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'Big Brother' Winners Talk Strategy, Shomances, & Bitter Juries

'Big Brother' Winners Talk Strategy, Shomances, & Bitter Juries

Tonight marks the big premiere of Big Brother 19.

We caught up with five former winners – Dan Gheesling, Derrick Levasseur, Andy Herren, Will Kirby, and Rachel Reilly – to talk about what it takes to make it to the end and walk away with $500K.

We covered everything from strategy and alliances, to twists, showmances, and yes, even another potential All-Stars season.

Big Brother premieres tonight, June 28 at 8 p.m. on CBS.

If you were coaching a new player going into the game, what would be the single best piece of advice you’d give them?

Derrick: Whenever you feel like speaking up or saying something that might hurt your game – take a second, remember why you’re there and who you’re playing for. Most of the time you’ll decide it’s better to stay quiet. People who know how to keep their mouth shut usually go far in the game.

Dan: I would say talk as little as possible and listen way more than you think you should. In the house, people do the exact opposite. It’s a house full of Type-A personalities. People will just run their mouths for days. If you can be quiet and listen…it doesn’t make for good TV, but if you want to win the show, you’re going to do well. Just chill out the first three to four weeks. Listen, make friends, don’t do anything out of line, don’t get into fights, and you’ll do fine. You’ll be in a position where you’ll have a shot to win.

Dr. Will: Milli Vanilli stills sells albums but true fans know. They always know. And worse? I’ll know. And you’ll know. And it will always haunt you.

Rachel: I always tell newbies to give it their all, play with their hearts, be themselves, don’t put on a show, and compete like every competition you could go home!

Andy: Listen to people. Don’t try to take control of the game right away. Sit back, gauge who you like and who you can trust, and work with those people. If you’re a good social player, those players will also gravitate toward you, even if they’re in an alliance that formed immediately. It is dumb to form an alliance right away, because chances are some people in that alliance will annoy others. If you form an alliance with your favorite people a week in, it has a good shot at being effective…This will get you through a good 2/3 of the game, and then you need to work on getting some of these people out during the final third.

Click inside to read the rest of our interviews…

Julie is once again promising a ton of twists this summer. Do you ever consider twists unfair and/or favorable to certain players?

Derrick: Twists are designed to create another layer to the game. Sometimes they help certain players, sometimes they don’t. But twists are what keeps the show interesting, so like them or not, they’re essential.

Dan: I think to say that the twists are unfair is not accurate at all because everyone knows what they signed up for. It’s more interesting to me to see how people react to the twists as opposed to what the twist is. I think you’ll find hardcore Big Brother fans are not happy with any twists they put in the game because they just want to see a vanilla season – which I can definitely empathize with because I think that’s fun to watch. When there are no twists, you give people a chance to strategize and play a few weeks down the line. I like seeing [that] because you can see strategists and great players develop. Now it’s a lot more difficult because it’s hard to plan. It makes for a lot better television, but I think it hinders the more introspective, strategic player because you can’t account for what’s going to happen.

Rachel: I love the twists and I think the game is all about twists! It’s like you have to expect the unexpected. It’s Big Brother!

Andy: Of course twists are unfair, to a varying degree. Seasons 8 and 13 come to mind when I think of twists that were so powerful that they impacted the game unfairly. Dick [Donato] would have lost season 8 if Eric [Stein] hadn’t been forced to keep him as a result of being America’s Player. And the twist that saved both Rachel and Jordan [Lloyd] in season 13 was so shockingly, blatantly unfair that I remember watching and being like, “Wow, this sucks.” Ugh, now that I’m thinking about it, many twists are either unfair or not well thought out. The twists in season 12 and season 15 were so poorly planned. In season 12, the “saboteur” was evicted first, and in season 15, the audience was given the power to vote for an MVP when there was a fan favorite’s sibling in the house. I did like how a bunch of us weaponized Elissa [Slater], though. I think that’s an example of houseguests smartly using a twist to their advantage. To be honest, I really do prefer a clean season, like season 10. There were no big twists and it was quite possibly the best season in the show’s history. I’d much rather have a compelling cast than a bunch of annoying, unfair twists.

