An alliance forms, and then two alliances form inside of that alliance. And this with only half the houseguests!

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GHOST
S16 E1

So let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that last season didn’t quite go as planned. We all know that Big Brother is a social experiment conceived by an unholy alliance of alien bounty hunters, cyborg scientists from the future, Swedish psychotherapists, and the All-Powerful Brazilian Wax Lobby—a coalition of all-powerful chessmasters, who don’t tend to worry very much about the relative inhumanity of their cruel games.

Still, let’s assume that they watched last season of Big Brother and decided that maybe something needed to change. And it needed to change in a big way–the kind of change that goes way beyond programming Chenbot to say the word “twist” at least twice per sentence. Thus, we have the season premiere of Big Brother 16. It was in HD. It only featured eight houseguests. None of those houseguests immediately vibed like a Cruel Unthinking Haterade-Spraying Death-Spiraling Blandroid; none of them had a name half as hard to spell as Arryn or Aaryn or Aereyn, or whatever her name was.

What they did have was personality. We’re used to this. The first episode of Big Brother is always the most conventional, reality show-wise. We meet the people in short packages that generally offer two and a half character traits. We met:

Paola, alias Pow Pow, the DJ: “I hope there are hot guys because I am planning to manipulate every single one of them. Even the ugly ones!” This season’s designated New Yorker.

Groundskeeper Donny: A human being who brought his special sidekick, The Beard. Announced himself as a potential quote fountain with this chestnut: “I will probably be smarter than they think I am, but I am not as smart as I think I am.” Is that a haiku? Is Donny a Jedi Master?

Cody: Used to play professional soccer, whatever that means. Oh, you mean “professional football”? It’s a World Cup year, bro! Soccer is football, and football is American football, and lacrosse is nobody cares. Cody looks like a vintage snapshot of one of the lesser Kennedy brothers and appears to live his life in the “Playing With the Boys” montage of Top Gun, which means he’ll go far if he can somehow avoid a potential ruinous showmance.

Frankie the Brother: It took about one minute for Frankie to explain that he is the half-brother of one of the most famous people on Earth. I’m not totally sure that Ariana Grande qualifies as, like, one of the most famous. Like, how most is “most”? Like, is she more famous than Miranda Cosgrove? OH MY GOD YOU GUYS IS ARIANA GRANDE MORE FAMOUS THAN MIRANDA COSGROVE? What happened to this country?

Amber Stormborn: An athletic girl. She apparently really likes outdoor activities: shooting guns, rock climbing, hiking, riding dirt bikes, riding dirt bikes while shooting guns, hunting grizzly bears for sport, hunting grizzly bears for food, hunting rock climbers with her grizzly bear friends, bathing in the blood of a stallion and eating its still-beating heart. Y’know, girl stuff!

Baseball Devin: Former professional baseball player, although I’m pretty sure he was just a minor league baseball player. Although compared to a professional soccer player, a minor league baseball player is practically a professional hockey player. Single father, fancies himself a Rock lookalike but wears a tank top like Vin Diesel in Riddick. Theoretically, Devin could be some sort of Megazord-esque combination of the Rock and Vin Diesel. If he is, he will win Big Brother and will be crowned King of America sometime in October.

Manic Pixie Dream Nicole: Self-identifies as “quirky.” Wears glasses that would appear to be non-prescription. In her small town of Ubly, she is shown riding on a tandem bike. “I talk weird!” she says. And: “I’m scared of ghosts! I have to have a cuddle partner at night!” So she’s what happens when Britney Spears is brainwashed into thinking she’s Zooey Deschanel, which I think is actually a secret weapon that the Soviets were working on. It’s also possible that, like, she is a girl-Big, and she’s actually a 12-year-old in the body of the girl version of Tom Hanks. I mean, it’s also possible that she’s a robot being controlled by very small aliens from the planet Quirk. Regardless, a definite threat.

Joey the Left-Wing Third Wave Socialist: Blue hair, Seattle, makeup artist. Self-identifies thus: “I’m a democrat on the way liberal side. Left wing is the only way to be. I would love to see if there are any liberal men in the house, and see if we click.” Then she turned to her bookcase and started packing. “Let see. Howard Zinn: Check! Jefferson’s Bible: Check! Signed copy of The Audacity of Hope: Check!” Then she rubbed the nose of the bronze Hillary Clinton statue in the corner of her room, said a godless prayer to the disembodied spirit of Karl Marx, hopped into her Prius, and cranked up the theme song from The West Wing on repeat for the whole drive.

And so it was that eight people left the real world far, far behind.

