Big Brother 23 will put players on different teams
The show's new season will feature all new players, a team element, and another live premiere. Executive producers Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan give us the scoop.
The game of Big Brother is not just one between contestants for $500,000. There is also the game of cat and mouse between players and producers, with the latter trying to stay one step ahead of the former when they get too used to the rhythms of the game. And that will be in full effect when season 23 of the CBS reality franchise kicks off with a live 90-minute premiere on July 7.
While players in the all-new cast will still be competing individually for the half-million dollars, they will also be separated into teams. The decision was made to shake up the show, which has been plagued in recent seasons by safe gameplay and groupthink as one large alliance mows down a smaller one, with players often talking about making big moves but rarely actually going through with them. It's also a throwback to seasons like Big Brother 9 (which featured contestants playing in couples), Big Brother 11 (in which folks were put into high-school-like "cliques"), and the fan favorite Big Brother 14 (in which former players returned as coaches for teams of newbies, culminating in the show's most notorious moment ever).
We spoke to Big Brother executive producers Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan, who explained how the teams will be selected, the theme for season 23, and what else to expect on the live premiere, including a tempting offer at the very end.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, you guys are starting a little later than usual this year. Obviously, last year's premiere was a lot later because there were extenuating circumstances, but why the late start this year?
ALLISON GRODNER: You should ask the network about that, but we're raring to go. We're just happy not to be starting in August like last year.
I know we had All-Stars last year, with all returning players. So what's the cast going to be this year? All new players? A mix?
GRODNER: All new.
RICH MEEHAN: Yeah, all new players. No returning houseguests this summer, at least not playing the game. Maybe there'll be a surprise or two along the way, but all new houseguests will be playing the game.
Let's talk about casting. You have the new CBS initiative that all reality show casts must be 50 percent people of color. How did that impact the casting process for you?
GRODNER: Listen, we're always looking for the best people and the best mix. I think we feel over the past seasons that we've had a pretty diverse cast, and certainly we have a diverse cast this time. It's 50 percent, if not more.
MEEHAN: Yeah, we're really excited. It's an amazing group. A lot of really fun layers. People have unexpected elements of their personalities.
I know years ago back when Survivor had a few seasons with very diverse casts they did a lot more legwork to find great personalities from all walks of life and relied less on direct submissions. Did you have to widen the casting net and do more recruiting?
GRODNER: We have a lot of fans in this cast, some superfans, a handful of people new to the game, but I don't think we really had to do that. We always try to look for people from places we haven't before to get a diverse group of personalities, locations, and perspectives.
MEEHAN: We always like having some people that know the game really well and some people that are a little bit newer to the game, because that way we get everyone playing the game a little bit differently, and everyone's not coming in with the exact same mindset.
What can you tell me about season 23 of Big Brother?
MEEHAN: Once again, we are going with an all-live 90-minute premiere, which means anything can happen. Last year the Have-Not room door was locked unexpectedly.
Sorry, but I loved when that happened. That's the fun of live TV, when something goes wrong. That's what makes it exciting and gives it a bit of danger. What can we expect this year in terms of a house design, competitions, or gameplay themes?
GRODNER: Well, the theme this year is the Big Brother Beach Club — the BB Beach Club. We thought about how we've all spent the past year locked in our houses, and how we've all longed for vacation. We want this year to feel that way. Our houseguests are coming in and going on a bit of a vacation. Think about a beach club meets Vegas meets Monte Carlo. It's a boutique hotel in its decor, and it's aspirational.
MEEHAN: Yeah, it's equal parts beach club, and, I would say, casino. There's going to be a lot of fun gambling elements this summer.
When you say gambling elements, is that going to play into some of the competitions, as in you have an opportunity to play for something but you might get something bad back if you lose?
MEEHAN: Yeah. And we try to lean into really fun themes that are inherent to Big Brother. Playing the game is always a risky proposition. Who are you going to align with? Who do you betray? Do you throw a competition? This season, our theme is full of risk-versus-reward dilemmas. We're dialing up the risk, hoping and anticipating the houseguests are faced with decisions they've never really had to make in the Big Brother house before.
You had all these COVID protocols you had to implement last season. You really had to rethink a lot to pull it off. What about this year?
MEEHAN: Most of those systems are going to stay the exact same way. We'll be operating very much like we did last summer, because the truth is all the unions and everyone still have the same requirements. Again, we're just making sure safety is at the forefront of everything, for the houseguests and our crews. We need to make sure when the houseguests go in, everyone is safe. Once they get in the house it's pretty good, because they are in their own bubble. It's really the safest place to be. Then we'll see how the summer evolves — if things are able to loosen up or if we can change things.
What does that mean for the Battle Back Competition? Obviously, there was not one last year because of COVID-related complications, I'm assuming.
MEEHAN: As for opportunities to get back in the game, we'll have to wait and see.
You're always trying to stay one step ahead of the players and keep the show fresh, but it seems a groupthink dynamic has sprouted up the past few seasons. We've seen this pattern where a really big secret alliance forms early and then just rides it out until the end against a smaller minority alliance while not making a lot of big moves against each other. It just seems like really safe gameplay. Have you guys seen that? And if so, what do you do to shake things up?
MEEHAN: The development and the creative always start before the season, then we let it go. Once the season starts, the creative we set up plays out. Look, it has been very interesting the last couple of seasons. I mean, I'll take All-Stars out of it, because it was its own unique season, but even season 20 had the Level Six alliance, which had a group of strong players that really stuck together. In many early seasons that didn't happen — where yeah, people bond, but then it always broke apart. But there have been a couple of seasons where they've managed to stick it out and not betray each other and really control the numbers. We absolutely look at those things when developing the creative for this season.
Some fun things I can reveal: Opening night, the live premiere night, the houseguests learn they're going to be playing in a team dynamic. There will be a twist that forces them to play in teams. They're going to be vying to be team captains as well as Head of Household. We think that fun team dynamic will be interesting to watch. There will be the risk-work-versus-reward element — again, this idea that you're going to have to make decisions you've never had to make before. And they could be very risky decisions that could put you [on] good [terms] with people, or maybe not. We are playing with some twists and some decision-making that could have an impact on exactly what you're talking about.
I actually pitched the exact same thing last season: that you should implement a team element to shake things up. Can you elaborate on what that's going to look like?
MEEHAN: Well, on opening night there will obviously be live challenges. In the first live challenge houseguests compete in, they will be in groups of four moving in, because it is live. We have to control it a bit. Otherwise, it's just noise if there are 16 people running around in the house.
As people move in and they're in that first competition, they're going to be vying to be a team captain, and also to be able to compete for HOH [Head of Household]. That team captain competition is going to be how they're selecting their team. If you're a team captain, you're going to get a snapshot of some of the houseguests, then you're going to have to decide who you want to add on your team. It should be a fun way to build the teams. It's always interesting to see how it plays out with that element because the team dynamic changes the game a bit.
Anything else you can tell us about what's coming up this season?
MEEHAN: The backyard on opening night is going to have a really fun casino backdrop, where all these games are going to be taking place. The one other big thing is that at the end of the episode, there will be a double-or-nothing offer Julie [Chen Moonves, the show's host] will be making that may be too good for someone to refuse.
GRODNER: An offer you can't refuse. The first time ever at the end of the episode.
MEEHAN: A double or nothing offer that should be exciting to watch and see what happens.