Is it worth going into the house with an elaborate strategy, or better to adapt and plan once you’re inside?

Derrick: Adapt. 100%. There’s no way to predict twists or who you will be playing with. You have to be able to adjust.

Dan: I think it’s more than a strategy of what you’re going to do week-by-week. I think it’s more internal guidelines by which you operate. Like, if you know to not run your mouth and just listen to what people are saying, and take everything in. You can use that tactic – it’s not necessarily a strategy – but it’s a tactic and something that you practically employ that will work in any situation. If you can employ the foundation of who you’re going to be as a player, you’ll be able to weather any twists.

Rachel: I think you should have a strategy, but you should be open to adopting as you go. You can’t hold to one thing because the game is always changing.

Andy: Much better to adapt when you get inside. As I mentioned, the best way to enter the house is with an open mind and open ears. Listen to people, deduce who you like and trust, and work with those people. It is possible to really like someone and still keep your alliance a secret. Nobody knew just how close I was with Amanda [Zuckerman], for example, even though we hung out all the time. People would come to me and be like, “We’ve got to get Amanda out,” and I’d think, “LOL, you have no clue that I’m gonna go tell her this and get you evicted as a result. Yikes.” The best quality a Big Brother player can have is adaptability. If you can navigate the constantly changing dynamics of the game and keep your finger on the pulse of the house, you’ll be golden. Don’t ever feel rigid in a certain strategy or idea.

Once and for all, are showmances good or bad for your strategic game?

Derrick: I still think they’re bad. Everyone knows you’re in an alliance and I think the emotions that come with a showmance distract you from the game.

Dan: We would need to ask a Big Brother historian here, but I would ask you to tell me when a showmance, outside of season 7 – that’s the only one I can think of – ever made it to the final two.

Rachel: Showmances are bad for your game. They help you a bit, but in the long run it doesn’t help you to be associated as a pair. It’s better to be friends of the pair.

Andy: Showmances can be good for your game, if you play your cards right. Being in a showmance is a bad idea in 99 percent of cases. It puts a gigantic target on your back. However, there are always players who don’t get this and showmances will form as a result. The best way to deal with a showmance is to weaponize it and use it to your advantage. For example, on my season, I constantly put myself right in the middle between Amanda/McCrae [Olsen] and Helen [Kim]/Elissa. Both pairs were blatant; everyone in the house knew they existed, and both pairs constantly had the other pair in their sights. With being in the middle, I was able to make sure I was so insanely safe every week that I was untouchable.

You’re on the block. Things aren’t looking good. What’s the best way to navigate your way to safety? What’s the worst thing you can do?

Derrick: Stay quiet, get close to the people you have the weakest relationships with, and hope the person you’re on the block with blows up. The worst thing you can do is talk negatively about the person you’re on the block with. People will always use it against you later in the game.

Dan: The No. 1 thing to do is to not be on the block in the first place. There are ways you can do that. Don’t get into fights. Have an open line of communication with everyone. In the event that someone takes a shot at you, don’t harbor a grudge. Immediately go to them afterward and say, “Listen, I understand. I hope we can work together.” Never burn a bridge, regardless of how much you may not like someone in the game. For me, the way I always tried to play it was – the best way to not be on the block was to not be on the block. The times when I was on the block, that’s when you gotta pull out crazy stuff. You just don’t want to be in the position where you have to do something like that to save yourself. Sometimes it’s inevitable, but most of the time it’s not.

Dr. Will: Best thing: Ask the other houseguests if they “can dig it?” Worst thing: Dig it.

Rachel: My options for getting off the block have always been to win competitions, but if I had to play again, I would keep myself off the block and if I ended up on the block, I would convince the people in the house why I’m better for their game.

