A shocking turn of events leaves alliances in tatters, while a new power player rises in the house

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July 12, 2013 at 04:17 AM EDT

I underestimated Helen. I knew I liked her, the savvy politico and self-declared Big Brother superfan. She extended a final-two deal to Aaryn, offering a Criss-Cross pact: “You have your friends, I have my friends. If you take care of my friends, I’ll take care of your friends.” That’s a smart move, with long-term implications; it’s the kind of agreement you make in week 2 when you’re thinking about week 10. But I misjudged her. I figured she was operating from a position of weakness. Her number-one ally was in the crosshairs; her opposition was a tangled web of strong alliances. The Moving Company. The Aaryn Brigade. Helen was on the block next to the Enemy of Aaryn; the other nominee, Nick, had a strong alliance, a strong embryonic showmance, and the cool near-sociopathic confidence of an investment banker in a bull market. I figured Elissa was going home. I figured Helen would spend the next few weeks trying to organize a failed resistance against the shadow power in the house.

I was wrong. By the end of last night’s episode, Helen had orchestrated a full-scale rebellion against the establishment; by the end of last night’s episode, Helen had moved from the coach-class have-not closet to the HoH thronebed. She allowed herself a moment of rejoicing, and then went right back into game mode. The episode closed with Helen comforting GinaMarie, the lovesick best friend of the man Helen expelled from the house. It’s early days yet, and Big Brother is a brutal game for early powerhouses. But we may have witnessed the birth of a legitimate player. If nothing else, Helen has demonstrated that she knows the most important rule of politics: If you’re smart, you’ll know the outcome before a single vote is cast.

She had help. Candice was making noise all week about a shadowy all-male alliance. She had a catchy party line: “As women, we need to stick together.” That’s a message that spoke to Amanda. Even people who didn’t cotton to the Moving Company all-male conspiracy were clearly growing tired of the era of fratboy dominion. The Moving Company declared war on women; Amanda, in turn, declared war on men. Candice is a student of Big Brother history; she doesn’t want the ladies to descend into infighting. “We have to find a way for the girls to be peaceable.”

The women had two votes against Nick: Amanda and Candice. They needed more. Helen reached out to Andy, who has thus far been a likable but unaligned contestant. He was nervous about striking against Nick; he could see Jeremy, Kaitlin, and GinaMarie coming back strong against them. But Helen told him the time was now. She could read the votes, even if she didn’t know the exact layout of the alliances. One more week, and the Nick contingent would have insurmountable numbers.

So Andy brought another vote. Then came Jessie. Candice had a smart read on her, a read that I shared: “Jessie wants to be with the Popular.” She used “Popular” as a proper noun; in this week of Aaryn Dominion, the house had practically split into high school cliques. But Elissa and Helen gave Jessie a serious sales job. Elissa crawled into bed with her and painted a picture of Nick as the number one competitor: “If Nick doesn’t go this week, we might as well hand him the game.” It’s a weird message, but a familiar one in the Big Brother house. Essentially, Elissa was saying: “Don’t kick me out now. You know you can kick me out later. But Nick is a good player. You should kick him out now.” Elissa buttered Jessie up, and Helen closed the deal. “We will protect you,” she said. “All Nick can offer you is two pairs. I can offer you the Royal Flush.” Nary a week ago, Jessie was following Nick around like a puppydog. Now, she cheerfully agreed to send him packing.

Meanwhile, the Moving Company was troubled. In the first two weeks of competition, the five-guy alliance had run the house. But there were always cracks forming. Jeremy didn’t get the message about voting out Dudebro; he also clearly fancied himself the most important member of the alliance; he was also, it must be said, a grandstander, and that always seemed to rub Spencer and Howard the wrong way. (Howard plays his cards close to the vest, staying quiet and thinking of the long game; Spencer plays like a guy who should be smoking a cigar in a shadowy room in an Oliver Stone movie.)

Last night, the Moving Company tried to keep one of their own in line. They could sense that McCrae was getting close to Amanda; they told him to stick with them. McCrae promised to stab Amanda in the back the second she cottoned to any alliance talk. But Amanda knew that something was up with McCrae. He’s a terrible liar. More to the point, he couldn’t decide who he felt closer to: His alliance, or his faux-alliance. He was like the double agent who winds up working for the competition. Or maybe he just didn’t want to be the first guy in the Moving Company with a knife in his back.

NEXT: Aaryn has a thoughtful response to the charge of racism

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Julie Chen hosts as the houseguests battle it out.
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