Part 1 of the final HOH comp plays out with the winner going straight to Part 3, live on Wednesday's finale -- see who gets a leg up on the competition.
By the end of tonight's "Big Brother," one Houseguest was out of the running for the final Head of Household competition, but not necessarily out of the running for the $750,000 grand prize, to be awarded on Wednesday's live finale.
The final HOH takes place in three parts, and it was the first part we got to see play out on Sunday's show. The winner of Part 1 automatically advances to Part 3. The other two battle it out in Part 2 with that winner proceeding to Part 3 for the final showdown.
Part 1 was a tough challenge for the Houseguests, one based almost entirely on strength of will and overall body endurance. Each of them employed very different strategies that were effective and perfect for them.
Tasked with hanging onto a cylindrical "boat" for as long as they could as it rocked and rolled, endured bombardments of blowup sea animals and blasts of cold water, there was no one right way to go about it.
Azah almost immediately lay flat on the "boat" and wrapped her long arms and legs as far as she could around the object. And then she just didn't move, gripping as tight as she could while it rocked and tipped around. Her slight weight helped minimize how much she shifted around.
Derek F also lay down, but he was shifting his weight constantly trying to keep himself atop the cylinder as it shifted underneath him. It was certainly a more active approach, but both of them require concentration and strength.
Xavier opted to sit upright on the "boat," but otherwise kept a similar startegy to Big D, shifting and rotating his body weight with the movements of the cylinder beneath him. And for a while, all three strategies proved quite effective.
When things started moving faster, Big D just wasn't in a position to adjust fast enough, needing to move his whole body, and so he came tumbling down first. Azah looked rock solid, except that she was sliding off to her right ever so slowly. Eventually, that could be disastrous.
Had she just rolled with it and hung on as long as she could, she might have taken that one. X was struggling by this point. Alas, she tried to re-center herself, and as soon as she moved, the "boat" tipped to the right and threw her right off.
Now, it all comes down to Part 2 to see if Derek F or Azah keeps their hopes of controlling the end of this game alive. Honestly, Azah needs this win way more than Big Di, because he's actually in the best position of all three of them. While Azah has to hope she can beat Xavier to secure a spot in the end, Big D is likely to get there whether he wins or not.
He solidified a Final 2 with X on Day 1 and the two seem determined to make it all the way tot he end. X has lately been more open about that alliance, as has Big D, so he has to consider it public knowledge in the Jury now.
Thus, X probably needs to honor that Final 2 deal, even if he thinks Big D might be harder to beat, as a matter of Jury management. Kyland is going to be bitter at his betrayal, so X needs to show he was actually just being loyal to someone else, rather than betraying everyone.
Azah, on the other hand, is BFF's with Big D and would likely take him over X for two reasons, the first being their friendship. The second is the fact that she knows she has almost no case against X with a Jury that has watched their games play out. At least against Big D, they had similar games.
The real wild card is Big D himself. If he wins the final HOH, the odds are that he would honor his Final 2 deal with Xavier, but he'd have a stronger chance of winning if he stuck with Azah. And honestly, with reasons to carry them both forward, it's a toss-up as to what he might do. He honored friendship over a Final 2 with Kyland already.
Derek F did not play a competitive game of "Big Brother." He has one more chance to secure a single competition win if he can take Part 2 (then a second if he can win Part 3). Otherwise, it'll be a big, fat goose egg for the whole season. Could he actually win the show despite all of that?
He certainly thinks so, arguing that he used his charm and personality to build real relationships, setting up an epic run of what he considers "the perfect social game." It's hard to argue the point, as he appears genuinely beloved by every Houseguests.
And aside from saltiness after each competition loss, which was only temporary, he was generally the life of the party even when there wasn't a party. He was funny, witty and totally unpredictable as to what he might say or do at any given time.
He also intentionally sealed up Final 2 deals with strong competitors in the House, including Frenchie, Xavier and Kyland. Then, it was Big D who came up with the idea of aligning the six Black players to never vote one another out to ensure that a POC would finally win this show.
His strength in relationships meant he was in good with every Head of Household, so he didn't really need to win. And he hit the Block strategically to help them out when they wanted to ensure the other person went home. He protected Azah this way at least once and proved his faith in his own social game was well-earned.
Big D struggled and almost walked away from The Cookout, but he was able to rein it in, keep it together and put on his game face with Tiffany and anyone else who was getting on his "damn nerves!" An emotional player, he nevertheless always held it together enough to stick to the mission and get the job done.
Honestly, Big D has a compelling case to win if he gets there, because he was more active in the House than most people give him credit for. The problem that we see is he's not always great at explaining himself, and if he can't really sell this case, he could be in trouble.
His odds of winning are far stronger against Azah than Xavier, regardless of how well he does at laying out his game for the Jury.
