On an episode of CBS’s “Big Brother” this weekend, contestant Paul Abrahamian made an observation.
“I don’t even know how I’ve made it so far, or why these people have not even considered putting me up on the block,” he marveled to the camera. “But I’ll take it.”
It’s an excellent point. Paul is a returning player (a “vet,” in “Big Brother” lingo) who came in second place last season. You would think, given that “Big Brother” is a game of strategy — in which 16 people are trapped in a camera-filled house and vote one another out one by one — that his fellow houseguests would put him on the block for eviction as soon as possible.
Not so much. And as a result, “Big Brother” Season 19 has suffered. Not so much the ratings — the show is still a summer hit for CBS. It’s just boring. For some reason, most of the contestants are oddly protective of Paul, treating him like their king. They’re so in awe of his status as a former player that they let him call the shots, and gang up on the few houseguests who don’t idolize him. As the season hits its halfway mark, Paul is on his way to the easiest $500,000 grand prize in “Big Brother” history.
The purpose of adding in a returning player on a reality competition series is to stir up drama — “Big Brother” has relied on the “vet” twist in earlier seasons. “Just adding one returner shouldn’t skew things too much for people that don’t appreciate that,” said executive producer Allison Grodner, when the Hollywood Reporter pointed out some viewers would rather watch a brand new cast. “I’m hoping they agree that having him back is a positive thing.”
The opposite has happened. On the edited-for-TV episodes (CBS also airs a 24/7 live stream online) Paul’s presence has skewed everything to the point where almost no one will act strategically, and instead just look to Paul for cues on what to do. The two players who didn’t want to go along with Paul, “showmance” couple Cody Nickson and Jessica Graf, were considered the villains in the house until they were both evicted over the past two weeks.
“Cody and I have never been the biggest targets here. It’s actually Mr. Friendship,” Jessica told the remaining houseguests during her farewell speech, referring to Paul’s catchphrase. “And if you guys leave him in the house any longer than you already have, you’re bigger idiots than I thought you were.”
When she sat for her post-eviction interview with host Julie Chen, she elaborated. “There’s not a lot of people that wanted to take leadership roles in the house. They just wanted to follow Paul’s game,” Jessica said. “I think Paul is great. But he once told me to ‘Sit back, watch and don’t ask questions.’ … I’m here to play the game, not follow someone’s rules. So when he said that to me, it just set something off in me.”
Following Jessica’s exit, her warning had no impact — except maybe on Mark Jansen, who has started to wonder why Paul is sailing through the house when, as someone who has an advantage by playing the game before, he should be a target.
“Paul is running the house. Paul has convinced everybody that this is the way ‘Big Brother’ should be played,” Mark told the camera. “Nobody has disagreed with Paul once this season. It’s a little weird. So I’m just wondering when everybody else is going to catch on and see it for themselves.”
The answer is … probably never. As soon as Paul showed up in the premiere, he received a hero’s welcome. (Jessica at the time: “Paul from Season 18 just walked in and I am freaking out!”) He also arrived with a special power, where he had eight friendship bracelets to give out to the 16 houseguests — and the ones who didn’t get a bracelet had to face off in a competition, which resulted in one of them going home immediately.
So the season started as the contestants tried to impress Paul for a friendship bracelet (Elena Davies promised to make him cheese sandwiches — she got a bracelet.) That mentality has continued. When Cody won the Head of Household power and put up two women for eviction in the first nomination ceremony, Paul was delighted.
“Look newbs, I get that you’re new at this game. But I didn’t think you were that stupid,” Paul chortled to the camera. “I was expecting to be on the block literally every week this entire season until I just croaked over and died. But the fact you guys didn’t toss me up there week one, I am shocked. What part of ‘almost won last season’ wasn’t clear to you?!”
Of course, when Cody came to his senses a few days later and put Paul on the block when he had to name a replacement nominee, Paul was enraged. By coincidence, he had already won another power that allowed him to stay safe in the game for three weeks, so he blocked Cody’s nomination. But he was still furious.
“Oh, so this was your agenda, to try to backdoor the vet? Real original, buddy,” Paul yelled to the camera. “You just showed your cards to the entire house. So guess what, Cody, I’m going to play the victim and turn this table real quick.”
This effectively ended Cody’s game, as the rest of the house was blindsided by this move — especially because half the house thought they were in an alliance with Cody and Paul, so they viewed Cody as a traitor.
Even Jessica, Cody’s closest ally, wasn’t sure it was a great idea to rock the boat so early, given how much everyone loved Paul. “I knew you were going to try and take Paul out, I just didn’t know it would be this soon,” she said.
“Had to,” Cody shot back. “I watched the way he played last year. There’s a reason he made it to final two, and it wasn’t by being loyal.”
For the rest of the season, Cody and Jessica were the enemy — and they didn’t help themselves, making some terrible strategic moves later on. However, once they crossed Paul, it was all over. Now they’re gone, leaving only Paul’s groupies and Mark, who will likely be voted out this week unless he wins the Power of Veto to save himself on Wednesday’s episode.
The only other time someone disagreed with Paul was a couple of weeks ago, when Josh Martinez won Head of Household and wanted to target Elena for eviction. However, Paul insisted on going after Jessica. Christmas Abbott, Josh’s ally, reminded her friend that Paul didn’t actually control him. He could nominate anyone he wanted.
Naturally, Christmas didn’t follow her own advice. After Josh inevitably targeted Jessica, Christmas was also swayed by Paul to use a special power that she had won — which blocked Cody from participating in the only competition that could have saved Jessica from eviction.
So as Paul continues his roadblock-free march toward $500,000, here’s hoping this season can mark the end of the returning players. Because although they are a fun way to stir up drama, as the Paul situation proves, they can also bring down the house and take the entire season with them.