Lisette M. Azar/CBS

A new winner wins, and new losers lose.

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September 19, 2013 at 06:45 AM EDT

Let’s not talk for a second about everything that was wrong with this season of Big Brother. The theoretically interesting MVP twist was completely destroyed by the boneheaded decision to bring in a player (Elissa) with a pre-existing fanbase. The producers dug up a few contestants who were evil and dumb, and they weren’t even evil and dumb in a fun way. After initial warfare, everyone in the house seemed to lie down and wait passively for Amanda to rip out their metaphorical throats with her unmetaphorical teeth. My personal Big Brother guru Skilby threw out the possibility that this was the worst Final Three ever. Certainly, we can all agree that Spencer’s 90 days inside of the Big Brother house constitute one of the single most depressing slow-motion trainwrecks in reality TV history.

But let’s not talk about any of that. Let’s talk about Andy. At times this summer, I’ve been a vocal Andy skeptic. He was a toadie, riding the coattails of powerful alliances; he was the leading representative of this season’s no-blood-on-my-hands gameplay. But fellow viewers, last night made me a believer. Not just because he won, and not because he played the game better than anyone. Everyone plays Big Brother their own way. Some people have a good social game; some people make strong alliances; some people can deliver in competitions; some people are wild cards who win precisely because they’re impossible to read. (See also: How professional poker players often say that it’s difficult to play against amateurs.)

Andy figured out what kind of game he was playing, and he played that game better than anyone. He wanted to be Mr. Invisible. He wanted to be the power behind the throne — and he always had his eye on the next throne. He was like those crafty old Soviets who survived decades of regime change; he was like Littlefinger or the Spider on Game of Thrones. Everyone else was playing checkers, and he was playing 3D chess.

The Jury had every reason to despise Andy. Directly or indirectly, he filled up the Jury house this summer. But when they asked him their final cross-examination questions, Andy was poised and confident. You imagine that he was rehearsing this speech before this season even started. In his own words, his power play began when he aligned himself closely with Amanda and McCrae. Everyone still thought he was a free-floating entity: “Every week someone would try to get me to flip the house, and every week I would report back to Amanda and that person would go home.” In a very casual and giggly way, Andy was making a pretty dramatic argument: That he was the central reason for McCramda’s rise to power. The showmance was the blunt instrument, expelling unruly contestants and taking all the blame. In a sense, Andy was saying that he used McCramda as the Ultimate Meatshield.

I can understand if some people don’t like this style of game. You could argue that Andy never made a quote-unquote “Power Move.” GinaMarie spent half the season staring at a picture of Nick and swallowing glitter, but she evicted Amanda while she was HoH — that counts for something. The first time Andy was Head of Household, he made the opposite of a power move. Instead, he crowdsourced the house’s passive-aggressive rage and evicted Jessie, the equivalent of tossing Old Yeller into an active volcano.

But Andy never wanted to hold actual power. He didn’t like to operate in the spotlight. He preferred the shadows. As he reminded everyone last night, he always knew exactly who was going home — “except for week 4, when Judd lied about Kaitlin.” He was never the target, not ever, not even close. In his closing statement, Andy said, “I played this game with my heart and I played this with my mind. I made moves that adapted to every situation I was in.”

He was talking to a crowd that included the long-gone members of the Moving Company: Dudes like David and Jeremy, who swaggered into the house like they owned the place. I can’t imagine them playing a game half as interesting as Andy. Andy vibes like a guy who woke up every morning imagining every conceivable variable and preparing five possible responses for each; David vibes like a guy who wakes up every other morning, maybe.

I can’t imagine that Andy will ever come back as an All-Star. Partially, that’s because I get the vibe CBS would prefer to leave this season in the dust. (ASIDE: If Aaryn plays her cards right and goes on an apology tour, I can see them wedging her into a future season as some kind of “Redemption” story arc. END OF ASIDE.) But Andy’s whole style of gameplay depended on nobody knowing just how deceitful he was; that kind of gameplay wouldn’t work again.

And yet, I imagine Andy could adapt. A few weeks ago, he was staring down the barrel of a Final Three with McCramda. So he formed a coalition of Misfit Toys: The biggest pawn in Big Brother history, a lovable duncecap who wasted two Big Brother lives, and a human being who can barely string two sentences together. It was like watching someone build a militia out of hobo zombies and one-armed teddy bears and GinaMarie, and then lead that militia against a Super Star Destroyer. Somehow it worked.

What sealed the deal, for me, was Andy’s actions during the live portion of last night’s episode. He won the final Head of Household challenge by a nose. By all rights, he should have sent GinaMarie out the door. She was a toxic personality in the early days, but she made the season’s Power Move, and she had at least one devotee. By comparison, nobody could have ever considered giving Spencer the prize money. Even Spencer, bless his beard, knew that he had no chance. (The cruel Big Brother editors presented his performance during the final HoH competition as a triumph of the human spirit…only to reveal that completing the competition took him almost twice as long as Andy.)

But Andy kept GinaMarie in the house. Maybe he still knew he would win, but the symbolism was powerful. “I promised this woman on night one of this game I would never backstab her,” he said. “That is the thread of loyalty that you thought was missing in my game.” He held up his knife, which had the backblood of the entire Jury dripping off its blade, and pointed out that he never backstabbed GinaMarie. It was the exception to the rule, the proof that Andy was an honorable player playing a dishonorable game. That moment assured his victory. Seven of the Jury members voted for Andy — seven people, remember, who he stabbed in the back. (The two dissenters were Judd, who in all fairness had two Andy-Knives in his back, and Aaryn, a GinaMarie loyalist.)

Andy won the $500 thousand, and as far as we could tell, he managed to lie to everyone and yet anger no one. He spied for every side in the Cold War, and as a gracious thank-you, they gave him his own private island. If you fool one person, you make an enemy; if you fool everybody, they call you a genius.

NEXT: Everything else that happened was silly and ridiculous.

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Julie Chen hosts as the houseguests battle it out.
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