This week's live episode of Big Brother once again proved Dan is willing to make cutthroat moves to further himself in the game. I've seen some backlash from fans of the series, complaining about Dan's tactics and expressing a dislike for him this season. As a fan of the series and someone who believes the show is at its best when there are players in the game who use actual strategy to get to the end, I thought I'd take a look at what Dan Gheesling has done this season in anticipation of the upcoming finale, which will see either Dan, Ian or Danielle crowned the winner. Does Dan deserve to win?
Admittedly, I was a fan of Dan in Season 10. But I don't want to come at this like a squealing fangirl, claiming Dan is a genius who can do no wrong, that he deserves sole credit for his successes in this game this season, or that he's a flawless human being with angel wings and unicorn breath. No one's perfect. But as a series-long fan of Big Brother, I find it fascinating to see how people work their way through this game each season, and I'm grateful for any player who manages to pull a rabbit out of the show's hat for our entertainment, whether it be by winning competitions or making big game moves. So there are a lot of factors, and as you're about to find out, a lot of words involved in exploring the subject of Dan's game and whether or not he can and should win. We'll also explore some other questions, like: Is he the best player ever? Better than Dr. Will? Has he played better than he did in Season 10? And does he stand any chance of walking away with another $500k?
How to win Big Brother...
Based on Seasons 2-13 (we'll exclude the first season, since the format of the game worked much differently), there are a number of different ways to win Big Brother. You have the people who find strength in alliances that move like a wall through the game, pushing one houseguest after another through the door until they're the last man or woman standing. Drew Daniel (Season 5), Maggie Ausburn (6) and Hayden Moss (13) are examples of this type of strategy. They found people to support them in the game enough to get to the end. There's definitely strength in numbers and that can come in handy with the odds in competitions, and especially on eviction night. Then you have the nice players, like Jordan Lloyd (11) and if I'm remembering Season 3 correctly, Lisa Donahue, who make it to the end without much blood on their hands and win out over someone who's either covered in blood or else, not likable enough (by the jury's standards anyway) to get the votes to win. And then there are the villainous players, like Dr. Will Kirby, "Evel" Dick Donato and Dan Gheesling. I wouldn't say that these three men played the same exact kind of game, but as far as how they were seen by their houseguests, pretty much from the start, they fall into a similar category. People knew they're dangerous and yet, they never got them out of the house.
Here's the thing about the above mentioned approaches. They're all valid! The way to win Big Brother is to get to the end of the game and convince the jury to vote to give you the $500,000 prize. Every single one of the winners in this series has done this, therefore they are all deserving of their respective wins, regardless of how they got there or how much we like them. Whoever wins deserves to win. Everything leading up to the victory can be mulled over and debated, but the deserving player always wins. That's what I love and sometimes loathe about Big Brother.
As evidenced by some of the past winners, you don't need to lie and backstab to win Big Brother, but it is one way to play the game. And while I'm sure many will disagree with me, I'll take a Dr. Will or a Dan Gheesling over Jordan Lloyd any day. This is nothing personal against Jordan. In fact, quite the opposite. Jordan is adorable. I can't imagine anyone disliking her. And I was more than happy to see her win her season, particularly against Natalie. But I find the game most entertaining when there are players navigating the game using strategic moves and playing the players as much as they're playing the competitions. Dan proved this week that you don't need an HoH or a Veto to have the power in the Big Brother house, and that's a strategy Dr. Will regularly exercised.
Dan vs. Will, Dan vs. Dan…
There are two major comparisons I've seen Dan's name brought into lately. The first, is Dan vs. Dr. Will. Who's the better player? There's no way to really measure this, because both played in different seasons, against different players and in some cases, with different rules. And though they take a similar approach in "playing the players," they're not the same guy. Will is charming, charismatic and confident. Dan is attentive, observant, patient and willing to play whatever role a situation calls for, whether that be the coach, the victim, the guilty guy who made a mistake, the nice guy, or the villain.
As players, Dan and Will share two key things in common. The first is their ability to spot weak links among alliances and weaknesses among the contestants, which they can manipulate or exploit to further themselves in the game. And the second is that both play the game as it is: a game. They play to win. If they make friends along the way, great. But in the end, when a player goes out the door, they're ok with that. It's not personal. It's one less person in the running for half a million dollars. They don't feel bad about that any more than a runner would feel bad for out-racing his competitors or a chess player would feel guilty for out maneuvering his opponent.
