“I’m give you my word. I’m taking you with me. It’s girls against guys.” —Vanessa, promising Liz a Final Two deal.
“I’m telling you. I’m taking you to finals.” —Vanessa, minutes later, promising Johnny Mac a Final Two deal.
How good was this season of Big Brother? Reply Hazy: Ask Again Next Week. Week-to-week, it was definitely more enjoyable than the bleak haterade-drenched season 15. And whereas enjoying season 16 required you to enjoy watching Derrick very gradually and carefully outthink everyone else on his way to the big victory — which was fun, in that watching-someone-else-play-StarCraft way — this season offered a good variety of eccentric players willing to make power moves.
Season 17 didn’t produce a breakout hero — or a breakout crazy, for that matter. Shelli could’ve been the former, if her and Clay could’ve shifted the James Gang’s target onto the rest of their alliance. Johnny Mac should’ve been the latter, but he could never quite find his way to winning when it really counted. He deserves a place in history for riding the block for so long — and someone, someday, will figure out how to turn Veto Throwing into a legitimate tactic. This was another Battle of the Block season, so something felt off in the front half of the season. Enjoying Big Brother means enjoying two things: Watching mildly insane people go completely stir-crazy, and watching power shift between opposing forces. Too much power shifts too early with the Battle of the Block, and the kinetic pace of competitions means we get less time to fully understand the players. (This is yet another year where two of the final three players — Liz and Steve — were essentially non-entities in the narrative real estate in the first month of this season.)
And no one is a bigger fan of Vanessa than me. I love watching her play, and I love watching her descend into rampant Baby Jane paranoia, and I love how somehow all of that paranoia ultimately leads her into making a bold and decisive and fundamentally unassailable decision, and I love how every big move she makes leads her into a crying fit. On Wednesday’s episode, we saw her walk up to Liz — the girl who she had just blindsided, the girl whose closest ally and boyfriend Vanessa had just kicked out of the house — and we watched Vanessa tell Liz, through tears, “That was really hard for me!“
But I can understand the gripe that, like, enjoying the last few weeks of this season has required a certain amount of sociopathic glee. I have made this comparison more than is healthy, but watching Vanessa this season is kind of like watching Hannibal. At a certain point in Hannibal, everyone knew Hannibal was probably going to kill them, and the obvious move to make would be for someone to just walk up to Hannibal and shoot them in the face. But nobody ever did. Think of the Big Brother Jury House now, filled with people angry at Vanessa, people who knew that Vanessa was the Great Terror in the house — and people who could ultimately do nothing to stop her.
All that being said: Whatever you think about this season, it strikes me that this is one of the best Final Fours I’ve ever seen. Vanessa has won plenty of competitions and is a devious game-theory strategist prone to crying fits. Liz has won her fair share of competitions and arguably has a better social game than Vanessa — and she has two definite votes on her side in jury. Steve has surprised everyone, myself included. He has overcome the stigma of getting implicitly christened The Next Ian Terry by actually being The Next Ian Terry. He’s the nerdy superfan who lasted long enough for his terrible social game to become a brilliant social game. There were points in the season when he actively acted like he was in a completely different reality — remember his one-sided Becky rivalry? — but Steve actually played the right kind of floater game, staying off the grid in the first half of the season (while more aggressive players imploded) before carefully plugging himself into the key alliances of the second half of the season.
And there was Johnny Mac: What a fun guy! What a shoo-in for America’s Choice!
It makes sense that the Veto competition would come down to John and Vanessa. And it makes sense that Vanessa would beat him — and that, having made a Final Two promise, Vanessa would then use her power as Sole Voting Houseguest to send him home. A few weeks ago, Johnny Mac left the house swearing to play a new kind of game if he returned. He came back — and the self-declared Number One Enemy of Vanessa became a willing meatshield for Vanessa’s march to victory.
When Johnny Mac left the house, he was greeted by the wild applause of an audience that loved him — an audience that was starved for charming personalities this summer. “It seemed like you loved living on the edge,” deadpanned Julie. “At times you were erratic, illogical. Was this your strategy, or were you just trying to throw people off?” John didn’t really know what to say: He was making it up as he went along. “Do you live your life like this outside the house?” asked Sheriff Julie, sounding like someone about to stage an intervention. Farewell, John: You were charming, and loud, and ultimately quite useless.
“How can Vanessa win?” isn’t even a question worth asking now. The right question is: “What are the inane reasons Vanessa might lose?” The good news for Vanessa is that she might be guaranteed a place in the final two, no matter what happens. If Steve wins, I would expect him to expel Liz, with her powerful AUSTWIN two-vote bloc. He has implied that he views Vanessa as a bigger threat, but he might just as easily consider her a bigger target for the jury. Liz is a bit more of a wild card — and she might want to expel Vanessa just for general vengeance — but I suspect she knows that Steve is the more likable candidate, a basically nice kid with very little baggage despite a game well-played.
I think Vanessa will win Head of Household, of course. She’s won four times before — and this week, finally up on the block for the first time ever, she won the Power of Veto. Derrick had a roughly equivalent run last year pre-Final Three. But Derrick always managed to keep his hands clean. Vanessa at this point is a blood-spattered wreck.
And that is why she might lose. We caught a look inside of the Jury House on Wednesday’s episode, and it’s become the headquarters for the International We Hate Vanessa Club. Shelli has become her number one advocate, accurately pointing out that all of the whiners in Jury are there specifically because of the amazing game that Vanessa has played. That doesn’t seem like a popular opinion: Austin flat-out promised that he would run the anti-Vanessa campaign, even though his stunning backdoor is proof of her savvy gamesmanship.
In the end, I imagine that Big Brother season 17 will end an awful lot like Big Brother season 14. That was the Dan-Ian showdown — and from the jury’s perspective, it was a showdown between Dan The Brilliant Player Who Evicted Me and Ian The Pretty Good Player Who I Don’t Hate As Much As Dan.
So let’s say you’re Vanessa, and you win the final HoH. Who do you keep? Who can you beat? Liz has Julia and Austin in her pocket. Steve has less blood on his hands. There is no obvious choice here. But if this season shakes out the way it has all along, it’s a choice that Vanessa will have to make. Big Brother season 17 had to end this way. Only Vanessa can stop Vanessa. And only Vanessa can stop Vanessa from stopping Vanessa. My money’s on Vanessa.