On paper, Xavier's case is the most obvious, and the easiest to argue. He's won multiple competitions throughout the game and took control of it once it came down to the Final 6, orchestrating the eliminations of Tiffany, Hannah and Kyland almost single-handedly.
Earlier in the season, he took on more of a puppet-master role, quietly manipulating conversations to keep targets off of Cookout members, keeping his allies strong and by his side. And he managed to do it without really making any enemies.
He strategically kept both his physical strength and mental prowess hidden by lying about his past as a college athlete and present as a lawyer, and intentionally throwing competitions all summer long to further The Cookout and keep the target from growing too big on his back.
Amazingly, many people in the House saw him for the threat he was, but he was protected. We could argue that he'd have gone home much earlier without The Cookout protecting him, as it protected big threats as well as those flying much lower under the radar.
Xavier is playing this game with the drive and motivation to take care of his brother's son -- his brother died shortly before he came into the House -- so he's got a drive that's absolutely crazy, as well as a strong sympathy factor for others to want to see him do well.
Even before they were evicted, many members of The Cookout (and some outside it) said they'd be happy to see Xavier win. He played with a strong perception of grace and integrity, calm, cool and collected. He lied and manipulated as needed, but got away with all of it.
In other words, love him or hate him, he played a damned effective game of "Big Brother" and in most seasons, so long as he owns up to all of it, he would win against players like Azah and Big D. This doesn't appear to be a bitter Jury (save Kyland), so we'll just have to see.
In some ways, Azah may have the toughest case to make, unless she can actually knock Xavier out of this game -- and seeing as how that's the only way we believe she'd even make it to the end, we kind of have to assume that's on her resume at this point if she's there.
Still, she is a classic floater, carried this far because there was always someone more important to get rid of before her. She claims that when she felt threatened, she won HOH during the first double eviction to save herself -- but Hannah was going to go no matter what. The guys just got her to do it for them.
Azah played a different kind of social game than Derek F, but one that was equally effective. No one was ever targeting her, and everyone seemed to see her as a best friend and a confidante, like a young "Golden Girl."
She also argued that part of her strategy was to be openly honest at all times, no matter who she was talking to or about. That included members of The Cookout when she didn't like a decision they made, a target or a move.
The way she sees it, no one can call her a liar or a snake, because she really wasn't. She was also never really in a position where she needed to lie, never hitting the Block until Final 4. Still, that's an achievement in itself and a testament to her quiet, understated game.
There is no wrong way to make it to the end in games like this, but Jurys often seem to think that more aggressive, in-your-face games are more worthy of winning than subtle games like Azah played. It still got her this far, and if she beats X it will have gotten her to the end, with strategic strikes to put her in a Final 2 seat.
If she can plead that case against Big D she could win. Against X, we don't see it working because this Jury already seems to respect game moves, and she didn't do much of that. But before any of that can happen, she needs to win Part 2 and Part 3 of the final HOH, because if she loses either, there's a good chance she won't be there to argue.
With $50,000 on the line, this is a big prize coming finale night and it would seem to be a lock for Derek F. Big D won top money almost every time in the High Roller's Room and he's been the most entertaining Houseguest.
If we're going to go buy that barometer of America's love, we'd have to give it up for Britini and Derek X as well. They both got top marks before their evictions. As options whittled away, Claire, Tiffany and Hannah made it toward the top as well.
But there were other factors going into those choices, like America rooting for underdogs or just wanting to give certain players advantages to help them out. That said, we do believe these are some of the season's most popular players.
We don't think Britini lasted long enough to hang in as a contender for America's Favorite Houseguest, but Derek X just might have. We're also thinking America was really rooting for Claire and Tiffany to ride this thing out, and certainly Claire's classy exit cemented her character in a lot of hearts.
If we had to pick a Final 3 for this, we think it'll come down to Derek F, Xavier and Derek X -- but yeah, Big D is going to take this one home.
That's what we think America will do, but how do we rank the Houseguests? It's been an interesting season, because for the first time ever, there was a side mission going that derailed normal gameplay until the Final 6.
Had there been no mission to assure the first-ever Black "Big Brother" winner, and no Cookout to protect all six of them until Final 6, this season would have played out much differently. Who knows who might have won, but we have a feeling Tiffany and Hannah would still be in the House -- or one of them at least.
So for no reason than because this is the last time we can do it, we're going to break out how we'd rank the play of each Houseguest from worst to first.
N/A - Travis Long really didn't even have time to make a mark in the game, so we have no idea what he might or might not have done. This ranking isn't so much a knock against him as he was the victim of Frenchie's tyranny and paranoia and we just never got a chance to see what he could or couldn't do in this game.
15th - Brent Champagne was obnoxious and annoying, and way too impressed with himself. He also creeped out all of the girls in the House and seemed to have no concept of the reality of the game around him. You can't see the attacks coming if you think everyone loves you because you're the greatest thing to ever hit the House.
