Things I’ve Worked On: Big Brother by the Numbers

My family and I still watch Big Brother. That’s right, the few, the proud. I’ve always been curious if there’s a right way to win Big Brother (or any other strategy-intensive reality show), so I took a look at some stats for the last 16 seasons. Season 1 was omitted because it was a very different game than subsequent seasons.

The First Four Weeks

Average Weeks in House Winners
Week 1 HOH Winner 7.1 3
Week 2 HOH Winner 6.4 0
Week 3 HOH Winner 8.7 4
Week 4 HOH Winner 8.5 1

Noteworthy Stat: In the last 6 seasons, the 1st HOH winner made it to week 10 5 times (the one exception being an expulsion).

Winning an early HOH is a question contestants often wrestle with. Do you want to put a target on your back that early in the game? Is the target worth it if you can cement a good alliance? Well, if you are going to win an early HOH, win it in week 1 or week 3, not week 2 or week 4. Week 4 is certainly better than week 2, but you also need to remember that it’s further in the season, so it should have a higher average. Winning week 1 has been particularly promising in recent seasons, as evidenced by the noteworthy stat above. (Note the level of significance; one-way ANOVA p-value = 0.06 for total weeks lasted and = 0.23 for weeks lasted after winning.)

Being a Good Competitor

Average HOHs Won Average Vetoes Won Total
Winner 2.7 1.2 3.9
Runner-up 1.5 1.6 3.1

Noteworthy Stat: In 6 of the last 6 seasons and in 9 of the last 11 seasons, the winner won at least 3 heads of household.

There’s no way around it: If you want to win, you need to win competitions, particularly heads of household. Even if you are able to make it far in the game without winning, you’re probably playing for second place. The winner of Big Brother won more HOHs than the runner-up in 11 of 16 seasons, had the same amount in 1 season, and had fewer in only 4 seasons. (Note the level of significance; t-test p-value = 0.004 for HOHs won and = 0.20 for total competitions won.)

Being a Smaller Target

Average Nominations (Post-veto)
Winner 2.0
Runner-up 2.7

Noteworthy Stat:  The last time the winner had more nominations than the runner-up was season 4.

This stat is relatively straightforward: You need to be a smaller target than your fellow finalist, at least in terms of nominations (you may be going against a floater who was put on the block many times as a pawn). (Note the level of significance; t-test p-value = 0.14)

The Last Two Weeks

1st Place 2nd Place 3rd Place
Winner of Penultimate HOH 7 3 6
Winner of Last HOH 11 5 N/A

Noteworthy Stat: The winner of the last HOH won 7 of the last 8 seasons.

Winning the second-to-last HOH is a crapshoot. You position yourself well, but you also put a huge target on your back, as evidenced by the number of third place finishes. In contrast, it’s extremely important to win the last HOH. If you don’t, you’re going to have to be perceived as very intelligent (e.g., Derrick Levasseur, Will Kirby, and Jun Song) by the jury (but not by your fellow finalist) in order to win.

Dan the Man

HOHs Vetoes Nominations Votes to Win
Dan 3 2 1 7
Memphis 0 3 2 0

Noteworthy Stat: Dan won all of his HOHs late in the game, in week 7 (1) and week 9 (2).

Dan Gheesling is seen as the best contestant to ever play Big Brother, bar none. There seems to be this consensus that he played a behind-the-scenes game, pulling the strings without getting any blood on his hands. This may well be true, but it’s not necessarily reflected in the stats. Dan’s achievement is the same as that of winners in general: They figured out how to be a smaller target than their fellow finalist while performing better in competitions.

Battle of the Sexes

Winner Runner-up Finalist
Male 11 6 17
Female 5 10 15

Noteworthy Stat: In the 5 times the final featured members of the opposite sex, the guy won every time.

Here’s the good news: the gender gap in terms of finalists is relatively small. Here’s the very bad news: The gender gap in terms of winners is quite big and only gets bigger when you consider mixed-gender finals (see the noteworthy stat). Female contestants really need to stick together because, like most other things in life, they have a harder path to victory.

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