'Big Brother' recap: Get Vanessa
Johnny Mac was tired. There are housemates who play Big Brother like a never-ending board game, and there are housemates who float along on bubble-clouds of good humor, and then there is Johnny Mac. John, the Oft-Nominated, the professional veto-thrower, the man who started one of the strangest blood feuds in Big Brother history when he casually mentioned to Clay that he thought Vanessa was pretty tight with Shelli.
Johnny Mac was on the block, again. Johnny Mac just wanted to get some rest. He crawled onto the airplane economy-class seat that is his bed (and the best metaphor I can come up with for his tough, unflashy, remarkably functional gameplay.)
“Hey, Johnny,” she said, “How are you doing?”
“I,” said Johnny.
“I just want you to know,” Vanessa said, “I’m a straight shooter, like I told you. When you came up and saw me talking to the twins and Austin? I was just going up to find out if they were targeting you, like you thought, and that’s when you walked in, and I didn’t want to say anything, so I wouldn’t blow up your game.”
“So,” said Johnny.
“You know, Austin and the twins have been looking toward James and Meg as a possible threat to their targeting Becky, which could be bad for you and good for me, I don’t know, I just don’t know where their head’s at, and I think house is thinking that you and me are maybe going against them, so I think now’s a good time to start planning for bad times, right?”
“I think,” said Johnny.
“You know, don’t come coming at me just because someone’s started coming after you, Austin is so my boy, but I think sometimes he’s playing his own game, and the only thing I cannot respect is when people are not shooting straight with straight shooters, I play an honest game and everyone knows that, if you want I can get the whole house in here, so I just think you and I need to be cool, or else we’re not gonna be cool. Cool?”
“Cool,” said Johnny, wrapping a blanket around his neck so hard that he passed out from loss of air. Vanessa listened patiently as he slept. Johnny Mac was snoring; it sounded suspicious.
I have been recapping Big Brother for five years now. At this point, I am willing to call it: Vanessa has the single most bizarre successful strategy of any player I have ever studied. She has an uncanny sense for shifting power dynamics, but only because she seems to think that power dynamics are shifting all of the time. She operates on a high level of paranoia; she constantly assumes that her closest allies are turning against her. The fact that her closest allies are turning against her is proof that her strategy works. But her closest allies are only turning against her because they are so annoyed that she thinks they are turning against her. Vanessa has stumbled onto some new plane of house power: Her worst fears are made manifest only because she fears those fears so badly.
The constructed drama of Wednesday’s episode of Big Brother was intra-alliance: Would Austin and the Twins turn on Vanessa? This could ultimately be the Final Act narrative of this season, if Austin or Vanessa or Julia can win the next HoH and keep dominion over the declining opposition. I didn’t buy for a second that Liz would backdoor Vanessa; I figured she was too soft for a play like that, especially with a possible jury return looming. But Liz surprised me—and so did Vanessa.
Liz declared Johnny Mac an enigma, which is pretty accurate. I initially pegged Johnny Mac as a loon, but I recognize now that he might be the only sane person inside the house. He’s willing to lift high the banner with the James Gang, that casually aligned team of likable misfits who proved utterly incapable of striking while the iron was hot. (ASIDE: Someday, someone who watches the feeds will explain to me how Becky so completely lost the vote against Vanessa. As it is, we’re left with the evidence that Becky went into a backdoor protocol with guns blazing, assuming that the house had her back, only to find herself all alone staring down a counterattacking army. END OF ASIDE.)
But Johnny Mac has worked with elements of the Sixth Sense before. In the Clay-Shelli showmance, he was the helpful third-wheel little brother. And he told Austin and Liz some need-to-know information. How Vanessa was lying to his face about what she told them. How everyone she has ever had a blow up with has gone home—besides Austin, who was only really saved because Clay and Shelli flipped so completely on sending him home.
Liz wasn’t sure if she wanted to backdoor Vanessa. But she wanted the option; she wanted to control the veto. Fortunately for her, alongside her sister and her hipster-Viking boytoy, Liz heads up the most powerful group left in the house. I can’t decide if the twins have played a smart game or just a slow game this season. They’ve had the good fortune of operating during a season with big targets; the sheer power of a two-person blonde-clone voting bloc has always seemed like a minor threat.
Liz pulled out a Houseguest’s Choice for the Veto—and she chose Austin. Julia was not amused. Actually, this was the episode when I finally figured out how to tell Liz apart. Liz is the one who smiles occasionally; Julia is the one who is just not having it. She wasn’t picked for veto, and she was just not having it. Her sister is getting hickeys from Austin’s beard ponytail, and she is just not having it. Her sister is Head of Household, and she is maybe just not having it.
NEXT: Becky’s Last Stand
Johnny Mac announced to Austin that he would throw the Veto competition, as a show of loyalty. This strikes me as a touch of madness; but if Vanessa is pioneering a new kind of mad-chessmaster gameplay, then Johnny Mac is trying to transform the Power Floater strategy into something slightly more aggressive. I’m not sure how smart it is to constantly put his fate in the hands of other people—but Clay and Shelli trusted him completely, and now he’s managed to insert himself as a shadow Bosley in Austin’s Angels, without chasing away his other pals in the house.
Cards on the table: I thought Johnny Mac was a total goon. Sometimes I still think he is a goon, albeit a lovable one. But more and more, I find myself thinking he’s this season’s dark horse candidate for the big win. The stats aren’t quite in his favor. Of the remaining houseguests, he’s the only contestant who’s never been Head of Household—besides Meg, who is an adorable cloud of vapor. (The official stats don’t credit Julia with an HoH, but Liz was briefly HoH in week 4, when they were swapping back-and-forth on the same game.) But he’s won three veto medallions during his frequent trips to the block: The definition of a battle-hardened competitor.
And the Johnny Mac we see now is not the Johnny Mac of Week One. This is a Johnny Mac with a mission: Get Vanessa. This is a Johnny Mac with an excellent social game. This is a Johnny Mac so confident in his standing in the house that he threw the newest veto competition immediately. I’m usually distrustful of people with competition-throwing strategies. But Johnny Mac could be that other, rarer kind of player: A player who doesn’t need to win competitions, a player who has played so well that he plans to lose a couple battles in order to win the war.
“I can’t win s—,” said Becky. “I’m a one-hit wonder. I’m not a well-rounded player.” She survived a train, but Big Brother is getting her down. Last week, I predicted that Becky had no follow-through. She was talking a big game as Head of Household; now she’s spouting nihilism as everyone’s most obvious target.
She marched outside with her fellow contenders, and met OTEV, the Rockin’ Roll. Said OTEV: “Ever since I was a little pile of dough, I wanted to be a rock god. Now, here I am, fully baked and ready to rock. And the only thing I like better than groupies is butter.”
Quoth James: “Groupies!
“When I bust a rhyme, find the butter named after the person I’m describing. Whoever brings me all the butter will win the power of veto.”
Quoth James: “Veto!”
Becky dropped out second, after Johnny Mac carefully exited the game. Meg had one of the all-time great real-life pratfalls, proving that everything in the life of Meg is just one big opening montage of a late-2000s romantic comedy. The battle came down to Austin and Liz—and Liz took the Power of Veto, securing all the power in the house this week.
And now, here are all the times on Wednesday’s episode when Julia was just Not Having It.
NEXT: Vanessa checks in
Vanessa strolled up casually to the HoH thronebed after the veto competition, super casual, supes casual, supes cazh, just wanted to hang out and catch up and see what’s up with who what where.
“Did Johnny Mac ever tell you who his target is?” asked Vanessa, all casual.
“No,” said Liz, “But.”
“He was just interacting a little better? That’s good to hear, good to hear. I think Becky’s more of a threat to me anyways. Right? She was gunning for me, shooting straight for me. Straight shooters don’t shoot straight at friends, amiright? Did you see her jump in that competition? It was, like, a professional athlete style jump. You think she could stage a professional athlete jump towards me, like as a metaphor?”
“Well,” said Austin.
“You remember when Meg and Jacky were trying to get me out, and we thought James was trying to flip to Shelli, and then Steve and Johnny Mac were gunning for Shelli, and I think maybe when Becky was in power she was leading the charge against me, which I think could be bad for us and good for her, so maybe we should take down Becky or backdoor James?”
Liz agreed that she had given them a lot to think about, silently declaring in the confessional that Vanessa had become Audrey Number 2. True story: This is what happens when you google “Audrey Number 2.”
Little Shop of Horrors sounds about right for the situation Vanessa is in right now. She’s crying in a hammock, asking Steve for help because she feels so alone. She’s confiding in Liz that she feels so cut off from her old friend Austin—which, in the context of everything everyone is saying about Vanessa this week, can only sound like a veiled threat. I still think Vanessa has a chance at this game, but I’m mainly just fascinated by her sudden decision to go fully supernova.
You find yourself wondering: How the hell does she play poker? Like, based on the last couple of weeks, I assume that her strategy is to go all in on a pair of 6s, and then throw her cards up in the air, and yell “I had five kings!” and then while everyone is distracted she sets her money on fire, and uses the fire extinguisher to blind the dealer, and when the police arrive she blames the whole thing on Becky.
AND NOW, A MOMENT OF STEVE:
“All I really care is that Becky doesn’t win, because I really want her to go this week.”
THIS HAS BEEN A MOMENT OF STEVE.
Things seem dire in the remnant Sixth Sense alliance. Liz described Vanessa as, quote, “literally the most annoying bitch ever.” There is suspicion that Vanessa might come gunning for Austin. (A move that Julia, at least, might support!) If the twins and Austin do turn on Vanessa, it’s hard to see how she could get a new support structure. Johnny Mac has declared her a mortal enemy. Meg and James are variously suspicious of her and secretly hostile toward her. Steve still likes her, but Steve thinks Becky is Satan.
Apparently, Liz has realized all of that. She kept Vanessa around specifically because she is such a big target: A devious move, albeit one she might regret is Vanessa comes back into power thirsty for twinblood. But Liz surprised me with another savvy move: At the Veto competition, she diplomatically declared that she was sure one of the players she nominated for eviction would be coming back from jury. It was a savvy maneuver: If Becky does come back from Jury, it seems likely that she’ll shift any vengeful feelings right back onto her original target Vanessa.
That’s all assuming that Becky goes to jury tomorrow night, and Johnny Mac sticks around. I can’t see John losing the votes—and if he can win a Head of Household, I’d love to see what he could do with real power. The best of Johnny Mac is yet to come.
Julie Chen hosts as the houseguests battle it out.