Big Brother is a reality TV show where sixteen strangers are put into a house together. Contestants compete in a summer-long power struggle to see who wins $500,000 while being surveilled and closed-off from the outside world. They are given no access to technology, outside family members, and their every move is broadcast to the entire internet. Over the years, the show has grown from what was originally a social experiment into a full on game with strategy, back-stabbing, and a rabid fandom. This summer Big Brother celebrated its twenty-third season, upping the prize to $750,000. Brown Interviews sat down with Big Brother houseguest Christian Birkenberger to gage his opinions on how the game has unfolded since his eviction.
*This interview includes spoilers from multiple seasons of Big Brother.
Evan Stein: I understand you’ve only had one girlfriend before entering the house. So I can imagine that having your second relationship ever be in the Big Brother house has made for a complicated reflection process. What has the rollercoaster that is your relationship with Alyssa taught you about yourself?
Christian Birkenberger: This is all so raw. Her and I literally just broke up within the last twenty-four hours. At the end of the day, her and I will remain very close friends forever. This is a very special thing that so few people get to experience and I’m glad we were able to build that trust with each other that we built. All of that doesn’t just go away. We’re going to stay super close friends hopefully forever.
We were forced to get close! We were locked in this house with no distractions, no technology, and no photos of even [our families]. When you’re in the Big Brother house, you have no existence outside the house. Your entire world is right there within those walls. If you are attracted to someone, you spend every ounce of your energy on them. Adjusting back to reality after that experience is something that no one outside of the cast can really relate to. It’s crazy.
In hindsight, does the Big Brother house provide a sort of “rose-tinted glass” that you see your relationships through when you’re in the house?
Yes. One hundred percent. The Big Brother house is crazy like that. I remember watching Swaggy [from Big Brother 20] proposing to Bayleigh after only knowing each other for only two weeks before I came into the house and thinking, “That’s so embarrassing. How could someone actually fall in love that fast?” I get it now.
Alyssa and I aren’t any less close than we were in the house. Our relationship just changed when it [started to] exist outside of the house. Real life is just so different than inside the house and I see that now.
I can imagine you had very mixed feelings regarding episode twenty-eight in which, on one hand, Alyssa was evicted, but on the other hand, the Cookout, an all-Black alliance, made history by solidifying that the winner of this season would be the first ever African-American Big Brother winner. Take me through the range of emotions you felt that night.
I think it was really cool but it is worth noting that the final seven (the Cookout plus Alyssa) were all people of color. There have never been six African American players to make it to the final six but there have also never been seven people of color to make it to the final seven. So on that hand, I was extremely proud of her. Eventually, she had to go, which sucked, but for the bigger picture it made sense.
I think that if they included her in their plan, she could’ve made it pretty far. I think Tiffany would have been the first member of the Cookout targeted and Alyssa would’ve had the protection of Xavier. I think Xavier would’ve taken her to at least the final four.
Was there any possible way to beat the Cookout?
I don’t think so. If I had targeted a member of the Cookout [in week four], I wouldn’t have had the votes. Then again, if I didn’t have the votes, maybe I would have realized something was up. There are a million “what ifs” we could potentially look at but at the end of the day, we got outplayed. If anyone had thought to put up two Cookout members against each other, then maybe the Cookout would’ve had a split vote, which could have broken them up, but who knows? Their purpose for being [in the house] was so much greater than any selfish drive. I think no matter what, a Cookout member would’ve won this season, but I do think the alliance could’ve been broken up.
Would you even really want to defeat the Cookout after seeing the history they’ve made this season?
As much of a great alliance as the Cookout is, we’re still cast to play the game. I’m not going to apologize for saying I would’ve gone after the Cookout had I known because it’d be stupid not to! I understand the bigger purpose of the Cookout but I am not going to hand the game to them on a silver platter and I don’t think they [would’ve] wanted that. The Cookout’s win would not have been rewarding at all had it been handed to them.
Was there anyone you were really surprised by when you got home and got to watch the show?
Tiffany was the biggest surprise. She was running the house. Absolute mastermind. The fact that she didn’t even plan the Cookout’s jury strategy before coming on the show blew my mind. She just sat down, moved those chess pieces, and got it down. She is going to go down as a Big Brother legend.
I always knew Xavier was good but I didn’t realize how many competitions he was throwing until I came back and watched the show. I couldn’t afford to throw [competitions] after being targeted in week one.
It’s a season meant for fans who love to study the game.
I’m excited to watch it all back. I can’t wait to watch and see all the major conversations I missed.
I would be so freaked out by that. For what it’s worth, I think everyone liked you. You just won too many comps.
I do what I say I’m going to do. People ask me if I would’ve taken out Derek X had I stayed in the house longer. As much as I’d like to say I would, I said I wouldn’t and I don’t think I would have.
When Will Kirby first played Big Brother in 2001, he set a precedent that being a bad person can win you Big Brother. Where is your line with this because we didn’t really get to see you backstab this season?
There’s nothing you missed. How I was inside the house is how I am outside the house. I’m not the type of person to backstab and I wouldn’t want to play a game that involved backstabbing. I didn’t come for the money. Now I’m not going to act like when Julie [Chen-Moonves] upped the prize from $500,000 to $750,000 that I wasn’t excited but I don’t care about winning. When it comes to being an asshole, it’s not worth it. I’m happy with the friends I made because of how I played. I’m scared if I had been an asshole, I would have risked the friendships I made.
