Big Brother Recap: Season 23 Begins With a Team Twist and a Grander Prize

The players have moved in, the house has been updated with questionable decor and Julie Chen Moonves has stocked up on strange motivational sign-offs.

Oh, yes, Big Brother is back.

The CBS summer staple returned for Season 23 on Wednesday night, with 16 new houseguests — including last-minute swap Claire Rehfuss — beginning their months-long battle for… well, actually, $750,000 this time! In the spirit of this year’s gambling theme, the stakes have been raised, and the players are psyched.

But first! We meet the new houseguests four at a time, beginning with tech sales consultant Travis, safety officer Derek F., farmer Frenchie and attorney Xavier. Travis wants us all to know that he might look like a stereotypical surfer dude, but he actually spends his mornings “interfacing with executives” and “closing deals.” I gather this man is cool and important.

The men are told to head straight to the backyard once they enter the house, and they inexplicably stand around shaking hands instead. But once they do reach the backyard, the men face off in a kick-off competition, in which they must match the pieces of a plexiglass puzzle to the sample puzzle that’s sitting on an easel. Whomever wins each kick-off will be eligible to compete for Head of Household later in the show, and they’ll also immediately earn the power to change the course of the game. Intrigue!

Frenchie wins the first kick-off, and the remaining houseguests move in and compete in their kick-offs in this order: make-up artist Whitney, sales director Azah, kindergarten teacher Britini and swimwear designer Alyssa (with Whitney winning the competition); flight attendant Brent, general contractor assistant Christian, startup founder Derek X. and account executive Kyland (with Christian winning); and forensic scientist Sarah Beth, graduate student Hannah, artificial intelligence engineer Claire and phlebotomist Tiffany (with Claire winning).

As Julie later reveals — to a chorus of disappointed, “Hmm… OK…”s — the houseguests will be playing in teams of four this season, and the aforementioned kick-off winners will serve as team captains. To decide who’ll be on their teams, the captains activate a slot machine to learn fun facts about two different houseguests, and they draft one of those players after hearing their tidbits. Here’s how the draft shakes out, with the rules mandating two men and two women on each team:

The Jokers: Azah, Britini, Derek F. and captain Frenchie
The Aces: Brent, Derek X., Hannah and captain Whitney
The Kings: Alyssa, Xavier, Sarah Beth and captain Christian
The Queens: Kyland, Tiffany, Travis and captain Claire

Next, the four teams go head-to-head-to-head-to-head in the season’s first Head of Household competition, with the winning team’s captain actually seizing power as the week’s HOH — and, as a nice benefit, if any member of your team becomes HOH throughout the summer, you and your teammates are automatically safe for the week. In this case, it’s Frenchie reigning supreme after The Jokers successfully build a precariously balanced house of cards, while the last-place Kings become Have Nots for the week.

Lastly, the summer’s Big Risks and Big Rewards theme begins with a double-or-nothing offer for Frenchie: If he tries to land two oversized dice on a nearby table and successfully does so in 45 seconds, he and his entire team will earn safety for two weeks in a row. If he fails? The Jokers lose their current week of safety, Frenchie loses his HOH status, and Claire and The Queens will take over since they finished second in the HOH competition.

“Some things are bigger than a game, and I miss my family,” Frenchie tells Julie, declining to take the risk. But just for fun, Julie gives him a chance to roll the dice anyway and see what would have happened… and with two seconds left on the clock, Frenchie lands both dice on the table. (I’m embarrassed at how riveted I was by those 45 seconds. Embarrassed!)

Before she signs off and says something vague about empathy, Julie informs us of one new weekly competition: the Wild Card competition, which will give houseguests another chance each week to take a big risk and potentially earn a major reward.

With that, I turn it to you! What did you think of Wednesday’s premiere? And which houseguests are your early favorites? Tell us in a comment below!