The second comparison I've seen is Season 10 Dan vs. Season 14 Dan. The difference in his gameplay this season versus Season 10 seems to have as much to do with the different people he's playing against as it does the fact that he had virtually no chance of trying to play the weak player as he did his first time around. In Season 10, his game was nearly derailed early on when he allied with Brian, who over-played from the start and ended up being the first evicted houseguest that season. But Dan ended up using that to his advantage, somewhat, by playing up the fact that he was alone in the house and "a weak player." People bought it early on and, despite not trusting him, didn't get him out when they could. By the time they realized just how dangerous he was as a player, they were in the jury house. There was no way he would've been able to come into Big Brother this season and try to claim he was weak. No one would have bought it. He had no choice but to play with a more open hand at first. And then he had to lie. A lot.
In Season 10, one of Dan's biggest moves was making a ridiculous deal with Ollie in which he promised him "all the power" in exchange for the Head of Household title. The other was forming the Renegade alliance with Memphis and the sub-alliance with Renny and Keesha. This season's journey to the finale has included a few big plays, numerous alliances and probably a few promises he had no intention of keeping The first major move was the funeral stunt. It seemed a bit showy (much like Season 10's Replacement Nominee Roulette) and I'm not sure what he really hoped to accomplish with that maneuver, in which he claimed he was "dead in this game." Regardless of his intent, he confused and upset the houseguests, leaving everyone scratching their heads and trying to figure out his motives, while he conspired with Frank, Jenn and Danielle to get himself off the block. He found a hole to slither through into the next week and through it, he went Was it a lie? Sure. Did he swear on a lot of things? Yes. And I won't argue with people who are offended that he swore on his wife or the bible. As far as I'm concerned, what or who he swears on is between Dan and that person (or book).
The coach and the player...
Watching Dan work with Danielle has been one of the more fascinating parts about this season of Big Brother, and his work with Danielle is arguably his best (long-running) play this season. We saw the other coaches form bonds with some of their players this season, but I don't know that any of them were quite as close as Dan and Danielle. But the line between master and apprentice has been blurred since the reset, and though it's been evident that Dan has made moves that benefit Danielle in the game, that has always appeared to be in Dan's best interest too, and not always in hers when it comes to the end game. There are times when she seems fully aware of this and yet she has continuously gone along with his plans.
This week's major blindside, which saw Shane walking out the door is a prime example. Dan attempted to get Shane out during the double eviction and Danielle knew it. How she didn't see Thursday's eviction coming, I don't know. She knew Dan had Shane in his sights. It should have crossed her mind that he might try to do this when he encouraged her to pull him off the block and put Shane up. So either she missed a major clue, or somewhere in her mind she thought this was a possibility and decided to just let it happen. We saw some of the aftermath of Shane's eviction, and it was clear she was upset, surprised and angry about it. Granted, we haven't seen the diary rooms to know exactly what she's really feeling or thinking since, but from what we're seeing on the feeds (mild spoiler alert), she's not only back on comfortable speaking terms with Dan already, but it looks like she's going along with his plan to convince Ian she wants Dan out.
Dan came into the game playing as a coach. During the week Kara was evicted, I had my doubts about his coaching abilities. I wasn't watching the feeds at that time, but after Jodi's swift departure and the edited version of Kara's exit week as shown in the episodes, it didn't look like Dan was doing a very good job of leading his players to victory. Considering he's the only coach that's actually a coach, I was surprised by that. But watching him work with Danielle all season is more evidence of the kind of player he is.
It's impossible to know how Danielle would have done in this game without Dan in the house, because so much of what she's done this season, excluding competitions (she deserves full credit for her comp wins), has been tied to moves Dan's been making and advice he's given her. He's had numerous arcade-room chats with her, and spent a lot of time justifying, apologizing and counseling her. There's also been plenty of misting. Yes, he's manipulated her, but she has willingly allowed this to happen. After the funeral, she was upset with him for not cluing her in about that beforehand, but she went along with his plan and even used him calling her out at the funeral to create perceived distance between Dan and herself. After that, she knew what he was capable of and she has continued to trust him. Danielle's not a fool. Dan may have set the course for their road to the finale, but he hasn't carried her there. She has been less than truthful (or she's outright lied), and willingly gone along with his schemes, likely because in the end, she knows she benefited from them too.
