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'Big Brother' finale recap: The Tale of the Trombonist and the Twin

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Sonja Flemming/CBS

Big Brother

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Julie Chen
Reality TV

There was only one certainty as the final three of Big Brother 17 whittled itself down to the final two: Liz was going to the finale. No matter what deal Steve and Vanessa made together, taking each other over Liz would be an act of sheer lunacy that neither, both competent players in their own right, seemed to genuinely consider.

And so it came down to those two players — the superfan who had a lifelong love for the game, who, as far as the cameras could tell, may not have actually been in the house for much of the first 40 days, and the poker player who was on the rinse-and-repeat cycle of manipulating, coming out on top, and then still crying as if she were the victim. Whoever secured his or her spot in the final two looked primed to win, so long as Liz’s secured voting bloc of Julia and Austin didn’t sway the jury.

Both Steve and Vanessa played the three-part final Head of Household competition with $500,000 in their eyes while Liz was just happy to be there. So it was no surprise that she threw the first leg of the competition to Vanessa while Steve, who dropped off his apple first, was in the corner sneaking some popcorn. (Seriously, the angle on the camera looked like the crew forgot he was in the house. Did he sneak an invisibility cloak into his suitcase?)

It takes some convincing of course. “Oh boy, this pain ain’t bringing me down,” Vanessa would shout at the top of her lungs while Steve watched. And then as he’d scamper away to nibble on some popcorn, she would whisper-plead with Liz until the remaining twin decided she would be fine in the second round. What could possibly go wrong? It would take a competition so finely attuned to Steve’s nerdier, bookworm tendencies to take Liz down. And what are the producers going to do, throw together a competition that involves a giant laptop and word puzzles?

Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what they’re going to do. And even if the competition decides his fate, Steve looks more relaxed than he ever has (which, granted, still looks nervous) when he walks out into the backyard to see the competition. The familiar climbing wall competition is formatted as a giant Big Brother-themed crossword puzzle. Steve handles the task with ease, tripped up not by the challenge but by forgetting he had a letter tile in his bag.

Steve spells out his strategy exactly as you’d expect. Fill in the easy clues to make the more challenging ones more obvious. Spread out the tiles to see what remains as he thins the alphabet. But Liz’s commentary on the game amounts to little more than “I have to climb and use my legs.” (Further evidence Steve was pulling out a win: the first clue he seems to get is OTEV’s dairy product of butter, while Liz cycles through everyone’s two other favorite dairy products, yeast and pizza, before landing on butter.)

So… it’s no surprise Steve wins, but it is surprisingly by how small a margin. He completes the puzzle in 28 minutes, 27 seconds, edging out Liz’s time of 31 minutes and 11 seconds.

A win is a win, however, and Steve begins to foreshadow the night to come in his Diary Room session: If he can win the third round, he can evict Vanessa, and he believes that will earn his favor with the jury. (And seeing as how Johnny Mac calls evicting Vanessa “the tiger pelt on the wall” during the jury roundtable, he’s not wrong.)

Knights of the Round Jury Table Before looking at that third round, let’s dive into the jury dynamic, because once the final two is decided, it renders half of their discussion moot. Led by good ol’ Dr. Will Kirby, who still sadly looks nothing like Kirby, the jury discuss their admiration, scorn, and general apathy for the final three. It’s not a particularly memorable or thrilling jury debate. No one boils over with seething anger, Julia unsurprisingly says she’ll vote for Liz over anyone, and everyone admits to Vanessa’s continued control over their fates.

Shelli is the biggest supporter of Vanessa, which is no surprise as she’s mentioned the poker player’s name more in her short jury house appearances this season than she uttered Clay’s name in the Big Brother house itself. Becky is thrown off by her constant need to swear on family, friends, the gay community, her unborn children, and her lord and savior Pokey the talking poker chip.

NEXT: Can Austin get creepier? Yes, yes he can.


Meanwhile, Liz knocks Steve for crying hysterically after Jackie’s eviction. (If only she knew it was 50 percent acting.) And Johnny Mac takes a shot at Liz for basically riding another houseguest to the final three. Austin makes a sex joke and asks if he meant “rode” literally while sitting RIGHT NEXT TO HER IDENTICAL TWIN and suddenly the Thai food I had for dinner become instantly challenging to keep down.

For the most part it’s pretty obvious to see where allegiances lie by the end of the debate. No one seems particularly swayed or moved by the discussion. Though, the idea of someone taking out Vanessa could certainly be a gamechanger for some of them. Even Austin says he would consider (read: admire because he’s holding a grudge worthy of a 5-year-old against Vanessa) voting for Steve in that case. Again, he says he’d be willing to vote against Liz, the girl who he desperately wants to date and badly kiss outside the house while sitting RIGHT NEXT TO HER IDENTICAL TWIN.

And so sadly the most important lessons to be learned from jury are that Austin is a sore loser, Austin thinks he is also God’s gift to women named Liz, and Austin may actually think it’s a good idea to celebrate getting to have sex with someone while (say it with me now) right next to her identical twin.

Back in a far less icky land, the third, last, and live leg of the competition seats Vanessa and Steve atop the scales of Big Brother justice, which if they were properly set would topple over with the weight of Vanessa’s collective tears from the season.

