Life lessons, kinda, from CBS' 'Big Brother'

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

When people talk about our current golden age of television, they bring up shows like "Mad Men," "Game of Thrones" and "Breaking Bad."

They don't mention "Big Brother." Maybe they should.

On Wednesday, the CBS summertime staple — in which a group of strangers is cut off from the outside world, locked inside a house on a Hollywood sound stage and pitted in a series of competitions for a $500,000 prize — wrapped its 16th (!) cycle. It was the show's most enjoyable season in years, a huge rebound from last season when producers learned the hard way what happens when you fill your cast with humans with toxic waste dumps for personalities. (Long story short: lots of apologies for their offensive comments.)

This season's cast was a hugely likeable bunch, which goes a long way when you're investing three nights a week in a TV show. Viewers responded: Ratings were up over last season, with the show pulling in an average of 7.56 million viewers, not Super Bowl numbers, but in the diminished playing field of summer, it'll play.

Not including around-the-clock Internet feeds and nightly live broadcasts, roughly 40 hours of "Big Brother" were aired this summer, about half the airtime "The Sopranos" accrued over six seasons. Yet as all-consuming as it is, "Big Brother" has a tendency to quickly fade from memory once the leaves turn.

Before it totally evaporates, here are a handful of life lessons gleaned from this season:

Life is a chess game. Winner Derrick Levasseur expertly strategized his way to his half million dollar victory, playing his cast members like his own personal symphony. He was behind every move and every power play made, yet he stayed hidden in the shadows so as not to draw attention to himself. (Outside the house, he's an undercover cop, a fact he also kept hidden.) There are many ways to get to the top, including pure, blind, dumb luck, but a sound strategy and a cool, steady hand win out.

Loyalty will only get you so far. Cody Calafiore, a dead ringer for a young Vinnie Barbarino, won the game's final competition and was faced with a choice of whom he should bring to the final: Victoria Rafaeli, who had the competitive spirit of a water bottle, or his good buddy Derrick. The winner is decided by a jury of ex-houseguests, and there's no way they would have tossed Victoria a single vote. But Cody dismissed the easy path to victory and brought along Derrick — perhaps the noble thing to do, but he effectively handed Derrick a check for $500,000.

Doing nothing at all can be surprisingly effective. Oh Victoria, Queen Victoria, so pitied in the house that she was shepherded along because she was so ineffective that nobody could lose to her. In "Big Brother," she's what's referred to as a floater, who whimsically drifts along, oblivious to the happenings around her. Yet in the end she came in third place — not enough to win any prize money, but better than 13 others who, you know, actually tried.

Young people in Michigan move to Chicago. Michigan's own Nicole Franzel, a recent nursing school graduate from the small Thumb town of Ubly, said after the finale that she's thinking about picking up and moving to the Windy City, just like most of your high school and college friends.

"Big Brother" rules. And CBS just renewed it for two more seasons. June 2015 can't get here fast enough.