Big Brother remains a top-rated reality competition show because of its masterful ability to show us what happens when contestants from vastly different walks of life exist together under 24/7 surveillance. Each season, the pressure cooker setting creates drama that's both heartwarming and, at times, nasty. And when you're hooked as a viewer, it's hard to look away.
Unfortunately, the show is also symbolic of the divided America many feel today. Its casting formula has historically selected predominantly white, cisgender and heterosexual stars that, season after season, produce winners who look the same. In the show's 20-year run, not one Big Brother winner has been Black. Not one. (Though Tamar Braxton was crowned victor in 2019, it was during the spinoff Celebrity Big Brother series.)
So it was refreshing when the season 22 cast for Big Brother All-Stars was announced in August. In addition to choosing players whose punchy one-liners and antics were made for reality TV—Janelle Pierzina, Tyler Crispen and Enzo Palumbo are prime examples—CBS also tapped four Black competitors who previously had not been afraid to discuss race and the importance of diversity and inclusivity on national television.
David Alexander, Bayleigh Dayton, Kevin Campbell, and Da'Vonne Rogers each entered the house eager to play and hopeful to become the first-ever Black winner of Big Brother. Bayleigh and Da'Vonne quickly developed a friendship, relying on each other for strategy feedback and regularly reminding viewers of the "Black girl magic" they often cited.
Of course, their intention was to thoughtfully advance to the finals. However, as with any season of Big Brother, an all-white alliance of six dubbed The Committee quickly formed, locking David, Bayleigh, Kevin and Da'Vonne out of major game play that could have helped them push forward.
Because of The Committee's agenda to protect each other, Bayleigh was eventually eliminated in week five and, following a series of thorny events, Da'Vonne failed to see that she truly could trust David as an ally. Sadly, Da'Vonne was sent packing on Thursday, Sept. 24 when houseguests gave her the boot by a vote of five to two, making David and Kevin, who is Black and Japanese, the last remaining Black players of season 22.
There's plenty of discourse on social media about why the only Black contestants are often siloed or pitted against each other: Is racism the issue? Does the casting process need to be flipped entirely on its head? Were they simply aloof players?
No matter the answer, it's been disheartening to watch Bayleigh, David, Kevin and Da'Vonne get subjected to microaggressions and dismissive behavior that white cast members truthfully wouldn't experience—especially as they've discussed topics such as police violence against Black populations on camera.
And for Bayleigh and Da'Vonne, the best way to navigate these seemingly clear house double standards was to call them out directly. During a verbal altercation earlier this month, contestant Christmas Abbott clapped and put her hands in Bayleigh's face, prompting Bayleigh to state she would have been labeled a "ghetto ass Black girl" had it been the other way around. Harsh, but true.
Week after week, audiences watched the Black contestants repeatedly get left out of urgent game-changing conversations despite their best efforts to play well. That made Da'Vonne's elimination even more devastating. As viewers saw before live voting began, Da'Vonne understandably gave up on fighting to move on, telling fellow houseguests that the cards were simply stacked against her. When she was announced as the latest competitor to be evicted, she used that moment as an ace opportunity to speak up for all that she and her fellow Black Big Brother competitors have experienced.
Below, an excerpt from Da'Vonne's powerful speech:
"Cassandra Waldon was the very first houseguest to ever walk through those doors. She was a strong Black woman. Danielle Reyes sat in these two chairs—iconic and legendary. She as well was a strong Black woman and almost won this game. The spinoff version, Celebrity Big Brother, Tamar Braxton, another strong Black woman, won this entire thing by a unanimous vote.
I have the desire to join that list of women and be the first African American to ever win this game. Twenty-one seasons of winners and not one of those faces look like mine. So when I walked through those doors I had that desire, that determination to be the very first face to give hope to those behind me who have the desire to come in here and play this game. Because not seeing the face that looks like mine is very discouraging, it's hurtful and it does make me feel like maybe it's impossible. But I'm wrong about that because it's definitely possible. We can do it, it just hasn't been done yet.
Also, I want to acknowledge every African American who has walked through those doors with the same desire to be that face that I have. I see you, I salute you, and I appreciate you. You came in here, you knew the odds were against you, you knew that it was gonna be an uphill battle and you still fought and you fought like hell. And for that I love you, I admire you and I acknowledge you all today."
It's a speech that's guaranteed to never be forgotten. Big Brother has, for years, been criticized for its lack of diversity and dance-around-the-issue response to accusations of racism between cast members.
In 2019, a petition to remove contestant Jack Matthews surfaced after he used the phrase "rice pudding" in reference to an Asian American contestant. When speaking about a Black contestant, Kemi Fakunle, Matthews said he would "like a stomp a mudhole through her chest." Producers reportedly warned him about those comments before he ultimately was eliminated. This season, fans accused Memphis Garrett of using the n-word, but CBS told TMZ "a racial epithet was not said or uttered" after reviewing live feed footage.
Given what we've seen play out, it's impressive to watch Da'Vonne tackle these problems directly on national television especially after several weeks of reminding viewers that, in her words, "Black lives matter." She shouldn't have to carry the burden of speaking for all Black individuals, but she took that responsibility seriously and didn't allow its weight to hold her down.
Pop culture and reality TV acutely reflect the world viewers live in. And for Da'Vonne to get eliminated the same week that only one of three officers responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor was indicted is exhausting, particularly in the aftermath of widespread protests about race relations that erupted across the country this summer.
Now, it is just David and Kevin left fighting as the last Black contestants on Big Brother this season. To say there's hope they make it to the end is an optimistic statement, but when you assess how houseguests traditionally vote on the show (i.e. not in the favor of BIPOC players), their days are numbered. For a show that each season promises to "expect the unexpected," season 22 of Big Brother has been tragically predictable.