The social game show Big Brother shows how different social formations form and retain power.
(for context if someone reads in the future : this post was written during Big Brother Canada 7, Cory’s HOH week, the first eviction of Jury)
The current season of Big Brother, Big Brother Canada 7, has been dominated by a single alliance, The Pretty Boys, made up of four bros. Pretty Boy Adam said in his entrance interviews that he had the plan ahead of time: make a four-bro alliance, where every member has a side-piece duo alliance. Adam didn’t come up with this idea himself though, it was the strategy of the alliance that dominated Season 12 of American Big Brother, the Brigade.
These aren’t the only two examples of this strategy working. However, it’s a tough alliance to pull off. In this post, I’ll explore why the four-bro alliance strategy is strong, why they have a tendency to form, what issues they face, and how Big Brother houseguests, and Big Brother producers, could effect this style of alliance.
This four-person alliance style isn’t always attempted, and yet, with Big Brother Canada 7, fans are already calling this strategy out as boring. This is because, even though it doesn’t always work, it worked really well in Big Brother 12, and kind of reformatted how Big Brother was played. Before that, secret alliances were less common, and usually only took the form of a secret duo. A lot of alliances that followed Big Brother 12, whether explicitly planned or not, had a lot of characteristics of the Brigade.
Also, to clarify my use of “bro”, I’m using it more loosely than normal usage. Big Brother almost always casts 3-5 guys who fit the “bro” casting type quite well. And these types don’t always make it into bro alliances: in season 12, Brendon, the biggest jock-bro of the season, wasn’t in the Brigade, but Matt was, although he was cast to be the sneaky, manipulative geek. It’s a loose archetype more than anything.
The character of the four-bro alliance
Big Brother 12 and Big Brother Canada 7 are, by far, the best examples of the four-bro alliance. However, similar alliances have existed.
But first, why does this alliance work? In the most basic sense, it works on numbers. It’s a hidden alliance of four people, supplemented by side-alliances that don’t know of the hidden alliance. That means it’s an alliance of four people, but half the house is working to preserve it.
Since the side-alliances are oblivious to the hidden core alliance, it’s easy to convince the side-alliances that their self-interests are the same as the group’s self-interest. The side-alliances don’t realize they’re being manipulated, because they don’t know about the core alliance.
This style of alliance aligns an outside individual’s interest with the dominant group’s interest. Once it’s no longer useful for the outside individual to go with the bro-alliance, it’s too late. The dominant group already controls the vote by themselves at that point.
There have been variations of this strategy attempted since BB12.
In BB11, something similar almost happened. The house was split into “cliques” of three. The athlete clique won an early challenge, allowing Jesse, a meathead from BB10, to enter the house and join their clique. This made the Athletes into a pseudo, unplanned, proto-Brigade (except there were three guys and one girl). Due to Jeff’s showmance, he left the alliance, and it turned into a Jeff’s outcast alliance vs. the athletes and some tag-alongs.
Another example was BB15. In that season, Nick formed a four-man alliance called the Moving Company. Then, McCrae won HOH, and that alliance wanted leverage the first week, so they asked McCrae to join, making it a five-person alliance.
But the Moving Company failed, for a couple reasons. Some of the alliance members, especially Jeremy, irritated the shit out of people. Also, the alliance got sniffed out by others quickly, resulting in three of the five members leaving before the jury phase. The two who managed to get to jury hitched a ride on their side-alliances.
In BB16, there was nearly a Brigade-style alliance called the Bomb Squad that was hilariously subverted. The alliance was started by Frankie and Caleb who won the first co-HOH (a twist that season). They wanted it to be a four-person alliance, so they brought in Devin and Derrick. They, for some reason, thought they needed more people, so they brought in Cody and Zach. And then, for an unknown reason, Devin invited Christine and Amber into the alliance.
Devin blew up the alliance by functionally making it a full-house alliance. This resulted in Devin going against the alliance interest (because a group that large will have conflicted interest), and being evicted early. This resulted in a “new” alliance, that was also similar to the Brigade. This was mostly Derrick, Cody, Frankie, and Caleb (although there were other members too, and Caleb didn’t even know the alliance existed, making it different enough).
