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Big Brother Live Feed Updates Unlock a Far More Compelling Show

You'd never know the often cartoonish Big Brother was an elite strategy game without hearing from Taran Armstrong.
  • Hisam Goueli and Jared Fields on Big Brother; Taran Armstrong recapping (photos: CBS; Rob Has a Podcast)
    Hisam Goueli and Jared Fields on Big Brother; Taran Armstrong recapping (photos: CBS; Rob Has a Podcast)

    Big Brother 25's premiere episode on August 2 featured, among other things, a competition in which players were repeatedly kicked in the butt by a mechanical boot, and one in which a player was dragged by an oversized monster into something that host Julie Chen-Moonves called the "Nether Region." The August 13th episode set the Head of Household competition inside that "Nether Region," where a Stranger Things-inspired "Nethergorgon" chased the competitors around as if we were all watching a particularly spooky episode of Scooby-Doo. Two weeks into the show's landmark 25th season, we've had skits about time lasers and people disappearing into portals.

    You wouldn't know it from those episodes, but Big Brother 25 is in the midst of an incredibly dense and multi-faceted strategic game, one that’s playing out in fits and starts on TV. We've seen the formation of alliances like the Professors and the Bye-Bye Bitches (also something called the "Handful"), but thus far we've only been made privy to the slivers of strategy talk that had bearing on Kirsten being the season's first vote-out. But the game of Big Brother is playing out in its full unadorned glory on the live feeds.

    Big Brothers 24/7 live feeds have been a distinguishing element of the show since its first season. Back then, you had to pay extra for the privilege of watching choppy early-aughts streaming video. You get to watch everything but the competitions, the ceremonies, and the times when people start singing songs that would get CBS sued for copyright violation. For a time, you could watch the live feeds on Showtime with the Big Brother After Dark show. There was a lot of dead air, and you really had to pick the right times to catch something juicy, but the feeds were unique to Big Brother and set the show apart from its reality TV competition. Eventually, the feeds made their way to CBS All Access and now Paramount+, where you can check in all day with your regular streaming subscription.

    The problem with the live feeds has always been the time commitment. Even if you wanted to see more than the three hours of airing on CBS (a big "if" considering some of the people this show has featured over the years), not everyone has time to keep the feeds on a screen and wait for something good to happen.

    This is where the live-feed updates come in. Websites have been offering rundowns of the BB live feeds since the beginning, but they were usually context-less bullet points of conversations. But the podcast network Rob Has a Podcast has made itself an invaluable source of Big Brother information by offering a kind of full-service experience. With both podcasts and videos available on YouTube, RHAP (a TV commentary organization founded and run by former Survivor player Rob Cesternino) covers the Big Brother season in a way that offers a better experience of the show than the show itself. You can watch weekly "stock watch" episodes that sum up the week's events and rank the players based on how well positioned they are to win. They recap each TV episode as well.

    But the crown jewel is the daily live-feed updates conducted by Taran Armstrong. Every day around 11:00 AM ET, Taran and a rotating cast of co-hosts present the previous day's live-feed highlights and lowlights. They offer insight and opinion on the houseguests, and most valuably, they synthesize all the swirling strategies in the house into a coherent narrative in a way that the Big Brother producers either can't (due to time constraints) or won't. "When I'm watching [the live feeds] during the day, I'm creating the story of it in my head," Armstrong said when he spoke to Primetimer via zoom recently. "The facts themselves can be very overwhelming, so putting it into some kind of narrative — one that is hopefully truthful — is going to help people understand it a lot better and also be more engaging and more fun."

    Case in point, the first week of Season 25, which played on TV like an open-and-shut first-week eviction for Kirsten, who played too hard in the first few days and was never able to recover. But while Kirsten was always the target, the rest of the house spent that first week scrambling, setting up two major alliances, each with sub-alliances, one double agent in Cirie's son, Jared, one defector in Cameron, and more than half of the house turned vehemently against Head of Household Reilly. Almost none of that made it into the TV episodes, but if you were following the RHAP live-feed updates, the game was unfolding at a thrilling pace.

    The task of watching the live feeds all day, every day, for the entire season seems incredibly daunting. But the task is worth it from an end-user perspective. Everything about Big Brother is more exciting and entertaining when you're aware of the many moving parts and conflicting personalities as they present themselves on the feeds. "In the beginning [of the season, the action is] constant. If I'm not watching all of it then I will not have a solid enough grasp to be able to tell people what's happening," Armstrong says. "Basically, on any given day I'm just paying attention as much as possible."

    Armstrong's live-feed update episodes tend to be between 50 and 90 minutes long, though this season, he's also begun producing shorter 60-second videos that neatly summarize a particular development or storyline. Those have been invaluable tools for a quick catch-up. And if you're looking for even more bite-sized updates, there's that site that we're all still calling Twitter, where Big Brother Daily is among many accounts working round the clock to provide updates from the live feeds. They'll live-tweet key conversations and excerpt videos that are either strategically important or just funny — and sometimes both.

    "This season, the feeds have been really interesting," says Armstrong, "The gameplay has been really aggressive and fluid and interesting and chaotic, and the show version of it has definitely not conveyed how fun the feeds have been." The TV episodes haven't covered anything about the bonkers one-way enmity that Hisam feels for Cory, but which has produced some of the most tense and bizarre conversations in the house. Nor have the TV episodes touched the unsettling bond between Cameron and Reilly, in which the former has developed a quasi-paternal bond that is playing out as manipulative on a personal level. As this article is being written, there's currently a wild scramble in the house over whether Cirie's group will opt to evict Reilly or Cameron, with plans fluctuating by the hour. Time constraints alone will make it very hard for the TV show to capture just how chaotic the house has been.

    As presented on TV, Big Brother has more than earned its reputation as one of the more unserious reality competition shows. This is a show that has made annual traditions of making players wear unitards as punishment, and trots out a sassy robot to hurl insults at the appreciative houseguests. But fans of the show have always loudly proclaimed Big Brother to simultaneously be a game of very complex strategy. The best Big Brother players have created layered alliance structures, manipulated both allies and enemies alike, and deftly escaped elimination without the use of hidden immunity idols or advantages. Following the show with the live-feed updates is really the only way to appreciate Big Brother as a strategic game.

    The live-feed updates also help alleviate Big Brother's biggest structural shortcoming. Currently, the Veto ceremony — which sets the final nominees for eviction in place — happens on Mondays in the house. But that ceremony doesn't air on TV until Wednesday night's episode. Which means all of the strategic maneuvering that happens after the Veto ceremony and before the live eviction episode on Thursday — three whole days of often intense social politics and plan-shifting — get crammed into a Thursday episode that also has to deliver a live vote, an HOH competition, and whatever nonsense Julie chats with the houseguests about.

    Following along with the feeds invariably makes you more frustrated with the TV episodes. But it also enhances the Big Brother experience by giving you a far deeper appreciation of the events playing out on TV. "If I was just watching the show, I wouldn't be nearly as invested," Armstrong says. "I'd be bored. I'd be like 'this is a fine show.' And I know this because I watch other shows like The Challenge, like even Survivor sometimes, where I know how much I'm missing."

    Big Brother airs Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sunday nights on CBS, with episodes streaming next-day and 24-hour live feeds on Paramount+. You can join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Big Brother, CBS, Julie Chen, Taran Armstrong