Andy: The best thing you can do when you’re on the block is keep your cool. This doesn’t mean to lay down and die, but it means that you need to not start any trouble or start hurling accusations. Calmly, rationally explain why you are an asset to people and try your best to get the other person on the block to implode. Spend quality time with people, too. Make them want you around. The worst thing you can do is cause trouble and get people to turn their backs on you. The one time I was on the block I shut up and let Aaryn [Gries] scramble and fight with people, solidifying my safety.

There have been some instances on Big Brother (and Survivor) where morality has come into play. Is there a line, or is everything fair game?

Derrick: There are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed and for the most part, they’re common sense. But almost anything else goes when you’re in a game like that. Everyone knows what they signed up for.

Dan: I think that changes person to person. Some people you play with are going to have an extreme level of morality that may be unnecessary for the game. For me, I always approached it as you play within the rules within the confines of the game. And then you play as far as you’re willing to go. So for me, when I step out, I’m not embarrassed of anything I’ve done. I was always going to play hard and back-stab people, but I just never took it to a personal level. I think that’s when you see people get really upset. That’s always hard to watch because that’s not what it’s about. But in terms of making deals and going back on them, that’s what the game is.

Dr. Will: Who wins in a fight? The Kung-fu master, the Jiu-jitsu master, or the Karate master? Wrong. It’s the guy with the monkey wrench.

Rachel: You have to keep your morals and ethics in play even when you’re on the show. I get it when people say it’s a game, blah blah, you have to lie, cheat, steal etc. But you’re competing for a lot of money and in the end you don’t have to be awful to stay or win. It’s a social game.

Andy: Everything is fair game! Swear on the Bible. Swear on a family member’s life. In the end, I’m sure the family member whose life you swore on understands that you’re playing a game. At least, they should understand that you’re playing a game. I frustrates me to no end when players come in and are like, “I won’t sacrifice my morals and I won’t lie.” I’m like, “Why the hell are you on Big Brother then?” I loved when Matt Hoffman lied about his wife being sick during season 12. She was in on it and knew that he was doing it to garner sympathy. Sure, it is ruthless, but the best Big Brother players are ruthless. Big Brother is not real life. I wouldn’t go around my everyday life swearing on my mom’s life to get ahead, but when I am playing a ridiculous, televised game show, you bet your ass I will.

Is there such thing as a bitter jury? Or is it the job of the finalists to manage the juror’s perceptions throughout the game to ensure their vote?

Derrick: Of course there is. Some people won’t vote for you no matter what you say or do. You do what you can while they’re in the game to build a rapport but just like in life, some people just won’t like you.

Dan: Ultimately, I feel like it’s the person at the end’s job to convince the jury. If you know they are going to be a bitter juror, you gotta be on your game. I think having a bitter jury is a matter of how you showed people the door. So if you showed someone the door who got pissed, then that’s on you. But really the best thing is – kind of like being on the block – get the people out who you think may be bitter jury members before they get to jury. There’s so many variables. There are only so many things you can control. And in my opinion, it’s extremely difficult to control getting yourself to the final two. It takes everything you have to get to those final two seats. You’re always going to have bitter jurors, but it’s about how good of a speech that person gives at the end, and how good of a relationship they have with the person to overcome the bitterness.

Dr. Will: A good finalist can mind-bend perception. And perception is reality. So if God is love and love is blind, is Ray Charles God? Exactly.

Rachel: It’s your job to make the jury want to vote for you and like you as much as possible, but there is such a thing as a bitter jury, or a jury that just doesn’t care about you winning or losing or who they give the money to because it’s not them. So you have to remain in good favor with the people in the jury.

