A Beginner’s Guide to Big Brother

All the vital information.

Photo: CBS

So, you’re thinking about watching Big Brother. Maybe you’re a Survivor fan looking for something to fill the void, or perhaps you just stumbled across this wacky show on television. Either way, Big Brother can be confusing at first, especially with all the acronyms, terms, and lore being tossed around freely. For a new viewer, it can feel very overwhelming.

This guide is intended to help you understand the basics of Big Brother and get you ready to watch this All-Stars season.

The Basics

Big Brother is a social strategy competition, similar to Survivor, that takes place live over the summer. Between 12-16 people, referred to as houseguests, move into a house to play the Big Brother game. They stay in the house until they are either voted out (evicted) or have won.

Seasons last between 70 and 99 days. Each week, competitions are held for powers in the game, leading to one houseguest’s eventual eviction. The show has been hosted by Julie Chen since the summer of 2000 when it premiered.

One thing that sets Big Brother apart from other reality shows is the live feeds. At almost anytime, viewers can tune in and see what their favorite (or least favorite) houseguests are up to. The live feeds are not necessary for some and essential for others; most casual viewers are content with just the edited episodes (of which there are three per week).

The Game

In the same way that Survivor has a tribal council every 3 days (roughly), Big Brother has one eviction every week. The core game operates around a weekly cycle, with the same three components appearing each week.

At the start of the week, someone will win Head of Household (or HOH). Competitions for HOH could be anything, from a memory quiz to an endurance challenge. The HOH is safe for the week and cannot be evicted, they also receive their own private bedroom and a few other perks (such as a letter from home and luxury food items).

The HOH has one responsibility, pick two other houseguests to nominate for eviction at the Nomination Ceremony. These are the Nominees. By being nominated, a houseguest is “Put up” or “On the Block.” Only the nominees are eligible to be voted out of the house that week.

Once the HOH has made their nominations, the houseguests will compete in the Power of Veto (POV/Veto) competition. The POV is similar to the immunity necklace in Survivor; it can be used to save one of the nominees from eviction. Only six houseguests are allowed to compete for the POV: the HOH, the two nominees, and three others selected by random draw.

Veto Comp
Photo: CBS

Whoever wins the POV has the ability to save one of the nominees by taking them off the Block at the Veto Meeting, forcing the HOH to nominate another person in their place. The POV does not have to be used each week, and the nominations will not always change.

Finally, a vote is held between the two nominees. Everyone besides the HOH and the nominees cast a vote to evict (in private in the Diary Room), eliminating someone from the competition.

When the game is down to the Final 2 players, a Jury of the nine previously evicted houseguests have the opportunity to speak with the finalists and then vote for the winner. Jury management is a big part of the Big Brother game, just like in Survivor.

The Jury is sequestered together in the Jury House (a separate location from the Big Brother compound) while they wait for the game to end.

The Show

As a show, Big Brother tends to take itself less seriously than Survivor, especially in modern seasons. The campy, colorful vibe that follows Big Brother can often overshadow the serious strategic game taking place in the house; other times, the craziness is just perfect.

The weekly episodes follow the same cycle that the game does, as they try and recap the happenings of the previous few days.

Sunday’s episode features the new HOH coming into power and making their decision about who to nominate.

Wednesday’s episode shows the POV competition and ends with the Veto Meeting.

Thursday’s episode is the vote and eviction. The difference with the Thursday episodes is that they have a live component and are hosted by Julie Chen.

Photo: CBS

With the show being on three times a week, there’s a lot to talk about. While it is easy to fall behind, it is also easy to binge and catch up!

Only on the show do we get to see the contestant’s inner thoughts. The houseguests go to the Diary Room (DR) to interview with the producers and share what they’re really thinking. Some houseguests are phenomenal in the DR. Most of the game and character moments in the house are well narrated, with the competition’s narration standing out for being more scripted as the houseguests explain the rules.


Big Brother takes a campy, caricature approach to designing its competitions. Some love the silliness for a break from the drama, lies, and backstabbing of the game; others couldn’t care less. Each competition is usually themed, and the houseguests often need to wear ridiculous costumes. The HOH competitions tend to be more minimal, while the POV competitions are usually more extravagant.

One of the most common HOH competitions is an A/B multiple-choice, such as Before or After, where the houseguests have to answer questions about when certain events in the house happened. If they get the question wrong, they are eliminated. POV competitions may involve houseguests throwing themselves through a sudsy laundromat, or tearing up the house in search of hidden cards.


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Love them or hate them, twists have become an integral part of modern Big Brother. Each season introduces something that twists up the game outside of the core formula of HOH, POV, and eviction, as explained above. While the production team seems to think this makes the show exciting, it can cause new viewers to feel even more alienated by an already overwhelming show.

