While I was extremely late to the Big Brother party—my formal induction to the show was during Derrick Levasseur’s complete annihilation of his opponents during Season 16 in 2014—I quickly became obsessed with the quirky reality show in which contestants catch the wrath of hell from an insult-slinging robot and compete for the right to unceremoniously kick each other out the house. However, in the subsequent seasons (excluding the celebrity spinoffs) that followed, I found myself fascinated by how the interpersonal dynamics within the house mirrored our own lives, and how much they factored into who was eventually named each season’s winner.
And there’s always been one constant: The winner has never been Black.
Since Big Brother’s propitious debut back on July 5, 2000, there have been 22 seasons, 22 winners, aaaaaaaaaand almost all of them are white men—with the exception of a few (as in more than two but less than four) speckles of brown or yellow. The rest are white women. Considering this is American television we’re talking about, this shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise but that’s the point: This show is a direct reflection of the discriminatory world that surrounds it.
Each season, Black contestants are swiftly picked off because they’re grossly outnumbered and, in turn, subsequently commit the unpardonable sin of being unable to relate to their fellow houseguests—who are almost always at least 90 percent white. Da’Vonne Rogers, who competed on seasons 17, 18, and 22, is the poster child of this dehumanizing tradition, as she’s literally agonized on camera about being perceived as an angry Black woman. She also created controversy last summer during Big Brother All-Stars when she expressed her refusal to vote out David Alexander—another Black player—solely because of his race. And when she was inevitably eliminated from the competition—after being on the receiving end of some racially charged, bullshit comments in which houseguest Christmas Abbott said she was “scared” because Rogers and another Black contestant, Bayleigh Dayton, would “shoot” her—Rogers dropped the mic with a rousing speech. In it, she shouted out the myriad Black contestants who have competed throughout the course of Big Brother’s history and pointed out how it’s virtually impossible for a Black person to ever emerge as the victor.
“I have a desire to join that list of women and be the first African-American to ever win this game,” she said. “Twenty-one seasons of winners and not one of those faces look like mine. So when I walked through those doors, I had that desire, that determination, to be the very first face to give hope to those behind me who have the desire to come in here and play this game. Because not seeing a face that looks like mine is very discouraging, it’s hurtful, and it does make me feel like maybe it’s impossible.”
Aside from setting social media on fire, Rogers’ words—as well as the momentary racial reckoning America underwent after the officer-related murder of George Floyd—likely caused execs at CBS to take a long, hard look at their creation and admit that contestants of color—especially Black ones—were at a significant disadvantage every time they agreed to compete on the show. As such, CBS announced in November that moving forward, Big Brother would adhere to a strict mandate in which half of its cast would consist of people of color. When I heard this news, my eyes bulged out of my skull and I literally said out loud, “Oh shit. We’re gonna have a Black winner.” And now, with Big Brother’s 23rd season set to conclude on Sept. 29, we’re on the brink of television history.
When Season 23 premiered July 7, one of the things that immediately jumped out to me was how different the dynamic of the house was. Gone were the insufferable dudebros (at least in abundance) and ditzy, white eye candy of the past. Each contestant was locked in and there to play, but more importantly there were Black people! As in plural! As in more than one! In the house at the same time! OMG! Thank you, Based God!
Unfortunately, one of them, Kyland Young, was one of the first people to be nominated to leave the house. Thankfully, due to some clever maneuvering, his exile never came to pass. But in realizing that the odds will always be stacked against them, by Episode 3, all six Black houseguests—the compassionate Azah Awasum; the crafty Xavier Prather; the bumbling Derek “Big D” Frazier; the brilliant Hannah Chaddha; the cunning Tiffany Mitchell; and the aforementioned Young—formed an alliance “for the culture” called the Cookout. They then came up with the ingenious idea to each befriend someone outside of their alliance—most of whom were white—to use them as a “shield” moving forward in order to conceal their secret allegiance.
What’s resulted is the most successful alliance in the history of the show, a beautiful amalgamation of Black pride, ingenuity, unparalleled strategy, and long overdue comeuppance. It’s been extremely satisfying to watch my people—as in plural—compete on an even playing field for once and absolutely kill it—like we always do when we have the same manpower and resources. It’s also been hilarious to watch Larry Elder Twitter meltdown over what they’ve deemed “reverse racism”—as if white people don’t make it their mission in life to deliberately malign or murder us on a daily basis. Or at the very least, protect and preserve their own interests at the expense of everyone else’s progress.
“I think it’s hard for some people who are not of color to understand the importance of the Cookout making it this far,” host Julie Chen Moonves told Entertainment Weekly. “I have heard some call the formation of the Cookout a form of racism. In my humble opinion, it is not. As a fan of the show, it’s impressive to see an alliance this big make it this far. That rarely happens.”
It’s also been really dope to see white contestants that the Cookout eliminated understand the historic importance of what it is that they’re doing and come to their defense on social media.
“Thanks to everyone supporting me on Twitter,” houseguest Christian Birkenberger tweeted. “I want to say real quick to the people who claim I was evicted by The Cookout because they are racists that these remarks need to stop. You can have your own opinions but regardless of what you say I don’t agree.”
Fuck their feelings.
After 23 seasons, Big Brother will finally—finally!—have a Black winner. And. not because they hate white people or were even specifically targeting them—people conveniently forget the other people of color they made kick rocks, too—but because they finally—finally!—had an equal playing field and made it a point to protect each other above all else. Kinda like what white folks have done for how many centuries now?