The final week begins with a tense veto competition, a decisive eviction, and an appearance by an extremely unimpressed Fierce Five

By Darren Franich
Updated September 13, 2012 at 02:59 AM EDT

Danielle is the most interesting contestant in the house right now. Wait, roll with me on this for a second. She’s not the best player by a long shot. In fact, next to her three fellow Quack Packers, Danielle can’t help but look like a lightweight. Dan has turned the final month of the season into a veritable Hall of Fame tape, wheeling and dealing and encircling the whole house in ever-more-elaborate lies. Ian defeated all those early expectations that he was a fawning lightweight, executing a power move against one of the best players in Big Brother history — and when you consider that the Quack Pack only existed because his espionage gave it a reason to exist, you have to give him some extra credit for getting 4/5 of his midseason alliance into the final round. Shane’s game has gone downhill in counterbalance to Ian’s: Once considered a major threat, with two early HoH victories and three consecutive veto wins, Shane has spent the last month contentedly buzzing through the background, looking for all the world like the world’s prettiest and most fashionable Roomba. He won last night’s veto competition when it counted, though — and there’s nothing wrong with floating like a butterfly, so long as you don’t forget how to sting like a bee.

But Danielle. Right now she holds all the cards, and it’s impossible to know what her next move is. Her game has been dominated by two key relationships: Her frustrating flirtmance with the elusive Shane, and her day-one alliance with Dan. It’s difficult to pin down either of those relationships. Shane and Danielle have a weird sibling chemistry that can look a little bit like a grade-school romance, if you squint — and Danielle is squinting. Meanwhile, Dan’s initial role as Danielle’s coach gives their interaction the flavor of a student-teacher mentorship — but Dan has cheerfully thrown Danielle under the bus on multiple occasions. Danielle hasn’t helped matters by bemoaning her utter dependency on Dan: She needs him, and the few times that she has lost him, she has fallen to pieces. You get the vibe that Dan cares about her, but only to the extent that Mario cares about Yoshi in Super Mario World. By which I mean: “Oh, bummer, I lost my Yoshi! Oh well, at least I still have my cape. Anyhow, she wasn’t even a Blue Yoshi. No biggie.”

Making those relationships even more complicated, of course, is the fact that both guys expect Danielle to take them to the Final Two. And Danielle isn’t planning some kind of double-reverse power play: She wants those guys in the Final Two with her. Sure, last night, we saw some suspicions beginning to form. She told Jenn that Shane’s attitude was confusing her, and voiced her ultimate concern: “Maybe he is just doing all this romancing or whatever for the game.” It was a tense moment to be doubting Shane. Dan wanted to get Shane out of the house immediately; the only reason that Shane wasn’t already gone was because Danielle talked him out of a backdoor during double eviction night. (ASIDE: If Dan loses Big Brother — and I think he might — the decision to keep Shane in the house will haunt him forever. It was the only time this summer that he made a move that was in someone else’s best interest — in this case, Danielle. In that sense, maybe Danielle did make a power move, albeit accidentally. END OF ASIDE.)

But Danielle’s decision was rendered moot by the veto competition, which involved assembling a Salvador Dali puzzle while jumping back and forth in a harness and pressing a red button every twenty seconds. If you didn’t hit the red button, all the puzzle pieces would fall off their perch. Shane had the smart idea to configure the puzzle pieces in the trough before assembling them. Dan had the equally smart idea to put all the pieces on the board and then solve them from the button side. But Dan didn’t count on Ian, who got himself kicked out of the game on a time violation and decided to help Shane get himself off the block. (ASIDE: If Ian wins Big Brother — and I think he might — his constant devotion to the Quack Pack will be what sways the jury his way. The thinking might go: “Well, at least he didn’t backstab everybody.” END OF ASIDE.)

So Shane won the veto competition — and with it, a luxury prize. He got to bring one person with him. Was there ever any doubt that he would pick Danielle? And does it even matter why he picked her: For love, or for the game?

NEXT: McKayla Maroney is impressed by Shane, is somewhat less impressed by Danielle

Danielle wore a green dress. Shane wore a blue shirt. They held hands as the limo carried them away from the sweat-stained misery of the Big Brother house. At one point, Shane gave her a demure kiss on the cheek, which for Danielle looked like the rough equivalent of being carried away on horseback by a long-haired barbarian from the cover of a romance novel. They were taken to a room and were told that they would get to watch an exciting gymnastics show. Then there was a knock on the door, and who should walk in but America’s Badass Sweethearts, the Fierce Five, fresh from their gold-medal victory and clearly approaching the 14-minute mark of their 15-minute fame cycle. Because Shane and Danielle were in the Big Brother house during the Olympics, their conversation basically went like this:

Shanielle: Oh wow! Who are you?

Fierce Five: We’re five of the most popular athletes in the world. We finally ended the Cold War by defeating Russia at the Olympic games.

Shanielle: Oh wow! How old are you?

Fierce Five: We are collectively younger than Clint Eastwood was when he made Unforgiven.

Shanielle: Oh wow! Do you watch Big Brother?

Fierce Five: No.

