Here’s what I loved about the Sixth Sense alliance. And we have to start using the past tense. On Thursday night, Vanessa or Shelli will be going home. Assuming that the double eviction doesn’t claim them, whoever stays behind will be left with a shadow of the group that ran the first month of Big Brother 17. Austin is the worst kind of ally. He is utterly devoted to his showmantic partner, Liz—but Liz, one presumes, is ultimately more devoted to her twin sister Julia. That means whoever’s left behind—maybe-probably-definitely Shelli—is the fourth wheel in an alliance. Maybe that’s not a bad position to be in—and maybe Austin and the twins could be a good triple-layer meatshield for a savvy player.
But what I loved about the Sixth Sense, when they worked, was the dense strategy. Their biggest problem was only that they always out-thought themselves. Shelli threw a climactic HoH competition because she was worried that winning too many Head of Households would put a long-term target on her back. Clay and Shelli were down to backdoor Austin, but they flip-flopped toward saving him because they got spooked about losing a number on their team. Vanessa, the player I thought was going all the way this season, has an uncanny knack for reading people—but the sheer amount of puppetmastering she engaged in during the first 50 days drove her into a state of constant paranoia.
I’m not convinced that players like Becky and James read the game half as well as Sixth Sense could. Case in point: On Wednesday’s episode, Becky talked to Shelli like she had no idea that Shelli was one of Vanessa’s closest allies. “I think she really is an independent,” said Becky, “That looks after her own game.” You could argue that Becky has a sharp read on Vanessa—and there was that first Vanessa outburst last week that seemed, accidentally or by calculation, to stack the deck further against Clay and Shelli.
But, theoretically, where does Becky go from here? She has loosely aligned herself with James, Meg, and Jackie—but I’m not convinced that she’s as important to that coalition beyond her high-status this week as Head of Household. Becky and James are playing a different, more old-school game: They love getting blood on their hands. This has made for an exciting couple of weeks, and a radical clash of strategies. The Sixth Sense worked in the shadows, with sniper rifles; Becky and James prefer the sawn-off shotgun strategy.
This plan has worked so well, largely because nobody in Sixth Sense saw this coming. That’s on them. They were lazy after weeks in command. They were practicing the Hedonism Bot method:
The counterstrike has claimed Clay; it may soon claim Vanessa. Is there a comeback narrative here? If there is, I think it belongs to Shelli. With her back against the wall, she is trying to rebuild. We saw her talk to Johnny Mac, an unaligned soft ally who could make a strong ally in the back half of this season. The best thing that ever happened to Shelli was Vanessa’s pre-eviction outburst last week: It moved the target off Shelli’s back. Maybe people thought her threat was neutralized, sans Clay. If anything, she could wind up being stronger without her showmance: It could force her outside her comfort zone. It could lead her into new deals.
It could lead her into the orbit of Steve, who has become one of my very favorite useless players of all time. Dear god, to see this game the way Steve sees it! In Steve’s mind, he’s been playing a devious stealth game the last several weeks, riding under the radar (and not just being irrelevant). In that same tormented mind, the Great Satan of this season is Becky. Becky, of all people: Charming, thoughtful, genial, got-hit-by-a-train-and-shucks-she’s-doin-okay Becky. Thus far, Steve is the most tragic kind of superfan: Someone who loves the show who seems to have no coherent understanding of how people actually do well on this show.
You know who’s having a swell time this week? Austin and Liz. Liztin. AusLiz. “We’re the last showmance standing,” said Liz. Liz told us that, in a shocking new development, her mostly feigned affection for him has grown into something a little bit more than that. “I usually go for the typical Miami musclehead kind of guy,” she said. “But his personality has won me over.” Austin winning someone over with his personality is like Michael Jordan winning someone over with his baseball ability.
But oh, the joys of young showmantic love! Liz kissed Austin’s hand, and Austin rubbed Liz’s tummy, and Liz rubbed Austin’s ponytail beard, and Austin told Liz how he thinks Rachel McAdams is a really underrated actress.
SMASH CUT TO: Sister Julia.
Julia is a question mark, going into the back half of this season. From everything the show has shown us, she’s the twin we should be paying attention to: Smarter, willing to make serious deals, unwilling to forgive. But right now, she appears to be well shackled to the LizTin showmance—and boy, she does not seem happy about that.
