As Cookout members get closer with their side hustle Houseguests on a personal level, it's getting harder to offer them up for nominations and evictions -- is The Cookout still the best strategy?
In what may prove the biggest week of the season on "Big Brother," the Houseguests were faced with the chance that two Vetoes could come into play. And then they discovered that it would be the coveted OTEV competition, and the stakes were even higher.
Always the season's most beloved competition, among viewers and contestants, this season's OTEV had a very Schwarzeneggerian vibe to it, with a musclebound jellyfish presiding over the proceedings.
Thanks to the High Rollers' twist introduced in Sunday's episode, four Houseguests had the opportunity to place their bets on who they thought would win this week's Veto competition. If the player they backed won, they'd get a second Veto.
For Head of Household Kyland, this couldn't be a more crucial moment, as both of his nominees were guaranteed to play, as well as himself. That left a lot of room for things to go awry in his plans -- such as they were at this point -- regarding who to have on the Block and who to try and get out.
Kyland drew Alyssa's name out of the bag, followed by Claire drawing Azah's name and Derek F getting Houseguest's Choice. He helped the former Jokers realize Phase 1 of their epic plan by picking Britini.
The Jokers plan was to have one of them win the Veto and another of them get the High Rollers' Veto. That way they would have the power, ultimately, to keep all three of them safe. Their devotion to this plan is indicative of how things continue to shift in the House.
The Cookout has dominated this game since Day 1 and they now have the numbers to make a run to the end, barring unforeseen HOH or POV wins from the wrong side of the House. At the same time, some of them are starting to question if this is their best strategy.
Honestly, they should be.
We've seen it so many times where people get complacent in a large alliance without really thinking about their placement within that alliance. It's all well and good to say you're down for a Final 6 with The Cookout, but if you're Azah ... well, we have a feeling you might be at the bottom of that Six.
Derek F, a huge threat for his social game, is also likely toward the bottom of the rankings within The Cookout. Tiffany has been running the show while Xavier has been doing the work of keeping it strong and together.
Kyland and Hannah probably make up the second tier, utilizing The Cookout for their benefit but not necessarily being beholden to it. Derek F and Azah, though, have been on the outside looking in much of the summer. It seems incredibly unlikely either would go much further once its down to just six.
Throw into the mix the comments we got between Tiffany and Kyland (after Tiffany's latest blowup with Azah) about the fact they care more about some of the people outside the alliance, and it grows even more complicated.
The Cookout is a statement, a movement of solidarity and support for Black players in this game. It's been powerful and impressive and has stood strong to that statement. But in any other season, where perhaps a statement like this wasn't needed, would these six work together? All things being equal, we'd argue not.
So at some point, it seems likely that they're going to start straining against what they feel are these walls of obligation. That strain appears to be growing day by day, not helped by Tiffany's brilliant plan to have each of them pair with a non-Cookout member as a duo.
That plan assured that the duos were more likely to be targeted together, meaning The Cookout could control the vote and eliminate the non-Cookout member. What she didn't anticipate was how real those duo relationships would be.
We saw that in full effect when the clear House target going into the week was Sarah Beth, but then Kyland won and there was no way he was going to target his duo partner. When he threw Claire under the bus -- admittedly she did say she was targeting Cookout members -- Tiffany went to work for her duo partner and successfully redirected Kyland.
When it became clear that Britini was a viable backdoor target, Azah went to work for her duo partner. Derek F wasn't given a duo partner, but that only allowed him to grow tighter with Britini and Azah as a trio. The former Jokers are probably the tightest trio in the House.
There may only be one OTEV each season, but this summer he came with double the Veto opportunities, making this a pivotal competition. Thanks to the High Rollers twist, Kyland, Derek F, Claire and Sarah Beth each had an opportunity to bet on who they thought would win.
Kyland decided to back Alyssa, because she was a potential backdoor target for him, so if she did win, he'd need that extra level of control. Derek F backed Britini to try and implement the Save Jokers plan. Now, all she had to do was win. Claire threw her support behind Kyland and Sarah Beth chose Azah.
