Paul Abrahamian, now runner-up on two consecutive seasons of ‘Big Brother.’ (Sonja Flemming/CBS)

No matter how you feel about Paul Abrahamian, the most manipulative player on “Big Brother” this season, it was hard not to have sympathy for the 23-year-old clothing designer on Wednesday night’s finale — especially as he realized, in horror, that he was about to lose the $500,000 grand prize for the second year in a row.

“Not again, not again, not again,” he muttered, shaking his head, appearing on the verge of a meltdown. Winners are decided by the previous nine evicted contestants (the “jury”) and Paul had four votes. Josh Martinez, the 23-year-old salesman, also had four. Then, host Julie Chen announced the final tiebreaking vote. “Congratulations, Josh,” she said. “You are the winner of ‘Big Brother!’”

Before this moment, Paul ruled the game (in which 16 strangers are trapped in a house and vote each other out, week by week) with an iron fist. Paul was the only veteran player, and the other houseguests were either too in awe or too intimidated to ever disagree with him, even when it was obvious he would eventually betray them. It made for a very boring season. So as Paul was left devastated at the end, many viewers basked in the schadenfreude; especially because the exact same scenario happened last season, in which Paul played the stronger game and still lost in a 5-4 vote to winner Nicole Franzel.

Last year, Paul essentially tanked his chances after crude remarks toward female contestants. This year, he instigated some bullying, yet was still well-liked. And if you look at his accomplishments during the summer — based on his own strategy and the rest of the cast’s cluenessness — he played a near-perfect game.

He won competitions when they mattered. He worked tirelessly to make everyone think he was their friend. He wasn’t put on the block for eviction until the last episode — and Josh, the head of household, still chose to take him to the final two over Christmas Abbott, Josh’s closest ally. Midseason, Paul convinced three house couples that he was their secret third partner, and got all six people to turn against each other instead of targeting him. He asked people to lose competitions on purpose, and they did. As he boasted, he was the puppet master. So what happened?

Frankly, Paul may have played the game a little too well — so well that many contestants believed he was on their side, and in the end, they were too hurt and furious by his betrayal to appreciate his strategy. Paul lost out on votes from two key allies, Jason Dent and Alex Ow, both of whom legitimately thought Paul was their best friend until his actions sent them packing.

And it’s not like the other contestants wanted to give the prize to Josh. In the traditional “jury members sit around and discuss the final three” scene, reaction toward Josh — who tended to bully people, then claim they were bullying him, then run away and burst into tears — was mostly disgust.

“I mean, I think Paul and Josh are both scum,” Cody Nickson offered. “But at least Josh took action, while Paul was behind a closed door being a wuss.”

Josh Martinez on “Big Brother.” (Sonja Flemming/CBS)

True, Paul preferred others to do his dirty work, and underestimated that everyone would eventually find out about it. While contestants may not have realized what was happening in the house, they certainly put two and two together in the jury. Sure, they were already eliminated, but they took some sweet revenge by making sure Paul didn’t get the money in the end.

In the finale, Paul didn’t help his case by getting extremely defensive during the jury question-and-answer segment and denying responsibility for wrongdoing. He was condescending as Alex called him out on his catchphrase (“friendship!”) by asking why he built up close relationships only to destroy them. “Maybe the misconception is I would toss my game for somebody else’s. I did help people where and when I could, but I would never toss my game or stretch my neck out in order for somebody else to just go over me,” he said.

Fair enough, but it’s definitely not what his former friends on the jury wanted to hear. The whole point of the game is to betray people, but they still have to respect you enough in the end to vote to give you the $500,000 grand prize.

Meanwhile, the few people who targeted Paul early on were considered enemies by the house. They looked pretty smug on Wednesday.

“I tried warning you guys at the end of it all, but you didn’t listen,” said Jessica Graf, who was eliminated weeks ago. “Paul had an alliance with everyone … not one of you meant more to him than the other person. He quite often laughed at you, referred to himself as the ‘puppet master,’ and he played you all.” (Producers even rubbed it in, airing a montage of how everyone blindly trusted Paul, and how Paul mocked them behind their backs.)

Julie Chen added to the pile-on, reminding Paul that he was going home with the $50,000 runner-up prize. “Paul, a bridesmaid once again,” she said as the audience laughed. “You won nine competitions; never sat on the block until tonight, if you count that; you orchestrated every person’s eviction, essentially. How did you come up short this year?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t watch. I have no idea how I came up short,” Paul said flatly. “I did everything that I could. It was really tough. I was in a tough spot. I was the only vet in the game. I was up against 15 people, and if people didn’t see I had to fight my way through to make it to the end — then that’s on them.”

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