A contestant falls on his own sword, and the gamechanging twist leaves the houseguests gasping for air

By Darren Franich
Updated August 12, 2011 at 05:00 AM EDT

“I have a 99 percent chance of coming back into the game with superpowers,” is how Lawon soberly summed up his chances at the start of last night’s episode. Outside the Big Brother house, Julie Chen shared a giggle with the audience. “There is no special power,” said the host. I respectfully disagree. True, Lawon’s big gamble turned out to be a complete bust: His theory of Elimination Superpowers can now join the Northwest Passage, the Fountain of Youth, and the Possibility of Another Good Weezer Album in the sorrowful pile of mythic dreams that will never come true.

And true, Lawon’s whole gameplay looks suspicious in hindsight. Immediately after being put up on the block, Lawonderful started stocking around the house, pretending that he had no clue why he’d been nominated for eviction. This is an exact transcript of his conversation with Shelly:

Lawon: I’m just so confused. Listen, I definitely didn’t volunteer to get nominated.

Shelly: I didn’t say you volunteered.

Lawon: I’m gonna get to the bottom of this before I walk out that door.

Shelly: Walk out the door? You’re up against Rachel! Wait did you volunteer for this?

Lawon: No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.

Shelly: I didn’t say you were Prince Hamlet.

Shelly could see through Will Lawonka’s scam. It is quickly becoming clear that Shelly has a very particular set of skills. Skills she has acquired over a very long career. Skills that make her a nightmare for people like Lawon. She could smell his lies, and where most people in Big Brother would have just left it there, Shelly strolled up to Kalia’s penthouse and said: “Hey, did Lawon volunteer for this?” Kalia: “Yep!”

In yesterday’s recap, I started talking about my theory that Shelly is playing this game with a vintage Yojimbo strategy — a reference to the classic Akira Kurosawa samurai-but-really-cowboy movie, in which a lone wolf warrior walks into a town torn apart by two rival families and cannily plays both sides against each other. (This story was later remade into the Clint Eastwood classic A Fistful of Dollars and the Bruce Willis misery Last Man Standing, so just imagine Shelly as a mix of Eastwood and Willis.) It seemed for the first few weeks like Shelly was just an ally/pawn of the Veterans. But we’re starting to see the second act of Shelly’s game emerge now.

Consider what happened next. Rachel strolled up to the HoH throne room to finalize her deal with Daniele and Kalia. Queen Kalia played the diplomatic dealmaker, pretending to hold all the cards — even though every passing second was taking her closer to powerlessness. Daniele looked like she’d rather be making a deal with a pile of radioactive slop. Outwardly, Rachel stuck to her party line: “I won’t come after you girls, because you’re competitors, and I only go after floaters.” It’s a ridiculous pitch — it’s like Superman telling Lex Luthor, “Don’t worry, Double Elle, you’re clear: I only go after criminals who aren’t motivated enough to start evil empires.” But the ladies fell for it. Rachel knows the score: She confessed to us that she’d be surprised “If these girls are actually stupid enough to keep me in the house this week.”

NEXT: Old enemies, the best of friends

Now here’s where Samurai Shelly comes into play. Daniele told Rachel to keep her mouth shut about their alliance. Rachel knew there was no way she could do this. Her mouth cannot stay shut. So she tried — I think — to do the next best thing: Lying. She fed Jordan and Shelly a line about how the Queen Bees wouldn’t make a deal with her. She basically said, “Kalia thinks she has all the votes, and she promised to make it rain if I kissed the ring.”

Jordan nodded her head, yes yes, so strange, rainbows! But Shelly wasn’t convinced. She could smell something fishy. She casually strolled over to Daniele and mentioned what the Red-haired One had told her. Danni did not take the news well. She knew — in her heart, she absolutely knew — that keeping Rachel in the house was not good for her game. Daniele is an instinctive player; the problem, I think, is that she paired herself up with Kalia, the smartest [UPDATE: As in “book-smartest”] but least instinctive player this season. Her partner kept on mumbling in her ear, “But the twist, but the twist, but the twist.” Dani took her eyes off the ball. She started underestimating Rachel.

