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Big Brother 17 pushes diversity boundaries more than any other TV show

Big Brother 17 promises new twists, but the best twist has already been revealed — a refreshingly diverse group of housemates.

Big Brother Season 17 is set to be the reality staple’s most diverse season yet. While the contestants are young (among the 14, the oldest house member is 33), they come from every walk life. Most notable is 25-year-old Georgia resident Audrey Middleton, a digital consultant who will be the show’s first transgender contestant.

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There has not been much to get excited about in the past few seasons of Big Brother, unless you find pop stars’ brothers particularly compelling to watch. The aging show is way overdue for a makeover, and while there are no firm format changes in the works beyond the requisite “twists” and a house makeover (four extra cameras will be added this season, bringing the total to 80), by increasing the diversity of the cast, Big Brother has the chance to be must-see TV for the right reasons. While everyone in the house is there to win the $500,000, for the viewers, the draw is watching how the housemates interact with one another. The general sense of sameness among past seasons’ contestants took away from the social experiment aspect of the show.

If Big Brother wants to stay relevant, then it needs to reflect the real world by creating a microcosm of the American population within the house. Racial diversity is low this season, but every contestant has a unique economic background and, in addition to Middleton, the cast also features at least two more LGBTQ contestants. The contestants’ careers are also varied and relatable: James Huling (31) is a retail associate, as well as a proud Southerner, Meg Maley (25) is a server, Da’Vonne Rogers (27) is a poker dealer, Jason Roy (25) is a cashier, Shelli Poole (33) is an interior designer, Liz Nolan (23) is a marketing coordinator, Steve Moses (22) is a college student, John McGuire (27) is a dentist, Clay Honeycutt (23) is a grad student, Becky Burgess (26) is a retail manager, Jace Agolli (23) is a personal trainer and Vanessa Rousso (32) is a professional poker player. Only professional wrestler Austin Matelson (30) has anything close to a “glamorous” job.

This season, all of the players seem real, and because of their personal and economic uniqueness, the conflicts and friendships are sure to feel more authentic as well. At the end of the day, Big Brother will always be an escapist reality show because there is money involved and prizes instantly reduce authenticity. However, at least CBS is trying to showcase real people, even though the situation is contrived.

For her part, Middleton told TMZ she hopes to use her appearance on Big Brother as a way to spread more transgender awareness, similar to what Caitlyn Jenner has been doing. In the first part of the two-night premiere, Middleton will tell the other contestants her story on her own terms. Seeing how the other contestants react to Middleton and her to them will be interesting, but Middleton’s very presence on Big Brother will be a win for the LGBTQ community, as she helps increase the visibility of transgender people in the media.

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By introducing people with strong backgrounds and stories to tell, Big Brother can work its way back into the pop culture zeitgeist. The fact that both a poker dealer and a professional poker player (both women) will be sharing the house is also a fun touch. It seems Season 17 is aiming for a sense of interconnectivity that could make for easy alliances. People are ultimately unpredictable, though, and Big Brother surely has more guests waiting in the wings given that there are only 14 contestants. If their twist is adding more contestants to the mix, I only hope they are as intriguing as the crew that has already been assembled.

Will Season 17’s diversity be enough to restore Big Brother to its former glory? That ship probably set sail long ago, but at least CBS is trying to revitalize the franchise with people and not gimmicks. That alone is reason enough to give the former reality giant another chance.

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Big Brother Season 17 premieres Wednesday, June 24 and Thursday, June 25 at 8/7c. After the two-night premiere, the show will begin airing twice weekly starting Sundays beginning June 28 at 8/7c and Wednesdays at 8/7c. The live eviction show hosted by Julie Chen will begin Thursday, July 2 at 9/8c.

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