NEXT: The end of Vanessa?[pagebreak]
Shelli got to choose a contestant for the veto competition. She picked Vanessa—a choice that confused and mildly angered Johnny Mac. Shelli’s been in a strange position this week. She knew that her closest ally was the ultimate target—but she also knew that she would be the most obvious person to send home, if Vanessa wasn’t the ultimate target. Shelli played dumb to John, but it was obvious that she badly needed a Hail Mary. If Vanessa could win the Veto competition, she could ensure a safe week for herself and Shelli.
The Veto Competition brought back the Big Brother comics, a few of which you can see right here on EW.com. My personal favorite was Vanessa as “The Mad Hatter,” a superhero name which gets at both Vanessa’s wild fashion sense and her general gameplay strategy. Players had to zipline across in front of the Big Brother comic book store and put all the comics in order. Meg immediately announced: “I have never ziplined before in my life.”
Meg. Meg, Meg, Meg, Meg, Meg. I kind of want to like her on general principle, but halfway through this season, it’s hard to figure out what her ultimate angle is. She has been a vocal member of the Counterrevolution this past fortnight, and her social game is solid enough that putting her up on the block feels like punching a teddy bear’s head off. But she’s useless in competitions. Because the entire house has suddenly decided to get upset about the fact that people sometimes lie on Big Brother, she’s having a bit of a moment—and she can tell herself that she is a part of Jason’s Avengers, the redemptive force sweeping through this house. But I’m not sure it’s a good long game, playing the Doofus Sweetheart. (Jackie, of all people, seems to have a firmer grasp of this game than Meg.)
Becky dug her comic book, Trainee, which she elevator-pitched as “Hilary Swank meets Iron Man fighting a train,” coincidentally also the concept of Ricki and the Flash. Shelli wasn’t so sure about her comic book, Puma. “Sure, remind me I’m 10 years older than Mr. Perfection,” she said. “I’m okay with with! Pumas are cute!” Austin got lost staring at Liz’s comic book, dreaming of tandem biking through a vineyard. Steve fell into a blood rage screaming at Becky’s comic book. Vanessa seemed ludicrously confident that she had rocked the game: “Today was, like, my comp,” she said.
Pride, meet fall: Vanessa placed almost last with a time of 21 minutes and 44 seconds. That wasn’t as bad as Shelli, whose attention to detail led to nearly half an hour of ziplining. But Steve managed to successfully show up for Big Brother, handily defeating the field with a 13:57 showing.
Would Vanessa figure out the plan against her? She almost did, several times. She called out James on bluffing her; she tried to get Becky to talk seriously about her plans. Becky laughed and drank wine and lied to her face. Becky managed to talk Vanessa down, claiming that she was just paranoid. In the process, she out-pokerfaced the poker champion. If Vanessa is indeed done with this game, this will be the moment she regrets.
The weird irony is that I actually don’t think Becky and Vanessa are all that different. Becky probably feels proud of herself for playing a lone-wolf game so far this season—but you could argue that her gradual move from the Sixth Sense side to the James Gang is actually a much greater violation of trust than anything Vanessa has pulled this season. “I have such a hard time knowing who you’re with and who you’re against,” said Becky to Vanessa—but Vanessa is clearly thinking the same thing about Becky. You could argue that the key difference here is temperament—Becky’s blood runs ice-cold, Vanessa burns red-hot—but I’m intrigued to see what Becky looks like in a few weeks, if she lasts long enough in this game to get betrayed once or twice.
Can Vanessa come back from this? She sounded genuinely hurt by Becky breaking her trust—a ridiculous soundbite, given Vanessa’s gameplay style. “By no means count me out,” she said. Does she have an exit strategy? James, Meg, and Jackie represent a unified anti-Vanessa front. Austin is fundamentally pro-Vanessa, and I assume the twins would follow suit—but maybe I’m wrong. (Julia seems like she might expel Vanessa just to lower the volume of shouting in the Big Brother house.) Johnny Mac seems firmly aligned with Shelli; Steve gets along better with Vanessa, but then again, Steve’s best friend in the house is the big Whale painting outside of the HoH room.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of gameplay comes out of a Shelli vs. Vanessa showdown. Vanessa is a more aggressive strategist—but that aggression has backfired on her, to the point that Shelli’s main strategy this week might just be staying quiet and waiting for Vanessa to expand the size of the target on her back.
Of course, two people are going home tomorrow night. It’s a potentially transformative double eviction that could annihilate the Sixth Sense once and for all. Or it could initiate the beginning of a counter-counterrevolution. James and Becky have made very big moves this past week. No big move ever goes unpunished.