Heading into Wednesday night's epic two-hour live finale, half of The Cookout remained standing with their dream of winning $750,000. With the mission of assuring US "Big Brother's" first-ever Black winner, it was already mission accomplished. Now it was time to get paid.
As we covered in our last installment, Azah, Derek F, and Xavier all took very different paths to the finale. But as we've seen many, many time before, so much hinges on how well you defend your game and plead your case to the Jury.
Paul Abrahamian rode "Friendship" to those Final 2 seats in back-to-back seasons and played the best game in both seasons -- an absolutely dominant one his second time. But he did not do a great job of owning all of his backstabbing and false alliances to his bitter juries and had to settle for back-to-back second place finishes.
This didn't appear to be a bitter Jury in any appearance we've seen them before this one, with even the ones blindsided by The Cookout impressed by its effectiveness and how well it was concealed from them. In other words, this Jury was mostly not taking things personally (Kyland, perhaps notwithstanding) and was here to respect gameplay. Maybe even Paul could have gotten their vote.
It was this raucous group that would decide the winner, but first they needed to know who they'd be deciding between. And that meant two more rounds of competition. Xavier won Part 1 of the Final Head of Household competition, which left Azah and Derek F to fight it out for the chance to face him in Part 3.
It was a brutal competition that combined speed, strength, a hint of balance and a keen memory of how things played out in the season. Azah and Derek F had to physically roll giant slot machine wheels to line up the four faces of Houseguests that make up the answer of three different questions.
They had to get it right and get it first, with the fastest correct time taking home that victory. Azah took these as mountain climbers, but she was both winded and shining with a new coat of sweat after the brutal physicality of it.
Big D opted instead to crawl his way through the competition, which appeared to shred his knees by the time it was done. He was complaining about the pain as it was going, but powered through as fast as he could.
Alas for Big D, it wasn't quite fast enough, as Azah took Part 2.
We've seen Big D lose it after every competition loss, and this loss cemented his status as someone who made it to finale night without a single competition win under his belt. In its own way, it's kind of impressive.
At the same time, after a stellar social game all season, he absolutely botched these final few days. He already had a Final 2 deal solidified with Xavier, and Azah had made it clear that despite that, she was still planning to take her BFF in the House to the end if she won Part 3.
All he had to do was sit back and keep everyone laughing. He basically had his spot in the finale all sown up. But then his paranoia started creeping in, and he couldn't keep his mouth shut.
Watching Xavier and Azah snuggle -- which they've been doing all season -- became too much for him and he started freaking out on Azah about whether or not she would take him to the end. He also started "reminding" her that he carried her throughout the game.
Now, he did his part to protect her, more early in the game, as a member of the Jokers, but The Cookout protected her as it did all its members, and they all worked to protect one another. Also, even if it were totally true, you don't say that!
Derek F did argue that he'd played an honest game, and we suppose this was more than that. But you know what his honesty did for him here. It convinced Azah by the end of that week that she would rather sit next to Xavier and lose than have a shot at winning next to Derek F.
Suddenly, it looked like Xavier was sitting pretty no matter what happened in this final round, whereas Azah needed to win for any shot at sitting in the Final 2. It also seemed there was no way she could win against Xavier, but she didn't seem to care.
As with every season, this round featured silly fake Jury scenarios with elaborate true/false questions about how each of them fared throughout the season. It's a brutal competition of memory, but this season it wasn't played on giant scales of justice.
Instead, it was played straight. And straight away, Azah found herself in the hole when she missed the first of eight games. From there, round by round, it was perfection from both of them. An impressive run for anyone, Xavier pulled out final victory with perfection across all eight rounds.
Azah went 7 for 8, but was playing catchup for the entire game, and just couldn't catch up. You could see it on her face that she knew exactly how this final eviction was going to play out. She kept it classy with her "save-me" speech, accepting her fate and leaving Xavier and Derek F to face the jury.