NEXT: The Black Gate of Mordor

Julie Chen descended from her castle in the clouds. It had been a refreshing nine months. She caught up on her reading, and she caught up on Orange is the New Black, and every morning she flew upon the winged horse Striderofax to the highest peak of Mount Kazbek, where she watched every day as the imprisoned Aaryn the Loathed had her liver eaten by an eagle. Also, Julie Chen hosted a talk show where talking people talk about things talkatively–I think it’s called The Verbal Exchange of Ideas Between Human Females.

But now it was time to host again. And Julie was ready. “This twisty season of Big Brother is the twistiest season yet,” she told the crowd. “There is a brand new interactive twist, and there’s another twist that will leave the houseguests scrambling like never before. The houseguests will be all twisted around, not sure where to twist to. The year was 1961, and ‘Twist and Shout’ was top of the pops. If and when I have another child, that’s child’s name will be Twist Chen NCIS Moonves.”

Juju sent the houseguests in. They were excited. “I feel like a fish out of water!” said Donny. “I feel like I been shot out of a cannon and landed on Mars!” Pause to imagine a fish out of water landing in a cannon and getting shot to Mars; that still sounds like a better movie than John Carter. And Nicole was excited. She gave herself a pep talk: “Nicole! Don’t pee your pants! Sometimes that happens when I laugh out loud, or I get too excited.” Recap: Nicole believes in ghosts, needs a cuddle buddy, pees her pants when she gets excited.

The houseguests settled down. They cracked the champagne. They got to talking. Everyone was flirting with everyone, except for Donny, who was flirting with his beard. Paola announced herself as the Loud One, proudly telling everyone that her nickname is “Pow Pow.” Frankie was horrified to learn that she was a DJ. “Red flag! She’s a New York City DJ. She definitely knows who Ariana Grande is. She runs in the same circles!” Pause to imagine the New York City music scene as a whole series of circles, and major pop stars and DJs are just running around those circles all day.

Joe and Frankie felt like soul mates. Frankie said: “I’m the pink My Little Pony, and she’s the blue My Little Pony.” Joey said: “We are both peacocks.” Devin stood up to introduce himself. “Hello everyone,” he said. “I am a former professional sports athlete, a single father who loves my child, and a man with arms the size of Greek Island. I also have very nice eyes and the voice of a wry centaur.”

Amber quickly stood up and introduced herself. “Hello, everyone! My name is Amber, I’m from Tennessee, I’m a model. To rephrase: I’m a model from Tennessee named Amber.”

Everything was coming up Amber! Until Joey stood up and said, “Oh, hey gang! I’m a gal with personality and I firmly believe that the banking industry should be regulated by an oversight committee comprised entirely of clones of Elizabeth Warren created out of stem cells and… oh, shucks, there I go again, waving my silly little hands!” At which point DeVin Diesel said: “Joey is smoking hot.”

Were cracks forming? Baseball Devin sought to seal them up. He told his seven assembled housemates that they were all allies now: An eight-person alliance, guaranteed a trip to jury if they circled the wagons. “What if we’re the Crazy Eights?” asked Frankie, reading from the list of seven hundred possible alliance names he has spent a lifetime concocting. So they were agreed. To celebrate, the men of the house did crunches. And then to celebrate, they all immediately began sharpening their Backstab Knives.

NEXT: A day at the beach

DeVin Diesel made a solid argument for himself as a savvy player. Immediately after the Crazy Eights declared their eternal fealty to one another, he pulled Donny aside and told him: “Listen, bro. I trust you 100 percent. And I trust your beard 150 percent.” The theory: He wanted to make a side alliance with somebody that no one would expect. “I think there’s a lot of wisdom hiding behind that beard,” Devin concluded. This is a good move with severe possible risk. Good, because Donny seems like someone who might be readily ignored by the young-hot contingent, which means Devin could have a solid vote on his side. Severe possible risk, because Donny is an older and slightly awkward fellow. Worst case, Donny becomes the monkey on Devin’s back; best case, Donny becomes the little man who always hangs out with Devin, and they wear matching muumuus. Also, they’re calling themselves the Double Ds.

Upstairs, Frankie and Cody were playing chess. The men were befriending each other. Paola didn’t like it. She’s seen groups of dudes partner up on Night One in Big Brother before; she didn’t want another Brigade. So she called a suffragette meeting. The women were all in agreement: It was time for a lady to win. “The guys come in thinking they are gonna win,” Amber complained. “The guys know that our culture pits us against one another,” agreed Joey, “because the gender pay gap forces women to compete harder for few positions, while the male-dominated media curses generations of young women with unfair body issues!”