As always, the competition was a brutal mix of luck, recall and upper body strength as they had to drag themselves up the ramp to present their answers to OTEV, with one Houseguest eliminated each round.
Once again, the fractures in the Cookout began to show as it became quickly clear in the second round (Derek F was out first) that Azah was throwing the competition to Britini. She wanted Britini to win because Derek F had bet on her, which was the only way Save Jokers could work.
Alas, Britini was knocked out in the very next round, followed quickly by Claire. That left Kyland and Alyssa for the final round, which meant that either way, Kyland would have a Veto by the end of the competition (as he'd bet on Alyssa).
When Alyssa promised to do whatever he wanted with it if she could win, Kyland decided to throw the competition. In the back of his mind was knowing that Claire had bet on him, so if he did win, he'd get a Veto, yes, but so would Claire.
Deviously, he didn't want Claire to have the opportunity to save herself. Instead, he wanted to save her so that he could try and build some trust between them. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite as good an actor as he thought, sluggishly going through the motions of looking for the right answer to give Alyssa time to win.
Alyssa seems convinced that she won that competition fair and square, but Claire saw right through Kyland's ruse. So even if he does use his Veto to save her, she's already seeing the layers of subterfuge behind the move. There are so many smart players in the game this season, it's hard to outplay them.
In what's becoming a new trend this season, we got another cliffhanger with the episode ending right before the Veto meeting. Kyland decided to give Britini the heads up that he was going to probably put her on the Block as a replacement nominee.
Facing her fourth nomination with no understanding of how or why -- and probably suspecting that this would make her the target this time -- Britini predictably broke down crying. And once again, the HOH was moved by that, considering changing his mind.
He'd had the idea floated to him that this was a perfect opportunity for him to backdoor Derek X the same way DX backdoored Christian last week, and it's true. Who knows how many clean opportunities will come.
But this was given the typical "BB" fakeout edit, so we're pretty confident that's not at all what happened. They just want to build suspense, but more than likely, Britini is going to go up as a replacement nominee for Claire and become the new target this week.
That would probably mean that one of the Vetoes wouldn't be used, but we could be wrong. Sometimes crazy things happen, but we think The Cookout is ready to eliminate Britini as a distraction to more tightly bring Azah and Derek F into the fold as the bottom tier of the alliance that they can just pick off later.
What would be really interesting to watch is if The Cookout members realize they've made their statement (every minority in the House is on Jury), but some of them would have a better chance of winning if they break apart before it's too late for them.
We're not sure if they'll be able to do it, but it's clear that some of them are already starting to think about it.
Xavier Prather and Hannah Chaddha (21) are playing the coolest games in the House, quietly keeping things moving ahead for The Cookout and seemingly keeping it together when it comes to those side hustles. Xavier's is already gone (Christian), while Hannah could decide to go rogue for Derek X at some point, but we could also see her sticking to the alliance. Grade: A+
Tiffany Mitchell (40) and Kyland Young (30) have the flexibility right now to lobby for their duo partners and keep them safe, but the wiggle room to do so is disappearing week by week. Will they be able to set aside their personal feelings when the time comes for Claire and/or Sarah Beth to go? Because that time could come as soon as next week. The real tests of The Cookout's loyalty is looming large. Grade: A
Azah Awasum (30) is toward the bottom of The Cookout, but for now that seems to be enough. There's still time for the alliance to either solidify themselves officially as an alliance moving forward -- rather than an understanding -- or break apart. They've held together this long, and they could well decide to make this statement to the end, whic would carry her far. Grade: B
Derek Frazier (29) is pretty much right there with Azah, but would be considered a much bigger threat when it comes to it. As he's not a physical threat in competitions, we suspect he'd get picked off as soon as it was just the Six (if the alliance lasts that long) because no one thinks they could beat him in the end. His social game is off the chart. Grade: B-