Earlier in the night, we saw the Jury deliberating over which of the Final 3 was most deserving of winning. They debated the pros and cons of everyone's game, but the result seemed as inevitable tonight as it has since Tiffany was voted out of this game.
While there's a lot to be said for Azah and Derek F making it to the final with very few competition wins (or in the case of Big D, zero wins). But it's really, really hard to sit next to someone who did have those wins because it made them more overtly active in the strategies of the game.
A bitter Jury might have leaned toward Big D, who kept everyone laughing all summer long, but this was a Jury that respected the game, respected this season's place in history and felt that they had to honor all of that with the most worthy winner ... Xavier.
It's hard to argue that he didn't play the best game. He managed to lie and manipulate his way to the end, but he also never lost sight of The Cookout's mission from the beginning. He also very smartly positioned others to do most of the dirty work this season, leaving his hands clean.
He didn't seem to have any real beef with anyone, except for when Kyland left and things got uncomfortably personal between the two alpha males, and instead had everyone's respect.
It's even impressive that the House had basically been saying for weeks and weeks that if no one takes a shot at Xavier, he's going to win the game -- and then no one took a shot at Xavier.
He's a deserving winner, as he definitely played a great game, and a stronger game than everyone in the Final 5. We'll stand here all day and say that Tiffany played a better game than Xavier, even as she was erratic at times, and not just because of the Master Plan (side duos). She controlled almost everything that happened from the very beginning and almost no one knew it.
We're still hopeful that "Big Brother" considers returning Houseguests over the next few years and that Tiffany is willing to come back. Honestly, we'd be happy with a few of these Houseguests returning in a non-Cookout season to see how they'd fare without that mission shifting everything.
Our picks to return would include Tiffany, Derek F, Claire, Sarah Beth, Hannah, Christian, Derek X and maybe Britini. All were memorable and smart players who would have probably done things very different had there not been this goal of establishing the first Black winner.
We made our prediction on this one, suspecting that Derek F's charismatic persona would catapult him to victory as America's Favorite Houseguest, beating out Derek X and Xavier in the final vote. We happily got this one wrong.
Perhaps we underestimated how much his saltiness in recent weeks impacted America's vote. We got Derek X right, and rightfully so, but we were extremely happy that neither of the Top 2 in the season landed in the Top 2 with America.
Instead, it was Tiffany who got America's love, which just proves that America loved her as much as we did this season. See why "BB" should bring her back? In fact, bring her and Derek X back -- you now know how much we love them.
In the final vote, which Julie Chen said was very close, Tiffany and her Master Plan took home the doubled $50,000 prize. She was probably deserving of winning the whole season, and without The Cookout mission she might have done it, but this isn't a bad consolation prize.
Are these Houseguests "celebrities" now? They're reality TV famous, and you can bet some of the Houseguests that join in in the new season of "Celebrity Big Brother" will be from reality TV, too. Either way, "CBB" returns this February with Season 24 of "BB" coming back next summer.