In my opinion, Big Brother really needed a likable winner this year. The last two years, I’ve noticed fans slowly lose interest as the likelihood of a likable houseguest winning dwindled.
I think almost anyone this season could have filled that role. There was no clear villain this year.
This year, the house was made up of mostly smart, mature people. As fans of the show know, this is rarely the case with Big Brother. So, as someone who spends time in the house and has to live with these people, where do you stand on this? Would the torture of being locked in with sociopaths be worth it to be a memorable player on an all-time great season?
I’d much rather be on a season like ours that had a mixed bag than on a season like Big Brother 21. With that being said, I know how the show gets edited so not everyone who appears evil really is. I would much rather be a part of a season where I can build relationships with people after the show.
I think you’ll be friends with these people for a long time, even Derek X.
That’s the thing! Everyone thinks me and Derek X have some type of beef. That’s my boy! There’s nothing that he did that would’ve gone beyond the game. He never crossed a line. It’s a game at the end of the day and I told him that after I was evicted.
How true is that type of thing because I can’t imagine there’s no bitterness when you’re leaving the house after being backdoored?
I mean of course there’s some bitterness because he got me but I would never wish the worst for him. At the end of the day, if he made it to the end he’d have my vote to win. I respect him. We played similar games and he did it better than I did.
If you were on the Jury, who would have gotten your vote?
Xavier. You could say I’m biased because I picked him to be on the Kings with me but I picked him because I thought he would be the player that he is. He performed exactly as I hoped he would.
Did you think he was really a bartender or did you know he was secretly a lawyer?
Man, I wish. I really should’ve put that together. The dude goes to bed at 10:00pm. What bartender goes to bed at ten!
My last day of arguments before I was voted out, he really helped me figure out what to say to convince people. I did realize in the back of my head that the guy was too good at arguing to be an average dude. I thought about it but I had no time to snoop that out then.
To be fair, the Cookout helped him get very far and provided a shield the whole game. If Kyland wanted to, Xavier could have been gone already. Not that Xavier was lucky because he worked himself into a position where Kyland had his back but he did have a lot of protection.
I’m going to name some of your housemates and I want you to tell me what you think of their game since leaving the house. Let’s start with Azah.
I don’t know if it is intentional or not but I feel that she is someone who got dragged to the end. I don’t mean that to be rude because, realistically I should’ve taken some cues from her game. Socially, I don’t think she was seen as a threat and I think that worked to her benefit. That’s why she is where she is. I’d loved to have taken her to the end.
I think one thing I really commend Azah for is always sticking with her gut. She always voted how she felt and fought for people that people actively were targeting. She’s stuck up for the people who were picked on every week.
She is a lowkey mastermind. She is underrated and does not get the credit she deserves. She is very smart but she doesn’t consider other people’s opinions as much as she should because of that.
Travis can join our alliance for the all-time Big Brother hair team. I hit him up recently because I feel like he got screwed. I wish he and I had had the time to form more of a relationship together. We’re going to plan a surf trip together.
Hectic. Frenchie’s funhouse was a trip. The fact that I felt so comfortable is crazy. I knew he had something against me from the start. I knew he had something against me but I couldn’t tell why. It wasn’t until I left the house that I found out about the whole “meathead” thing. Right before the “Do Not Disturb” comp, he pulled me aside and said, “You need to win this comp.” I was confused at first but then I won it. He wanted me to ruin his strategy.
This blows my mind man. I was an alternate on the show, so if someone didn’t drop, then I wouldn’t have had my life changed forever. If this was a more conventional season and there was no Wild Card Competition, I would’ve gone home week one and my life wouldn’t have changed forever. If the Wild Card Comp was there and I didn’t get picked for it, my life wouldn’t have changed forever. If I played in the Wild Card Comp and didn’t win, my life wouldn’t have changed forever.
That’s my man. I cannot wait to see him. He was such a good teammate and I am so proud of him. He played such a well thought out strategic game. He and Tiffany are all-time greats. No doubt in my mind.
She is sneaky good. We would have conversations where she would be thinking so many steps ahead. I realized while I was in the house that at any moment, she was prepared for almost any outcome. It was great to have her as a teammate. It really was when she got close with Kyland that I started to worry. She was incredible. You know what gave me chills? Do you know what I’m about to say?
The little song! She sang that creepy little nursery rhyme by herself before betraying us and that was terrifying! I had chills.
The thing is I don’t even blame Derek X for when I left. I blame Frenchie. He pinned me and Derek X against each other on day one! Derek is an absolute competitor and I regret not working with him so bad. We had no trust for each other and I think that goes all the way back to week one. We’re also just so similar gameplay wise that we would have stepped on each other’s toes.
Any last words or shoutouts?
Shoutout to CBS. I have been applying to their shows for years but my love for their shows…it gives me chills. I love it so much. I can’t wait to congratulate X on his win! I can’t wait to call everyone out who lied about their profession! X, Claire, Sarah-Beth, all of them. I can’t wait to vacation with everyone. Some house trip needs to happen.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity