making alliances and cementing relationships. It can be difficult to know whom you can trust after just a couple days – or even hours, sometimes – but if you don’t start fast, you’ll be watching from the comfort of your own living room like the rest of us.
I know what you’re thinking – some of the players on this edition might indeed know they cannot trust certain others, because they are “enemies.” And indeed, this can make a good starting point in getting other people on their side. But as the game progresses, they should not automatically throw away the idea of teaming up with an old enemy, as Diane and Jase were thought to have done in All-Stars.
Over the past few years, we have seen several alliances born simply because people happened to be together at the same time. For instance, in Big Brother 3, an alliance formed of all the people who had given up during the first challenge, and Marcellas was targeted. Gerry ended up having a change in heart and saving him (something he might have later regretted – many viewers certainly did), but the point is that this “alliance” was formed simply because people were nearby and needed somebody to target.
Similarly, Big Brother 4 alliances were determined by who happened to come into the house in which group. The first group, “the originals,” found that a bunch of their exes would follow shortly, and all of the originals agreed to keep each other around; the exes similarly ended up as allies. Of course, any of the exes could have been in the first group and any of the originals who had exes in the game could have been in the second. It was simply a matter of who happened to be around that set up that particular group of alliances.
Big Brother 8 has a similar situation for several of the houseguests. Dick, Justin, and Jessica were hidden in the HOH room before the other 11 were brought into the house. This gave them a bit of bonding time – which was encouraged by the fact that all three of them have “enemies” in the house. On the flipside, the other 11 may tend to stick together against the three “enemies” of the people they first met.
The key is to find some way to create alliances that will keep you around until you can figure out your full strategy later. We saw James use this strategy in All-Stars, aligning himself with the very people who booted him in the previous season, but knowing full well he was going to abandon them as they abandoned him once the game got going and he could feel out the other players. The one thing you definitely do not want to do is isolate yourself somehow. That’s a sure way to get booted.
Of course, later in the game you can rework alliances according to what is necessary to stick around, but early on you should make use of whatever relationships you can scrounge up.
The most important attribute of an alliance is that the people in it won't nominate you or vote for you to leave. The second most important attribute is that they will vote the same way as you will for somebody else to take the long hike.
Actually, let me clarify and emphasize something here: they shouldn’t nominate you, if they have a lick of sense. Anybody who has been watching the show should know by now that the "decoy" strategy all too often does not work. For those unfamiliar with what I mean, it’s the idea that you want to get rid of a specific person and therefore the Head of Household (HOH) nominates that person and one other who they think is “safe.” However, it has failed far too many times, with the “safe” person being sent home in those cases. In short: Don’t do it!
As mentioned above, the alliance based on an original grouping has been a starting point in almost every series – though the producers often try to shake that up with various twists. One thing to remember is that it isn’t necessarily the best idea to make alliances “to the end” with your first alliance. Witness the problems caused in BB6 when Eric made several “to the end” alliances and then ended up really hating some of the people he had made promises to. Instead, early alliances should be for the first few weeks, with the possibility for re-evaluation. Obviously, it can’t quite be worded that way, but don’t promise your first-born child in the first hour in the house!
Indeed, those who have been most successful are those who don’t necessarily align themselves strictly with one group, but use their vote to bounce back and forth as necessary. Will (who was recognized with a Reality TV Hall of Fame induction for his win) started with ChillTown in BB2, but then made various different promises to different people after ChillTown was busted up and made it all the way to the winner’s circle – he and Mike used that same strategy in All-Stars, and it worked again. Jun and Alison both played similar games in BB4 and ended up as the final two. Drew began with the Horsemen in BB5, but then jumped to the Twins alliance and then just as quickly jumped elsewhere, all the while making various promises to different people. In fact, Drew actually began plotting and scheming before he ever got into the house, but studying up and reading books about power and how to tell if people are lying.
Even though all of these players would have been good targets, they always managed to avoid being voted out, and kept the other houseguests aiming at each other. Of course, that doesn’t always work, as we saw in the highly-divided house of BB6. The person who tried to jump back and forth, James, ended up being targeted by both sides for exactly that reason (though Howie’s decision to do so earned him a Reality TV Hall of Shame Moment).
In the cases of Will, Mike, Jun, and Alison, there were other people in the house who were wise to their games, but they never managed to do anything about it. Hell, Will said he was going to lie, but then people trusted him! It was like they thought, “Well, I know he lies, but he’s not lying to me this time!” Sheesh. And then he did it again in All-Stars!
