|If the badge fits...For more on Derrick's gameplay click here.|
Why is that? Two words - jump street. As in 21 Jump Street, the TV show (later movie franchise) about undercover cops. Derrick is a former undercover cop and it is that skill set which has given him unprecedented power in the house and seems destined to put $500,000 worth of groceries in his young daughter's mouth. So what is it about being an undercover cop that works so well in the Big Brother house? And why does it not make for riveting television?
1. The ability to blend in
The first and most important skill an undercover cop needs is the ability to blend into his or her surroundings. Being outed as a cop can be a death sentence. Whether it's posing as a teenager when you're years older (something fellow Houseguest Frankie Grande no doubt wishes he could do) or pretending to be a criminal or drug user, undercover cops have to be able to convince strangers of a made-up identity - a whole new persona that will seem completely real and natural. Meryl Streep doesn't have her life on the line when she takes on a part, undercover cops very well may.
So the Derrick who walked into the Big Brother house is a creation, a manufactured persona designed to be nonthreatening. He's a Parks and Recreations guy with a bunch of employees below him who helps paint hash-marks on the football field and keeps the red maples healthy. He's married with a new baby (okay, that part seems to be true). He's a nice guy. Not good looking, like Cody Calafiore. Not in great shape, like Caleb Reynolds and Devin Shepherd. He's just Joe Schmoe, every man.
He lets Caleb go on and on about his service in Iraq without ever letting Caleb or the rest of the house know that he also has dealt with dangerous, life-threatening situations including a fatal shooting. While Frankie drones on ad nauseum about his famous sister, his millions of followers, and his Broadway shows, Derrick just smiles and nods, pretending to be ol' boring daddy-o with no exciting stories to share. He lets the other Houseguests take center stage as he fades into the background, the affable dad who likes puttering around on a lawnmower. But because of this, he looks boring and uninteresting and his screen time lacks electricity. Zach could not strategize his way out of a paper bag, but he was watchable. Derrick is dull as dishwater on the screen.
2. The appearance of trustworthiness
An undercover cop is only successful if he manages to be accepted and trusted by those he's infiltrated. Snitches get stitches, as the saying goes. So it should come as no surprise that the word other Houseguests use most often to describe him is trustworthy. Derrick is everyone's closest friend and confidante. Victoria has poured her heart out to Derrick; no fewer than two other people are firmly convinced they have a final two deal with him. He has never been on the block. He has never been mentioned to go up on the block.
How has he managed this? By keeping his mouth shut. He doesn't rat out fellow Houseguests, so he can never be put in the middle of an argument. You know the one way to look like you are never lying, never promise anything and never take responsibility for any decision. Derrick is masterful at this. He is constantly asking all his allies what they want and letting them know he'll go along with whatever they want. If you promise nothing, you never have to break a promise. If you never say what you want, you can never be called out when someone hears something contrary.
But because Derrick is considered so trustworthy, there are no fireworks when he's on the screen. No one calls him out, no one gets mad at him. Contrast this to the time that Zach told Derrick that Nicole told Victoria Rafaeli (phew!) about the five-person alliance that Derrick was in. Victoria was devastated to learn that her closest ally had been lying to her all along. Did that come back to bite him? No. Derrick immediately called a meeting to clear the air. He did this to demonstrate how loyal and honest he is - he has nothing to hide. Instead, the focus was on Zach's lie, not the underlying truth (of the alliance). So Victoria left feeling even more trusting in the man who had lied to her about his other alliance. If she had felt betrayed and violated and had yelled at Derrick and stormed off, it would have made for good TV. But instead, she went right back to snuggling with her only true friend in the game.
3. Make them think it was their idea
Derrick is a good listener and most people love hearing the sound of their own voice. So they talk and he reflects back either supporting their decision or gently moving them in a different direction. You will never hear Derrick say, let's vote out so-and-so next. The same way an undercover cop can't be the one to suggest the illegal act, Derrick doesn't overtly make the move - he makes his allies think they are in charge of every decision. He tells them any array of possibilities is fine with him (and sneaks in the one he really wants without letting on). He tells them, repeatedly, that he has their back and will support whatever they want to do, and they don't even notice when his alternative suggestion (which they're free to ignore) is what he really wants. And they don't realize later that when they take that alternative, they are doing his bidding.