The two are asked to complete phrases spoken by each of the eight current jury members, picking between two options. Most are obvious (though wouldn’t it have been an amazing long con if Becky did in fact reveal the train-to-the-face story was all a lie?), but thanks to a few slip-ups Steve loses a lead to tie the game just in time for the final question. Luckily for Steve, it was a line from his pal Johnny Mac, and the summer’s most socially awkward showmance helps Steve pull out the win and claim the final HoH.

Steve is literally shaking with power (and nerves… probably some nerves, too) when he has to choose to evict Liz or Vanessa. The latter’s name comes instantly spilling out of his mouth as Steve proclaims her perhaps the game’s best female player ever (Whether you agree, I’m fascinated to know who you’d say deserves that title). And precisely because he believes that, he’d be a fool to take her with him to the finale, so he evicts her.

Vanessa proclaims no hard feelings, hugs Steve, and heads out the door. More shocked is Liz, who can’t stop thanking Steve as if he had just saved her from being hit in the face by a train.

She’s so stunned in fact, thanking Steve for essentially admitting she was a far weaker player than Vanessa, that Steve has to call “Hey Liz, memory wall,” over to her as if he’s the lead in some teen soap asking his crush to meet him over by the spot where they first met. Vanessa offers a surprisingly tear-free and boring exit interview with Julie. She says she never fully trusted Steve, as if she were a pillar of trust and honesty in the house.

But with her eviction, the jury of nine is complete, and it’s time for the final two to be asked their last questions. Julie asks the jury to predict the final member. Liz can barely get a word out when asked, while Austin automatically serves up “Vanessa” as his answer. Lo and behold he’s correct, and again wins points for jerk of the night by saying, with Vanessa inches from him, that Steve made an excellent decision. And Johnny Mac wins points for breaking the tension by saying he’s so thrilled to see his old friend again.

(ASIDE: Though I laughed at John’s remark, the funniest moment of the night belongs to Da’Vonne, when they brought the non-jury houseguests out for a few minutes back in the spotlight. Asked about the biggest surprise of the summer, she says that it was how much of a nonentity Judas turned out to be. “You were just like Austin, in a hat,” she says, encapsulating a summer of Painful Austin moments in a few sentences that actually leaves the former wrestler speechless for a few minutes. END OF ASIDE)

NEXT: And the winner is…


With the unpleasantries out of the way, the final questions can commence! Wait, no, sorry. We’re having technical difficulties, not once, but twice. (I fully expected Julie to follow the rule of threes and pretend there was a third flub, but sadly she was probably just worried about going over on time.)

The last round of Q&A’s only reaffirms how much more prepared for this moment Steve is than Liz. Should the quality of these final answers be the sole determining criteria for the jury? No, of course not, but there’s such a massive gulf between the firm, detailed answers Steve delivers and the “gee whillikers, ain’t this a hoot” responses Liz gives.

Steve comes out with more teeth than he’s shown collectively all season as he recounts his wins and strategy; Liz, meanwhile, explains how she did her own campaigning, and did her own campaigning, and Austin would help sometimes but she did her own campaigning. Even on the question of how she acted on her own, she suggests that her best solo play was to form alliances with other houseguests.

Did anyone realistically change their minds at this moment? No, but the answers, devoid of personal attachments, so clearly put Steve ahead of Liz that for some of the jury not to vote in his favor would just seem baffling.

Steve and Liz’s final pleas to the jury are similar in how divergent they are from one another. Liz grew to love the game, had fun, and won some competitions, which describes most of the house. Steve lays out step by step how he played a superior game, tearing down Liz’s talking points in the process and calling her out for getting to sit in a hotel while they were playing the game.

So the final votes come in, and as each jury member locks in his or her key, there’s little wonder who voted for whom. The only true point of curiosity is who in the hell did Vanessa vote for? Would she hold a grudge against Steve for going against their deal and evicting her, or would she, a talented and impressive player, reward a fellow shrewd contestant.

I, and I imagine many of you, weren’t the only ones curious to know, as even Chenbot couldn’t hide her fervent wonder. She had to know who Vanessa voted for, so she goes in reverse voting order and pulls Vanessa’s key first.

It’s a vote for Liz. Well… that’s disappointing. Combined with Austin and Julia’s votes, that’s three for Liz, but John, Becky, James (who was crowned America’s Favorite Player, earning himself a POV cameo in a future season), Meg, Jackie, and Shelli all vote in Steve’s favor, letting the superfan, trombonist, boy-who’s-now-a-man win by a margin of 6-3.

Steve is even more shocked than Liz was when she found out she made it to the final two. He’s brimming with excitement, and it’s well deserved. Yes, I will grant you that I honestly forgot for weeks at a time that Steve was in the game still, but he really stepped up in these past few weeks. He won competitions (even if occasionally by accident), forged alliances when he needed to most, and genuinely seemed to develop enough close relationships with houseguests to disprove the stereotypes looming large over his head.

So what’s Steve going to do with this sudden influx of cash? Since his initial plan was just to not be evicted first or second — winning wasn’t in the cards for him when the game began — he’s going to be very Steve about it by “saving [the money] and being very smart with it.”

We’d expect nothing less, Steve.

What did you think of the finale? Do you think Steve deserved the win, or should it have been Liz, Vanessa, or someone else entirely?