Whether or not Paul Abrahamian wins Season 19 of Big Brother, there can be no denying that this is season has been the summer of Paul. Since being swapped into the house at the cost of a newbie, Paul has grabbed this game by the horns and steered it in pretty much every direction he's needed it to go in order to secure himself a much more stable place in the house than he had last season.
It's entirely possible that the tides will turn against him as these final weeks play out, but for now, with seven people left in the house, Paul still appears to be on a steady course to the finale.
How is he doing it? Some will credit the producers for "rigging" the game in Paul's favor, and to be fair, he is a veteran of the game, who did benefit from a pretty massive twist at the beginning of the season. But let's give credit where credit is due and break down some of the things Paul is doing to earn his rising status as one of the best contestants to play this game.
Making The Most Of A Massive Advantage
This needs to be the first point, because that four-weeks-of-safety (or safe from three evictions) Temptation was undoubtedly the biggest advantage a player could receive, and it was destined to fall into Paul's lap. As the only houseguest with a pre-existing following --- especially considering he played Big Brother last summer, and is still relatively fresh in fans' minds --- he had the highest odds (by a long shot) to be voted to win safety from the first three evictions. When he got it, he didn't coast. In fact, I actually thought he was overplaying the game early on.
Instead of trying to fly under the radar and let these houseguests forget he's a veteran of the game, Paul used his veteran status as a strategy to earn trust. Cody (and by proxy, Jessica) was the only person who actively tried to target him early on, and that backfired hard thanks to his Safety temptation. But if Paul hadn't been safe, and went up on the block, I'm not convinced Cody would've had the votes to get him out. In fact, Matt/Raven and Mark/Elena's willingness to evict Jillian over Christmas strongly suggests that Paul had already succeeded in winning enough of the majority's loyalty.
Unable to even consider Paul as an option for eviction in those first few weeks, the houseguests essentially had to choose between biding their time until his safety ran out, or trying to work with him and use his experience in the game to their advantage. In turn, Paul used that time to establish trust with enough people in the house to set up his strategy for the season. For that, he needed numbers...
Playing the Numbers
Big Brother is a numbers game, as much as --- if not more than --- it's a power game. The power a houseguest can earn increases drastically when they have the support (forced or earned) of the majority.
Consider that there have been no big alliances this season. Instead of named teams of allies, Season 19 has given us showmances (MarLena, Jody and Maven) -- and in the case of Alex/Jason and Christmas/Josh, a couple of ride-or-die duos. Then there are the loners (Kevin, Ramses, and to an extent, Jillian and Dominique). Most of the loners went first. Jillian went so Christmas could stay, just as Ramses went so that Josh could be kept around. The only one who stayed was Kevin, who proved early on he was willing to do shady things for Paul (like cast a hinky vote). The other loners offered no real value to Paul's game, and may have posed a threat if they teamed up with the wrong people. At this point, all of the currently remaining houseguests are people who've actively gone along with Paul's plans. He had the numbers early on. And most importantly, he steered anyone who wasn't Team Paul toward the door almost every Thursday night (we'll exclude Jessica's Halting Hex week, where there was no eviction).
Which takes us to one of the biggest pieces of Paul's strategy...
Lining up Multiple Targets
This has been happening since the beginning of the season, but I'm not sure I really saw it until a few weeks back. While Cody was marked for eviction, Paul was already working on the other houseguests to target Mark and Elena next. He was also sewing seeds of distrust toward Kevin. Sure enough, once Cody was gone, Elena went out next, and Mark followed her the following week. Last week, the targets were either going to be Alex/Jason or Matt/Raven, all depending on who won Head of Household. Paul didn't have to win. One of those duos was already primed to target the other. Since Jason won HoH, it was Matt and Raven on the block, with Matt as the primary target. Had Matt or Raven won Head of Household, Alex and Jason would've likely been nominated, with Jason as the primary target. And Kevin continues to remain an optional target. No one really trusts him, save maybe Jason.
