‘Big Brother 17’ exclusive: Vanessa Rousso on game theory, specific moves, wanting to return

VanessaWe have to be honest: While we only had around 15 minutes to do a “Big Brother” exit interview with Vanessa Rousso this morning, we really could have done this for an hour or two and still had things to ask. We know that everyone understandably wanted to hear her talking more about the game in the house, but we found her today to be extremely engaging and open about some of her moves and why she made them. There’s some pretty cool insight here, and this was a lot of fun to do.

Before we dive in, here’s a quick reminder that you can check out our interview for Steve here, or our chat with Liz at this link.

CarterMatt – First of all, congrats on playing a hell of a game. I’m sure you’ve gotten some great compliments on it, but what has the general reaction been like?

Vanessa Rousso – I was so pleasantly shocked that what was going on strategically translated to television. My one thing is that apparently Steve was going in and telling feeders what was going on all the time, and I didn’t do that. I wish I had! That was my lack of experience in watching feeds and letting people in on what was going on inside my head. You [can also do that] in DR, but obviously only so much of it makes the show. I agonized over decisions, and I poured so much of my strategic know-how and game theory education into every little decision. Some people have given me compliments that I’m not even sure I’m worthy of. It’s been very humbling and positive and a great consolation prize given that I didn’t make any money for this (laughs).

Here’s the funny thing. I feel almost like you not winning almost galvanizes people more who feel like you should have won.

It’s weird. It’s funny, but at the end of the day, it’s hard not to be happy for Steve. This kid was literally a lifelong fan of the show, and seeing his dream come true on a personal level, I am really happy for him and I mean that. It is life-changing for him; the money would have been nice for me and I worked really hard for it (laughs), but I still look at the whole experience as a big positive.

I’m happy to hear that. I think one of the things that I was most impressed by is that routinely, you managed to get people to do things that they had no business doing, and I’m not even talking about Julia challenging Austin in the Veto. Is this something that you brought into the game from game theory or in poker?

Honestly, I had no idea I had that skill before ‘Big Brother.’ I didn’t … I didn’t know how hard it was going to be until I was in it. I had no idea how hard it was; you just can’t fathom it! It’s so easy to see from the outside. When we’re in it, we only have little pieces of information and it’s so hard to have a bird’s-eye view of what is really going on. Combine that with paranoia and a lack of a support structure and sleeping in dentists’ chairs, everything else … It’s unbelievably difficult. I knew that personal connections and being persuasive were very important. I mean, I went to law school, I was a debater in high school, I knew I had some background there. I didn’t know that I could be as persuasive as I was. That was one big pleasant surprise in the game.

The other big surprise to me? I had no idea I could win anything physical. I never in a million years thought I would win any physical competition, but winning two endurance comps and the egg one, which was really hard on my shoulder, was shocking for me. You should never count yourselves out. It’s really a life lesson that the only thing holding us back is our own limiting voice about ourselves. Once you [vanquish that], it really is possible because I was the odds-on underdog in some of those comps.

Let’s go to the beginning of the game, because I feel like there was a really big alliance with James, Jason, and a variety of other people in power and you were one of the underdogs. Yet, through winning a lotĀ of the competitions, you guys were able to completely decimate the other alliance. Not only that, but when they had power, they used it to target someone like Clay. How did all of this happen?

I’m excited you asked this, because I haven’t really had a chance to explain it to anyone really. It’s where game theory comes in, and it’s a combination of that and understanding gambling odds. It is about knowing how the house is structured, and knowing how to best effectuate maximum destruction with one eviction. First, you have to understand the dynamics of what is going on with the other side of the house. The way I looked at it, you have James and Meg on one corner, and then you had Becky, Jackie, and then maybe loosely affiliated with them Johnny Mac on the other corner of the house.

Then, you had Jason linking Jackie and Becky’s side along with Meg and James’, unifying them as a large voting block. Then, on our side we had the Austwins, Steve, myself, and Clelli. Jeff was always kind of an outlier. Jeff was actually working a pretty good game with everyone; getting him out was a different [story].

Evicting Jason was really crucial. That was the move which I’m most proud and really catapulted our side of the house into where we were in the game, since what we really did was splinter the opposite side of the house that threatened our numbers advantage. Then, instead of having a voting block of five, you had a twosome and a threesome that couldn’t compete with the two alliances I had on my side, with the Austwins on one side and Clelli on the other, which served to shield me personally because I was allied with such big targets. If for one week my side of the house didn’t have power, then whether it be Austwins or Clelli, I was able to easily swing the other side and still have an intact alliance. That’s how it played out. We took out Jason, James got to power, and for that moment they decided to go after Clelli. Then, rather than going with Sixth Sense, I’m going with Scamper Squad. That catapulted Scamper Squad to the next phase of the game. Obviously I had to overcome being the replacement nominee target by Becky and face some roadblocks along the way.

What was it like for you playing the game with Johnny Mac, because I think some of the best scenes on the feeds or on the show were you guys communicating. You said it last night that you didn’t have a great read on him; he knew what was going on with you, but he could never really do anything about it.

That guy, I don’t know even where to start. (Laughs.) You know how there’s just people in the world who think differently than you? You know what I’m saying? He is one of those people for me who I could never get the right read on, and that cost me $500,000 with that tiebreaking [question from him]. Johnny Mac, I never knew what to make of him. He’s the guy I am the most excited to actually watch and see what was going on in his mind. I was on to him being more strategic than almost everyone else; I predicted that he was emulating a Dr. Will type strategy, and it turns out that he was a superfan, I just got that confirmed to me on my last call. That totally makes sense.

How much of a burden was it hiding what you really do for that long? I don’t know if I could do that.

I was hiding it in plain sight. What I mean is that I had protected myself; I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide that I was a gambler, so I incorporated that into my backstory that I had a two-year stint of being a gambler with my ex-husband, but that it didn’t work out for me and I turned to DJing, which is partially true. I am a DJ, and I do it; granted, that isn’t what I do to make even 15% of my overall income, but I do it and I do make money off of it. I am educated in music production, so I could uphold that part of the story.

Really, the only thing that I was keeping out of it was financially how successful I was [at poker], and the reason I was compelled to do that was because if they had known, nobody’s voting for me to win that half a million. That’s the least compelling person of all time! I wouldn’t even vote for me. It really wouldn’t matter what kind of game you played … The part of it that sucked was that I was really close to some of these people and I wanted to get it off my chest because I felt disingenuous. I’m close to these people and they don’t know this really big thing about me! I was excited to get it off my chest; this was a long time coming.

Are you done with ‘Big Brother’ now? This was a long summer, and you played the game so hard. Would you really want to do this again?

The funny part is, yes. It’s the game-lover in me. I love a challenge! I didn’t conquer this challenge as completely as I would have liked to. I’m looking at it as a success in my mind, I’m looking at the positives of the experience … It’s all positive. However, I didn’t win, which means that I could have done better, and if the opportunity was to come my way to do it again, I couldn’t imagine turning it down.

With this, our “Big Brother” coverage for the time being is complete, but we feel like we’ll probably cast an all-star season or two for fun over the next few days. Be on the lookout for those, and head over here to get some more TV news on everything we cover via our CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: CBS.)

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