BB19 started with a three bro alliance: Cody, Mark, and Matt. These three had showmances as their side alliances. Then, the fourth bro of the season, Paul from BB18, came back. Paul made a lot of allies who weren’t in the bro alliance. Cody won HOH, and attempted to backdoor Paul, but due to production’s protection, Paul was safe for three weeks. Because of this, Cody had to nominate a total of four people in the first HoH. This caused a sway in power where Mark and Matt defected to Paul, and Paul gunned for Cody. This demonstrates the rule that if bros aren’t working against each other, they’re working together.
BB20 is also a unique case. Tyler was orchestrating the game, but he didn’t want that style of alliance. The four bros of the season were Tyler, Brett, Winston, and Swaggy. Thanks to Tyler, who aligned with Brett and Winston, Swaggy. The three bros aligned with Kaycee, Angela, and Rachel, to make Level 6. Level 6 was different, but ended up being a pseudo-Brigade in the jury phase. Winston was evicted after Swaggy, and Rachel was evicted two weeks later. This made Level 6 into a mixed-gender Brigade, although it was never planned that way.
Some seasons without this alliance include: BB13, because the game featured three returning duos, throwing off the conventional Big Brother social dynamic. BB14 and BB18 didn’t really have this alliance either, both because they featured four returning players. BB17 is unique because, even though there was no bro-alliance really, there were also no returning players. This was mostly because BB17 was well-cast, and featured a wide array of personality types. Also, the season was dominated by women, especially Vanessa, who wouldn’t allow an alliance like that to thrive.
Why four-bro alliances have a tendency to form
As mentioned earlier, the tendency is that bros either work together, or against each other. So, the Bro-alliance is not a matter of exactly four bros, but rather, bros tend to work together, and four is the optimal amount.
If you enter Big Brother as a muscular jock, you’re vulnerable from the start, due to athletic perception. This leads to bros scrambling together an alliance quickly. But, when women propose “all-girl alliances”, they don’t work. A big reason for this is women in Big Brother tend to want to form organic social alliances rather than force them. The four-bro alliance is forced and inorganic.
There are, however, a lot of reasons these alliances fail. As mentioned earlier, probably the biggest reason these alliances fail is how inorganic they are. Since the alliance is thrown together, it’s possible that outside alliances become more valued. If everyone forms a side-alliance, and the side-alliance is more useful, this can break the main alliance up.
Also, the bigger an alliance gets, the more likely it breaks. That’s why before BB12, secret alliances were mostly duos, and it’s also why groups like the Brigade fail when they have five, six, seven members. The more people in this tumultuous arrangement, the more likely it will fail, especially since early alliances, in general, often fail.
Sometimes, the alliance doesn’t work because of beginning-of-game twists. BB13, BB14, and BB18 all featured returning houseguests. The four returners in BB14 and BB18 formed alliances at the beginning, but neither lasted long at all. In BB14, Dan was completely in control, and realized it was better to go after other vets. In BB18, the four returners formed an alliance, then immediately turned against each other. The veteran twist breaks up bro-alliances because the returnees form a de facto alliance, making less room for a four-person alliance to flourish.
How Big Brother houseguests can stop four-bro alliances
The easiest way to stop this alliance as a houseguest is target any bros, especially ones that aren’t targeting other bros. However, the structure of the bro-alliance makes it hard to even notice when bros are, or aren’t, working together.
Also, bro alliance’s power increase over time. If the alliance is still intact by around jury, they control the vote. They’re ideally a voting block of eight people. That’s why, during Cory’s HOH in BBCan7, the Pretty Boys were okay with one of them going up, because they knew Sam would be backdoored, and even if she wasn’t the Pretty Boys controlled enough votes to guarantee Dane would stay.
So, to beat an alliance like this, houseguests must work fast. They’d have to mobilize the casuals and floaters against the four-bro alliance within the first few weeks. And before they could do any of that, they’d have to identify the alliance to begin with.
I will use the party game Mafia to illustrate alliances. Mafia works like this: A large group of people play, and several are “Mafia”. The Mafia anonymously chooses someone to die every night (the first cycle of a game turn). In the second cycle of a turn, everyone “wakes up” to learn who the Mafia killed. Then townspeople chooses who to kill for the crime, and the narrator announces if they were actually a member of the Mafia. The game repeats until one side has the majority.