Part of plotting and scheming can also be making good use of sneakiness. We know there are spots in the Big Brother house where you can listen in on conversations without being seen. Make good use of these when possible to find out what other people are saying behind your back (we’ve seen this happen recently in both Survivor and Pirate Master, and it helped those who were listening in both cases). Another good move is to have different allies talk to other groups, and then compare notes. But if everybody knows who you’re aligned with (see below), that won’t work so well.
It should be noted that the best schemer does not always win. While this is the most important rule, it is not the only one – and challenges and twists always have the possibility of messing things up. Following this rule will help you get to the end, but you’ve got to work for it.
Note that I have been talking about making alliances, not making friends. See Rule 4, below, for advice about friendships. Yes, I know, somebody from “The Friendship” alliance won in BB6, but this was an exception, not the rule. And even then, the “friendship” aspect wore thing as Ivette and April had issues near the end, and Ivette actually ended up with a Reality TV Hall of Shame Moment for choosing her friend Maggie to go to the finals. And of course, even as the exception, it only worked for one of the alliance.
2) But Don't Scheme and Plot Too Much/Keep Your Scheming Secret/Don't Backstab Until You Absolutely Need To
There's a fine line that needs to be drawn. If you spend all your time scheming and plotting, and you try to scheme and plot with everybody, everybody will know what you're up to. In the end, nobody will trust you and they'll turn on you. Well, in theory, anyway. As we’ve already discussed, it worked for Jun, Will, and Mike. But that is mostly because they always managed to direct the target elsewhere. There is a fine line between what is or is not “too much” scheming.
Drew did a good job in BB5 of knowing when to shut up rather than plotting too much. Sometimes when people approached him, he just nodded or gave them an “uh huh.” Many people in the house often feel compelled to get into long conversations, which can be their downfall. Drew stayed out of it as much as he could, and he is a good example of how to follow this rule.
A good example of how not to follow this rule was already shown in All-Stars. Danielle ran around the house right off the bat and tried to spread ideas to almost everybody, which I immediately knew was a bad idea. Alison followed suit. Guess who got nominated?
Of course, James made this mistake as well – twice! He did it in his original season, and then again in All-Stars.
An important part of this rule is that players should not be open about their scheming. Keep ‘em guessing, and always make them think you’re on their side. That’s how Will, Mike, and Jun pulled it off. Of course, Will was honest in saying he would lie, but as already mentioned, he managed to make people think he was lying to everybody but them, so in his own way he was keeping his scheming secret.
This also leads to a corollary to this rule, which is that if any alliances do get out in the open, do not let it be known that you are the decision-maker – even to those within your own alliance, if possible! The best schemers succeed by allowing their cohorts to believe decisions are made by the group. The worst let it be known to one and all that they are in control.
Danielle and Jason in BB3 hid their alliance and the fact that they were helping to direct decisions, and came very close to success (indeed, had it not been for the other houseguests seeing Danielle’s “private” comments, who knows how it would have turned out). Justin, Jee, and Robert made their alliance public and even acted like kings by making the others come to them to beg not to be nominated or voted out. This didn’t sit well at all and they paid the price. Jase and Scott didn’t learn that lesson for BB5, and repeated very similar mistakes.
I'm also going to bring in one more point regarding open scheming – couples. I'm talking about joining up openly with another person for any reason, whether it's love/lust, a father-daughter type thing, or whatnot – though on Big Brother it’s mostly been love/lust coupling. Let’s face it, open partnerships like these are just begging to be split up, especially in a game where each week two people are nominated. What’s the best way to split a couple? Nominate ‘em both! Indeed, it’s happened so many times in the past few years that there is little point in listing them all! It’s now a well-known strategy: if there is a tight pair, nominate ‘em both.
The main point in dealing with the backstabbing portion of this rule is that it goes along with scheming and plotting, and backstabbing too early is scheming and plotting too much. Basically, you should not stab somebody in the back until you need to – and you’re sure they’re not going to be able to get back at you. This is a difficult task in Big Brother. If you’re the HOH and you nominate two people who had trusted you, one of them is definitely staying, and depending on how the veto is used, both could end up sticking around! Stay low on the radar until you really need to come out. And when you do stick the knife in somebody’s back, make sure it’s going to be the fatal blow, game-wise.
Howie really blew this one when he nominated James and Sarah. He backstabbed too early, got the previously-mentioned Hall of Shame Moment, and ended up costing himself and his alliance the game. Just. Not. Smart.
He wasn’t the only person to make that mistake in the sixth season, though. Jennifer decided to take out Kaysar when he came back in by telling him a blatant lie. Sure, she got rid of him, but his allies took their revenge. She didn’t have to do it – she could have stuck with the anti-James plan and all would have been fine. But she painted a target on herself by violating this rule.
