Big Brother 23 Review

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As CBS wraps up the 23rd season of “Big Brother” (U.S.) the network is receiving the most praise and criticism ever. Whether audiences enjoyed it or not, one thing is for sure: the latest season made history after crowning its first-ever African-American winner.  

The reality show first aired in 1999, advertised as a social experiment. The premise was to explore what would happen when a group of strangers are forced to live in a house together, totally isolated from the outside world. Each week, players must vote another member out of the house until the last player standing at the end of the summer wins the grand prize, which was raised for the first time this year from $500,000 to $750,000. 

However, as the show has evolved, many powers, advantages, and twists have been added to the game. Modern day “Big Brother’s” formulaic structure follows the Head of Household week-to-week as they nominate two houseguests for eviction. Players can win “power” through weekly competitions that require a range of abilities from physical strength, to intelligence, to pure luck. Winning a power like the Head of Household gives the player safety from eviction for the week, but it comes at a cost. Although one of the nominated players at the end of the week will end up being voted out, the other player stays in the game, and they have the ability to win the power the next week. This quickly changing power structure leads to hours of strategic planning and the formation of alliances. Every season this creates distrust in the house, which will often lead to emotional arguments and backstabbing. 

Often, it does not take long for an alliance to turn on each other. With the countless hours of nothing to do but think about the game combined with never really knowing who is telling the truth or not, it can be easy for players to get paranoid. However, that is one of the main aspects that differentiates season 23 from all of the others. The main alliance of the season, self named the Cookout, didn’t turn on each other until they were the only players left in the game. This was the first time in “Big Brother” history where an alliance of six people made it to the final six spots. But this isn’t the only historical aspect of this alliance. On the first day of the game six players, Xavier Prather, Derek Frazier, Kyland Young, Azah Awasum, Hannah Chaddha and Tiffany Mitchell, all came in with the mutual intention that they wanted to keep each other safe. This was in order to ensure that for the first time ever, an African American person would be crowned the winner of “Big Brother.”

It is not surprising that we have had to wait so long to see a Black person win “Big Brother.” Over the years, the show has had many problems with racism, and it reached a breaking point during the 21st season. Viewers were furious when Jackson Michie walked out of the house with the $500,000 prize in 2019. After spending an entire summer watching his microaggressions toward minorities and seeing each person of color leaving the house one after another starting on the first night, it was easy to see the blatant racism. After this season aired, many viewers vowed not to watch the show anymore because they could no longer stomach it.  Unfortunately, these problems stemmed deeper than one or two bad cast members. A huge problem with “Big Brother’s” casting in the past was its lack of representation. Often the characters were very tokenized. Every season would have the one Black person, one gay person and one older person, while every other cast member was was straight, white and in their 20’s. After the 22nd season of “Big Brother” aired, CBS hired a new casting director and they promised to have the casts of all of their reality shows be 50% people of color. When the members of the Cookout entered the house this summer, they were shocked to see other Black people in the house. Each of their individual intentions to have an African-American win the game ultimately led to their unbreakable bond. 

Although countless alliances form every season of “Big Brother”, it is still seen as a very individualistic game. There can only be one winner, and when players believe that cutting their closest ally will bring them closer to the end they usually will not hesitate to turn on them. This is why the Cookout alliance was so unique. Each member’s goal of having an African-American winner trumped their own desire to win. This led to players making game moves that weren’t necessarily the best, or even good for their personal games. They valued the game of the group over the individual. This uncommon strategy made this season so intriguing for many viewers. One of the most interesting aspects of “Big Brother” are the 24/7 live feeds. Hence the name of the show, the players are constantly being monitored and watched by 87 different cameras and over 100 microphones throughout the house. Every year, this footage is live streamed so viewers can watch the strategy happen live, at any time of day. 

Viewers quickly realized the strategic genius of many of the players from this cast, including Tiffany Mitchell, who many believed was the driving force behind the Cookout. But having great strategy abilities in this season wasn’t enough to ensure her win. The Cookout’s “master plan” as it later became known to be was created by Mitchell, but it was obvious from a fans perspective that this plan was not optimal for her to win. Mitchell created a game plan to ensure that the Cookout would make it to the end of the game. Many people criticized this game move because many believed that she would have a decent chance at winning if she did not remain loyal to the Cookout. However, Mitchell made it clear that sacrificing her own game to ensure there would be a Black winner was worth it to her in the end. In one of Mitchells many camera talks, she discussed how betraying the cookout was more than just betraying her friends or an alliance. Betraying the Cookout meant betraying her entire culture. Although many fans were upset when she ultimately got voted out of the house at final 6, when it was only Cookout members left, she still ended up winning the $50,000 prize for being voted  America’s favorite player. 

Despite the uniqueness and excellent game play from this season, many viewers still took issue with it. Some people criticized the structure of the Cookout by claiming it was “reverse racism.” Why was it ok for an all Black alliance to vote people out of the house solely based on their skin color? However, in reality this alliance was no different than any other “Big Brother” alliance. Alliances are formed through building trust and commalilities. There have been plenty of all white alliances in “Big Brother’s” past, which nobody seemed to question. The reason that seeing an all Black alliance was so unique for this season was simply because there had never been an opportunity before. The structure of The Cookout begs a larger societal question. Why did we have to wait until it was possible to have an all Black alliance before there could be a Black winner? Although “Big Brother” has been very dramatized in its recent years, it still holds true that it is a social experiment, this game is a small scale reflection of the real world. The fact that the only way to ensure that a Black person could win the game was for every member of the cookout to sacrifice their own personal game for the good of the group emphasizes the deeply rooted problems that our country is facing today. 

Since “Big Brother”‘s premier in 1999, the show has gone through many changes. The intriguing twists and turns from the most recent season prove that there is still much more strategy that can be added to the game, and that game strategies reflect real life more than people may expect. It will definitely be interesting to see just how future game play will be impacted by this historic season of “Big Brother”.