Our advice, try to not worry too much about the twists in the beginning. Most of them are short-lived and will be gone in a few weeks. New viewers should focus on the main game that will stick around all season; when that becomes second nature, the twists are easier to digest.

Liz and Julia
Photo: CBS

Some twists are quite simple, like the twin twist that saw a pair of identical twins secretly play as the same person until they could both enter the game as individuals. Other twists are more game-breaking, like the MVP twist, which allowed viewers to vote for a houseguest to have the sole power to nominate a third houseguest.

This Season

The 22nd season of Big Brother started on August 5th, which means now is the perfect time to dive into the show. Yes, it is being filmed during the pandemic. All of the houseguests and the crew have been tested multiple times for the virus, and they have taken a lot of precautions, as Julie explained on the premiere.

For the first time since 2006, this is an All-Stars season. The definition of All-Star is similar to the way it is used in Survivor, it just means they are returning players. This season has two former winners, both wanting to prove their win was legitimate. There are also a few runner ups and third and fourth placers. There are fan favorites and deep pulls. There is also someone who was the first boot from their season. The cast is strong, and the show does a good job of introducing these characters to a new audience.

Everything above should be plenty to get you through your first weeks of watching Big Brother. There’s a lot more to learn, but hopefully, that will come naturally as you continue to watch.

Below are some other key terms that may or may not appear as the weeks go on but are significant in Big Brother lore.

Alliance – Just as with Survivor, this is a group of people who have agreed to protect each other in the game. They will usually vote to save each other and will not nominate each other. Obviously, a big part of the game is knowing whether to trust your alliances.

America’s Favorite Houseguest – This a viewer vote held towards the end of the season. The houseguest with the most votes is awarded $25,000 on finale night.

Backdoor – A backdoor plan is a specific strategy to get someone evicted, and it requires a few key components. First, the target cannot play in the POV competition. Then, that person is put up as the replacement nominee and evicted without ever getting a chance to play to save themselves.

Battle Back Competition – In some seasons, houseguests evicted pre-jury will be given a chance to get back into the game. This usually involves some sort of competition, referred to as the Battle Back.

Fast Forward/Double Eviction – At some point in the season, there is usually at least one double eviction, where two houseguests are evicted on the same night. This is sometimes referred to as a Fast Foward. It involves a speeded-up version of the game by having the HOH competition, Nomination Ceremony, POV competition, Veto Meeting, and eviction all held within the Thursday live episode.

Floaters/Coasters – Floaters are houseguests that “float” from alliance to alliance depending on who is in power that week. Floating is the active way of playing this style of game and is very difficult to pull off. Coasting is when a player does relatively nothing in the game, making it far by being a nonentity. Coasters are usually good people to win a jury vote against.

Have-Nots – The early days of Big Brother had food competitions where the house competed for certain groceries. Modern Big Brother has Haves and Have-Nots. The Haves can live normally and eat whatever they want. The Have-Nots must take cold showers, sleep in an uncomfortable bedroom, and only eat Slop (bland oatmeal with protein powder is our best guess).

Otev – An annual Big Brother POV competition that involves an animatronic animal singing riddles to the houseguests. Whoever is the last person to solve the riddle each round is eliminated. This competition is a staple in Big Brother (hint: look at the name backwards).

Pawn/Target – Since two people are nominated each week, it is not uncommon for the HOH to nominate a big threat next to someone they perceive as low risk for being voted out. The target is who the HOH wants out that week, while the pawn is the person nominated who is intended to stay. As they say all the time on the show, sometimes pawns do go home.

Punishments – Another staple in Big Brother, houseguests will often receive punishments if they lose certain competitions. The most common punishment is having to wear some type of silly costume (usually a unitard of some sort) for the week. Some of the more unique punishments in the past have included getting a spray tan every time a sound plays, forming a Backstreet Boys parody group, and having to play as a robot.

Sides of the House – Some of the best seasons of Big Brother typically have one thing in common, a split house. While the contestants and the fans talk about this literally, it is just a figure of speech common in the game and not a literal divide. Houseguests will often say “the other side of the house” or “my side of the house,” they are referring to their alliances and friends, not their bedrooms.

Showmance – This one is pretty simple, a romantic relationship that started on the show. This is really common in Big Brother, there’s usually at least one every season.

Zingbot – At a certain point in an average Big Brother season, a giant robot will come into the house and attempt to roast (“Zing”) the houseguests. It’s unclear whether he will be making an appearance during this season due to quarantine protocol because he is actually a person in a costume. Yes, this is all true.

Big Brother All-Stars airs on CBS at 8 pm (EST) Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

Written by

Garrett Stanley

Garrett is a Seattle local, hopeful comedian, and journalist for Arizona State University’s State Press Magazine. Besides keeping up with all of his reality TV, Garrett likes to cook, backpack, and act. Garrett is a lifelong Survivor fan from a family of casuals.

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