Dan's coaching techniques (or manipulation if you want to call it that) with Danielle are more demonstration of how adaptable he's been this season. I don't know if he came into the house with a set coaching strategy. I don't know if he intentionally picked three women to be his players, or if it just happened that way. These are things I'm sure we'll hear about when the game is over and he's doing interviews. But he's an adaptable player and he's an adaptable coach. He got to know Danielle. He's tested her limits on an emotional level and figured out the best way to work with her within the game. Not only is he the last coach in the house, but he managed to make it to the finale with the only player he's had since Day 13.
Dan vs. Ian, Dan vs. Danielle...
This section contains spoilers from the first part of the final HoH competition.
As far as I see it, Danielle's been playing a $50,000 game since she forgave Dan after the funeral and has continued to go along with his plans. Granted, she might not have made it nearly as far as she has this season without his help, but at this point, if it comes down to Danielle and Dan, I would be surprised if the majority of the jury were able to give her more credit for her success than they give Dan, since so much of what she's done ties into things he did. And while a lot of Dan's strategy involved Danielle, it's clear that he was the manipulator, and there's a lot more value in that as a player. That said, it's impossible to know what the jury is thinking or whether or not they'd be willing to award a past winner another $500k prize. Danielle's best bet to win this whole thing - if given the opportunity - is probably to evict Dan if she wins the final HoH. Obviously, she'd need to win Part 2 of the HoH competition and then beat Dan in Part 3. But if she does and she wants to win, evicting Dan seems like her best option. She wouldn't be a lock to win then, but having Dan's eviction on her record would be a big selling point. If she wins and evicts Ian, she's just doing one last favor for Dan.
As for Ian, he has benefited from Dan's game play since after Britney's eviction, but I think he has the competition wins and other strategic plays to support his case as this season's deserved winner. It will be harder for Dan to beat Ian if Ian wins Parts 2 and 3 of the HoH and takes Dan to the end. Ian has assured Dan he will take him to the end, but if he's playing strategically and not out of loyalty to the Renegades alliance, he should take Danielle. With Ian, it's hard to know what he'll do, but if he does take Dan, it should be an interesting Final 2, and nearly impossible to predict. Dan is a great talker, and I think he'd have the advantage there with the jury, but again, Ian played a good game all season, with a few notable flaws (Britney's exit being the biggest misstep for him since he didn't see that coming). And again, the jury might not want to award Dan another win.
There is a chance he could pull it off, though, and Dan has certainly positioned himself well for it. He could have played along with the Danielle/Shane/Dan final three, but he knew he probably would have been setting himself up to need the Final HoH in order to go to the end. With Danielle and Shane looking more cozy than ever since their Kelloggs date, I suspect Dan knew that not only would Shane most likely not take him to the end, but Danielle might not either. Shane's exit puts Dan in a much better position for the final two. Whether or not he makes it remains to be seen.
From my perspective, Big Brother is a game first and a TV show second. I think others feel the opposite, which is why they prefer the more likable, personable players. They tune in for the social interactions, the funny moments, the fun competitions and the romances, and to see the mean people and liars sent packing by the heroes. And that's ok. I'm not faulting people for that. As far as I'm concerned, as long as people tune in and the show gets the ratings to keep coming back, fans are fans, whatever their reasons. But I watch for the strategy. I watch to see who can navigate their way to the end however they can.
Looking at the variety of winners Big Brother has had over the course of its run, the history of this series is evidence that any kind of person can win this game. It's just a matter of using what you have. For Dan, it's an ability to spot and use the strengths and weaknesses of other people in the house within the context of the game. That last part seems important, especially when people feel the need to pass moral or personal judgment on players who use less than moral methods to get to the end. It's a game. Like sports or poker or any other game that involves manipulation, exploitation, and physical and mental prowess, Big Brother is a competition. It isn't life, nor is someone's behavior necessarily a direct reflection of who they are as a person. I can't speak to whether Dan's a lying, sneaky backstabber in real life because I don't know the guy, but as a Big Brother player, he could write the book on how to get to the end of this game. (And considering his recent publications, maybe he will).
Not everyone can play Dan's kind of game, but that's ok. The point is, Dan's not a certified genius, a military strategist, a psychologist, or an Olympic athlete. He's an every-man-twentysomething Catholic school-teacher from Michigan who happens to understand this game and how to avoid eviction. And whether or not he wins, his success this season is proof that Big Brother is the kind of game anyone can win if they understand how to play it. Does he deserve to win for how he's played this season? That's for the jury to decide. But he's helped make Season 14 a fascinating one, for those who prefer the less predictable, more suspenseful BB seasons. Wednesday night's finale should be a very interesting night, no matter who wins.