3) Pretend To Be Nice/Keep Your Politics and Controversial Beliefs To Yourself/Act Like an Adult/Don’t Drink Too Much
As you're making alliances, you have to pretend to be nice. It's like diplomacy. Keep your real feelings inside. In general, people aren't going to ally themselves with you if they think you're a jerk or you're untrustworthy – unless, of course, you convince them that you’re untrustworthy to everybody but them. Yes, it keeps coming back to the evil doctor, Will.
Even if you do make it past that point and you somehow get down to the final two, if the jury thinks you're too much of an ass, you still don't get the big money. Witness Danielle, Alison, and Ivette in three recent seasons.
One part of the game that many players don’t think enough about is the goodbye video. Everybody gets to make one to say “sayonara” to the person who is voted out each week. Often, it’s all nicey-nicey, but sometimes people can get a bit nasty. Ivette, for example, was bitchy to Rachel in the sixth season for no good reason. And Rachel got to vote on whether Ivette would win the half million at the end! Boy, that turned out to be a really dumb move, didn’t it? It’s so easy to simply say, “Great game. We might not have been on the same side, but I admired your play,” or some other BS. Why not say it? It could be the difference between winning and losing.
Always remember that this is a game, and that means playing it – and playing other people. If you’re a lone conservative with a bunch of liberals, talking about how Bush was right to invade Iraq won’t endear you to them. Yes, it’s a long time to sit around and hide your true opinions 24/7, but you didn’t expect it to be easy to win half a million dollars, did you?
Also remember that the others are playing a game as well. This means you will almost certainly be nominated – deal with it. That means you don’t use the HOH’s toothbrush to clean the toilet, like Shannon did in BB3, thus earning herself a Reality TV Hall of Shame Moment. Being nominated is not the end of the world, if you play your cards right.
In general, you should act like an adult. Remember Justin, who was booted out of BB2 and has made several appearances in the Reality TV Hall of Shame (including as the very first inductee)? His drunken antics with Krista in the kitchen were not his first problem. Before then, he had picked fights, thrown things around, and in general acted like a brat.
Jase and Scott were in an alliance with Drew from the very beginning of BB5. However, Jase and Scott acted out, and were dispatched fairly quickly. Drew was a nice guy. Drew won. Game, set, match.
This leads us to the final part of this rule – watching your alcohol consumption. We know there isn’t much to do in the house, but the producers often provide plenty of booze. However, that doesn’t mean you have to drink it – if only for strategic reasons. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which means you are more likely to not only do something that will embarrass you (say, for example, flirting while you have a significant other at home), but to also spill the beans about your alliances (perhaps while flirting!). Just keep in mind that with half a million bucks, you can buy a lot of beer later.
4) Don't Let Your Emotions Control You
This section addresses both "positive" emotions, like friendship, and also "negative" ones, such as anger. Let's address the positive first and then move on to the negative.
Under normal Big Brother circumstances, most or all of the people in the house with you are strangers. In this season, six of them already know somebody else. Still, you will be stuck with them for up to three months, but then you never really have to see them again if you don’t want to. You have to remember that this is a game (even more so for the six – it’s a game, no matter what they might think of their old enemy on the outside). Of course, people aren’t robots, so emotion will certainly play some role, but you can’t let inside friendships or enemyships control the game, especially in this case. I think we had enough “Friendship” controlling the game a couple seasons ago, thank you very much.
Friends are great, but this is a game show. Now I already hear some people protesting, "But Lisa made friends, and she was nice – and she won!" True, but she didn't allow her friendships to interfere with her play. The same is true of Drew. And then there was Maggie, head of “The Friendship,” who also won. But she played the game too, even getting Ivette to bring her to the final two.
In any case, both Lisa and Drew are great examples of how to abide by this rule. Lisa voted not to bring Eric back on BB3. Since she had hooked up with him, everybody expected her to want him voted back in. But she realized that doing so would be a horrible game move. She was right, and she ended up winning.
Similarly, everybody expected Drew to take Diane with him into the BB5 final two. But he understood that he had a better chance against Cowboy. And Drew still got Diane’s vote to win at the end! Meanwhile, also in BB5, Jase let emotions get in the way, which led to the evictions of Holly, Scott, and Jase himself.
Then we have the flip side of emotion – anger. In BB2, Nichole let her anger and bitterness get the better of her and by the end of it, she was barely recognizable as the same person who had entered the house. Even worse, people chose Will over her as the winner! We’ve seen other people degenerate into meanspiritedness as well, often over trivial things. It’s ugly to watch, and it’s even worse to live with. People will target you if you are horrible to be around.
