Women always seem to struggle on Big Brother. In the first 17 seasons, only five women have ever won the show. In fact, in the last 11 seasons there have only been two female winners: Jordan Lloyd and Rachel Reilly.
And if you’re watching Big Brother 18, odds are good that we’ll be getting yet another male winner this year. The men are once again dominating the competitions and the strategic game while the women are all passive, letting the men make the decisions for them.
It’s pretty disappointing to watch, so I decided to look back at some of the female greats of the game for inspiration. Whether they won or lost, these are 10 women who actually played the game hard. Hopefully when Big Brother 19 returns in the fall, there will be a few ladies more like the ones on this list.
#10 Aaryn Gries
Finishing in eighth place on season 15, Aaryn is probably best remembered for her controversial comments and flipping Candice’s bed. But she deserves some credit for being one of only four women ever to win four HoH competitions in a single season. It’s even more impressive when you consider that she only played in six of them, and she was the last girl left in the first endurance challenge she lost, hanging onto her popsicle for over three hours.
She was also able to make deals with her most hated enemies, whether it was Helen and Elissa or Amanda and McCrae, to stay safe for quite a while. She may have rubbed her fellow HGs and America the wrong way, but she was a fighter.
#9 Jennifer “Nakomis” Dedmon
She finished in fourth place on season 5 and deserves a spot on this list for implementing the Six-Finger Plan, the greatest bit of strategy in the show’s history. Back then the HoH and two nominees were each allowed to pick who they wanted to play with them for the Power of Veto, so as HoH she nominated two of her allies, they picked three more of their allies and guaranteed that whoever won the PoV would use it to backdoor Jase, thus ensuring her had no chance at saving himself. It was absolute genius.
#8 Diane Henry
Another season 5 girl, she finished in third after being evicted by her own showmance in the Final 3. Diane played a strong game, first as a part of a dominant alliance and then flipping against them with her showmance Drew when the time was right. Covering all your bases and having alternate paths to the end was a great play.
#7 Daniele Donato
The daughter of Evel Dick finished in second place on season 8 and eighth place on season 13. The first time she was young and naÃ¯ve, but a competition beast with five PoV wins (tying the all-time record). The second time she was fearless and aggressive, unafraid to make big moves, go after big targets and make big enemies. That’s the kind of game I respect, even though it ultimately led to her demise because fighting against Rachel, Brendan, Jeff and Jordan was just too much, especially since she had to waste two HoHs to get rid of Brendon because he came back after being evicted.
#6 Amanda Zuckerman
She finished in seventh place on season 15, but she absolutely dominated the game. Loud and aggressive, she was vicious and brutal, beating everyone into submission so they’d do what she wanted. What made it even more impressive is that she didn’t even win her first (and only) competition until Day 65.
Yet, until GinaMarie finally nominated and evicted her, no one in the house had ever put her on the block (she was nominated twice by America as MVP). Dr. Will Kirby is probably the only other HG in the history of the show to exert so much power without the ability to win competitions.
#5 Jun Song
The winner of season 4, Jun is often remembered for cooking her way to the end, always supplying the other HGs with meals so they’d keep her. But she was so much more than that, a smart player who was willing to do absolutely anything to stay safe every single week. She would lie, manipulate, throw people under the bus and do whatever it took to cover her own butt. That unapologetic, do anything to stay attitude helped her to get that $500,000.
#4 Rachel Reilly
Love her or hate her, Rachel isn’t afraid to play the game. She finished ninth in season 12 and won season 13, willing to be loud and in-your-face at all times. She’d call out floaters, win competitions and always be the center of attention. Her win is a little tarnished in my eyes since there were so many twists, every single one of which benefitted her a great deal.
But she succeeded where so many have failed, making adjustments to her game. In season 12 she won two early HoHs are targeted other women, Monet and Kristen, who weren’t threats at all. The next year she also won two early HoHs and took out Keith and Dominic, two strong male competitors. That adjustment to her strategy was very smart and deserves a lot of credit.
Janelle finished in third place two years in a row, on season 6 and All-Stars. More importantly, she’s the biggest competition beast ever, winning four HoHs and five PoVs on All-Stars, the all-time record.
She was also brash, bold and aggressive, calling people out, making enemies and unafraid to say what she really thought. She was the star of the show and America loved her because she didn’t give a damn what anyone thought.
#2 Danielle Reyes
While Derrick made it to the Final 3 without ever being nominated on season 16, he wasn’t the first to do so. Both Danielle and her partner in crime, Jason Guy, both did the same thing in season 3. Danielle finished in second that season and sixth on All-Stars.
Many people think she’s the best player never to win because she got screwed over by a bitter jury that didn’t like the way she spoke about them in the diary room. Back in season 3, all evicted HGs went home, got to watch the season, then returned to vote. Danielle Reyes is essentially the reason the jury now gets sequestered, so diary rooms don’t impact their vote.
She was funny, personable and a ruthless manipulator who was able to wriggle her way out of any situation. She was a true mastermind who no woman has ever quite come close to matching on the show, until recently.
#1 Vanessa Rousso
Sure, Vanessa, who finished in third place on season 17, was a little emotional and paranoid, but she was also one of the greatest gamers ever on every level. She was a competition beast, winning four HoHs and three PoVs.
She also knew how to use a twist to her advantage, getting close to the twins so they’d confess their secret to her and she could use them as numbers and shields. She expertly crafted an alliance around herself, with a showmance on one side (Shelli and Clay) and a trio on the other (Austin and the twins). She even had a side deal with Steve, covering all of her bases.
Perhaps most impressively, she used her game theory background as well as logic and reason to get out of any jam, even when Becky backdoored her. Being the backdoor target and still someone surviving is next to impossible, but Vanessa did it.
Her only real flaw was underestimating Steve’s intelligence. If it wasn’t for one random question about Johnny Mac in the last part of the final HoH, Vanessa would’ve won the game. That’s the fatal flaw of the endgame of Big Brother and why the person evicted in third place usually played a better game than the runner-up. Steve knew Vanessa would beat him in the Final 2 and, unlike Derrick, she didn’t align with someone dumb enough to actually take her anyway.
Honorable Mention: Neda Kalantar, Big Brother Canada 2
If you want to see genuine female domination in the game with strong ladies who think for themselves and play their own games, watch the second or third seasons of Big Brother Canada.
In season 2, Neda was an absolute mastermind, pulling the strings, controlling every decision and making other people think it was their idea. Like Vanessa, Janelle and Danielle Reyes, she was evicted in third place because the final HoH knew he couldn’t beat her, and he was right.
I limited this list to U.S. houseguests, but Neda is probably the greatest female player in North American Big Brother history. Her season featured five women in the Top 7, and on Big Brother Canada 3, the Final 5 featured four women, including winner Sarah Hanlon. Both seasons featured some of the strongest, most independent women ever to play the game. Whether they were working together or against each other, they’re examples of Big Brother seasons worth checking out if you want to see how female HGs should play the game.
(Image courtesy of CBS)