Sun Tzu said that when the enemy is taking his ease, harass him. Cliff Hogg says that there are people in this house feeling way too comfortable and way too cocky. “I don’t quit. I don’t give up,” Cliff muttered aloud to the camera in the kitchen at the start of this week, after accomplishing the seemingly impossible and proving himself a force to be reckoned with. “But there are targets in the house now. And we’re going to play a slightly different game this week.” He was serious. The week featured some of the most surprising, provocative, and satisfying game moves of this season of Big Brother yet — and all because of a Head of Household reign that by all rights should never have been possible in the first place.
At the end of last week, the recently inaugurated Six Shooters alliance — comprising Jack, Michie, Tommy, Christie, Holly, and Analyse — elected to blindside the remaining three members of the other alliance to which they ostensibly belonged, the short-lived Unde9able, to evict Cliff over Nicole six to four. Moments later, Cliff battled Ovi, Kemi, and David for the opportunity to return to the house in the Camp Comeback competition, and in a feat that took everyone by surprise, he handily won, gliding back into the fray almost as soon as he was asked to vacate it. That would have been awkward enough for the Six Shooters, who had an irate Nick and Isabella to assuage already — but when later that night Cliff emerged victorious in the Patch Perfect trivia challenge, winning Head of Household at the worst possible moment, Jack, Michie, Tommy, Christie, Holly and Analyse were reeling.
Cliff made it clear straight away that he intended to make good use of his newfound powers, and moreover that, rather than simply act out in retribution against those who voted to evict him days earlier, he would proceed with his sights on the bigger picture. This strategic thinking took the form of the game’s biggest and, frankly, most courageous move: On Sunday night, he nominated Jack and Michie, the two strongest physical competitors in the house, for eviction, and was not shy about his intention to see one of the two of them walk out the door at the end of the week. It was an uncompromising attack on an alliance that has until now ruled unchallenged. Jack and Michie, far from being frightened for their future in the game, seemed impressed by Cliff’s defiance and eager to fight for their safety.
Wednesday’s Veto competition was one of the more amusing in recent memory. Called “Take It Off,” it challenged players to strip down to their bathing suits while sitting astride a Jet Ski, racing against the clock and trying to keep three buttons held down. Jack, despite his enthusiasm, lumbered through the exercise without much grace, while Michie, approaching the task a little more cautiously, managed to disrobe in record time. So Michie won the Power of Veto, securing his safety for the week and putting Cliff in the uncomfortable position of choosing a replacement for the block — a decision complicated by the fact that Christie held the Panic Power, which would allow her to transform Michie’s Veto into the Diamond Veto, giving him the choice of the replacement nominee. Whatever Cliff wanted to do, it seemed the Six Shooters could simply do something else.
Interestingly, Christie did not want to use the power — as she continued to explain to her alliance, she preferred to hold on to it for the time being, and felt she was being pressured to use it now only because they wanted her to. Classic Big Brother blunder: Don’t tell people about a power if you don’t want that knowledge to influence how and when that power gets used. In any case, this reluctance furnished Cliff with an opportunity to salvage some of the power he felt he’d relinquished: He worked out a private deal with Christie whereby if she did not invoke the Diamond Veto, he would replace Michie on the chopping block with Isabella, doing their dirty work for them, and in return would be protected from whatever nefarious plans they might work out in the immediate future. It would be naïve to imagine Christie honoring this deal any longer than strictly necessary, if it benefits the Shooters to act otherwise. But given the options, it was probably Cliff’s best bet.
With Isabella on the block beside Jack, Thursday’s live eviction was mostly a done deal: She campaigned, not ineffectively, to non-Shooter parties such as Jessica, Nicole, and Kat, all of whose votes she would need in order even to split the house. Of course, Isabella had personally offended, betrayed, and bullied Jessica and Nicole just weeks ago, so it was bound to be a long shot even if these girls couldn’t resist the chance to take out a serious player like Jack — if it were anyone else, it might have been possible, but Isabella had vexed too many people too many times to win the votes necessary to remain. Come vote time, she had the support of her two closest friends, Nick and Sam (whose time in the house may be running out, if this is any indication), and otherwise was driven to the door unanimously. And with that, Cliff got out one of the few people who voted for him to stay, and the supremacy of the Six Shooters carried on. Again.
It will be curious to see how next week plays out, if anyone other than a Six Shooter can eke out an HOH win. If it turns out to be, say, Michie or Jack, there’s little doubt it will be an unthreatening floater, maybe Jessica, who goes next. The group is too big to last much longer, though, even if they are tight for the moment: one week soon it’s going to collapse for good, and then the real game will begin. In the meantime, this is the Big Brother Power Ranking: Five players who’ve made moves good and bad. Some are poised for domination (perhaps). Others seem condemned soon enough 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 host Julie Chen is always reminding us: Expect the unexpected.
For the second week running, my top pick is Kat — unassuming, irrepressible Kat, who seems to be playing a game entirely of her own making, separate from the one being played by the rest of the house. (Witness her oddball vote this week: “I vote … Michie,” she told Julie in earnest. “Excuse me?” came Julie’s bewildered response.) Kat continues to elude notice by most of the game’s power players, and as long as she refuses to commit to an alliance or pick sides in obvious battles, she might float for a few more weeks under the radar as a decided non-threat. But don’t forget that Kat’s something of a budding comp beast, winning a recent Veto and very nearly winning the Veto this week; when the time comes, she could be ready to win HOH, and then things will really get interesting.
The house’s resident bro is perhaps not always likable, but it’s hard to deny at this point that he’s been playing a savvy game. His victories in physical competitions are to be expected of someone so brawny, but he’s also been coming up with some rather intriguing strategies, including his rogue vote several weeks back and a recent ploy to volunteer as pawn. As both a key member of the Six Shooters alliance and not the primary target of that alliance’s opponents, he stands to stick around for a long time to come.
For a man who was literally voted out one week ago, Cliff sure has turned his game around, not only fighting his way back into the house — a feat of survival no less than astonishing — but, in a coup that could hardly have been written more perfectly, going on that same night to win his first Head of Household. Granted, this week’s reign was not entirely successful, at least by the terms he set out for himself at the beginning of the week. But he was forced to maneuver around special powers and a major alliance intent to thwart him, and given those obstacles he acquitted himself more than admirably.
It was for the sake of Nicole that the Six Shooters alliance put themselves in harm’s way last week, making apparent to the house their division from Nick and Isabella in order to retain Nicole as a number for the team. And had Nicole been voted out, as was the original plan, would she have performed as well as Cliff in the battle-back comp, or would we have a different player in the house now altogether? It’s impossible to say, but the upshot of how things turned out is that Nicole seems pretty conspicuous, having been involved in a lot of big moves and on the sidelines of a lot of major action. That puts her at risk going forward.
Over the first week or two of the season, Nick seemed like one of the most promising players in the house, integrating himself well in the most powerful alliance and proving physically and socially capable. Then he fell in love with Isabella, and slowly, over the course of the next couple weeks, the poor guy’s game fell apart: he was dragged into conflicts Isabella instigated, was tarnished by damage she caused, and was ultimately cast out of the alliance he helped form because the rest of the group couldn’t trust the woman he helplessly loved. With Isabella gone, it’s possible that Nick will be liberated and able to better navigate the landscape of the house — but it seems equally possible that, the lines of the alliances having already been clearly drawn, he will remain on the wrong side of the Six Shooters and be the next person they target for eviction.
• Jessica, overhearing a heated conversation between the fractured members of the group known formerly as Unde9able, reported her suspicions to Nicole in the kitchen: “It’s like they had some kind of final eight or something!” Indeed.
• “I can’t fake emotion,” Isabella lamented to Nick when faced with the prospect of playing nice with the Six Shooters soon after last week’s blindside. “I literally hold grudges so hard.” Just speculating, but that may have had something to do with why she lost the game.
• “Cliffomaniacs,” “Cliff Notes,” “Big Hogg Energy” — our man Cliff Hogg III is certainly one for coining phrases. I hope he can come up with a better sobriquet than “Fellowship of the Zing” for his next alliance.
• Jack deployed his “Chaos Power” to redraw players for the Veto competition, obviously hoping not to have Sam against him … and then he went and drew Sam again, himself. What’s more hilarious is that Sam came in last place in the game, and that Kat, who very nearly won, only played because of the redraw. Not a great power, all things considered.
• Ciao Bella. I am not sorry to see Isabella sent packing this week — her attitude has been a major strain on the mood of the house for weeks, and I’ve been predicting her downfall since she foolishly betrayed the Black Widows to Jack. But to her credit, she came off well in her exit interview with Julie Chen, owning up to some of her most egregious lapses in discretion and apologizing outright to Nicole for having treated her so poorly on week two. The Big Brother house can do some crazy things to people, and it may be that her worst qualities were amplified by isolation (or television). Let’s extend her the benefit of the doubt now that she’s gone.
• What are we calling the secret Kat-Holly alliance? And where can we place bets on them taking it all the way to the end?