In just the very first episode of Big Brother 8, we already saw some nastiness, in the form of Joe claiming Dustin cheated and gave him gonorrhea. I’m sure there will be more. But the six need to keep in mind that this is still a game, and their best ally in the game might be their old enemy from real life.
Contestants need to achieve the proper balance and remain objective. This is a game. You wouldn't allow emotion to rule in a game of Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune, so don't do it when half a million dollars are on the line.
5) Don’t Be Too Much of a Threat
Time and time again we’ve seen people do what they should have been doing, only to be voted off anyway. Why? Because those people were perceived as threats to the others in the house.
There are several ways to become a threat. Earlier, we discussed how you shouldn’t allow others to know you are making decisions. One of the main reasons for that is because you then become a threat to them. Eliminate the decision-maker and perhaps that threat goes away. Drew from BB5 recognized this, as he explained to me in my interview with him.
Being too good at the challenges also makes you a threat. Odds are against you and your alliancemates winning every HOH and veto challenge (despite what the BB6 Sovereign alliance seemed to think). And when you don’t, you can bet that the person who does win is going to at least think about targeting you. Why? Because you’re a threat to win the next time. Look at James from BB6. He was not only targeted because nobody knew for sure where he stood, but also because he won the veto so often we thought it should be named after him!
Another way to be a threat is by being too nice. As we’ve seen especially in Seasons 2 and 4, people want to go up against somebody who is unlikable in the final two. If you’re the nicest person there and friends with almost everybody, others will vote you out.
If you can control your behavior well enough, you should strive to be neither the most obnoxious person in the house nor the least. The most obnoxious houseguests often get kicked out early, but as the game progresses, the threats to win the game get kicked out. Winners Will, Jun, and Mike both had the right level of obnoxiousness to stay in the house and eventually win the game.
Another way to be a threat is somewhat opposite of the previous paragraphs – if you are so untrustworthy that people don’t know which way you will vote, you may be perceived as a threat to them sticking around. Because of the nature of Big Brother, it’s possible to convince people that you’re on their side even if you’ve been against them before. We’ve seen it done by Will, Mike, Jun, Alison, and others. However, if they start to lose faith in you and decide that you’re too much of a risk, they might go after you instead. Indeed, I just mentioned it a couple paragraphs as it related to James of BB6. So be sure to always remind them that there is a bigger and more important (in your eyes, anyway) target out there.
6) Be Flexible!
While following these guidelines should get you far, there are specific situations – and possibly new twists – that may call for an adjustment. Players have to look at what’s going on around them and judge the proper way to proceed. As a non-strategy example, many people consider smoking to be a bad habit. If you have a bunch of anti-smokers in the house, you will want to do your best to stop. However, if you’re aligned with a bunch of people who smoke, then feel free to light up like a chimney. You’ll need the money you win to pay your medical bills anyway.
Similarly, you can’t tie yourself to one alliance and hope that it survives. In BB4, the final two were those who jumped back and forth between alliances as necessary. In BB5, the winner had been in several alliances, while those who stuck solidly with their alliances were voted out one by one. On All-Stars Howie was attached at the hip to Janelle and the season six alliance. He gave himself no flexibility to play the game on his own terms, and was voted out in part because of that.
If you see that the majority or the HOH is leaning another way, by all means make sure you’re part of that majority. You need to have your finger on the pulse of every member of the house, and it’s not easy. But it will help keep you around.
Sometimes, the best play is to not play. Lisa didn’t really play the game of Big Brother for weeks – she just stayed out of the way and let the battling powers eliminate one another. Similarly, Drew tried to stay in the background and always let somebody else – whether Scott and Jase or Adria and Natalie – take the heat.
Insisting on being the center of attention, like Mike Boogie, Scott, and Jase did, is a sure way to be eliminated quickly. And it got Danielle and Alison nominated right off the bat on All-Stars, while some of the others were already showing signs of sitting back and enjoying the ride.
Above all, read how the other players see you and take it from there. As you’re doing this, be sure to keep your cool. The game is designed to rattle you. The best way to avoid that is to be prepared for anything.
7) Trust (Almost) Nobody
Just because somebody says they won’t nominate you or vote for you doesn’t make it true. Although somebody might seem like a good person, it’s not always possible to find one person that you can totally trust. Don’t assume anything, especially in a person you have only known for a short while.
