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Big Brother Fans Are Right to Be So Fired Up for This Week's Pressure Cooker

The great glass box was the site of one of the show's most infamous betrayals.
  • Kaysar Ridha, Jennifer Vasquez (Photos: CBS)
    Kaysar Ridha, Jennifer Vasquez (Photos: CBS)

    In the closing moments of the August 17th live-eviction episode, Big Brother host Julie Chen Moonves dropped a bomb of a revelation, and it wasn't just one of her customary invocations to "love one another." In teasing the next week's episodes, Julie promised that after years of fans clamoring for it, the August 24th eviction episode would also feature "the return of the legendary BB Pressure Cooker competition." And while she also mentioned the classic competition would have a "Scaryverse twist," alluding to this season's high-concept multiverse theme, Big Brother fans got to freaking out.

    The fans clamoring for the return of the Pressure Cooker have been doing so since the summer of 2005, when the one and only Pressure Cooker competition was held at a crucial juncture in Big Brother 6. That competition lasted an epic 14 hours, culminating in one of the most notorious deceptions in show history. Something about the simplicity of the game itself and the way it changed the entire course of that season has elevated the Pressure Cooker to icon status within the fandom.

    For anyone who started watching Big Brother sooner than 18 years ago and hasn't taken a crash course in BB history, the history of the Pressure Cooker competition comes with a whole heap of context.

    Big Brother 6 remains one of the most popular seasons within the BB fandom. It featured big, lovable characters like the ferociously competitive self-proclaimed blonde bombshell Janelle Pierzina and the smart, soulful Kaysar Ridha, the show's first Muslim cast member. There were huge blowout fights, strategic blindsides, and most crucially, a house that was starkly divided between two temperamentally opposed alliances: The Friendship and the Sovereign Six. By and large, the Friendship were judgmental and holier than thou, while the Sovereign Six were brash and boisterous. The fans vastly preferred the latter. And so when Kaysar, the strategic mind at the heart of the Six, was voted out in Week 4, the fans unsurprisingly voted in droves to send him back into the game one week later.

    No sooner was Kaysar back in the house than all the remaining houseguests were thrown into the Head of Household competition: the Pressure Cooker. A giant glass box stood in the backyard, and once everyone was inside, they each had to hold down a button. If anyone took their finger off the button or touched the floor with anything but their feet, they were out. That was it. No time limit. No funny business. Eliminated contestants opened gift boxes that were either rewards or booby prizes, and no one could walk out until three people had been eliminated, but that was it.

    Big Brother had been making use of endurance competitions since the very beginning, but there was something so starkly simple about the Pressure Cooker. Stand up, press a button, wait. The beauty of this competition lies in its simplicity. It's no doubt taxing to stand in one spot for a long time — especially without letting your finger slip — but you're almost certainly not going to drop out due to the physical strain. Endurance competitions in more recent seasons put the houseguests up on a wall that moves forward and backward, stressing their limbs and challenging their grip, as they fight gravity to stay in the competition. Some people drop willingly, but many others can't bear to hold on anymore. Pressure cooker is simply a battle of wills, designed so that the players who most desperately need safety can win it.

    Back in Season 6, Kaysar desperately needed to win it. He'd been out of the house for a week, and in the span of that week, his alliance had crumbled, turning on their own, alienating James Rhine and voting out James' girlfriend Sarah Hrejsa. Nothing was certain, which is why he had to win Head of Household.

    The competition played out over the live feeds, as fans watched along for hour after hour. After Beau Beasley was disqualified for touching the floor, he opened a box to find a mini-martini bar and proceeded to get quite drunk, to the annoyance of everybody else still competing. Janelle's finger slipped off, and she opened a box to reveal a free subscription to a DVD rental service called Netflix. At the 11-hour mark, in the wee hours of the next morning, it came down to Kayar and Jennifer Vasquez, the professional cheerleader and one of the Friendship alliance. Both began trying to maneuver the other one to drop out. Kaysar was determined to win and control the next eviction. Jennifer made promise after promise that Kaysar would have complete safety if she won. He asked her to swear, she swore on her life, and after 14 hours, Kaysar willingly took his finger off of the button.

    This was the worst possible move made in the most Kaysar way imaginable. Kaysar, who repeatedly talked about playing with integrity and honor, couldn't imagine that someone would lie to his face that blatantly. Jennifer did, and by the following Thursday, Kaysar was evicted for the second time in three weeks.

    In a way, the Pressure Cooker competition is like the scene of a crime. The spot where Kaysar believed Jennifer's assurances enough to take his finger off the button ought to be outlined in chalk when the production team re-assembles the glass box on Thursday. By bringing this iconic competition back, the players who know their Big Brother history will certainly have Season 6 on their minds while their fingers are on those buttons. They'll probably think twice before believing anyone who assures them they're safe if they drop out. The "Scaryverse twist" that Julie Chen-Moonves promised might as well be ghostly apparitions of Kaysar and Jennifer, reminding the players to trust no one and expect to be betrayed.

    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 discussions 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