Paola nodded and nodded and nodded. “We have to, like, seriously, give America hope that girls can work together.” Somewhere Sheryl Sandberg shed a single tear. Somewhere Idina Menzel started singing one of those Idina Menzel songs. Somewhere the movie The Hours actually made sense to somebody. Somewhere Ellen Ripley punched an alien in the face and screamed “THIS IS A METAPHOR FOR FEMALE EMPOWERMENT, BITCH!”

It was a big moment, people! They immediately named themselves El Quatro. @BavarianErin on Twitter pointed out to me that “El Quatro” is a masculine name–something I didn’t realize, since I only speak Finnish and High Valyrian. Maybe they can change their alliance name? Big Sister? International Council of Women? Michelle Quadriguez? Tweet a better suggestion to me @DarrenFranich.

Right about then is when Julie Chen apparated back to our world from Dimension Z and announced that those twists she mentioned earlier had given birth to several new twists. “Just because you’re HoH doesn’t mean you’re safe,” she said, all-but-implying that this season’s Big Twist could be that there are sniper rifles pointed at everyone’s head all of the time.

They went to the backyard. There was a beach set up back there, complete with sandcastles. The game was simple: While a log rotated under their feet, players had to hold onto a kite string. If they let go, the kite would crash onto their sand castle—for are not all kingdoms built out of sand?

NEXT: The Twist that Twisted

The Alliance Currently Known In These Recaps As Michelle Quadriguez believed in one another. All the ladies wanted each other to succeed. Paola fell off almost immediately, implying that physical challenges would not be a Pow Pow speciality this season. So too fell JoeyNicole, who saw a ghost and lacked a cuddle buddy, and Joey, who was distracted by the possibility that holding onto a kite string while keeping your balance on a rotating log was the perfect metaphor for how Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal attempted to rescue this country from the brink of economic apocalypse.

Sunscreen rained down upon the players. It was in their eyes. It was in their hair. It was on their abs. Those delicious, delicious abs. It came down to Amber and Frankie. Amber made a curious decision that was maybe not as stupid as it initially seemed, although it was kind of stupid: Figuring that the HoH wasn’t safe, she decided to throw the competition.

That meant Frankie won, which meant this: “Go Grande or Go Home!” And also: “I’m FREAKING the FRANKIE out.” But even Nicole knew that winning HoH might not be all it’s cracked up to be. And Nicole’s dealing with that whole ghost thing!

So the housemates reassembled, while High Priestess Julie preached from on high. “A second group of eight houseguests will be joining you inside the house,” she explained. “And one person from that group will also become head of household.” That’s right guys: Big Brother is going Oligarchy this season! Each week will see two HoHs; by the end of the week, only one of them will be HoH, with the other one theoretically able to go up on the chopping block.

I’m skeptical of all twists on Big Brother, but I’m vaguely optimistic about this double HoH thing. Best-case scenario, it adds a couple more layers of power-play dynamics to every week. The house doesn’t just flock to one person; they flock to two very different people, two authority figures who could be enemies or could be secret allies.

I’m less sure about the Team America twist. I was hoping that the name meant that one episode per week would be told in the form of an elaborate puppet show. Instead, we viewers are going to vote on the player we’d like to be in an alliance with—and once we’ve voted for three people, they’ll be on a super double secret alliance that engages in “secret missions.” (I worry that this is the second coming of the Saboteur Twist.)

One thing’s for sure: We still have eight more contestants to meet. The previews we saw of them were tantalizing. An undercover police officer. A recently divorced mother of three kids. A surfer on the dean’s list. A metrosexual country boy (who, according to some reports, might be this year’s proof that the Big Brother producers really need to put “Are you a racist?” onto the Big Brother questionnaire.) There’s the nudist. And dear god people, there’s Zach Rance, who was shown in preview playing golf in bro shorts and exclaiming, “I lie every single time I open my mouth.” More fun awaits!

Tonight In Showmance:

[Fade in: Paola and Cody, laying around a bed]

Cody: “Are you from New York?”

Paola: “I live in New York, but I’m from Connecticut.”

Cody: [seductively] “Uh-huh.”

Paola: [in voiceover] “Dear Diary: In the outside world, I can get any guy I want. But here in Big Brother, I need to be careful.”

Cody: “How old are you?”

Paola: “I’m not that old.”

Cody: [blank look]

Paola: “I’m, like, 27. What are you, 23?”

Cody: [blank look]

Paola: “What kind of girls do you like?”

Cody: “I like a fit body. A nice body. Likes to work out. Like, one of those girls who works out and has a fit body. And she needs to have a personality. But I want to stress again: Fit body.”

Paola: [in voiceover] “Dear Diary: I’m so in love.”

[Fade Out]

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

Episode Recaps

Big Brother

Big Brother

Julie Chen hosts as the houseguests battle it out.

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