Andy: There is no such thing as a bitter jury. If you lose the jury vote, you didn’t play to the jury in the way you should have. Jury management is a huge part of the game, and it should always be on your mind. I established genuine connections with all of my houseguests, and even though I back-stabbed them and was behind many of their evictions, I wanted to ensure that they knew how much I genuinely cared about them as people. We spent so much time together and established very deep bonds, which I (mostly) meant, and in the end people knew I was playing a game and that I truly did care about them. One example – this is gonna get me into trouble – that comes to mind is Dan in season 14. He played an insane game in the house, I’ll admit that, but his jury management was atrocious. He treated people like objects in his way, and as a result, nobody wanted to vote for him to win. Ian [Terry] completely deserved that win over Dan because people wanted to vote for Ian to win in the end.

Who is the best player to never win this game?

Derrick: Danielle Reyes. She’s the reason there’s a jury house.

Dan: I always feel like Janelle is at the top of that list. She made it to the final three twice. It’s extremely hard to do. I think she’s up there because she’s a combination of – she could go on a winning streak if she needed to and she was also very well-liked by people in the house. I always think if you could do it a couple times, it’s really impressive. A lot of people look to her and say she could have easily won the game, but things didn’t fall her way.

Rachel: I mean obviously the best player to never win is Janelle Pierzina, but Danielle Reyes also played an awesome game and didn’t win. I think Janelle, however, played the best game twice and would have won, but had to win her way to the end. I also think Paul played a better game last year and should have won, but I think the jury was a bit bitter and voted because they thought that’s what America wanted. They were wrong.

Andy: I want to say Danielle Reyes, because she’s the reason I got into the show and I think she’s brilliant, but she would have lost the jury vote no matter who she was with in the end. Thus, I have to say Vanessa Rousso. If she had won HoH part three she would have won Big Brother 17, and she would have been one of the best winners in the show’s history. It all came down to a crapshoot competition (guessing which juror said what), and she couldn’t pull it out when she needed to. I truly do love both of these women and consider them two of the best players the show has ever seen.

If Big Brother does another All-Star season and you got the call, what would you say? And how fast would you say it?

Derrick: Right now? I just couldn’t do it. I have two small children and a book coming out in a few months. [Pre-order here!] But I love Big Brother so down the road it might be an option. However, the only way I would consider it was if it were a shorter season and Will and Dan were there. [Scroll down to see Dan's response to that.]

Dan: For me, after the first time I got out, there was a burning desire to play again. After I got out the second time, I felt like I had done everything I could possibly do on the show. So there’s really no point or reason for me to ever return to the show. That’s the question I get asked the most and that’s my answer. There’s no reason for me to ever return…It’s someone else’s time to go back and play again for a second time. What I think is they should get the few good players who have played once and put them in the house again. That would be fun to watch. I don’t think it would be fun to watch me or other people play a third time. I think twice is enough. Unless you’re [Mike] Boogie or Janelle. I’d watch them play a fourth of fifth time.

Dr. Will: Only one winner was asked to be on the first All-Stars. Only one winner will be asked to be on the second All-Stars. My role? Justin Bieber single released seven years and six days ago.

Rachel: My first answer would be “Yes!” “Yay” and “I can’t wait.” I would love to go back especially for an all-star season. It would be fun to play with all the legends and all-stars, but it would be hard to leave my baby and hubby. And I haven’t even ever been on a reality show with out Brendon. Also [my daughter] Adora keeps me busy and we’re together 24/7. I can’t even leave her at a daycare so I would just be a mess if I was away from her. And the season is so long now. It’s 100 days, give or take. When we played it was 76 days and I was like 25. A lot has changed since then and I’ve changed as a person a lot since then. So I think I would be better on a show that was shorter. Maybe they would make All-Stars shorter?

