It’s not unusual for a reality show to stretch its definition of “celebrity” for a season of TV, but it must be said that Big Brother hasn’t done too bad with its latest season of Celebrity Big Brother. Sure, there are some names here that may not be familiar to everyone, but each and every one of these people is a character in their own right, and that bodes well for the season. There’s Ryan Lochte, the Olympic swimmer who’s got an impressive athletic record and an even more impressive reputation for lying about being robbed in Brazil. There’s Anthony Scaramucci, the foul-mouthed, short-lived communications director for President Trump. There’s Tom Green, ’90s gross-out artist extraordinaire, and the outspoken Tamar Braxton. Kato freakin’ Kaelin is here! In other words, the cast is looking good.
It’s looking good because there’s such a wide range of personalities. That’s evident right off the bat, as the first six celebs move into the house and run down their personal and professional lives. Ryan Lochte, Olympic hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones, and former WWE wrestler Natalie Eva Marie all focus on how their passion for competition means they’ll be the ones to beat inside the house. Sure, Lochte does his best to say that he’s a “family man” now, but there’s no way he’s not itching to show everybody up. You don’t get biceps like that by being modest when it comes to your ambitions. On the other hand, Tom Green and Kato Kaelin, who’s known for being a star witness in the OJ Simpson murder trial, play up their underdog status. They want to be the weird outsiders who don’t stand a chance, flying under the radar to an easy win. Then there’s Tamar Braxton, singer, actress, and so many other things. She’s a Big Brother superfan, and she’s all confidence heading into the house, hiding her fandom so that she doesn’t get the boot early on.
As the first six make their way around the house, there’s an easy camaraderie. “There’s a bar! God is good!” shouts Tamar as they tour their living space. Everyone really seems to get along, the vibe more suited to move-in day at the college dorm rather than a reality show where you can take home $250,000. Green, in particular, keeps things light. “You think OJ’s going to walk through that door next?” he jokes with Kaelin. That kind of humor will either keep Green alive in this competition or get on everyone’s nerves and send him packing.
After laying claim to their beds, it’s time to meet the next six celebrities. There’s yet another athlete in Ricky Williams, the former NFL running back who was not only a great rusher but perhaps most known for testing positive for marijuana during a drug test with the Miami Dolphins. Williams struggled to change his reputation around the league and in the media after that, but now he’s getting his degree in Chinese Medicine and focusing on healing others. That’s a noble goal and makes him one of the more gentle athletes in the house. There’s Kandi Burruss, best known for writing the still-incredible “No Scrubs” for TLC, who has some good and bad music business history with Tamar. There’s another connection here too, as Jonathan Bennett, currently of Cake Wars but formerly of Mean Girls, can’t contain his surprise at seeing Dina Lohan walk into the competition. Blossom‘s Joey Lawrence is here looking jacked, but the most surprising and potentially volatile presence is that of Anthony Scaramucci. He still calls Trump a friend, but that might make him hard to trust inside the house.
Look, there’s only so much going on in this first episode. As is always the case, this is all a preamble for the second part of the two-part premiere, which airs on Tuesday. So, there’s a lot of mingling around, some vague ideas of who might be getting along, but it’s all pretty superficial at this point. Lolo worries that she and Lochte could be considered a “power couple” because they know each other from the Olympics; Lochte seems less worried, probably because the thought never crossed his mind. Tamar and Kandi clearly won’t be getting along any time soon. That’s about all you can really say at this point though. Everyone else feels like they’re just settling in, though Jonathan thinks Kaelin could easily win the competition because “he survived the hardest Head of Household ever.” Jonathan is my early favorite.
That brings us to the season’s first HoH competition, and it’s an exceedingly difficult one. Julie Chen-Moonves announces the twist first: the celebrities will be competing in teams of two, but only 10 total will get to compete, meaning two people are sitting out and unable to become Head of Household. “I’m not loving that there’s a twist on Day 1,” says the guy who worked for a White House full of unpredictable twists. Tamar picks Kandi as a way to “extend an olive branch” (Spoiler: that goodwill doesn’t last); Joey ends up with Ricky; Lolo picks Tom because she wants to lose but “put in an honest effort”; and Dina ends up with The Mooch because she couldn’t remember anyone else’s name. That leaves Kato Kaelin and Natalie Eva Marie on the outs, but that’s not a bad thing this time around. In the second of three twists in this hour, Julie tells them that they are both safe from the first eviction. Eva Marie gets to keep her spot after doing absolutely nothing, which is very similar to her run in WWE.
The competition is a tough one. The celebs are strapped into swings and must coordinate their movement so that one of them fills up a glass from a giant flowing bottle of “champagne” and then transfer that water to their partner’s glass, who then pours it into a giant champagne glass. When there’s enough water in the glass, a bubble pops out and that team wins. For a while, nobody can get their swing going. There’s like four solid minutes of everyone just moving their legs and nothing happening. It’s appalling. Eventually, Lochte figures it out and everyone else copies him. It’s a two-horse race though, as the team of Ryan Lochte and Jonathan Bennett are neck-and-neck with Lolo Jones and Tom Green. Yes, Lolo wanted to lose, but her competitive spirit gets the best of her.
Eventually, though, Lochte and Jonathan snag the win. Alas, the victory is bittersweet, Back in the living room, the specter of Julie tells them that they will be competing against each other to become Head of Household. Only one can win. But in even more devastating news, the loser will become the first celebrity nominated for eviction. Lochte is pretty confident that he’s going to win, but Jonathan’s feeling good too. “I have several participation trophies,” he quips. Like I said, Jonathan is my early favorite, and that’s where we leave it for tonight. On Tuesday, it’s Jonathan Bennett vs. Ryan Lochte in a battle for Head of Household. Bring it on.