If you can't believe we're about to start up another season of CBS' summer reality nightmare Big Brother, you're not alone. Back in summer 2000, the reality boom was in its infancy. Survivor was a mere few weeks into its initial phenomenon stage when CBS doubled (then tripled, then quadrupled) down with Big Brother, an even more purely voyeuristic social experiment, broadcast four (FOUR!) times weekly and also streamed live on whatever sad, slow internet connection you had back then. The first season, which tasked America with eliminating the contestants one by one, was a legandarily dismal failure, since the American public couldn't be trusted not to systematically eliminate all the mean (interesting) players and keep around the nice (boring) ones. The following summer saw CBS retool the show, playing eliminations where they belonged: in the hands of the attention whores in the house. So was born a reliable summer guilty pleasure that has steadily grown more guilty in the thirteen years hence.
After last year's notoriously racist season, it's tough to get excited about another summer spent in the Big Brother house, even for someone as dedicated to trash as your author. To help cope, we're ranking all 15 previous seasons. Because we've seen them. All.
15. Big Brother 9
Winner: Adam Jasinski
This was the ill-advised spring season that was hastily thrown together when the writers' strike happened and CBS needed a cheap, non-union show to eat up a bunch of primetime hours. Not sure if it was the rushed nature of the production that made the end product so bad. It's not like there weren't other factors, like the twist that paired up matchmaker-style, which of course made no actual sense other than to split up one real-life couple and reunite two real-life exes. The cast was both unpleasant and boring, a truly magical combination. And the eventual winner ended up getting sent to jail for drug trafficking.
14. Big Brother 8
Winner: "Evel" Dick Donato
The worst Big Brother seasons are the ones that make you feel grimy and gross for even watching. So it was with BB8, a season that saw "Evel" Dick run roughshod over the competition via a campaign of intimidation, racist and homophobic vitriol, harassment of women, and at one point throwing a lit cigarette at a competitor. That it all worked out for him, and that the show implicitly condoned the behavior, was enough to make anyone feel disgusting.
13. Big Brother 15
Winner: Andy Herren
Last summer's installment was so full of racist contestants that the show — which was often content to not air racist remarks in past seasons — was essentially forced to make the racism a storyline because it was actually driving strategic decisions. The beyond-the-pale nature of some of the contestants was bad, but it must be said that there was a perverse silver lining in that, for a time anyway, the show became a remarkably frank and, for better or worse, fascinating look at people who think they can just be outright racist on a show where they're being filmed 24/7. Plus, watching host Julie Chen carve up the more objectionable contestants after they were eliminated held a bit of a thrill for the viewer.
12. Big Brother 1
Winner: Eddie McGee
As mentioned above, Season 1 was a telling misfire, proving that the American public are complete hypocrites when it comes to their trashy entertainments, craving bad behavior and confrontation but voting to eliminate these perceived bad apples. A valuable lesson learned for all of reality television.
11. Big Brother 12
Winner: Hayden Moss
This season wasn't so much vile (relatively speaking) as it was frustratingly predictable. It's no fun watching a trio of dull-to-irritating meatheads waltz to the top three, past oblivious patsies. That first-place Hayden was so bothersome on this show (when his every confessional interview was delivered with a monotone shouting) and yet so comparatively bearable when he appeared on Survivor says a lot about the inherent annoyance levels of Big Brother. This was also the season that introduced us to Rachel Reilly and Brendon Villegas, reality TV's version of Pepe LePew and that cat he fancies, who have somehow ended up on four seasons of CBS-produced reality.
10. Big Brother 6
Winner: Maggie Ausburn
This was actually a very popular season at the time, and it featured a few memorable personalities for sure. But for every Janelle (self-described blonde bombshell who, while experiencing diminishing returns upon subsequent all-star appearances, was undoubtedly the best contestant this year) and James (squirrelly, devious white boy) there was a Kaysar (picked on by jerks but oh so smug and a terrible player) and a Howie (cartoonishly dumb, if harmless, himbo). And from about the midpoint on, all that were left were humorless scolds like April and Ivette and Maggie. Pass.
9. Big Brother 11
Winner: Jordan Lloyd
This one was a particularly contentious season, featuring a billion arguments, one near-fistfight, and one contestant essentially eliminating herself in protest. This was also the season that would have held the distinction of being the most racist if last season hadn't defied the odds and ousted it. Lots to recommend it! Not really.