Derek Xiao (24) is the guy who's going to make a move if the cracks in The Cookout continue to grow. He's got a good working relationship with Kyland and the respect of much of the House. He's also a huge backdoor target and a huge competition threat, so his fate is about as uncertain as you can get in this game. Grade: C+
Claire Renfuss (25) doesn't even realize how much she owes Tiffany for talking Kyland out of taking her seriously as a threat. With The Cookout thinking Tiffany can have a tight rein on her duo partner, Claire is in a good spot for the time being. But she's still on the outside looking in, so it's just a matter of time -- much like everyone below. Grade: C
Alyssa Lopez (25) is not a threat to anyone, which should buy her a couple of weeks, but she's also not an ally to anyone. With The Cookout firmly in control, it's just a matter of time before she's sent packing. Grade: C-
Sarah Beth Steagall (28) is still the likely House target, just as soon as Kyland is out of power. He'll lobby hard to save her, like Tiffany did for Claire, but like Derek X, Sarah Beth is a real threat to figure out and expose The Cookout. She's a huge mental threat in the game, and in any other season she might have an incredible run. Grade: D+
Britini D'Angelo (24) isn't even on the Block, but we feel confident that Kyland has made the decision to put her there. The House made a compelling argument for Derek X, but Kyland is close with Derek X and he'd rather have him as an ally and a possible shield in the coming weeks (especially as he can see The Cookout cracking and can't play in HOH this week). That leaves poor Britini, who will likely get knocked out on her fourth round on the Block. At least Kyland was honest in that she's being targeted because no one knows where her head is at, other than team loyalty. Grade: C-
"I don't know how long I can keep this up. I have to make sure everyone knows I don't like you." --Derek F (to Kyland about playing the target)
"Hopefully you're not going to backdoor me or something crazy." --Derek F
"I can't backdoor you on the Block." --Kyland
"It doesn't matter." --Derek F
"Claire's the target. Are you familiar with Claire's targets?" --Kyland (to Tiffany)
"Tell me what she told you." --Tiffany
"She told me Big D, X, Azah." --Kyland
"I feel like because they are so focused on her, they're not fully with us because they're partially with her. And going forward it's going to be a bigger problem." --Tiffany (to Kyland about Jokers Derek F and Azah with Britini)
"Man, no one has faith in me or you." --Derek F (to Claire after no one bet on them for Veto comp)
"You've never seen a jellyfish as jacked as me ... check out my muscles, dammit!" --Otev
"I am over being bothered by Azah's overprotection of Britini, who is not even in the Six. Azah's obviously throwing the comp. It doesn't surprise me at all." --Tiffany (after being overprotective of Claire)
"I would rather have it. I'll do whatever you want me to do with it." --Alyssa (before final round of Veto comp)
"If Alyssa wins, I get a Veto because I bet on her. But if I win, Claire gets a Veto because she bet on me. I don't want Claire taking herself off the Block. I want to actually save her so hopefully that can build more trust between her and I. So I decide that I'm going to throw this competition to Alyssa." --Kyland
"Kyland is moving so slowly. I know what Kyland is doing and it's throwing this competition. I know Kyland is out of his donkey suit, but he is looking like a real jackass right now." --Claire
"I won something!" --Alyssa (after winning Veto)
"I know Derek X is your boy, you're cool and all, so I get that. It's just one of those things where I just get scared that if he's still here, next week he has an opportunity to win HOH and he's somebody who I feel like could figure out, you know, everything." --Derek F
"There are plenty of strategic reasons to go after Derek X this week. He's a great competitor and strategist, just incredibly intelligent and could potentially see the alignment of the Six. And right now, he is completely vulnerable to a backdoor. He's also my friend and someone that I do trust. But I still have to make sure that I'm not letting my emotions cloud my strategic judgment." --Kyland
"You're gonna go back on that deal now?" --Britini (to Kyland after learning she's going to be a replacement nominee)
"My strategy for the game is to remove any variable that's unpredictable." --Kyland
"So you're calling me an unpredictable variable in this game?" --Britini
"I couldn't have been more honest with you, Ky." --Britini
"How does somebody know that in this game?" --Kyland