In Mafia, the Mafia knows who the other Mafia members are, but no one else knows. This means, the easiest way to determine who is Mafia (ie, who has a secret alliance) is based on who they accuse of being Mafia.
For example, let’s imagine a game of Mafia. Within that group, four people begin making accusations. Person A accuses Person B of being Mafia. Person C says they’re suspicious of Person A, for throwing a name out there. Person D hears all of this, then comes to the conclusion Person C and D are mafia, since D defended C against accusations.
From an outside perspective, we don’t know which group is Mafia. However, you could safely discern that both groups are working together, and they’re both in opposition. They’re both throwing out other people’s names to protect their group. This is why, if you’re playing Mafia, it’s much easier to sniff them out at the beginning of the game than the end, when there’s one Mafia member left, where it becomes much harder to identify them.
If people took this strategy in BBCan7, they’d be able to realize that Adam, Anthony, and Dane (and, to a lesser extent Mark) are all protecting each other. During Sam’s alliance, whenever Sam brought up one of the Pretty Boys to nominate, Adam would suggest someone else.
This isn’t always true, but as a rule of thumb, the person who is being mentioned the least as a nominee is the most dangerous because they’re the most protected. For example, no one, except maybe Sam (who Cory evicted, on Anthony’s behalf), is throwing out Anthony’s name, and he’s certainly the most socially insulated, with the most social capital. You learn about who is working together, because of the names they don’t put out there.
How producers can prevent four-bro alliances
Finally, there’s the question of how production could stop this type of alliance. This is a sticky subject because most Big Brother fans don’t like boring, predictable, one-sided seasons. However, fans dislike when Production blatantly manipulates the flow of the game through twists more.
One suggestion I see online a lot is “cast more strong women”. I don’t think that’s a solution though, because Big Brother already casts strong women. In BBCan7, the first women evictees all seemed like strong women, who were simply disadvantaged in the game, made the wrong allies, were victims of luck, etc. There’s a lot of reasons people get evicted, and almost always, it’s not because they’re a “weak woman”. If anything, it’s better to get strong women out first.
I would say a bigger solution, if you’re going down the casting route, is to cast less bros! Like, Big Brother Canada’s casting is good, and less based on archetypes than the American version, but they still cast a lot of 20-something, athletic, competitive bro types. We don’t need so many people within that demographic, let alone any single demographic. Cast more 30, 40, and 50 year-olds. Cast people who are competitive, but in non-conventional, non-challenge-based ways.
Another option to break up alliances like this could be production twists. But that’s controversial because it’s usually sucks if someone gets kicked off Big Brother solely because of a twist, even if they’re disliked.
The most nakedly manipulative twists are the ones where America (or Canada) votes for who receives a power. On face value, those twists are free from production manipulation, because we choose. However, if you’ve watched Big Brother for long enough, it becomes clear these twists are some of the most manipulative. When the public votes, the producers give their preferred players a stronger, more sympathetic edit, and it often works in swaying the public’s vote.
If the producers really wanted, they could make twists that effect one thing in the game, that then effects others, which then would effect the game they want it. That way, they aren’t directly manipulating the game, but using rules that effect everyone equally, and can be strategized around. Twists should function as a wrench that people have to socially work around, rather than simply manipulating the game.
Let me use Big Brother Canada’s Blood Veto twist as an example. Here’s how it worked on the show:
After Sam became HoH, every other houseguest was locked in a room. The houseguests had to unanimously choose someone to win the veto. Kyra ended up winning, because they said “I respect Sam’s HoH, so I will take it and not use.” Kiki, knowing she was likely going to be put on the block, should have fought for it, but didn’t. No one else wanted to dig their feet in and fight for it, so they gave it to Kyra.
Then, after the house voted, it was revealed that the Blood Veto granted the holder the ability to flip the vote, functionally giving Kyra the only vote to evict. The vote was 5-1 to evict Kiki against Mark (a Pretty Boy), and Kyra chose not to use the Blood Veto.
Now, let’s reimagine the Blood Veto, and how it could be used. How could the Blood Veto twist to achieve these goals? (A) either get a Pretty Boy evicted, or weaken the Pretty Boys, (B) is actually entertaining to watch (there are way too many bad twists), and (C) doesn’t nakedly manipulate the game as a production overreach.
