1) Scheme and Plot
In the Big Brother house, you don’t need to know how to cook, how to mow the lawn, or how to fix the plumbing. You do need to know how to strategize. Despite the fact that recent juries have often voted according to emotion rather than that seemingly considering strategy, this rule is still the most important of them all not just for winning, but for staying in the game and maneuvering through it. We’ve seen this since the beginning with Dr. Will and continuing with Dan, Derrick, and others. Dr. Will told everybody he would lie to them, then he did, and he won. Dan bragged about his game play and manipulation of others’ emotions at the end and still won unanimously. Derrick controlled almost every vote, but did it in a way that kept himself safe. Even if you can’t be like one of these winners, most juries expect finalists to show at least some sign of strategizing.
From the very beginning, you have to start making alliances and cementing relationships. It can be difficult to know whom you can trust after just a couple days – or even hours, sometimes – but if you don’t start fast, you’ll be watching from the comfort of your own living room like the rest of us. Note that I said “from the very beginning.” While there is an absolutely legitimate strategy to lie back and let things happen around you for the first half of the season, players still need to make those connections and alliances early. Lying back should apply more to challenges and being super-active or messy in your strategizing, but you will still need to have allies to make sure you aren’t nominated and evicted as an easy target who nobody will care about. Basically, don’t play harder than you need to play, but sometimes you need to play. Not to mention that a surprising number of alliances formed in the early days last a very long time in the Big Brother house.
Over the years, we have seen several alliances born simply because people happened to be together at the same time. Sometimes this will lead to seemingly random groups becoming very tight because people were in the right place at the right time. But the key is to find some way to create alliances that will keep you around until you can figure out your full strategy later. As just one example, we saw James use this strategy in the first All-Stars, aligning himself with the very people who booted him in the previous season, but knowing full well he was going to abandon them as they abandoned him once the game got going and he could feel out the other players. Of course, later in the game you can rework alliances according to what is necessary to stick around, but early on you should make use of whatever relationships you can scrounge up. The one thing you definitely do not want to do is isolate yourself. That’s a sure way to get booted.
Sometimes you’re just minding your own business and somebody approaches you to be in an alliance. Maybe you don’t really want to align with them. What do you say? To steal a line from Ghostbusters, when someone asks you if you want to align, you say “YES”! Never ever ever say “no” or “I’ll think about it.” It’s better to lie and be on someone’s good side than immediately paint a target on yourself. If you hem and haw and worry about who to trust, you’ll just end up out of the game.
The most important attribute of an alliance is that the people in it won’t nominate you or vote for you to leave. The second most important attribute is that they will vote the same way as you will for somebody else to head out the door. Actually, let me clarify and emphasize something here: they shouldn’t nominate you, if they have a lick of sense. Anybody who has been watching the show should know by now that the “decoy” strategy all too often does not work out well for the decoy. For those unfamiliar with what I mean, it’s the idea that you want to get rid of a specific person and therefore the Head of Household (HOH) nominates that person and one other who they think is “safe.” However, it has failed far too many times, with the “safe” person being sent home in those cases. In short: Don’t do it! Also, don’t volunteer to be the decoy!
As mentioned above, the alliance based on an original grouping has been a starting point in almost every series. One thing to remember is that it isn’t necessarily the best idea to make alliances “to the end” with your first alliance because you can end up really hating some of the people you’ve made promises to. Instead, early alliances should be for the first few weeks, with the possibility for re-evaluation. Obviously, it can’t quite be worded that way, but don’t promise your first-born child in the first hour in the house!
Indeed, many of those who have been most successful are those who don’t necessarily align themselves strictly with one group, but use their vote to bounce back and forth as necessary. This strategy has worked for many past winners, going all the way back to Dr. Will and Jun. Even though these types of players would have been good targets, they managed to avoid being voted out and kept the other houseguests aiming at each other. Of course, that doesn’t always work, as we sometimes see in very highly-divided houses, when the person who tries to jump back and forth ends up being targeted by both sides for exactly that reason.
One thing players need to remember is to check in with your allies frequently to both ensure they’re good and also give them comfort. It’s all well and good to say, “We’re going to vote this way and we don’t need to talk about it anymore this week,” but the fact is that the Big Brother week is long and going days without speaking to an ally can seem like forever, making one or both of you think something is wrong. If you’re worried about getting caught, it doesn’t take much. Just reassure your ally that you’re still on the same page. Also make sure they act normal towards you because sometimes allies can flip and checking in gives you an opportunity to see how they react to you.
Part of plotting and scheming can also be making good use of sneakiness. We know there are spots in the Big Brother house where you can listen in on conversations without being seen. Just ask Cliff from last season about that, because it certainly impacted his game when his Cliff’s Notes were overheard! Players should make good use of these when possible to find out what other people are saying behind your back. Another good move is to have different allies talk to other groups, and then compare notes. But if everybody knows who you’re aligned with (see the second rule, below), that won’t work so well.
As I said earlier, the best schemer does not always win. While this is the most important rule, it is not the only one – and challenges and twists always have the possibility of messing things up. Following this rule will help you get to the end, but you’ve got to work for it.
Note that I have been talking about making alliances, not making friends. See Rule 5, below, for advice about friendships. Yes, I know, somebody from “The Friendship” alliance won in BB6, but this was an exception, not the rule. Even then, the “friendship” aspect wore thin as Ivette and April had issues near the end. And of course, even as the exception, it only worked for one member of the alliance. Someone might say that Dan brought “friend” Memphis to the finals in Season 10, but he knew what he was doing and set things up strategically as well, even to the point that Memphis wouldn’t say anything bad about Dan at the end!
Special Corollary to Rule 1: As much as players need to keep their scheming on the down low, they have a balancing act – they shouldn’t keep it so secret that the jury doesn’t really know they were playing the game and punishes them for that when it comes time to vote for the winner. This can be even more important in Big Brother than Survivor because the so-called jury questioning is cut so ridiculously short. That should not be the first time you reveal your masterful strategizing because people won’t believe it and they don’t have time to let it sink in for true consideration. I know it’s a different show, but Australian Survivor player Harry said it well when he was discussing the possibility that a fellow player could get to the final two and claim a lot: “but what is it really worth if nobody’s seen it?” Players need to find the balance – scheme and plot, not too much, but be sure by the time it comes to the jury that they will know you’ve been playing the game and not just coasting by.