I like to imagine Paul in mid-May, several months deep into a marathon planning session. An entire wall of his home is covered in an elaborate webbed decision tree, a choose-your-own-bearded-adventure guide to winning Big Brother. This Paul is a more careful Paul than the man who came in second in Big Brother 18. This Paul has spent fall, winter, and spring planning for every eventuality, has mapped out several dozen clear paths to victory.
But while Paul patiently tattoos every step of this 972-point plan on his body, just like the dude from Prison Break, a thought occurs to him.
“What if,” Paul thinks to himself, “anyone this season has half a brain?”
This thought troubles him. But he puts it out of his mind. He’ll worry about that later.
Or, maybe, never. For here we are, coming down to the final two weeks of Big Brother. Everyone inside the house trusts Paul, and everyone inside the house knows Paul would never betray them. “It doesn’t get much better than to have a team like Paul or Alex,” says Jason, the cowboy fool on the block, walking patiently into his own eviction. “I don’t feel like it could be a better scenario for myself.”
Paul can imagine a better scenario. He doesn’t just want Jason out. He wants the blame spread around, so there’s no blood on his hands. Fortunately, Christmas thirsts for blood, lives for the heat. She says she doesn’t mind sending Jason out of the house after a tiebreaker vote — a tiebreaker that is specifically designed to protect Paul.
“I have my doubts about this plan!” poor Josh confides to us. Josh isn’t taking it too well. Casually hot-tubbing with his friend Jason, he begins to cry, imagining how it will feel to hold the knife mid-backstab. Jason shrugs, probably assuming that Josh is crying because the water is too hot, or too cold, or maybe Josh just thought about that scene from Toy Story 3. “Don’t tell nobody I had a moment,” says Josh. The poor man’s stuck in a moment he can’t get out of, just like the lonesome kicker in that U2 song about football.
Josh is sad about blindsiding Jason. And this is a true blindside, totally unforeseen by either blockhead. For his final speech, Jason cracks wise, while Kevin bashfully thanks Julie for being a gracious host. They both think the writing is on the wall. But the writing is in invisible ink. And the wall…is an attacking demon-dragon wall! Josh and Raven cast votes against Jason, leading Christmas to send Jason home.
Jason storms out, not even bothering to say goodbye to anyone. He can’t even grasp how it happened; he tells Julie, somewhat incoherently, that he assumed Alex and/or Paul had turned against him. He seems to glimpse the possibility of Paul being the ultimate source of his anguish. (It doesn’t help that Josh tearfully declares that Paul “came up with an elaborate plan.”)
Maybe this will start to turn the Jury against Paul. But inside the house, Paul’s still running game. With the door swinging shut behind Jason, Paul makes a grand show of exclaiming surprise towards Josh: “You would’ve done the same to me? If I was on the block, I was getting evicted???” Josh, bless him, cries and cries throughout Paul’s tirade, sad and maybe even a little confused or maybe just brilliantly playing along.
It’s a double eviction night, so there’s no time for mourning. And Alex makes an impressive show in the Head of Household challenge, gracefully dominating a memory competition even as she’s clearly still recovering from the shocking loss of her ride-or-die. At the nomination ceremony, she puts up Kevin and Raven. Tears seem to start flowing out of everyone now; the speed of the night’s shocks are beginning to take their toll.
The Veto competition requires some ball-pit diving and a high-precision tube dropping. (I tried to find another way to write that sentence, and I simply could not.) Alex actually makes an early leap ahead in the game. Paul purposefully throws the match, I think. If you look closely, you can see him overplanning every drop, doing his best to look busy while making sure he never comes close to the lead. In the end — another shock! — Josh emerges as the Veto Comp’s comeback boy.
This means the crying man has to deliver his own speech. “This whole season, I’ve been a misfit, looking for my group,” he says, sounding a little bit like someone auditioning to play the Emma Stone role in La La Land. He says something about “being alone in this game right now,” which on one hand is a wonderful lie — he thinks he’s in a power trio Christmas-Paul alliance! — and on the other hand feels like an accurate expression of poor Josh’s mindset. Here he is, the loneliest boy in Big Brother, forced to take down one friend after another.
“I choose not to use the power of veto,” he says. And so it’s time for the three-way vote, and remarkably it’s another split. Paul and Christmas vote to evict Raven; Josh votes to evict Kevin. I can’t quite tell if this is something that was planned ahead of time — Christmas and Paul whisper to each other in the voting corridor, but it’s hard to tell if Josh was aware of what was said.
Certainly, Josh seems rather stunned by the results. “I’m so sorry, Raven!” he says, tears seeming to pour out of his ears and nose. “I’m so sorry!”
“No you’re not!” yells Raven backwards, walking out the door and doing a cartwheel for the audience. The cartwheels continue when she sits in Julie’s chair and claims to have played a brilliant social game all summer, carefully snoozing and Matt-mancing her way to victory.
Meanwhile, inside the Big Brother house, there is silence. Josh sits underneath the green apples, crying. Alex sits at the table, trusting only the gallon of Coca-Cola. Kevin saran-wraps himself for good luck. Christmas awaits the next competition. And then there is a single sound within the haunted mansion, for Paul is perambulating, genially muttering, “Final five of Big Brother, guys, great accomplishment!”
Julie announces that this winter will see the first-ever celebrity edition of the U.S. Big Brother. The mind races. Former castmates from The Hills? Fallen sports legends seeking redemption? Aging bassists? The host of Candy Crush? ZINGBOT??? Hopefully they’re all watching this season. They can take some notes from Paul. But what will the Jury think when Jason arrives with his tale of woe? They say you shouldn’t hate the player, you should hate the game. But this is Paul’s game, and we’re just living through it.