Some reasons that twists are criticized include: the twist isn’t used; the twist is used, but has an undesirable effect; the twist is blatant production manipulation; a twist could be good if the houseguests had the opportunity to work around it; and, in general, a lot of twists are dumb and aren’t entertaining.
Let’s reimagine a better way for the Blood Veto to work. (I can’t take credit for my re-imagination, my girlfriend mentioned it, but it’s a great idea, so I’m stealing it :p )
Here’s the idea: The eviction ceremony starts. Before any vote occurs, it’s announced how the Blood Veto works (as opposed to after). Kyra is forced to Veto someone, it’s not something they can choose not to use.
Since they all unanimously chose who received the power, the power should function more like a twist on the whole house, rather than a specific power given to one person. Kyra didn’t win anything, the house made a decision collectively. That’s why I like the idea of being forced to use the veto.
If Kyra had to veto someone, I think she would veto Kiki, because Kyra wants Dane to go, and Kiki threw Dane under the bus in her eviction speech. Although, it’s hard to say because Kyra was campaigning for Kiki to leave. For the sake of this illustration, let’s say she vetoes Kiki though.
From here, we can imagine three variations of this twist. One option is Sam, the HoH, chooses the renomination, like a normal veto. The other option is Kyra, the holder of the Blood Veto, chooses the renomination. The final option is that whoever Kyra vetos (Kiki) has to nominate the replacement.
If Sam chose the replacement, there was a good chance she nominated Cory, because, as we know, that was discussed. However, if Sam was put on the spot, with no pressure from Adam, Sam could have nominated a Pretty Boy.
If Kyra chose the replacement, they are less burdened by their relationship with Adam than Sam is, and especially after Kiki’s speech, throwing Dane under the bus, Kyra probably would have put up Dane.
If Kiki chose the replacement, after that speech, she probably couldn’t not put up Dane, even though it would be a betrayal of her “alliance”. It would look terrible if she didn’t replace herself with Dane after that speech.
I think the best option is allowing Kyra to pick the replacement. If Sam did it, she would be making another enemy, which would make her HoH more detrimental, and therefore unfair. If Kiki chose the replacement, it would be too blatant in manipulating the direction of the house, and it would give Kiki power for being bad at the game.
Another way I’d change the twist is release more information about it. Production then tells the houseguests that the veto will be forced, it must be used, but doesn’t tell them the full extent of the details, as they told Kyra. This gives them the opportunity to play with the Blood Veto, rather than knowing that an unknown effect will happen, but not knowing how or what it will do it, and how to strategize against it.
Considering all that, this idea for the Blood Veto does a few things: it makes it easier to get out a Pretty Boy; it makes the twist less of a personal power and more an effect on the house; it makes for better tv, because more things actually happen (as opposed to nothing); and, in my opinion, still manages to be fair.
Ultimately, the proliferation of this style of alliance is a natural evolution in how Big Brother works. If you watch the gameplay in Big Brother 2, it feels like a completely different game. In fact, even watch Big Brother 10 and see how it’s different.
Big Brother 12 changed a lot. It not only made the Brigade style alliance popular, but it changed how alliances conventionally work. Before, close alliances were usually smaller, and bigger alliances were usually more fluid and ambivalent. This has transformed Big Brother into having more sports-style, unfettering, monolithic alliances.
However, there’s been another shift in Big Brother that may be, at least in some part, a reaction to this shift in alliance style: bitter juries.
After BB18, the game has been dominated by bitter juries. Even some people claim BB18 had a bitter jury, but I don’t really agree. People say BBCan6 was arguably determined by a bitter jury (although this is contested, and I haven’t watched it). BB:OTT was arguably won by a bitter jury (that season’s jury was America though…). BB19 and BB20, and Celeb Big Brother 1 were certainly chosen by bitter jurors.
Before all of these examples, the only real example of a bitter jury was BB3, when Danielle Reyes lost. This was seen by producers as an error, which is why they started a segregated jury, so they couldn’t see diary rooms before they vote.
I only bring this up to show that the bro alliance strategy may be a development in the game, but there are strategies to counter it, and those strategies might become more popular over time, especially if this style of alliance remains dominant. Maybe the bitter jury is a reflection, on some level, for the contemporary style of secret super alliances. And maybe, a more fulfilling counter-strategy will develop in its place.