Features

The One Episode You Should Watch from Every Season of Big Brother

The most crucial episode from each of the show's 21 seasons.
  • Photos: CBS
    Photos: CBS

    Whether you're a Big Brother fan interested in revisiting early episodes, or a newcomer looking to catch up on what you missed, the good news is that every episode of every season is available to stream on CBS All-Access. The bad news is that each season is nearly 40 episodes long (some, like Season 1, are much longer), making the prospect of fully catching up a daunting one indeed. If you're looking to shortcut your way through BB history, however — or if you're just a longtime fan looking to relive the good times — we've assembled a curated binge for you: one episode from each season that stands the test of time as the single must-watch episode. One episode that either stands as the highlight moment, a turning point, an instance of superior game play, or just an epic blowup, Either way, each episode, one apiece from the show's first 21 seasons, makes for quite an entertaining and illuminating binge.

    Big Brother 1: Chicken George's Hometown Is Rigging the Vote.
    Season: 1 Episode: 50

    The first season of Big Brother was an experiment, one which ultimately failed, but like many failed experiments, this one produced some fascinating findings nonetheless. Looking at the show with the hindsight of 22 seasons, it's like peering into another universe. Julie Chen hosting from a news desk, punctuated by pundit segments with the likes of Dr. Drew (on hand to assess the psychological well-being of the human hamsters inside the house) and an AOL representative there to talk about who's popular in the ol' chat rooms. Season 1 of Big Brother is a peek at reality TV in its infancy, and oh what a boring baby it was, with the houseguests asked to perform banal group tasks and (with the at-home audience the sole decider of who gets eliminated) almost zero game play. The only interesting thing to happen that season was when "Chicken" George's wife back home organized a phone bank to down-vote her husband's competition, and so on episode 50, evicted (or "banished" as the terminology was that year) houseguest Brittany told all to cute, likeable Josh about George's hometown rigging the game. This episode gives a taste of how rudimentary the whole show was, but also presents a show that's kind of radical in its transparency.

    Big Brother 2: Chilltown Gets Burned.
    Season: 2 Episode: 4

    The second season of Big Brother saved the show from a shaky fate by introducing more complex and ruthless game play… and also by ratcheting up the trash factor. Both of those elements really landed in the fourth episode, the season's first eviction. To start, we get an in-studio Julie Chen explaining the events of the past day, where Justin Sebik was evicted after holding a knife to the throat of Krista Stegall while they made out. This, as much as the increase in compelling game play, helped put Big Brother back in the pop culture conversation. But then later on, the very first eviction was a swerve, as the obnoxious "Chilltown" alliance had the tables turned on them, setting the tone for a tremendously tense season.

    Big Brother 3: Salad Fight.
    Season: 3 Episode: 4

    BB3 is the greatest of the early Big Brother seasons, and some might say the greatest ever. And while that season featured shrewd game play, emotional betrayals, and groundbreaking twists (the first Veto competition! The first return of an eliminated contestant!), the best episode features a moment that doesn't really have much to do with how the game played out. The houseguests began kvetching about Gerry Lancaster not washing his hands after using the bathroom (and then subsequently getting quite handsy while preparing the Caesar salad). Gerry was the oldest houseguest by a good dozen years, and so there was an element of youthful bullying that Lori Olson took exception to. Danielle Reyes in turn took exception to Lori's lecturing, and the two had a verbal spat that included Lori at one point yelling "Oh my god, I feel glamorous, can I help you with the meat?!" Easily the best and funniest blow-up of the season. The episode is also history-making, with Gerry playing the Veto for the first time ever, saving Marcellas Reynolds, whom Gerry thought was a target for being black and gay.

    Big Brother 4: Nathan Vetoes Alison.
    Season: 4 Episode: 10

    The cruel twist in BB4 saw five of the original houseguests shocked by the arrival of their exes, and naturally the early game saw those exes largely shunned. This applecart was upset four weeks in when Dana Varela flipped to the exes and put up erstwhile ally Alison Irwin, whose ex, Justin, had been flirting with Dana. Nathan Marlow, who'd been flirting with Alison in the meantime, won the veto and saved Ali, earning Dana's light-lipped ire. The story of BB4 was ever-escalating enmity, leading to a furious finale where none of the jurors applauded the eventual winner. That tone was set in this episode.

