Walter Benjamin did not have reality TV shows on his mind when he uttered that now-famous quote, but it applies just as well to that medium as it does to wars and international politics. And nowhere is the truth behind his statement more apparent this week than in the post-Big Brother 17 interviews with winner Steve Moses. Imagine the narrative this week had Steve lost the final HOH to Vanessa Rousso. In that alternate timeline, Steve finishes a disappointing third while Vanessa basks in her new designation as GOAT, taking her place next to Dr.Will, Dan, and Derrick as the most manipulative player ever to control a season of Big Brother. For the record, in every imaginable timeline, Liz Nolan is $50,000 richer, though in some she's dating Jeff Weldon and Austin Matelson is crafting voodoo dolls in their likeness.
That is not how this season played out. But, let's go back exactly one week before the finale. All the talk was not about whether Vanessa was playing the best game this season but whether she was playing one of the best games of all time. She had successfully talked herself off the block weeks earlier despite the then-HOH having successfully arranged the perfect backdoor opportunity and having enough allies to - conceivably but not really - control that week's outcome. Vanessa had targeted nearly every houseguest who had been thus far eliminated. She had final two deals with everyone remaining in the house. She won competitions every time she needed to and when she was in peril, made sure to have bigger targets in front of her.
She used a combination of tears, fast-talking, word-twisting, and strategic game-playing to put herself in the driver's seat throughout the season. Her game was so solid that many in the jury did not realize until it was too late that she was the real power behind all the moves in the house. And superfan Steve was so in awe of her game that he called her the best female player the game had ever seen and was determined not to go up against her in the end as she would clearly sweep the votes. The coronation of Vanessa was so locked up that she would not even giveaway her strategy in her HOH blog, instead saving it for when she could serialize and monetize if after she shook the confetti out of her hair.
A funny thing happened on the way to her victory. She made two huge mistakes. One, she misread Steve completely and did not see that he was more savvy than loyal, more superfan than supernerd, and was dying to Neda her ass on national TV. Two, she never was able to read Johnny Mac and so (it was not surprising) she lost the final HOH on a pretty easy question about him. And so it was Vanessa who became the final member of the jury and Steve Moses who was crowned the winner of BB17. And this is when the complete rewrite of the season began.
In his first sit down interview after the show, a bubbly, cute, awkward Steve told Jeff Schroder, "Vanessa played such a good game." He told Jeff that he thought she would take him to the end and expected that he'd finish in second place. Had Steve gone to final two against Vanessa he was prepared for his final speech. "I maintained my integrity, I maintained my character. I didn't get mean, I was more social with people, I formed better personal relationships and I never talked down to people like Vanessa loved to. It would have been the cute adorable kid I'd been playing the whole game. Of course you want him to win." He thought he'd have a chance to give that speech and thought it might have a chance of winning.
As it turns out, Steve would never had had the chance to give that speech had Vanessa won the HOH. He misread her as badly as she misread him - both erroneously thought they were the other's final two, both did not know that the other was planning on cutting them and taking Liz in the end. But her miscalculation was her downfall, his does not even register. He admitted to Jeff that the whole season came down to one coin flip - winning part three of the HOH competition. But having won that, it retroactively makes every move he made in the game superhuman and profoundly brilliant.
Steve said that he knew that whoever crossed Vanessa was destined for a quick exit, so his game was to let her believe she completely controlled him. That's why he grew the beard and let her style him, so she would believe he was a loyal minion. And then he would cut her off in the end to show how he was his own man. His game was to "play the person who was playing everyone else." He ignores that the very first Steve/Stefan makeover was actually a project of the whole house - Jeff, Clay, Austin, Liz, Becky. Vanessa wasn't even in the room when Stefan was created. And in all his talks to the live feed viewers and in the Diary Room he never mentioned this strategy of letting Vanessa think she controls him by styling him.
Steve has voiced some disappointment with how Vanessa's game was portrayed versus his game on the show. While he admits that Vanessa "did a lot," Steve now says that the show "gave her more than what she did." Steve never addresses his own warning throughout the game that if you have to win a comp to get to the end, you're not playing it right. He put himself in the position where he had to win the final HOH to guarantee going to the final, that is by Steve's own definition not a great game. He ignores that had he build a better relationship with Liz and JohnnyMac, either of them would have taken him to the end over the other. Instead, he credits himself for throwing the final veto, which caused his closest ally - AND THE PERSON HE MAINTAINS HE COULD HAVE BEATEN AT THE END - to leave the game and by doing that, putting himself in the position where his fate was left up to chance.
In Steve's version of history, his pre-game strategy worked all the way to the end without a blip. He hooked up with the strongest player, Vanessa, then took her out at the end. End of story. That is a pretty facile explanation for a nearly 100-day-long up and down that could have gone south many times (especially the first two weeks) and was one question from going south on the last day. It ignores that until John alerted him to Vanessa's misting/manipulative ways, Steve never voiced in the DR or to feedsters any concern about Vanessa. It ignores that he was on the outside of every other alliance in the house and that his "close allies" the Austwins were ready to cut him for Meg and James because he wasn't as fun. He ignores that Vanessa dragged him to the end because she did not have a choice as neither JohnnyMac nor Austin were better options.
Did Steve play a great game, absolutely. But anyone who wins retroactively and by definition played a great game. All the winners, whether they are Dr. Will or Jordan Lloyd, by virtue of the result played a great game. Lisa Donahue played a great game Season 3. Drew Daniels played a great game Season 5. Adam Jasinski played a great game Season 9. Andy Herren played a great game Season 15. You get the idea.
Congrats to Steve, you can laugh all the way to the bank and whether I think you're overplaying your game a little bit means absolutely nothing. You win, so you get to write the history.