It’s not summer without Big Brother, baby! Though the show is on its last leg, skimming by in the ratings and likely two seasons away from imploding, sitting down to watch the beginning of each season is an annual tradition, and this week’s two-part premiere proved that CBS can still piece together a decent spectacle (even in the shadow of Love Island‘s highly-anticipated premiere on the network).
So, yes; failing ratings or not, we’re still here, eagerly waiting for the show’s cloaked racists to come out of hiding, unsuspecting backs about to be stabbed and the season’s “twist” soon to be revealed.
The series’ 21st premiere saw the introduction of a new roster of contestants, including a Jason Momoa look-alike, a Broadway dancer and a “wine safari guide.” We also got our first glimpse at the season’s summer camp theme, the addition of a new power in the house, plus the first eviction and HOH competition.
However, though big moves were made and an HOH was crowned, nothing explosive occurred—the season’s larger twist wasn’t revealed, fist-fights didn’t happen and the introduction of the forthcoming ‘“Whactivity Comp,’ where a game-changing secret power is up for grabs” already seems annoying. Still, we did observe a few notable things:
“Julie Chen Moonves” Still Stings
Big Brother 21 marks the first full summer season of the series since the network’s former CEO resigned following multiple sexual misconduct allegations, but the shift in power doesn’t seem to bear any weight on the show itself—Celebrity Big Brother, which aired shortly thereafter, came-and-went just fine and this season seems unperturbed so far. Really, the only significant connection between Moonves and Big Brother is his wife Julie Chen, the show’s longstanding, staunch host, who know introduces herself by her married name on air.
Though Chen’s decision to begin using her married name following her husband’s resignation (which just received renewed press from columnist E. Jean Carroll’s assault accusation against the executive) sparked short-lived controversy, a surge in hate tweets and a few think-pieces, the hoopla was drowned out by other pressing reality television matters—including Chen’s decision to return as host even after leaving her position on The Talk. Despite this, the bitter bite of Chen standing in solidarity against her husband and disregarding his accusers still lingers and stings just as badly as it did last season.
The House Is Still a Sea of White People
Imbalanced casting has long been an issue for the U.S. version of Big Brother (which has at least one racial controversy each season). Though the casting director has responded to criticism over the lack of representation many times, some of which has come from Moonves himself, nothing really has changed over the last five seasons. The Big Brother house is famously a sea of cisgendered white people with rock-solid abs, and though this season features a striking number of five non-white competitors (one more than last season, folks!), the show is still putting healthy-minds-make-sexy-bodies at the forefront.
Casting leans on picking contestants that fall into neatly pre-established stereotypes of ideal competitors—the more boilerplate a contestant looks, the more you’re able to predict their gameplay. Unimpressionable “floaters” can be identified immediately (usually they’re the competitors with dyed hair, but there’s a severe lack of them this season), there’s always a CrossFit champion or two, some LGBT representation and “normie” underdog, plus every season has its “old guy.” (And, yes, we’re still waiting on this season’s 53-year old petroleum engineer’s party allegiance to surface.)
The imbalanced casting reared its angry head on the second night of the premiere as one of the only two black competitors on this season was the first to be evicted from the house. His final diary-room interview was even bleaker, where he admitted he wanted to be “the first black person to win Big Brother. I wanted to represent African-American culture in a different light.” Ouch.
Literally What the Hell Is Going on with Jackson Mitchie’s Jawline?
Listen—if we really wanted to see square-jawed “aspiring actors” woo and manipulate young women in the house, we’d just go to a standard-issue frat darty.
And Speaking of Jackson … Commandeering Power on the First Night Is a Hot Move, but You Need to Chill Out Brother
Big Brother likes to keep things interesting by beginning each season with a new “twist” that is always half-unbearable to sit through. This time around, the season’s first twist was the addition of the new “Camp Director” power, which guarantees one competitor safety for the week in exchange for putting four contestants up for eviction on the first night. To win the title, a competitor had to nominate themselves and gather enough votes to win by popularity, and our square-shaped hunk won by a landslide.
After being crowned, however, Jackson wouldn’t stop grumbling about his responsibilities. “I don’t want to do it, but I got to,” he kept repeating, hammering nail after nail in his coffin and reminding whoever is in the room that he now has three targets on his back, yada, yada—but weren’t you aware of this as you were nominating yourself?
Seeing that two-thirds of the incoming houseguests always rely on the strategy of not presenting themselves as “physical threats” at first, it’s a good thing to assert your power in the house right off the bat—a forward, brash competitor is always quick to form strong alliances and a band of loyal followers. Jackson’s self-nomination for Camp Director was a decent move, but his incessant nagging that it was his god-given duty to sacrifice himself on behalf of the entire house is tarnishing his sparkle.
The Larger Twist of the Season Might Have to Do with Connections Between Contestants
We learned on the first night of the premiere that contestants Christie and Tommy knew each other prior to coming into the house, and that Christie just ended a 7-year-long relationship with his aunt, a connection almost too coincidental for the show.
Even before the show premiered, shrewd fans and live-feeders were finding small connections between contestants: two attended the same university and another pair know each other from competing in pageants. If tying together players by existing relationships is this season’s twist, it’s not an original one (the “secret partner” twist was first used in Big Brother 6), and isn’t the first time the show’s producers have unearthed and recycled past reveals.
However, the secret partner twist seems significantly more interesting than Big Brother 17’s recycled “twin twist,” and it’ll be interesting to see who unearths all of the connections first: the online fan communities or The Powers That Be.
Whether or not the relationship between Christie and Tommy is at the center of this season’s twist, the serendipity is too strong to ignore (not to mention that Christie made it a point to emphasize she just ended a relationship with a “much, much older woman” in her introduction sequence). Former houseguests and Big Brother juggernauts Janelle Pierzina and Nicole Franzel both support the theory, so it’s not entirely far-fetched.
Though my patience for the show wears thin as each season inches closer to its midway point, I have faith in the forthcoming episodes. There are a few players that I find to be instantly personable and likable—Ovi, for one, alongside the tattooed, truck-driving Sam and Kemi, whose take-no-shit demeanor reminds me a lot of Cody from Big Brother 20. (Cody’s anti-obsequious, anti-brown-nosing strategy carried him through the competition but did eventually lead to his demise.)
Though the show’s format is not exactly a groundbreaking spectacle anymore (aren’t we all being filmed 24/7, after all?), it’s still fun to watch and live-tweet about, and makes for damn good content every once in a while.
Let’s get digging.
Savannah Sicurella is an editorial intern who runs a blog about peanut butter and listens to a lot of trashy boy-pop. You can follow her on Twitter @holyschmidtt.