    Big Brother 5: Twin Twist Revealed.
    Season: 5 Episode: 13

    Upping the ante on the previous year's exes twist, BB5 labeled their season "Project DNA (Do Not Assume)." The clunkiness of that moniker aside, it indicated two of the most extreme twists the show had ever, or would ever, implement. The first one, which saw houseguests Michael Ellis and Nakomis Dedmon discover that they were secret half-siblings (!), was complicated and morally icky and generally not the feel-good reunification story that CBS might have hoped for. The second, however, was a delicious bombshell: twin sisters Adria Klein and Natalie Carroll started out the game playing in secret as one (Adria), swapping in and out of the house at regular intervals and trying to evade detection. Once they made it past four evictions, they got to reveal their ruse and play as individuals. This reveal, coming just after the house had crippled the bro-tastic Four Horsemen alliance by evicting Scott Long, was phenomenal TV and the best-ever example of what would eventually become Big Brother's mantra: Expect the Unexpected.

    Big Brother 6: "Bye Bye, Bitches!"
    Season: 6 Episode: 18

    "Gimme that key, bitch!" Janelle Pierzina cried out upon winning her first Head of Household competition. Her closest ally, Kaysar Ridha, was just evicted earlier in the episode for the second time after the opposing alliance in the house — the dread Friendship — went back on a deal. Janelle was left as the de facto leader of her and Kaysar’s alliance, the Soverign Six, and needed to make a strike. Strike she did; she took power, and immediately threw up two Friendship members, Jennifer Vasquez and Maggie Ausburn. The former was her target, as she was the one to evict Kaysar. Janelle would have justice sooner versus later, too: Julie Chen announced this week would be a double eviction, so Janelle’s HOH reign would run even quicker than usual. This episode marked a major turnaround for the season, one that kept the two sides fighting up until the very end. That it ends with Janelle offering her nominees a succinct "Bye bye, bitches!" as alliance-member Howie Gordon carried her away makes it all the sweeter.

    Big Brother 7: Will's Eviction.
    Season: 7 Episode: 26

    Erika Landin is not a major name in the history of Big Brother, but the two-time player has at least one major credit to her name: evicting Dr. Will Kirby. After a season spent being manipulated by Chilltown, Will and eventual winner Mike "Boogie" Malin’s duo alliance, Erika and Janelle were the only other players standing. Janelle was in a position to evict either Erika or Will, and she’d been much closer to Will all summer long. Instead of rolling over and accepting defeat, Erika campaigned hard to Janelle. "They think that you and I are a joke," Erika said in the backyard. "They’ve already pitted us against each other... Why should we continue to let them do it?" She zeroed in on Janelle and Will’s showmance bond in particular, noting how all the flattery in the world wouldn’t change the truth. "He’ll tell you how beautiful you are, how smart you are, how funny you are, but he cannot guarantee you he’ll take you to the final two." Janelle was convinced and during the live eviction, she admitted she’d made many mistakes over the summer. "And after tonight, I’m done making mistakes," she said as she evicted Will. The episode ends with Boogie purposefully quitting the first of the last HOH competitions, throwing Janelle off her game and forcing her to lose as well. It’s a dark omen of what’s to come in the rest of the season. But for this brief, shining moment, Erika and Janelle made history.

    Big Brother 8: Dustin's Eviction.
    Season: 8 Episode: 19

    It’s tough to take out your target when not even America is on your side. Jessica Hughbanks and her alliance, the Late Night Crew, took aim at father-daughter duo Dick and Dani Donato when she won power in Week 2. Unfortunately for her, Dick won veto and pulled Dani off the block. Ally Dustin Erikstrup agreed to go up as a pawn, convinced their alliance would have the votes to keep him in, and as an extra kick in the face to Dick. Unfortunately for him, his ally and Jessica’s showmance, Eric Stein, was actually America’s Player. He was forced to do America’s bidding at all times, and this week, he was forced to try and keep Dick in the game. No matter how hard you were rooting against the Donatos, and how much you knew this screwed the Late Night Crew, you couldn’t deny the delicious irony of Dustin being evicted. "Pawns go home" is a popular Big Brother saying for a reason. As Dustin’s face dropped in horror upon seeing the 4-to-2 vote to evict him come in, you could tell he’d learned that lesson a little too late.

    Big Brother 9: BB Matchmaker.
    Season: 9 Episode: 1

    Big Brother’s first winter season also managed to be its trashiest, thanks to an "everybody’s single" theme that led to horny, absurd behavior on the live feeds. The gameplay was also pretty abhorrent, thanks to a pair of twists that handicapped the players from the start. But watching the premiere — in which each of the show's designated couples are suspended in midair, forced to rely on their embrace to stay in the competition — there’s almost a way to envision a better future for the season. This isn’t the best cast the show’s ever seen — not by a long shot — but there are some big personalities (self-appointed "Crazy James" Zinkand, single mom Sheila Kennedy) and even a potential gay showmance in Joshuah Welch and Neil Garcia. You get the sense that the producers were trying something different this season, and if a few things had fallen differently (or if different casting decisions were made), it could have been a decent run. As it stands, just enjoy the premiere, and conveniently forget to watch anything that comes after.

