Voting has officially closed for this year’s Big Brother America’s Favorite Houseguest. The competition for the $25,000 prize on the perennial CBS summer hit seems to be a race for second place as one of the houseguests, Frankie Grande, had the support of his Pop superstar sister Ariana Grande tweeting to her millions of minions to vote for her big brother. But an interesting thing happened with nine hours left in the vote. Both Ariana, and her mother, tweeted out last-minute support for 23-year-old recent college grad Zach Rance. As voting neared to a close, they joined the hundreds of other fans on Twitter asking for votes for the pink hat wearing houseguest who was evicted over a month ago.
Why all the support for Zach? The Florida Gator alum has been the most galvanizing, most electric, and most watchable houseguest on an otherwise pretty predictable season. As undercover cop Derrick Levasseur marches inexorably to his inevitable win, there has not been much excitement or unpredictability on season 16 of Big Brother. No big moves were made and the outcome each week was as surprising as Julie Chen getting re-signed to host the show her husband’s network airs. The one showmance, between houseguests Nicole Franzel and Hayden Voss, earned a G rating for “gosh, they almost seem attracted to one another.” On the other end, we had a failed, attempted showmance when Caleb Reynolds became obsessed with Amber Borzotra to the point where it appeared police sergeant Levasseur might have to come out of hiding.
But Zach was part of the only meaningful showmance this season, a playful, flirty “will they or won’t they” with Frankie. Zach is straight, Frankie is gay, but together Zankie became something new and indefinable. The two generated more heat than Jeff and Jordan or Rachel and Brendan and their physical attraction and demonstrative affection became the stuff of Big Brother legend. In the midst of the summer, as her career has been skyrocketing, Ariana took time off to comment on the budding showmance and tweet her support for Frankie and Zach. Zankie took over Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and fan fiction everywhere.
It wasn’t just the showmance that caught America’s attention, though. Zach had introduced himself to America as this season’s villain, a Dr. Will Kirby wannabe who “hated everyone.” He promised to be a complete jerk, a “con man” who would care only about himself, running over all his fellow houseguests on his road to taking home the top prize. Pre-season interviews left most viewers lining up to hate the smarmy frat boy. And Zach played up his “I hate everyone” schtick once the Big Brother cameras were pointed at him.
Despite this, it took no time for the viewers to have an epiphany. Zach was not a jerk after all. The most frequent comment throughout social media after the live feeds of the show came on was, “he’s growing on me.” The guy who wanted to be the villain, the most hated houseguest ever, was actually pretty lovable. Unlike the rest of the houseguests, he worked to learn the names of everyone’s friends and family members. He listened to people’s life stories and asked questions, showing genuine interest. He developed feelings for people, not wanting to vote out Brittany Martinez, a single mother of three, whom he liked and thought was a good person. He didn’t want to throw a competition against Donny Thompson, a 42-year-old North Carolina groundskeeper, because he liked him and thought he was a good person. See a pattern? In what was supposed to be a game for half a million dollars, Zach was developing relationships and feelings - not really something a cad was supposed to do.
In one of the most telling moments of the live feeds, a fan shouted over the wall when Caleb, Frankie and Zach were in the backyard and could be heard clearly saying: “Beast Mode Cowboy [Caleb’s nickname] we hate you, Zach we love you, Frankie you’re disgusting.” Caleb thought he heard the fan shouting something negative about him and neither he nor Frankie heard what was said about Frankie, but all three agreed they heard the “Zach we love you” part. So what did Zach think the fan had shouted about the other two? He heard “Beast Mode we love you” and “Frankie you’re the best.” Yep, this season’s resident villain was convinced that the person shouting over the wall had to be saying nice things about everyone! He couldn’t even fathom the possibility that they would have anything negative to say about the other houseguests.
Turned out this year’s bad guy was a softie. He worships his ten-year-old brother Peyton and seemed to be more Momma’s boy than playa. He opened up about his ADHD and his struggle with being off his meds in the house. He cried when fellow houseguests Derrick and Frankie each separately learned that their grandfathers had passed away. Because he was so unfiltered, we saw the real person. And that person turned out to be the real star of Big Brother 16. Every second he was on the screen, any moment he was on the live feeds, was electric. He had the best speeches, he came up with the most entertaining poems, he had the most memorable catch phrases. His “Zach Attack” dance moves have inspired dozens of YouTube tribute videos.
His unpredictable outbursts, his joie de vivre, his sincerity, his vulnerability made Zach the one you cared to see what he’d do next. He tried to make big moves and play strategically and had initially set himself up well for a deep run. Unfortunately his game play was as bad as the post-Tebow Gators and his loose lips ultimately caused his ship to sink. Still, his excitability, his spontaneity, and his enthusiasm captured the fans’ imaginations. If you did a countdown of your favorite moments from the season, almost every one would involve Zach. His energy, enthusiasm and love of life lifted the show when it was bogged down in flat characters and predictable voting. Zach had a desire to shake things up, make something happen, and entertain us when his fellow houseguests forgot they were on a TV show.
The fact is in a game full of lying and deception, Zach Rance turned out to be the most real person in the house. He tried to act the bully, tried to be the bad guy, but couldn’t hide the fact that he’s just a sweet kid. That was the real twist in an otherwise boring and predictable season where the dullest winner in Big Brother history methodically moves his chess pieces around to guarantee his inevitable win. Without Zach’s volatility, unpredictability and showmanship this season would have gone down as the most tedious, uninteresting ever. But we were blessed with the most watchable houseguest the show has ever cast. Funny, lovable, roguish, outrageous, raw, and unfiltered, Zach was the real star of Big Brother 16.
The season will draw to a close Wednesday night and we already know the outcome. Derrick will win the season and Frankie will win America’s Favorite Houseguest, not because he was anyone’s favorite - not with his talk of euthanizing Zach or having two male houseguests “double team” and “take all her virginities” away from one of the young female houseguests - but because he and his famous sister rallied the votes early. But when we look back on Big Brother 16, we will remember it as the season of the Zach Attack. Zach may not have won the $500,000 first prize and he may not win America’s Favorite Houseguest, but he unquestionably will be the most memorable player to come out of Big Brother in a long time. He is the one we want to see more of, whether it’s in an upcoming Big Brother All Stars version, on CBS sister show Amazing Race, or on his own You Tube channel. So feel free to congratulate Zach, not on winning America’s Favorite Houseguest, but on winning a place in America’s hearts.