Unlike some other reality franchises, Big Brother knows that all-stars seasons should be special events. That's why when it was announced that Season 22 would be Big Brother's second ever all-stars edition, coming 14 years after the first in Season 7, fans were galvanized by the hope that this would secure us a truly great season of Big Brother. Unfortunately, almost right away it became clear that these hopes would likely not be fulfilled. We're only four weeks into the 13-week game, and wishing for greatness already feels largely like a lost cause. I'll keep watching, of course, and even keep alive a small hope that things will improve, but Big Brother 22's fate as a big disappointment feels like it may already have been sealed.
For one, not everyone playing is an all-star. When the cast was confirmed during the season premiere, there were a few names that immediately stood out as legendary game players, like Janelle Pierzina, Kaysar Ridha, Dani Briones, and Ian Terry, and beloved houseguests like Da'Vonne Rogers. But while we could understand why a few people were included even if they weren't necessarily standout players -- after what superfan Nicole Anthony went through last season, she definitely earned a second shot -- others seemed more random.
David Alexander's inclusion in this cast is not only baffling but is dragging down the overall game. To put it simply, David is hopelessly out of his depth. This is not to say that David didn't deserve another chance to play the game after going out on day one last season, but he never should have been brought into an all-stars season. A better move would have been to bring him back next year to play alongside other rookies, because that is what he is: a rookie. David's confidence has never matched up to his skills, and he has made foolish mistake after foolish mistake -- losing comps, spilling secrets, exposing alliances, and misreading people so completely that he has largely alienated all of his current allies and any potential future ones. David's gameplay has been so weak this season that even the person running his Twitter account can't help but drag him (with love, of course).
Yet despite proving to be a liability, David is not a target. Nor was Memphis Garrett after it became clear he was playing both sides of the house and wouldn't actually make moves to protect his Unusual Suspects alliance. And while Tyler Crispen, Enzo Palumbo, Cody Calafiore, and a few other players want to go after Dani, they are too cowardly to go after her themselves and keep saying they'll make a big move… eventually.
Instead, the only move that has been made this season is a month-long campaign against Janelle and Kaysar, two people who had no alliance outside their duo and haven't won a single HOH or POV comp this season. But sure, they are the biggest threats.
The house's obsessive fixation on evicting Janelle and Kaysar -- led primarily by Cody, Nicole Franzel, and their allies -- has been ridiculous. It's not a surprise that the pair's reputation and the fact they've played with each other twice before put them on peoples' radars. But given that two previous winners are in the house, as well as other players who have played multiple seasons and played together, it becomes hard to justify this anti-Jaysar campaign as one that is actually based on Janelle and Kaysar being the biggest or most immediate threat in the house. Where is this army Jaysar rallied against the other side? Where are these nefarious plans they've been allegedly hatching? All I saw was two people having fun, staying loyal, speaking facts, and being subjected to a whole lot of Janellousy.
Even once Janelle's eviction last week meant Kaysar was alone in the game -- with no power and no solidified allies -- the house remained set on getting him out, without ever seriously considering using him as a shield or having the foresight to use him as a pawn to backdoor a bigger target. Cody even admitted that he hadn't considered his long-term strategy beyond getting Kaysar evicted, while Enzo said his plans this week were to get out either Kaysar or a big target (the key word there being "or"). The short sightedness of this plan exposed the campaign against Kaysar, and previously Janelle, for what it was: less strategic and more vindictive, crossing names off a list because they don't like them and don't want them there, versus seeing the big picture of what Big Brother can, should, and used to be.
Other than the obvious Janellousy, it seems a driving reason behind the targeting of Kaysar and Janelle has been bias against "old school" Big Brother -- a problem that, once again, goes back to the cast, half of whom are players from Season 16 onward. When the new crop of houseguests deride old school Big Brother, like when Tyler called it "under developed," they reveal that they completely misunderstand what makes this a compelling game and why most fans tune in. While Big Brother was simpler back in the day, the layers that have been added -- ones largely based in psychological manipulation -- have not been beneficial to the players or to the viewers. It's been sad to see what should be a fun game devolve into such toxicity.