The main takeaway here is that Paul is never the main target, and really hasn't been for anyone since Cody left. Even if someone were to put Paul up, he's had every base covered to ensure the houseguests wanted whoever was sitting next to him to go home. Beyond that, he's created blindside scenarios, where the actual target thinks they're safe until they know they aren't. Matt and Raven had no idea they were the main targets until the Veto wasn't used this past week. They were sure Kevin was the target, and it didn't even really occur to them to suspect they were in trouble before the Veto ceremony. Why? Well...
Keeping His Friends Close... And Divided
This is arguably the ugliest side of Paul's strategy, but it does seem to be effective among this set of houseguests. Viewers --- myself included --- are likely questioning why these people don't just compare notes and realize that Paul is the only common denominator in everything that's gone down this season. So, why haven't they? Because these houseguests are all paired off, and Paul has capitalized on any shred of dislike or distrust he detects from one duo to the next. He's encouraged or instigated conversations where the current (or lined-up-for-later) target is being bashed or ganged up on. For example, there have been times when Paul has flat-out told Josh to go off on Mark or Cody or whoever. And Josh has done it, after which Paul and Christmas will reel Josh back in, and go back to playing the game. When they want Josh to lay low, they encourage him to be calm.
Josh is probably the most extreme example of the emotional manipulation we've seen from Paul this season, but he's not alone. At some point, Paul has probably whispered in most of the houseguests' ears to make make it personal between one houseguest and another, and also frame the problems strategically to suit the houseguest's personal and strategic interests.
Again, it's not a pretty tactic, and it's undoubtedly altered the persona he created for himself in Season 18. Paul is not the happy-go-friendship buddy he was last season. But he has people's trust, and they're often willing to follow along with whatever he thinks is best. What's been best for Paul is for each set of two to be loyal to the other, and to him. Everyone else is expendable.
Paul may be playing a predatory role this season, but in fairness, all signs point to it not being personal for him. There have been a lot of fights in the house, and Paul has been involved in some of them. But from what I've seen on the feeds, he's never lost control of his temper. And besides maybe Cody, he hasn't been the primary focus of anyone's rage. He's maintained a good relationship with the people he's working with, and that's most of the house.
And that brings us to the last point...
The Wolf in (Friend)sheep's Clothing
From our perspective, these houseguests have been playing Paul's game all season. And let's face it, most of them have. Those who refused to play Big Paul weren't long for Season 19. Paul has pulled this off through a combination of the previously mentioned points, and his ability to get along with -- and offer game advice to -- the houseguests in order to further his own agenda. He's framed it as their agenda, and he's framed himself as one of their closest allies. He talks deep strategy with people 1:1 or in small groups, planning things out weeks ahead so they feel sure he's on their side, until they're on the block, and even then, they don't seem to see just how big a role Paul has played in how they got there.
Every remaining houseguest thinks Paul has their back. On some level, they're probably aware of the control he has. Paul has positioned himself as the go-between for each of these duos, and their downfall has been (or could be) to trust that he really has their best interests in mind; that they rank higher than the other houseguests he's using to get them further in the game. We could argue that it's the houseguests' own gullibility that has allowed Paul to do that, and that may be a big part of this, but Paul deserves credit for his social game. One conversation between opposing sides could unlock Paul's whole strategy, but it hasn't happened yet. That's not an accident.
Am I giving Paul too much credit? Maybe this is not what some people want to hear, but I really don't think so. I wouldn't argue that this has been the most entertaining season of Big Brother. I much prefer genuine shifts in power throughout a season. I like when we see a good vote-flip or a hard blindside. And I admit, there's some part of me who wants to see one of these houseguests get wise to what Paul is doing and orchestrate his demise. Christmas and Josh both seem like they have the potential to do it if and when the time is right. Funnily enough, those are two of Paul's most sincere allies in this game, which could come back to bite him. Jason could also make it happen if he keeps winning competitions.
If someone does manage to successfully orchestrate Paul's demise in this game, they deserve to win the season. There's still enough time for it to happen. But if things continue as they're going, it's hard to make a case that anyone deserves to win Big Brother Season 19 more than Paul.