8. Big Brother 13
Winner: Rachel Reilly
A largely unpleasant season — as would be any season that heavily featured Rachel and Brendon — but also a fairly watchable season, thanks in much part to previously wretched Daniele Donato returning with dark hair and a secret willingness to upend her own alliance. Marred significantly by that thing that happens when new players compete against all-stars and the former just kind of lay down and let the latter steamroll them. Once Rachel's victory was assured, watching the string play out got to be pretty unbearable.
7. Big Brother 7
Winner: Mike "Boogie" Malin
This was the show's one true all-star season, and its middle placement on this list reflects a cast selection that was good (Danielle! Alison! Dr. Will!) but not great (Howie? Erika? Chicken George?). The season was actually fairly compelling through its early and middle stages, even if you're never going to get beloved schemers and shit stirrers like Will and Danielle to play the way they used to. Still, the season only really faltered with an endgame that somehow reduced the best players in the game to Mike "Boogie" and Erika.
6. Big Brother 10
Winner: Dan Gheesling
After that ill-advised spring season pretty well burned everybody out on the show, BB10 did a decent job of bringing the show back from the brink. By assembling a cast of interesting and easy-to-root-for contestants? Oh my, no. By setting up like four decent people against eight horrible monsters and getting the audience invested in the survival of the okay ones. Somebody was watching their mainstream horror movies that summer...
5. Big Brother 14
Winner: Ian Terry
The "twist" this season saw four returnees (former winners Dan and Boogie; fan-faves Janelle and Britney) "coaching" the divided-up new people, and the show pretending like we all didn't know that eventually the coaches would get a chance to enter the game for real. The all-stars were well-picked (even Boogie, an easy villain), and the game play was heavily strategic, owing largely to Dan, who maybe fancied himself more of a mastermind than he was but who also undeniably executed some flashy Machiavelli moves that sure seemed impressive. For a season that started off with Willie Hantz (brother of Survivor trickster-troll Russell) getting kicked out for physical violence, it delivered one of the more (relatively) likeable casts in recent memory.
4. Big Brother 4
Winner: Jun Song
No one would ever mistake season four's cast for one of the show's most likeable, but sometimes overt villainy pitted against mundane unpleasantness can offer the audience a chance at the vicarious thrills of rooting for the bad guy. In this case, we had total bitches Alison and Jun who spent the first half of the game losing the trust of everyone else, and then spent the last half of the game spitefully cutting down everyone in sight. It was ... kind of glorious? Honestly, if there were any likeable players this season besides token old-guy Jack it wouldn't have been so easy to root for them — and I may well be in the minority of people who did — but this is sometimes the secret weapon of Big Brother: rooting for bad people to get the best of worse people can be a lot of fun.
3. Big Brother 5
Winner: Drew Daniel
There's a chance I'm overrating this season, particularly since the endgame was decided between a bunch of uninteresting wet noodles, but it boasted the single best twist the show ever produced, where identical twins Adria and Natalie swapped in and out of the house for the first several weeks, trying to avoid detection. The moment when Natalie emerged to reveal the twist to the other contestants — and conveniently blowing up the strategy of the most loathsome player, Jase — was peak Big Brother.
2. Big Brother 2
Winner: Will Kirby
This was the season that saved the show from its initial populist impulses. It almost imploded before it began, after a controversey where one contestant held a knife to the throat of another. You know, playfully. Like you play with knives all the time. Anyway, it's a good thing nobody's throat got slashed, because if it did, we wouldn't have been able to see the perfect storm of brazenly manipulative Dr. Will and insanely paranoid Nicole barnstorming to the finale. Will was the perfect reality contestant, offering almost a tutorial on how being charming and an unrepentant liar is how you win these things.
1. Big Brother 3
Winner: Lisa Donahue
If there was any problem with season two, it's that people only caught on to how to play sneakily near the end. Season three was not populated with rocket scientists, but there were certainly more players willing to engage in serious scheming, to our benefit. So many elements to enjoy here, from secret alliances to betrayed friendships to cheese-eating Amy to Marcellas not using the veto to save himself to Gerry making salad with his unwashed bathroom hands.
This season had it all ... except a satisfying winner, as ace schemer Danielle fell to her junior apprentice Lisa, mostly because all the eliminated players went home and watched Danielle talking crap about them behind their backs. A valuable summer lesson learned.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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