14th - Brandon "Frenchie" French played this game way too hard from the very beginning. Forget a whole week of "Big Brother" in a single night, he was trying to play a whole season in a single week. His paranoia was out of control in Week 1. He could have had a much better summer as people trusted him and wanted to work with him, but he couldn't get out of his own head or way.
13th - Britini D'Angelo played a game too openly and blindly loyal while at the same time being too secretive about basically everything she was thinking, all of her strategy and anything she might do. We get playing your cards close to your chest, but other than the Jokers, she wasn't really open to working with anyone, and that closed her off too much. She needed to open up, even if she was lying, just so people could think they'd know what she will or won't do in hopes it would align with their own plans.
12th - Whitney Williams made terrible alliance choices this season in Brent and Frenchie, and she was a little too open about wanting to set up an all-girls alliance pretty early in the game. We're all for girl power, but you have to do it on the down low because it's one of the things those big, burly guys are always scared of (even though they do all-guy alliances all the time). She wasn't quite subtle enough in her game.
11th - Sarah Beth Steagall played a cold and ruthless game. She had a very good read on the House and her own limitations, but she wasn't able to do much about them. Like Britini, she kept a lot of her thoughts to herself, but that resulted in her being a bit of a disaster in the social aspect of this game. People didn't dislike her personally, but they had no idea how far they could trust her. She was also a little too untrusting of all of them, leading to paranoia that she couldn't always hide.
10th - Kyland Young is a great physical competitor, but he also played a very arrogant game and drove everyone crazy in the House with his nonsensical ramblings. He was quickly a player who would have needed to win his way toward the end in order to make it, as he had enemies emerging among the women in the House and elsewhere based on what he said, not how he played. There is a key social aspect of the game, and his wasn't as strong.
9th - Azah Awasum played with hear heart on her sleeve and often very emotionally. In a season without The Cookout having her back, we're not sure how well she would have fared when she snapped or started driving people crazy. We suspect she would have gotten targeted much earlier as someone the House could just find more peace in without her being there.
8th - Alyssa Lopez didn't really bother to do anything in the game. She didn't make any strong alliances, and once her showmance was booted, she just kind of floated through the game. She made friendships and people enjoyed having her around for the most part, but she was way too indispensable. She wasn't actively bad at the game, but she was also barely playing it.
7th - Derek Frazier has a great social game, but he was also largely expendable throughout the season. Without The Cookout, we're pretty sure Tiffany and Hannah would have orchestrated his removal long before they themselves got booted out of this game, as they had a much stronger handle on it and people who would have helped it happen. For all his lovability, there would have been nothing he could do.
6th - Claire Rehfuss didn't win a lot this season, but she had a very good read on the game. She was also well-liked in the House, making her someone who could have gone quite far. Strategically, her game was very strong and other than missing The Cookout, she was aware of just about everything else going on. Without that blind spot, we think she would have done even better.
5th - Christian Birkenberger had all of the tools to make it all the way to the end in this game. His biggest weakness was the obviousness of his showmance with Alyssa in a season that was not about that, but without The Cookout we think his story would have been very different. Christian was extremely well-liked, and he was much smarter in the game than people gave him credit for.
4th - Hannah Chaddha was brilliant at this game, and in many ways a mini-mastermind, smartly playing behind the bigger targets in the House. She had a near flawless grasp of what was going on in the House at any given time, and knew what pieces to move where to facilitate the result she wanted. And she knew how to get others to do it for her.
3rd - Derek Xiao is another player who didn't really get a chance to play the caliber of game we suspect he was capable of, because of his threat factor to The Cookout. He was an incredibly smart and incredibly phsycially gifted player, making him the ultimate threat in competitions. But he was also beloved in the House and respected for how classy he kept his game. Smart, strategic and this skilled, he could have had a great run in any other season.
2nd - Xavier Prather is this season's favorite to win, and he was that from almost the very beginning. He did so with his calm demeanor and his ability to manipulate, persuade and orchestrate events to go his way. Had he not been working for The Cookout with those skills most of the season, it would have been interesting to see what kind of game he would have created. Regardless, he is one of the most effective to have every played this game.
1st - Tiffany Mitchell was without a doubt the best overall player of this season. She worked hard on behalf of The Cookout and she made it clear to us at home what moves she would have made different without that alliance to think about. Those moves were all the absolute right ones to secure her a spot on finale night. The Cookout was her undoing, even as she masterminded the most brilliant overall strategy in "Big Brother" history -- her Master Plan where each had a side duo -- that was also the most effective in "Big Brother" history. Even with a sixth place finish, Tiffany is a "BB" legend and probably could have won in a normal season.
We'll find out who wins The Cookout season of "Big Brother" this Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.