At its best, Big Brother is a multi-layered puzzle where players play hard physically, strategically, and socially, but not personally. In a game like this, the line between what is gameplay and what is personal can get blurred, but in old school Big Brother there was a general understanding of the difference between going after another houseguest to evict them as part of the game and going after a houseguest to break them down emotionally to make it untenable for them to stay. Old school Big Brother was about making big moves and swaying people through strategy and conversation -- and sure, sometimes being an ass -- but it was never built on doing this at other players' emotional expense.
New school Big Brother, on the other hand, is fueled by gaslighting, groupthink, strong-arming, paranoia, shaming, and gossip. All the persecution and conspiracy theories demonizing Jaysar leading up to Nicole Anthony's eviction, Christmas Abbott and Enzo proudly declaring that they refuse to draw lines in the house as though that's a bad thing, and almost everything Nicole Franzel has done so far are examples of new school Big Brother, which is less an actual strategy game and more a game of emotional manipulation and herd mentality, with those in power trying to force the house to bend to their will and encourage isolation between any players who could potentially band together against the main alliance.
Winner Derrick Levasseur helped usher in the groupthink era in Big Brother 16. And given that half the Big Brother 22 cast is from Seasons 16 through 21 -- and that producers only show recent seasons to recruits -- many of the new school players have probably only ever seen the show played this way. Superfans have long bemoaned the way this groupthink-style play has hurt the game, but the issue became even more apparent this season, as Janelle and Kaysar's attempts to actually play a straightforward game of Big Brother were met with derision, disrespect, and even anger.
One of the most frustrating examples of this came in Week 1 when Janelle dared to suggest players actually vote for who they wanted to keep versus simply voting for whoever the HOH was targeting. Bayleigh Dayton brushed her off by saying going with the house was a "rule." A similar scenario played out again this week when Kaysar tried to get Bayleigh and Da'Vonne to understand that the same alliance coming after him will soon be after them, but once again these truths weren't received. (Although, as frustrating as these conversations are to watch, it's important, as Kaysar's wife Haseena Qudrat-Ridha pointed out, that viewers not take out these feelings on Bayleigh, who will see the truth in Kaysar's words in due time and has been overall a delight to watch play this season.)
This cycle -- players trying to move against a dominate alliance, being villainized for it, and then being isolated by other houseguests who fear socializing with the outcasts will jeopardize their own game -- is what makes it easy for large alliances to steamroll through smaller groups and individual players until it's just the large alliance left in the end. It discourages anyone from making big moves or taking a shot at a powerful player, makes it difficult for the smaller groups to compare notes and see the various ways the larger alliance is trying to control the game, and creates an environment where anyone who dares to actively play the game in a straightforward way not only risks being targeted in retaliation but also being socially isolated or even bullied. It also contributes to the show's largely homogenous winners and finalists; every season, the cast remains dominated by white, cisgender, heterosexual players, and the large alliances that form early on and monopolize the season tend to mirror this demographic.
Many Big Brother fans were hopeful that the all-stars season would be a welcome break from this new school style of playing, but with so few old school players in the cast, and with their every attempt to play in the more traditional fashion being thwarted, we're left with nothing to do but shout at our TVs -- and shout over the wall -- and hope that someone will finally try to turn this game around.
So, can this season be saved? Honestly, I don't know. I haven't lost all hope just yet, but with Janelle gone and Kaysar likely a goner, it is hard to see how the season could be turned around. No one else seems willing to make a big move. Every time Kaysar has tried to get people on the other side of the house to understand the state of the game and the alliance they're up against this week, he's been met with resistance. And if all the other houseguests refuse to see what's really going on this season -- or are too cowardly to do anything about it themselves -- then maybe they do deserve to get the boot.
Then again, we are always told to "expect the unexpected," so maybe, just maybe, someone with some wits and some courage will snatch power, shake up the game, and help remind these all-stars what Big Brother should be.
Big Brother airs Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 8/7c on CBS.