At this point, we were treated to a pleasant return from an old friend: Big Brother 12‘s Regan, the Replacement Saboteur. After delivering some of the finest verbal smackdowns in reality TV history to Rachel last season, Regan dropped a bombshell: “We actually really like each other!” They’re gym buddies, drinking buddies, and Regan will even be in Rachel’s wedding party. Even better, we got to see Regan hang out with Matt, the BB12 diabolical genius (who I maintain was just one betrayal away from winning the whole show.) Watching these two guys hang out was a blast. Now do you see why I wanted them to be a dynamic duo this season?

The time had come for the nominees to make speeches. Rachel said something to the effect of, “Teehee, fiancé!” Lawon said something like, “I love you all! I’m from space! This world is an illusion! Do you!” There was much rejoicing after Lawon’s speech. Everyone loved him. “We love you, Lawonton Soup!” said Jordan. “Don’t ever change, Lawannsee!” said Daniele.”After all, you’re my Lawonderfall!” said Adam. “Toot toot, Lawon, vroom vroooom!” said Porsche.

And then everyone voted for Lawon.

And here is where, depending on your perspective, this season of Big Brother either entered into legend or descended into the Bog of Eternal Stench. (My vote is for legend, but that’s because I’m a romantic.)

NEXT: True love conquers Gaul. It’s important to remember, I think, that our beloved American version of Big Brother is a very, very different show from the literally dozens of international versions of the format that have flourished around the world. Everywhere else, voting still works the same way it did back in our own season one: When it comes time to evict a houseguest, viewers do the voting, not the contestants. You could argue that that format makes the non-American Big Brothers more openly political: Housemates aren’t campaigning with housemates, they’re campaigning for their unseen constituency behind the camera.

But those other Big Brothers are only “political” in the sense that they capture something like what a political campaign looks like. The joy of the American Big Brother is that it feels like a melodramatic portrait of the actual work of politics: The day-to-day drudgery of trying to work with people who hate you. (Basically, our Big Brother = Congress.) But sometimes, we American viewers do still get to have a say in the show. And last night, we roared.

Remember this moment, everyone, when you are complaining in the future about Brendon: The guy got one million votes to bring him back into the house. Julie claimed that Dominic was close behind him, but somehow I suspect that Brendon ran away with the vote. And I can understand why. Good god, but it is so freaking compelling watching this guy play Big Brother. When Julie said that it would be Brendon facing off against Lawon, we all knew what the outcome was going to be. Am I the only one who was kind of excited by the prospect of Bukie’s return?

Anyhow, Brendon ran away with the challenge. Lawon barely even seemed to try. He was in a daze. All his mad plans had come to nothing. Lawonderman tried to pick up balls emblazoned with the names of his competitors, huffing and puffing his last Big Brother breaths. For one brief moment, he stared up into the sky, and you could almost imagine that he was trying to find that magical thunderbolt that would give him lightning superpowers, and carry him to victory, and all would fall before his neon feet, and he would yell in triumph “I am the Wrath of God. Who else is with me?”

So Lawon is out and Brendon is back in. Rachel leapt into her lover’s arms. (The many faces she made after hearing about the twist were so incredible that I’m considering making an Annie Barrett-style screencap-essay out of them.) Jeff arose and hugged it out with his ol’ buddy. Jordan was so happy that someone else would have to deal with Rachel. Kalia clapped. Adam probably said something stupid. Only Daniele was left mumbling in the corner. I may be imagining things, but I’m pretty sure I saw her pick up a big red ball with Rachel’s name on it, and hurl it angrily against the wall. Have all her mad plans come to nothing, too?

Viewers, this was an incredible evening. I laughed, I cried, I was on the edge of my seat. I don’t entirely know how to feel about the fact that the Reign of the Veterans, which seemed to be declining, might suddenly come roaring back now. But I’m excited to see where it all goes. What did you think? Sad to see Lawon go? Think Shelly is playing the smartest game on the block? Did Daniele let Kalia get to her head? Tell me your thoughts on Twitter, and hit up the comment boards. This summer is far from over. Brenchel is just getting started. Nothing can stop the Juggernaut. Nothing.

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Big Brother

Julie Chen hosts as the houseguests battle it out.

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