Andy: Oh I would play again in a second, and I would have much more fun. The first time I played Big Brother, I played out of fear; I was always scared and hyper aware of my surroundings. This strategy was very successful, as it allowed me to always be aware of what was going on. I wasn’t blindsided once my season, and I think it was because I was always bopping around the house in paranoia, making sure nothing was happening behind my back. I’m a Type-A person in everyday life, but on my season I learned to just shut up and listen. I could never play like this again, as people know that I’m sneaky and cunning, so I’d have to be more vocal. I would speak my mind and let people truly know what I’m thinking while still establishing genuine bonds with those around me. The thing is that since I’ve already won, the pressure is off. If I’m evicted early it’s really no big deal (don’t get me wrong, I would really try to not be evicted early). With that being said, if I got to play again I think I would be much more entertaining. There are so many Big Brother alums whose egos I would love smashing on national television. In fact, many alums who I think CBS would consider All-Stars worthy are horrifying in real life. I’d love to get in there and be a voice of reason for normal people who love the show and don’t want to watch people on it who just want to become Instagram famous.

Looking back, what was the biggest misconception about you or your game?

Derrick: I think the biggest thing was that I lied in the DR’s. I knew production played a big part in the game so I told them what I had to. I was playing the game 24/7 so I treated production like the 17th player in the house.

Dan: The first time I got on the show and won, I literally had zero backlash, like none. And the second time, I wouldn’t get a ton, but I’d get a few scathing emails wishing horrible things on my children, which I had none at the time. I just kind of laughed in that regard. Essentially I was the exact same person, the character I was playing, but I had to be nice. And then the other time, I had to be a little more cutthroat.

Rachel: I guess the biggest misconception people say about my game is that I was only a competitive player. I was, but I also had strategy and somewhat of a social game. I mean, I had alliances and friends and made deals throughout the season. If I played again, I would have to play a different game!

Andy: To be honest, I just don’t think CBS knew what to do with me for the first part of the game. On night one, I remember producers asking me to make a gay sex pun about loving big popsicles (we had just had a competition where we hung onto big popsicles) and I refused, saying, “I’m not going to be that gay stereotype.” This may just be my ego speaking, but I think they were kind of at a loss for how to portray a relatively normal, down to earth gay guy who wasn’t always causing drama or yelling at people. Thus, the show kinda made me invisible for the first half of the season, even though I was a part of every major strategic decision…Long story short, I think the biggest misconception about me is that I didn’t do much my season, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I was always working, always keeping my finger on the pulse of the house, and always analyzing which basket I needed to put my eggs in. Nobody my season was aware of the shifting dynamics of the house like I was. People always call me a “floater” which is maddening, as I was fiercely loyal to people until it was impossible to be so anymore. Floaters, as fans see them, are the people who are aloof and do nothing, and that was certainly not me. WAIT. I know the actual biggest misconception: The show didn’t really portray me as funny, which kills me, as being funny is basically the only thing I have going for me.

Dan vs. Derrick?

Dan: I’d find it fascinating for him to play again. Because I feel like if you want to get into that conversation, you want to play twice. I have no incentive to play again…For me, it would be fun to watch. I hope Derrick plays again and I think he needs to play again. He would be fun to watch and I think he would do really well, but I think we’d see a different Derrick. I think he’s got it in him, but I think the only way we’re ever going to find out is if he plays again. And to his credit, I think he’d be better suited to play against other people who are playing for a second time…And I’m sure it would be hard for him to go back. He has a life he enjoys and he has a book out, he’s doing stuff. But as a fan, I’d love to see him again. He’d do well, but I think it would be a different Derrick. I’m calling him out. He needs to play again. For my entertainment, I’d love to watch him play again. If he were to play again, I’d watch every episode. Now, I just don’t have the time. It’s gotta be really compelling for me to watch every episode.

Derrick: Dan has said that to me and I’ll give you the same response I’ve given him – No two seasons are the same. Each season has its advantages and disadvantages. The only way to really see how we all stack up next to each other is to put us in the same house, under the same conditions, and see what happens. As a fan, that’s what I would want to see.

- Reporting by Sharon Tharp (@sharontharp)

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