    Big Brother 10: Keesha's Birthday.
    Season: 10 Episode: 11

    A definitive question of our time: "Anybody want cake?" Keesha’s Birthday is up there with Dan’s Funeral in terms of legendary Big Brother events. Unlike some of the most iconic, though, it wasn’t a master scheme, just a rapidly escalating series of misunderstandings, all exploding at Keesha Smith’s birthday party. Jessie Godderz, a nominee and future returning player, exaggerated a conversation he overheard between allies Libra Thompson and Keesha. He repeated it to Head of Household April Dowling, who confronted Libra and brushed Keesha off. This enraged Keesha, who shared her anger with the rest of the house. Slowly, nearly everyone else got involved, but eventually had to stop to sing Keesha "Happy Birthday" over the saddest-looking cake you can imagine. Peace was short-lived, though, as Libra and Jessie started fighting once again, leaving the house in shambles heading into the veto competition. It’s one of the funniest Big Brother scenes in show history, demanding repeat viewings the second you’ve finished the episode.

    Big Brother 11: Chima Expelled.
    Season: 11 Episode: 18

    This is what a Coup D’Etat gets you in the Big Brother house: rebellion. Chima Simone’s week as HOH was effectively ruled invalid when Jeff Schroeder won a special, audience-voted power called the Coup D’Etat. He replaced both her nominations, and worse, prevented her from playing in the following HOH competition. Chima had long had issues with production ("Chima is a diva," future winner and Jeff’s showmance Jordan Lloyd said in a confessional), so this was the final straw. She felt it was an insult to her and an attempt to save their golden boy in Jeff. (Had Russell Kairouz, one of Chima’s nominees, gone home, it would have significantly weakened Jeff’s game.) When Chima wound up on the block the following week, she gave up, flouting production by refusing to put on her microphone and later throwing her mic pack in the hot tub. Executive producer Allison Grodner eventually had to get on the PA system to get Chima to come to the Diary Room, at which point she was escorted out and expelled for breaking rules. Chima’s expulsion remains one of Big Brother’s most controversial decisions to this day, while the episode itself remains a fascinating object. Suffice it to say it would play very differently in 2020, with an audience likely much more sympathetic to Chima’s frustrations. A fun bit: Kevin Campbell, Chima’s ally and a returnee on this season of Big Brother All Stars, has several confessionals in which he has to explain production rules and procedures! It’s the most fourth wall-breaking episode of Big Brother ever.

    Big Brother 12: Rachel's Return.
    Season: 12 Episode: 18

    Certain Big Brother contestants make such an immediate impact on that audience that the show's producers latch onto them and refuse to let go. So it was with Rachel Reilly, who boasted the most unlikely professional combination of biochemist and Las Vegas cocktail waitress, and an even more unlikely personality. Rachel was as loud and aggressive in her interactions with people as she was in her game play, and it got her evicted fifth. Never fear, though, as the quick-on-their-feet producers devised a twist that would get ger back in the game: with her showmance (and future husband) Brenden Villegas as HOH, he was offered a "Pandora's Box," a.k.a. a temptation for something good for you and bad for the rest of the house. (Pandora's Box was often used as a way for production to tinker with the game if it wasn't going their way, which ended up benefiting Rachel in BB13, but that's another story.) Brendan got an overnight getaway to a private resort, while the rest of the house got… Rachel, back in the house for 24 hours. The moment Rachel burst into the house, hollering and obnoxious, and immediately getting into a fight with her old foe Ragan Fox, was A+ TV, as was Ragan's absolute verbal evisceration of her in the backyard. As a bonus, this episode featured the first-even appearance of Zingbot, the insult-comic robot who would return every season from here on forward to zing the houseguests and then host the Veto competition.