To be a good undercover cop, according to Derrick in his pre-show interview with Reality Relapse, you have to learn to adapt to those around you. "Learn their likes and dislikes, their motives, their weaknesses." Once you know this, you can more easily manipulate them. Big Brother masterminds from the past - Dan, Dr. Will, Evel Dick - let the Houseguests as well as the home viewer know what they wanted and how they planned to get it. This year, Derrick is as big a mystery to us as he is to the Houseguests. Ten weeks in, do we really know who he plans to take to the final two? Do we know what he plans to do this week or next?
Since Derrick is playing the game of making everyone around him do all the work and is not sharing with the viewers what his ultimate plan is, we are disengaged. When other Houseguests scurry with a new plan to "shake things up," we know not to get excited or invested. Ultimately, what will happen is whatever Derrick decides will happen. We know that no big moves will be made unless he approves them, and nothing will keep him from running things. The only mystery left is who will be sitting next to him in the final two and how he'll get them to think it was their idea to take him there.
4. Be a good liar
Lying has to come as easily as breathing to an undercover cop, or he won't be doing much of the latter for very long. Derrick is an expert. He weaves stories out of whole cloth, adding details, with the effortless ease of a former Enron exec. But this is where his largest disconnect with the viewers comes in. Derrick is not just lying to the Houseguests, he's lying to the television audience. And that is a no no.
Once Derrick was joined with Donny and Frankie as Team America, he has not only been playing Derrick the Leslie Knope of Central Falls, RI, he's also been playing loyal TA member. He stares right into the camera, talking directly to us, the viewers who voted him there, and lies to us. He tells us that he wanted to carry out a Team America mission to cast a hinky vote, but Donny wouldn't go along. He tells us that he would have tried to save Donny with the last mission, but Frankie wouldn't go along. He tells us that he wants to keep Team America together and yet did nothing to keep Donny from being voted out.
A good liar, like Dr. Will Kirby, is entertaining when they let us the viewer in on their lies. Dr. Will didn't lie to us by, for example, pretending to like a contestant that he knew the public liked (as Derrick did twice, after he heard the crowd roars for Zach and Donny). Dr. Will accepted his dark side and shared his true feelings. Derrick pretends to be the nice guy, the loyal Team America player who just wants to make America proud but is thwarted by his fellow team members. He'll throw Donny and Frankie under the bus to the viewers, who can see what's really going on, and doesn't bat an eye. He'll orchestrate Zach and Donny's exits, then tell US that he's sad to see them go. That's not endearing, it's scary. And, frankly, not fun to watch.
5. Be smarter than the people you've infiltrated
The final reason that Derrick is the best and least interesting contestant this show has seen is that he has been given the weakest set of opponents yet. The so-called super fans (Nicole Franzel and Christine Brecht) have zero clue what he's doing and have done very little to control their game. When Nicole was Head of Household and could make a move, she failed by not nominating two members of the large alliance (why sacrifice Jocasta who would NEVER have voted out Nicole?).
The Big Brother 16 Houseguests have no clue how to play the game. All-guys' alliances are a staple of Big Brother and this year the Bomb Squad started out that way (with six of the eight men), until Devin decided to add two women to make a half-a-house alliance. Joey Van Pelt tried to form an all-girl alliance only to have the girls immediately shut down the idea and spill it to the guys. Had the girls gone along with the plan and kept it quiet, someone like Christine would have been in a great position, straddling two powerful groups. Instead, she's now low man on the totem pole.
Not only are the Houseguests not smart enough to play a good game of Big Brother, they're not smart enough to pick up the many clues Derrick has dropped about his true identity. After Frankie's big reveal about how he'd been hiding his sister's identity and his social media fame, there were of course rumblings again about whether everyone was who they claimed to be. Derrick actually said, "most of us" are who we say we are. No one picked that up.
No one noticed when he talked about peoples' motives and their profile, when he jokingly put a badge around his neck and said he was a cop, when he organized a neighborhood watch, when he seemed to have all the cop lingo down pat. Nope. They continued to be suspicious that the guy with the Duck Dynasty beard and a drawl slower than molasses in February was a college professor, but the street-sounding jamoke with confidence and a penchant for cop slang couldn't be lying about being a Parks and Rec person. Even though he admitted to NEVER HAVING WATCHED THE SHOW OF THE SAME NAME.
[K]Nope, no red flags there.
Before going into the Big Brother house, Derrick spoke to Reality Relapse about how his undercover past would help him in the game: "I worked in undercover for a long time where I had to not talk about things, so I'm used to being confidential. ... I've been in situations where if I make a mistake I could end up dead." So far, he's made no apparent mistakes and is well-positioned to make the biggest score of his life. It just may not be all that exciting for the rest of us.
***For more on Derrick's gameplay check out this blog post from Krazillia's Place.***