Big Brother returns for its twelfth season on Thursday, and prior to that, on Monday, it marks the 10th anniversary of its debut on CBS. For its first few seasons it always looked like touch-and-go whether Big Brother would be coming back the following summer, but that hasn't been a concern now for several years.
This season's cast contains the usual mix of models, athletic young men, bartenders, and self-described obnoxious loudmouths, although there are a few who come across as different (a deputy sheriff, a podiatrist, and a college professor).
While we look forward to the hijinks that the Season Twelve houseguests will put us through, here's a 10th anniversary rating of the preceding Big Brother seasons, ranked from best to worst:
Season Two: It's not too hyperbolic to say that Big Brother would never have survived had this season not been as successful as it was. Unlike the aimless first season, it had a real dramatic structure; and Will Kirby, the charming liar whose strategy was telling people he was a charming liar, may still be the most unlikely American reality show winner ever.
Season Three: This was probably the best Big Brother cast from top to bottom, with some personality types that are unusual for reality TV; and it featured the classic moment where Marcellas had the power to veto his own nomination, refused to do so, and was promptly voted out a minute later. It's only rated below Season Two because its champion (Lisa) was a disappointment.
Season Seven: The all-star season worked surprisingly well, despite (or perhaps because?) a series of houseguest actions that were so suspicious one had to wonder if they were scripted in order to keep producer favorites alive. Will Kirby was again easily the best reason to pay attention, although this time around he was working to help his repellent buddy Mike win.
Season Eleven: Last season was helped greatly by a rarity: a winner, Jordan Lloyd, who was also a true fan favorite. It also had a decent good vs. evil balance. The "villains" (namely Natalie, Ronnie, and Chima) were some of the most vivid Big Brother has ever had, but they never truly dominated the show. If not for the inexplicable decision to bring back muscleheaded Jessie for a second straight season, it may have ranked even higher.
Season Nine: The writers' strike season of Big Brother worked out a lot better than many thought it would, although viewers didn't seem to go for it. Some of the early season fights were truly epic. But this was easily the most dysfunctional cast in the show's history, with almost everyone proving to be either insane or merely hateful. The season was won by Adam Jasinski, who later went on to get himself arrested for drug trafficking -- and he was one of the good guys.
Season Ten: This was one of the better and more diverse Big Brother casts, even though some likable folks disappeared in the early weeks. The oldest man and oldest woman ever on Big Brother both came from this season, and both did very well. And a preacher's son named Ollie had an astonishing amount of in-house sex, though in fairness not a lot of this actually made it onto the show.
Season Six: This season is fondly remembered by many veteran fans, some of whom became insanely invested in the fates of Janelle and her platonic pal Kaysar. But it looks less interesting with the passage of time. The house was so bitterly divided between factions that gameplay was nonexistent after the early weeks; and the winning alliance, led by bloodless champion Maggie Ausburn, had no one remotely worth rooting for.
Season Five: This season had a great twist that played out over several weeks, far-fetched though it may have seemed at the beginning: swapping twin sisters in and out of the house to see if anyone would notice what was going on. But the season lost a lot of momentum once the twist was revealed to the houseguests, and winner Drew Daniel was the epitome of the vapid pretty boy.
Season Eight: Two of the most unusual Big Brother personalities came from this season: its winner Dick Donato, sexist bully though he may have been; and Jen Johnson, who did an amazing job of letting negativity roll off her back until a final fateful explosion. But the America's Player twist was a dud because the role was manned by a smug creep named Eric, and a good half of the cast was unbelievably boring.
Season Four: One common thread in disappointing seasons is bad luck with those who are voted out early. Season Four lost some of its biggest personalities in the first few weeks, but the season was poorly cast from the beginning. This was the season that found five contenders unexpectedly sharing the house with their ex-significant others, the first in a series of "let's cast a bunch of people who already know each other!" twists that has been the biggest single negative change from the original concept of the show.
Season One: There was a purity to the first season that was oddly winning, especially for those watching the live feeds. But as a television show, the 2000 edition of Big Brother looked like something a Communist high school might have staged, and its original production team had no idea how to edit the show in a way that American viewers would accept. It didn't help that viewers made the decisions on who to keep and who to evict in Season One, and their penchant for punishing anyone with an edge prodded the remaining houseguests into doing nothing interesting if they could possibly help it.