At one point, one of the gymnasts asked if they were boyfriend and girlfriend — I think it was Aly Raisman, but to be honest, all teenagers look the same to me, so it might have been Demi Lovato for all I know. Shane was all like “Umm, uhh, errr…” and Danielle was all like, “Oh, tee-hee, ummm…” Then Shane asked who their favorite Big Brother housemate was, and McKayla Maroney did not miss a moment: “You.” Then McKayla Maroney explained who McKayla Maroney was, and just like that, the summer of 2012 reached its thrilling down-the-rabbit-hole climax.

On the way home from the gymnastics competition, Shane and Danielle had a deliriously weird conversation. It seemed like Shane was hardcore flirting with her. “Can I sleep in your bed tonight? I want to.” They kissed — on the lips this time. Listen, I’m going to be honest: It reads pretty clearly that Shane is using Danielle at this point. (I guess you could argue that he’s just demure, and doesn’t want to carry on in front of the cameras. You could also point out that, if Shane were really interested in Danielle, he almost certainly wouldn’t care about the cameras after over two months of complete celibacy.)

When Danielle got home, Dan swooped in. “I don’t like it without you here,” he said. There was no doubt about Dan’s intentions. He straight-up told us in the Diary Room: “Did I mean that? Eh. Maybe. Maybe not.” (Dan is a great player, and it’s difficult to be a great player without being a terrible human being.) Danielle summed up her problem thus: “My head is telling me to choose Dan, but my heart is telling me to choose Shane. Like, my head is saying let’s go, but my heart is saying no. If you wanna be with meeeee….” And then she serenaded herself, like the heroine of a WB teen drama who thinks she’s doing an end-of-episode pop montage and doesn’t realize she’s actually trapped in the Homeland season finale.

NEXT: The Final Ascension of the Quack PackI don’t want to make too much fun of Danielle. For that matter, I don’t want to fall into the same trap that Shane and Dan have fallen into, and treat her like a brainless belle. She has a tough core. You saw it come out during the footage from the double eviction night, when she held firm against Dan’s plan to backdoor Shane and had to suffer through her former coach’s petulant “This is on you” dressing-down. And don’t forget that Danielle explicitly went against Dan’s wishes when she targeted Janelle during her reign as HoH earlier in the season.

After Julie surprised the houseguests with news about the eviction, Danielle calmly sat on the block next to Jenn. The outcome of that vote was never really in doubt — Jenn’s final plea was essentially her farewell speech, ending with the line: “You know when your time is up.” I’m not sure that Jenn ever had a shot at the big money in this game. Playing the floater strategy is never really advisable, but it helps if you can compete in the competitions — and Jenn was almost uniformly awful in the competitions this season.

Still, she emerged in the last few weeks as a savvy social gameplayer. If nothing else, you have to give her some credit for being the only person in the house who was seriously suspicious of Dan. (By comparison, Ian — a player who, in every other way, is Jenn’s superior — appears to be completely in Dan’s thrall.)

Shane and Dan both voted to evict Jenn, sending her out the door. That cued up an incredibly important Head of Household competition between Danielle and her boys. The competition was a true-false trivia game, and it came down to a tiebreaker between Danielle and Dan. Juju asked the players to guess exactly how many seconds elapsed during an earlier competition. Dan guessed 626; Danielle threw up 155. The exact time was 584 seconds. Dan was way closer than Danielle…but unfortunately for him, the winner was the closest without going over.

And so, Danielle won the Head of Household competition — her second time wearing the crown this season. The decision ahead of her is not an easy one. Because she has been a fiercely loyal competitor, it seems likely that she will take aim at Ian. It seems equally likely that Dan will influence her to eliminate Shane. Let’s be honest here: Dan would like to be in the Final Two with Danielle because he knows he can beat her, but keeping her around will make him look like a loyal good guy. (ASIDE: Keep in mind that Mike Boogie predicted all of this weeks ago, when — in the middle of his drowning-man rant against Dan — he exclaimed that Dan’s whole plan was designed with a long-term goal in mind: “So you can throw that last HoH and you don’t have to slash Danielle’s throat on national TV!” Boogie got the specifics wrong, but not the intention. END OF ASIDE.)

To me, Danielle’s play here is clear: She needs to get Dan out of the house. I think she could do it, too, especially if Dan overplays his hand. (And honestly, Dan is teetering on the edge of megalomania — with just one day to campaign, he might finally fall over the edge.) What do you think, fellow viewers? What’s Danielle’s best move here? Should she choose Shane or Dan? Or could she make an eleventh-hour pact with Ian?

Also, it’s time for America’s Vote, when viewers decide who should win a special complimentary prize of $25,000. Who gets your vote? Much as I would love to see the tart-tongued Britney repeat her BB12 victory, and much as I respect the trench-warfare game Frank played in the house, and much as I adore the relentless quote machine that was Smashley, my vote goes straight to Ian. The guy played a constantly evolving game this season, sponging wisdom from the more experienced players and making some house-shaking power moves. He also developed his own peculiar iconography. Whether he was swinging thoughtfully on the hammock, treating the guests to a premiere-night nudie dance, or strutting up the stairs with his trademark Angry Ian Strut, he carried himself like a weird combination of Bond-spoof supervillain and USA-network quirky detective. He’s got my vote, anyhow.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich