Julie Chen, the host of "Big Brother," recently reflected on the show's incredible span of 20 straight seasons. (Image via CBS.com)
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Julie Chen, the host of "Big Brother," recently reflected on the show's incredible span of 20 straight seasons. (Image via CBS.com)

After 20 years, I think it’s about time the show stopped inviting back old competitors.

It’s that time of the year again — and I don’t mean the official onset of summer. Sunshine and lazy days on the beach are great and all, but there’s something even better: the return of an annual gauntlet of lies, backstabbing and treachery wrapped in the guise of a wacky reality show. That’s right — a new season of “Big Brother” is here!

Centering on a set of 16 individuals, dubbed “houseguests,” who are thrust into co-inhabiting a large house for over 90 days and must eliminate each other to claim victory, “Big Brother” has captivated millions of people across the country, myself included.

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Now in its 20th main series year, much of the traditional formula has remained the same. The houseguests still grapple with one another to avoid eviction by winning competitions, forming alliances and striking deals for safety. Whoever succeeds in this endeavor is crowned the winner of their season and nets a $500,000 prize in exchange for sacrificing a nice summer for a few months in roommate hell.

However, a lot of gameplay evolution has occurred over the show’s two decades of airtime and not all of it was for the better. In fact, the previous two seasons (excluding spinoffs) are considered some of the worst in the show’s history because producers tampered with the foundation to an unnecessary extent. Fans are hopeful that the enormous social media backlash is enough for producers to bring the format back to basics for “Big Brother 20,” which premieres on Wednesday, June 27 on CBS.

As a long-time fan of the series, I’m entering this season with a list of requests already drawn up. If it fulfills even a couple of them, it’ll be a winner in my book.

1. An All-New Cast/No Returning Houseguests

In the same vein as numerous other reality shows, “Big Brother” loves to feed on nostalgia. As a result, the casting department continues to invite previous players back to the house for another chance at the sizable check.

Over the past decade, half of the seasons have included at least one series veteran — some even making sweeping efforts to guarantee their longevity in the game (I’m still side-eying Paul Abrahamian’s free three weeks of safety last season).

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Paul Abrahamian reappeared in “Big Brother” Season 19, after being runner up the previous season. (Image via Goldderby.com)

Returnees walk through the door with a wealth of experience under their belt. Their presence alone manipulates the entire dynamic of the house and, when left unchecked, allows them to steamroll through the first half of the game with ease.

As far as “Big Brother 20” is concerned, a cast list has already been released to the public. While the composition of 16 newbies looks promising, viewers know to expect the unexpected. Even though the executive producer has publicly sworn veterans will be absent from this season, I’ll be holding my breath until the last opening sequence plays on finale night.

2. No Twists or Game-Breaking Power

 Wait. Did I honestly suggest stripping the show of its main audience attraction? Why, yes, dear reader. I believe I did. “Big Brother” host Julie Chen proudly touts each new season as “the most twisted summer yet,” but what she actually means is a grander mess of random rule changes and gifted superpowers.

As the usual timeline progresses, Chen appears on a screen inside the enclosed mansion to announce the game is about to change and every houseguest dons their best shocked expression — except the recurring “cool dude” character, of course. There’s no surprise here. If you truly expected a few months of pure strategy and grit, I envy your optimism. Whether it’s the inclusion of a new weekly competition or the ability to sabotage the current nominations at the eleventh hour, large-scale changes alter the medium of success from skill to luck.

“Big Brother 10,” a favorite among a majority of fans, obtained its popularity by eradicating all major twists and allowing an entirely new cast to play a bare-bones version of the game with nothing but physical or mental aptitude to give them an edge. With the new decade milestone approaching at a breakneck pace, I hope producers choose to emulate the same pattern again. As much as I love a good plot twist, episodes rooted in scheming and careful analysis are far superior to watch.

3. Bring Back the Key Wheel Nominations

Each week in the “Big Brother” house, at least two players are nominated for eviction from the game. In order to reveal the fate of those houseguests, everyone is gathered for a ceremony.

For the first 15 seasons of the show, each individual got a key labeled with his or her name. All but two keys were placed into a circular box, where they were pulled out one by one with a suspenseful music track playing in the background. As players received their key and expressed gratitude for mercy, they were tasked with pulling out the next key.

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Its time to bring back the key ceremony. (Image via Big Brother Network)

Conversely, recent seasons opted to skip this aspect of the ritual and flash headshots of the two unlucky houseguests up on a screen instead. Producers likely see it as conserving time, but I see it as a waste of gameplay potential. The order of names and the relationship between which houseguest announces the safety of another speaks volumes to players and the audience about where competitors stand in relation to each other.

Sure, it’s an extra minute of screen-time stolen from houseguests caught in contemplation while staring at a wall or yet another cringe-inducing romance montage, but I doubt most viewers mind. I certainly don’t.

4. Say “Bye” to Jury Buybacks

While they technically qualify as twists, jury buybacks are heinous enough to earn their own spot on my list. In the current format, the nine most-recent evictees prior to the finale are labelled “the Jury” and are called back to vote on who the winner of the season should be. Until their return to the reality show stage, the jury members are sequestered in a separate house to prevent them from viewing social media and hearing public bias.

Long-time fans and casual viewers alike are aware of the show’s other intentions with these houseguests. Much like their continued fascination with series veterans, the producers also have a difficult time of letting go of players evicted in the latter half of the game. As a result, they invite them back for a “battle royale” in which the victor is reinstated as a houseguest and the rest of the players erupt with mass paranoia but rarely act on it.

Yes, it was shocking the first time it happened — but that’s about it. The second chance houseguests usually return with a slew of insider information from other jury members and receive at least a week of free safety inside the jury mansion. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an unfair advantage to me. A deserving winner plays a solid game throughout, not only after they took one loss.

5. Revival of Food Competitions

After sitting through so many seasons where “bigger is better” was the name of the game, I’m yearning for a callback to simpler times. When “Big Brother” had more of a cult following, they had a third weekly competition where, instead of being at each other’s throats, the entire house had to work together to secure food for the week.

In an alternative form of the food competitions, the houseguests were randomly divided into teams and the winners attained food privileges while the losers had to eat a disgusting bastardization of oatmeal, termed “slop.”

Either way, the allure of this competition was its capacity to transform bitter rivals into teammates for a period of time. Depending on the group dynamic, food competitions were sometimes the only opportunity for viewers to witness the entire house bonding in a positive manner. With its removal, the competitive nature of the game consumes all else.

Moreover, the competitions contributed to game tactics as new friendships or animosities could be born from their outcome. None of the show’s manufactured twists could match the hype generated when two adversaries come together in an alliance unbeknownst to the rest of the house. Food competitions used to be a perfect outlet for this to occur. Now, anything outside of chaos and petty drama is an afterthought — even quality gameplay.

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Casey LaValley

Ferris State University

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