Four Kickoff Comps created four team captains, who then drafted their teams of four, who competed to see which Captain would be the first Head of Household -- or would they take Julie Chen's tempting offer, instead?
As promised, CBS delivered on its vow to diversify the cast in ethnicity ... but they're still not quite there when it comes to age diversity. While we applaud a season without just a few token representatives from minority groups, we also were hoping to see more than two people older than 30.
While the mega-alliance again ruined the potential of last season's "All-Star" run, the life experiences of some of the older contestants added far more interesting layers and dynamics to the interpersonal relationships in the house.
That said, though, we are grateful for the different lifestyles represented by the diversity of having people like half-Black/half-Mexican Kyland and half-South African/half-Indian Hannah.
Azah, a first generation woman with heritage from Cameroon who has more than 2,000 cousins because her grandfather had 27 wives offers such a different life perspective than yet another white person with a pretty smile who likes the beach.
This season's crop of contestants are going to be facing a summer of gambles and risks, with big rewards on the line for any willing to risk it. Julie Chen probably wasn't thrilled that most of the people she asked were not gamblers, risk-takers, thrill-seekers. She may hear a lot of "no" this season.
But she definitely got a euphoric response when she revealed that the top prize had risen (after 21 years) from $500,000 to $750,000. Still not a million dollars for the longest reality competition on television, but at least it went up a bit.
According to inflation estimates, $500,000 in 2000 (when "BB" started) is worth around $780,000 in today's money ... so we'll just consider this almost a cost-of-living adjustment. And a nice chunk of change for the eventual winner.
Each episode, we'll break down the night's action, the competitions, the alliances, the backstabbing and the lies. Then we'll grade each contestant to see how they're doing in the game so far and how far we think they're going to go.
This 90-minute premiere was packed from the top, with the contestants each entering the house in groups of four, only to immediately compete in their first competition. The four winners of these four competitions are the four candidates for Head of Household.
Since these competitions were the way we were introduced to the players, we can offer up some first impressions here, though with a cast of 16, we'd be lying if we said there weren't plenty of Houseguests who've left absolutely zero impressions on us, so far.
Derek F is the son of boxing legend Joe Frazer, but if he keeps that to himself, no one would know. He is a proudly big, black gay man ready to use his humor and charm to carry him deep into this game. He's definitely an early standout for personality, which is key in the first days and weeks in the house.
Frenchie came in the older, farmer stereotype we've seen so many times on this show. But he's also a fierce competitor and more of a thinking man than the rest of the house might expect. Especially as he diligently put together a win here (barely beating Derek).
Travis tried to set himself up as the Travis Crispen of this season (surfer dude with brilliant strategy behind it, but he's not shown much so far), while Xavier impressed with his passion in his pre-taped package, and then disappeared entirely.
We've already told you a bit about Azah, who is poised to be a strong physical competitor. We worry, though, that she admitted to being a bit boy crazy, because we've seen too many strong women fall to the showmance.
Britini came in like a tidal wave of rambunctious energy and won our hearts right away. She is brash and loud and excited and so present, which is what the house will see. Her brilliance (valedictorian) and athletic prowess (karate world champion) might fly under that radar, which could be very good for her.
Alyssa is a swimsuit designer, but didn't really do much to stand out in this premiere, while Whitney proved herself a hard worker in pulling out the competition victory and showed some fun personality throughout the night. A potential leader, we could see her forming something.
Interestingly, no one from this group really managed to stand out in a major way. We were impressed personally with Kyland's non-profit work with kids and horse ranches, but international flight attendant Brent's charm didn't work on us at all.
Christian's doofy personality had better be hiding a little more depth, or his victory in this competition isn't going to mean much, while Derek X was just about as invisible as Xavier.
Sarah Beth is clearly going to be this season's meek, nerdy girl persona. They tend to fall into floater category, so we're hoping there's more devious strategy in there than we're seeing right now. Tiffany has gusto and passion for days, but we haven't really seen it yet.
Hannah is flying under the radar, but we suspect her sly intelligence could help her along, which is the same way we feel about Claire. She's a big brain, too, as well as a potential physical threat on the women's side. If she can pull off a woman's alliance, as she wants, it could be quite potent. If it fails, she could be targeted very early.
To make it even more confusing for those of us keeping track at home, "Big Brother" immediately scrapped the gender divided teams we'd just watched compete to set up an interesting draft situation to create the Teams that will be competing this season -- or at least until producers tire of it.
This is a clear and obvious attempt to thwart those mega-alliances that have been forming and dominating in recent seasons ("All-Stars" included). If they can keep two teams from secretly aligning, it just might work. You can be they'll be trying their hardest.
The winners of the Kickoff Comps are now Team Captains, so they got to pick their teams and then proceed to compete as Teams to see which Captain would become the first HOH (and secure safety for their entire team).
Rather than just a cruel schoolyard pick, they opted for having the Captains select from just two contestants, offering up short videos with snippets from each to help them decide. In keeping with the theme of gambling, each team was given a name from playing card royalty.
While it's not quite as telling as schoolyard, we did notice that Derek F was not chosen three times before he finally beat Travis, and the would-be Tyler (he didn't say it, but we see it!) was actually never chosen for a team, winding up on the Queens by default.
Our theory that Sarah Beth's meek persona would have people overlooking her proved true, too, as she was the only other person not selected for a team, landing with the Kings by default, as well.
With the teams in place, the challenge was for the Team Captain to build a house of cards (from pre-assembled partial blocks) on a platform being suspended by three ropes held by their team. Right away, we could see that some teams were better at this than others.
Christian made a mad rush for the platform, but his team couldn't keep the structure upright. This allowed Frenchie to make it two-for-two as he carried the Jokers to a fairly easy victory. The Kings wound up in last, earning the first Have-Not honors of the season.
As an added bonus, Julie tried to tempt the season's first HOH, Frenchie, by offering him a chance to toss giant dice onto a platform for a shot at two weeks of immunity for his team. But if he fails, he loses HOH and they become vulnerable, putting the Queens in the top spot.
As predicted, Frenchie had no interest in risking the biscuit for such small stakes -- these payoffs are going to have to be way bigger than that, Julie! But she made him throw anyway, just for fun, and we saw that he would have won that. And just like that, the oldest guy in the house is a three-time (sort of) comp beast!
Truthfully, it's just too soon to get into this. These Houseguests haven't even interacted with one another socially yet, so it's just about those personalities that managed to emerge strong in pre-taped packages and throughout the competitions.
We do have some early favorites, though, with the entire Jokers team really having a standout premiere episode (aside from their competition win), along with Claire, Whitney and Kyland. As for everyone else, our jury (pun intended) is still out.
But we should be ready to pass judgment in full by Sunday, after they settle in. As it stands, the Jokers are not only in power, but they're some of the biggest personalities in the house, so they have a chance this week to shape this early game the way they see fit.