“Actually, it was Big D who cast the vote.” --Kyland (explaining his eviction)
“Because that’s what X told him to do.” --Tiffany (truth)
“Only con I can think of is he’s a bartender who doesn’t know how to make a martini. If you’re going to lie about your occupation, at least learn how to make a three-ingredient drink.” --Derek X (about Xavier)
“He did not have a lot of heavy conversations. X never had to offer any information.” --Tiffany (about Xavier)
“If someone is able to fly under the radar for the entire game and not have a target on their back and then at the very end make a move that takes out X, the biggest target in the game, then that person has my respect.” --Derek X (about Azah)
“Do we think Azah made a good move getting out Chaddha when she was HOH?” --Derek X
“Did Azah getting rid of you make sense for your game? Now that she’s not here, it does.” --Britini
“That’s what I’m wrestling with right now.” --Hannah
“Maybe she made some good personal relationships, but I don’t think that was strategic.” --Sarah Beth
“I wanted to see her make a big move. Her taking out you [Hannah] wasn’t a big move. If Azah wins this final HOH and takes out X, then that’s the move.” --Claire
“The best thing to say about Derek is we have the same name … I don’t think he had any original strategies.” --Derek X
“Big D talked a lot. A lot of the things he said and did disguised The Cookout from me. He made it seem like there wasn’t that alliance going on. Derek hasn’t been able to win any competitions, and that’s not because he was strategically not winning competitions, he was not able to win any.” --Derek F
“It’s hard to ignore [that] we have a historic season. I want the first Black winner to be the strongest player in the game.” --Kyland
“I’m trying to understand that and then I see her and Big D in those chairs and she leaves.” --Alyssa (about Hannah’s eviction)
“It was a tie for Chaddha and for Derek.” --Kyland
“So he made more contributions at that point than Chaddha?” --Tiffany
“I feel like I’m being undermined. The fact that you can sit here and say that me and Big D are interchangeable players--” --Hannah
“I do not believe that; it is very insulting.” --Tiffany
“In that moment, it was like, okay, I know that a lot of people look at him as not really doing anything on purpose, I know he is doing things on purpose.” --Kyland
“David beat Goliath and I’m going to beat both of these boys. I’m going to win this game.” --Azah
“If my dad can go 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali, then I’m definitely not going to give up and let some stupid slot machine beat me.” --Derek F (during Part 2 of HOH competition)
“Hopefully I can work my magic with Azah and Xavier, and both of them will take me to Final 2.” --Derek F (after losing Part 2 of HOH competition)
“If the jury wants to be bitter, and Kyland could definitely add fuel to that fire, I’m pretty much f-----.” --Xavier (to Azah)
“I don’t know how I feel about this whole Azah and Xavier cuddling all the time. For me, that makes me worry because I carried this girl all the way here, and she owes me a seat next to her if she wins.” --Derek F
“In the past week, he’s let me know his genuine thoughts on my game: he doesn’t respect it, he feels like he’s carried me and, to be frank, that’s hurt my feelings.” --Azah
“You know how you were feeling last week?” --Derek F (to Azah)
“I think we should just not talk game for the remainder of the day.” --Azah
“I get how you were feeling last week, I came to you like, ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do, it’s such a hard decision, blah, blah blah.” --Derek F
“Yeah, and guess what I haven’t done. I haven’t said that to you. I haven’t given any indication I’m changing my f------ mind. I haven’t done that. You’re going off of your own insecurities.” --Azah
“Maybe the next couple of days y’all should just keep your distance from each other.” --Xavier (to Derek F about Azah)
“Truthfully, the person I thank is Big D. The more he’s talked, the more damage he’s done while I’ve just been sitting back. So now, I’m kind of in a great position.” --Xavier (after Azah says she’s thinking of taking him if she wins Part 3 of HOH comp)
“At this time, if I won, I think I would take him.” --Azah (to Derek F about Xavier)
“You are doing exactly what I would’ve done last week. If I would’ve went off of emotional, your ass would have been out the door and Ky would have been here. One move I will regret when I watch this back.” --Derek F
“Do what you need to do and we’ll leave it at that. You’re welcome, ‘cause you’re here. I did that to myself.” --Derek F (taking credit for Azah being in Final 3)
“I’m really considering Xavier, but I feel that that decision might affect my friendship with Big D outside of the House.” --Azah
“Are you done with being stressed now?” --Xavier (after evicting Azah)
“Yeah, give me my second place so I can go home.” --Derek F
“I would have taken Xavier. I admire the game that he played. I knew that taking Big D, I had more friends in the Jury and i had a big chance of winning, but I’m not a money motivated person and I had to speak in my heart who I felt was a great representative, a great winner that could represent the first African-American winner.” --Azah
“Once again, can’t win nothing!” --Derek F (laughing after Xavier wins season)