Celebrity Big Brother
In Big Brother, as sometimes in life, there can be no greater liability than skill. It breeds jealousy in allies and in adversaries, fear, and the greater the display, the more intense the feelings it arouses in consequence. This is the crisis at the heart of all Big Brother strategy. If you want to win, you have to play well. But if don’t want to lose, you can’t make it obvious that you’re playing well, either.
Kato Kaelin emerged as the strongest contestant so early into this season of Celebrity Big Brother that it’s no surprise he was evicted. The first indication came when he won Mooch’s “Fake News” Veto, only six days into the game, to interfere with Ryan Lochte’s preferred nominations and remove his friend and ally Tom Green from the block. When, days later, he won Head of Household — in an endurance challenge that should have been an athlete or a wrestler’s to win — it was clear he was a serious competitor. By the time he orchestrated the shrewd, backdoor eviction of a 12-time Olympic medalist, a coup de grâce of consummate finesse, the fact was undeniable. Kato Kaelin owned the house.
He was in a position to continue owning it. Green — a highly capable player in his own right — raced through a slasher-themed competition on Wednesday to become Kaelin’s successor as Head of Household, a victory that consolidated the duo’s power as the dominant figures in the game. They had negotiated a strong four-person alliance by uniting with Natalie Eva Marie and Lolo Jones; a fifth collaborator, former NFL running back Ricky Williams, was at least tentatively on their side. Going into the Veto comp on Saturday night, it really seemed as if so-called “Team Fun” would simply eliminate the remaining houseguests one after another and sail on to the final five more or less unopposed.
But here we are just two days later. Kaelin is gone. Tom is poised for eviction. All that remains of Team Fun is the wreckage of deceit and betrayal. How did this happen? The first whispers of mutiny could be heard shortly after Green’s nomination ceremony, when he informed the members of his alliance of his intentions to backdoor Ricky Williams. Suspicious that Williams harbored a secret power, and apprehensive about his long-term commitment to the team, Green felt it might be wise to extinguish a potential threat now, when the opportunity presented itself. But evidently Lolo Jones did not agree. Indeed, she double-crossed Green almost the moment the conversation was through, snitching to Williams and obliterating her alliance in the process.
It’s difficult to see the sense in this, given the indomitable status of the alliance and the allegiance she’d already sworn to Kaelin and Green. But the betrayer has the advantage of deception over the betrayed, and it wasn’t long before Green, knowing no better than to trust his allies, found himself made the fool by Jones and her co-conspirator, Natalie Eva Marie. The latter won the Veto competition and elected to thwart their own alliance’s plan to backdoor Ricky. A unanimous vote banished Joey Lawrence from the house instead, and when Tamar Braxton became the next Head of Household, she sensed dissent in the ranks of her rivals and used the chance to send Kaelin and Green to the block.
A distant prospect of Veto-conferred safety did not inspire optimism. It came and went unused — Jones clinched the win in a memory competition involving melon-smashing prop comic Gallagher — and the game’s most formidable duo remained doomed to be torn apart. In the end it was Kaelin, the more overtly accomplished player of the two, who was removed from power after this most underhanded of insurrections. Whether a house divided against itself can in fact stand divided is a question for more politically savvy contestants than this bunch proved themselves to be over the course of a very frustrating week. In any case, Kaelin was too good at this game, and it was only a matter of time before he was punished for it.
And so we return to the hierarchy of the house. This is Vulture’s Official Celebrity Big Brother Power Ranking: five contestants who made moves good and bad. Some are poised for domination. Others seem condemned to the block. All are in thrall to the household forces of turbulence and caprice that make this a white-knuckle social experiment. As our beloved host Julie Chen is always reminding us — and as this week’s treachery reminded us once more — expect the unexpected.
Even in his 40s and a little out of shape, Ricky Williams, one-time winner of the Heisman Trophy and one of the finest football players of his generation, was bound to be among the strongest athletes in the Big Brother house. Add to that brawn an easygoing attitude and a kind of understated charisma, and you have a well-rounded player with a sound claim on being the frontrunner as the game heads into its fourth and final week. Moving forward, his only obstacle is the unforeseen duplicity and backstabbing that foiled his allies last night.
To be on screen as little as Kandi Burruss was this week is a sign of favorable discretion: if you’re not doing anything worth televising, it means you’re being quiet, keeping your head down, and staying out of everyone’s way. That’s good strategy, whether intended or strictly accidental, and if it is not a quality that heralds exultant conquest, it is nevertheless likely to take her far in the game. The more her fellow houseguests make enemies of one another, the longer Burruss is safe to coast to the end — don’t forget how common it is to find a floater in the final two.
Natalie Eva Marie
From almost the beginning of the game, former pro wrestler Natalie Eva Marie has demonstrated at least one enviable virtue as a Big Brother contestant: insulation. She’s kept a clear barrier between herself and blame in the form of her ride-or-die partner Lolo Jones, whose volatile personality can hardly help but attract the sort of attention a player aspiring to win this game would never want — and while Marie continues to reap the benefits of her association with such an aggressive competitor, she’s so far remained safe from the blowback that seems bound to drift their way soon enough.
Poor Tom. The most consistently entertaining player of the season has moreover proved himself to be a natural — a surprise Big Brother virtuoso who intuitively apprehends how to navigate this complicated game. It’s through no fault of his own that he was betrayed by his alliance this week; an error of judgement, you might say, though one anybody in his position surely would have made. With Kato Kaelin gone, Green has few sympathizers left, and the smart money says he will be the next to face eviction. On the other hand, less than a week ago he seemed to be in a good position to win the whole game, so he may turn it around yet again.
I think it was Joey Lawrence who, in his exit interview, put it best: Lolo Jones sure runs hot. This erratic, volcanic Olympian is so ludicrously short-tempered that even the slightest perceived infraction is enough to provoke her fury, and her nightly fits of irrepressible, inexplicable lunatic rage this season have been impossible to watch without cringing in secondhand embarrassment. Good TV it may be, but good strategy it is not, and I suspect it won’t be long now before this explosive disposition blows up her game.
• Lolo Jones accusing Tom Green of “always going emotional” as he sits as stoic as a monk in the face of her thousand-decibel screams is an irony reality television is uniquely equipped to immortalize.
• Dina Lohan is dizzy. She wants everyone to know. Thanks, Dina Lohan.
• Somehow, after three weeks of saying and doing little, Joey Lawrence seemed utterly charming — after he was evicted from the house, in talking with Julie Chen about his experience.
• Remember Gallagher? He’s back! In Big Brother form.
• Let it be known that Tamar won the HOH comp on a guess: her answer in a key round was pure gut instinct. Whatever works.
“And the Academy Award goes to all three of them,” Tom Green grouses after his former alliance members lie about their betrayal. Kato corrects him: “Those were Razzies, dude.” This to a man who won five of them.