    Big Brother 13: Double Eviction.
    Season: 13 Episode: 22

    It started — and in at least one way, it ended — with a clown shoe. Big Brother 13’s critical double eviction saw the stalwart veteran players (Jeff Schroeder, Jordan Lloyd, and Rachel Reilly) facing off against defector Dani Donato, plus her newbie allies Kalia Booker and Porsche Briggs. Jeff was HOH, Dani and Kalia were on the block, and despite some waffling, Rachel ultimately chose to take Dani out. But a pre-show fight between Jeff and middle-player Shelley Moore portended doom when Kalia pulled out the second HOH win of the cycle. She nominated Rachel and Jeff, the two bigger competitive threats, so neither could save the other if they were off the block. The veto competition is where things really turned out: it was a ball pit dive to find two clown shoes. One rested right on top of Jeff’s pile, but his eagerness to dive right in led him to toss the shoe out of his pit. Porsche won the veto instead, discarding it. Shelley’s anger with Jeff made her the crucial second vote (alongside Porsche) to evict Jeff, and Kalia broke the 2-2 tie to send him packing. It was a perfect storm that got a seemingly invincible player out of the house, and it all played out right in front of our eyes.

    Big Brother 14: Dan's Funeral.
    Season: 14 Episode: 21

    BB10 winner Dan Gheesling is universally recognized as one of the greatest and most savvy Big Brother players of all time, and this episode is where that reputation was cemented. After losing the Veto competition and facing almost certain eviction, Dan emerged from a 24-hour "solitary confinement" punishment (as a result of the Veto comp) and decided to host his own "funeral" in the game. After delivering genuine and heartfelt compliments to both friends and foes, Dan turned to his #1 ally Danielle Murphree… and absolutely roasted her, telling her she betrayed him and was dead to him in the house. It was a lie and a ruse, not that Danielle knew it, and it was only step one in Dan's master plan. He then blew up his Quack Pack alliance to HOH Frank Eudy and convinced him to save Dan and target fan fave Britney Haynes instead. The plan improbably worked, Dan survived, and managed to betray nearly everybody else in the house en route to a runner-up finish. But the fireworks and theatricality of Dan's Funeral became instantly infamous.

    Big Brother 15: Aaryn's Eviction.
    Season: 15 Episode: 28

    BB15 was rightfully notorious for the outrageous racism exhibited by many of the cast members, which encompassed everything from overt bullying, microaggressions, slurs, and general grossness. The worst of these offenders was Aaryn Gries, a blonde college student from Texas whose name, conveniently enough, is a nudged letter away from "Aryan." When Aaryn was finally evicted, to an icy audience reaction, Julie Chen pressed her on her comments and actions, and when Aaryn tried to downplay her culpability, the audience straight-up laughed at her. It was incredibly uncomfortable TV and richly deserved. The episode also featured perhaps the most crucial strategic move of the season, with eventual winner Andy Herren forming the Exterminators alliance, jumping ship from showmance Amanda and McCrae at exactly the right time.

    Big Brother 16: The "Social Media Mogul" Comes Clean.
    Season: 16 Episode: 22

    At the point when BB16 had become the most chaotic, the season's most dramatic cast member took a moment to grab the spotlight all for himself. After having thrown every member of his boys' alliance under the bus just days earlier, Frankie Grande was found out and it seemed like he was about to be shown the door… until he won a miracle veto competition. Still, with his allies all hating him, Frankie decided to change the narrative with a surprise revelation: that he's pop star Ariana Grande's brother. Of course, in Frankie's self-aggrandizing telling of it, he dubbed himself a "social media mogul" who'd be playing for charity, to help children in Africa. The move may not have made him seem more trustworthy, but it definitely changed the story. As a moment of TV, it's incredible, not only for Frankie's dramatics but for how very much he expected the others to be floored by his sister's identity… only for Derrick to call her "Amanda."

    Big Brother 17: Austin Blindsided.
    Season: 17 Episode: 37

    Oh, the indignity of being evicted barefoot. Vanessa Rousso, the Final 5 HOH of Big Brother 17 had been working with Austin Matelson all season long. He and his showmance, Liz Nolan, were well-positioned to make it to the end. After all, of the final five, there was only one person who wasn’t part of their alliance, the Scamper Squad: Johnny Mac, aka John McGuire. But as Johnny Mac was wont to do all season, he won the Power of Veto and took himself off the block. This left Austin on the block next to eventual winner Steve Moses, and while Johnny Mac would certainly vote to evict Austin over his closest ally Steve, his showmance would keep him in. Then, Vanessa would break the tie, and send Steve out. Austin was so confident this would happen that he didn’t even wear shoes to the surprise eviction, held a few days earlier than was typical. But Vanessa, knowing Austin could potentially control the endgame, took her shot while she could. She evicted him in a surprise, leaving Austin dazed and confused as he wandered out barefoot to greet Julie Chen. It remains one of the greatest single visuals Big Brother has ever produced.

    Big Brother 18: Jury House Explosion.
    Season: 18 Episode: 40

    "This is the one that you lay with?" Da’Vonne Rogers may already have been a reality TV icon before this episode, but this is the one that made her a legend. Jury house check-ins have typically been for feeling out how the evicted players are feeling about the ongoing game: who’s in good shape to win, who among the jurors will be bitter, and so on. But sometimes, unresolved drama from the house rears its head. Da’Vonne had had enough of Paulie Calafiore’s sexist behavior, and was aghast that her close friend Zakiyah Everette deigned to be romantically involved with him. After a heated exchange with Paulie, one that got significantly worse when he brought up Da’Vonne’s daughter, she turned her attention to Zakiyah, pleading to know why she stayed with him. It got so intense that off-camera producers had to enter the frame to break it up. After Paulie had been so awful all season long, watching someone as delightful and watchable as Da’Vonne tear him a new one was the definition of cathartic.

    Big Brother 19: Paul Loses. Again.
    Season: 19 Episode: 39

    BB19 was a singularly unpleasant experience, both from an interpersonal standpoint (the show depicted transphobic Cody Nickson as an underdog) and a game standpoint (more than half the house happily lined up to be picked off by a returning Paul Abrahamian), so it's quite fitting that the one must-watch episode of that season is the one that put us all out of our misery. The two-hour Big Brother finale is almost always a punishing endeavor, and this one in particular took up a TON of time with the endless three-part HOH competition and an extended segment with one of the all-time whiniest juries in show history. Two things make this episode a classic, though: one is the supercut of puppet-master Paul manipulating the entire house, played in front of the very jurors he'd bamboozled, who all had to sit there looking foolish. The second, and most lasting, is the sight of Paul literally begging the fates not to let it happen to him again, as Julie read the votes to reveal that, for the second season in a row, Paul got beat at the very end.

    Big Brother 20: Haleigh Wins Hacker.
    Season: 20 Episode: 18

    For the first several weeks of Big Brother 20, Tyler Crispen went undetected. Despite winning the first HOH of the season and clearly affiliating himself with one half of the house, the poorly named Level 6 alliance, his enemies in opposing alliance FOUTTE trusted him. Angela Rummans, his ally and later showmance, winning HOH seemingly guaranteed him another week of safety. But the producers had other plans, unleashing the Hacker twist on the house. Whichever player won the Hacker Competition would get the chance to manipulate the game in various ways, most crucially getting to remove a nominee from the block and replace them with another houseguest of their choosing. Heleigh Broucher, arguably the smartest player in FOUTTE, won the competition, and made quick work of putting up the biggest undiscovered threat in the house. "You cannot ride the fence or play the middle in this house and not get noticed. I think Tyler has played the middle, he has played both sides, and he is getting away with it," she said in a thrilling end-of-episode monologue. "So if I don’t make this move now, I don’t know if it will ever be made." Combined with the very cool visual presentation of the Hacker Competition, plus some other house drama (Big Brother 20 was superb for house drama), and this episode stands out as one of the best.

    Big Brother 21: Taco Tuesday.
    Season: 21 Episode: 26

    Manifest the tacos, bro. Live feed watchers heard tell all week that Christie Murphy, a member of the formerly defiant, then defunct Gr8ful alliance, would pull something big to avoid being evicted in Week 8. Promise of a fight during Taco Tuesday, the house’s weekly dining tradition, seemed too good to be true. Would Big Brother 21, a widely disliked season up to that point, really provide us a moment so iconic as to be referred to only as "Taco Tuesday"? Would it be the new "Keesha’s Birthday"? When Christie started to waffle, it looked like all was over. But Christie had let just enough of her plan to target former ally Nick Maccarone leak out to push him over the edge. He started the fight, storming up to Christie and demanding she keep his name out of her mouth. "Do you wanna go in the kitchen?" she quietly replied. A change of venue request; she was already winning. Nick lost his temper as he accused Christie of lying, even turning her belief in manifestation on her ("Manifest the truth, bro!"). But while Nick got angry, Christie calmly and effectively made the case that Nick was throwing competitions because he was allied with everyone in the house. She, on the other hand, would be the biggest target in the game, and would happily target only Nick moving forward. The plan worked, and Christie stayed over blockmate Analyse Talvera. "Happy Taco Tuesday," indeed.

    People are talking about Big Brother in our forums. Join the conversation.

    TOPICS: Big Brother, CBS All Access, Julie Chen