Well, let me correct myself for a moment. You should actually assume one thing: that you are almost always being lied to. Therefore, you must do whatever is necessary to protect yourself. That means if you have the opportunity to grant yourself immunity, do it! Just because somebody says they won’t vote you off is simply not a smart reason to make yourself vulnerable. Marcellas is in the Reality TV Hall of Shame in large part because he had the golden veto, with which he could have saved himself, and he didn’t. Even to this day, Marcellas doesn’t seem to understand (or refuses to admit) that his failure to use the golden veto on himself was ridiculously stupid. He trusted people to save him when he had his own lifesaver. Learn from his mistake.
Another person who made a mistake was BB6’s James. For some reason, he trusted Ivette, with whom he seemed to share a bond. He swore on the Bible and told her he was with her. She rewarded this gesture by ratting him out and helping to show him the door.
On the flipside, we have BB5’s Drew, who truly trusted nobody. How many times did we see him question Diane? Why? Because even though they appeared to have a relationship, he never really knew if he could trust her. He played it like a game and knew backstabbing would occur. So even though he shared a bed with Diane, he never shared all of his plans with her.
Appendix A: Don't Be Lazy or Show Your Bad Habits
This one used to be a full-fledged rule, but I got tired of saying, “rule eight didn’t apply here.” So I’ve moved it to be an appendix. If it comes into play, we can talk about it. If not, we can ignore it.
This is because this former rule is the least important. However, it’s still good to remember that when you are stuck with a bunch of people 24/7 for a long period of time, every little thing will get on somebody’s nerves. Strive to get rid of those bad habits that have been plaguing you – cracking your knuckles, biting your nails, forgetting to wash your hands after using the bathroom, etc.
Similarly, make sure to do your share of the work. Clean up after yourself. Do some dishes, some cooking, some cleaning (just don’t use somebody else’s toothbrush to clean the toilet).
You don’t want to give people a reason to target you. Strategy is hard enough without fighting an uphill battle against a bad reputation.
Appendix B: The Jury Phase
If you play your cards right, you might eventually get to the jury phase, specifically being in the final two. If you do make it, you need to be ready, and many previous final two contestants have not been.
People in the jury will talk to each other. Don’t vote one person out and then trash that person to somebody else you plan to vote out later. They’re out of the game, there is no reason to be talking about them anymore. You are much better off complimenting somebody and then sticking the knife in their back when they aren’t expecting it. Danielle probably could have gotten away with that type of behavior in her original season – if only the jurors hadn’t been allowed to see her “private” commentary in which she gloated about it. In short, play the game, don’t gossip about others’ shortcomings.
Also, you have to realize how important jury arguments are. So be prepared. Be ready to tell the jury why they should vote for you and not for the other person. Even swaying just one person could be the difference between first and second prize.
On All-Stars, Mike showed us the importance of this phase of the game. He did a great job in front of the jury, answering questions like a pro after having obviously spent significant time thinking about what the jurors were likely to ask and how he might respond. He also obviously put serious thought into his closing words – it was one of the best final speeches we’ve ever seen on reality TV. He singled out each and every juror and said something good about them. And between his answers and speech, Mike emphasized that he played the game the way it was meant to be played. This phase of the game helped earn him six of the seven votes – the seventh was Marcellas, and nothing could have convinced him to vote for Mike.
You have to be able to read each person and see what they want from you, but in general, apologies are good. Say you're sorry to those you ran over to get there. While you're at it, flatter ‘em – it never hurts. Point out that it was nothing personal, but you only acted that way for the game. Etc. Of course, this only works if you adhered to the rest of this rule about not slamming people. If you went around talking about people behind their backs for no good reason, apologizing at this point will only make you look like a hypocrite. And sometimes, it’s actually best not to apologize, but to note that you were playing the game and you can’t really apologize for that. You have to get a feel for your jurors and whether they are likely to vote emotionally or strategically.
These are the most important lessons that should have been learned ahead of time by the Big Brother 8 players. Will played by these rules and came home with the big prize in BB2. He was the best player and the jury recognized it. Lisa did a good job at the necessary parts as well, though her win had a bit more luck (and dumb playing by Marcellas) involved. Jun did followed these rules well while others around her stumbled more than they should have and kept shooting at opposite alliances rather than realizing their real enemies were the two women who jumped between them. Drew managed to follow most of the rules while lurking in the background and keeping a close eye on everything around him. Even Maggie had her moments. And Mike took us back to the days of old by doing an excellent job at following these rules – many of which were at least in part based on his partner Will to begin with!
This eighth time will certainly have more twists and hopefully some intelligent players, so the next Machiavellian schemer will have to be even better – or perhaps even more below the radar.
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David Bloomberg is the Editor of RealityNewsOnline and can be reached at RNO@pobox.com.
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