Big Brother 20’s Kaitlyn Isn’t Crazy. She’s Just Learning.

Many years ago, when Oprah Winfrey’s show was still a “thing,” — that is, it was appointment viewing for all spiritual-seeking, life-affirming, “you can make it!” types — she featured a guest who had gone bankrupt. Or, something like that. The guest had become involved with a boyfriend whose financial debt she decided to take on.

During the program, the guest explained, “He was my whole life,” as if to say, “This is why I agreed to take on his debt.” When Oprah, doing her Oprah thing, asked the woman what lesson she’d learned from what happened, she answered, “Well, you need to take care of the bills right away. You can’t let them get out of hand.”

Oprah, in all of her Oprah wisdom, responding with her Oprah-esque tone, “that’s not the lesson,” to the knowing affirmative sounds from the audience. I can’t recall if Oprah ever actually spelled out the “real” lesson to the woman on the stage, but to anyone already regularly tuning in to her daily deconstruction of why we do what we do in life, it was obvious. The lesson was in the guest’s own words: “He was my whole life.” You let this person usurp you, failing to take care of yourself. The debt was just a symptom of that larger issue.

Tonight, watching Kaitlyn Herman’s exit interview with Julie Chen after being evicted from the Big Brother 20 house, I had a similar thought. “That’s not the lesson, Kaitlyn.” Referring, I was, to Kaitlyn’s totally unexpected failure to reenter the Big Brother house when given the chance to complete a deceptively simple challenge. Kaitlyn told Julie that it was, essentially, meant to be, and it was for the highest good.

In many ways, it was typical Kaitlyn. She came into the house as a self-described life coach who, early on, engaged some of the houseguests in a meditation session. Faysal, her onetime ally, expressed a belief that he could appeal to her on certain game matters, calling Kaitlyn a “spiritual girl.” But there were other things about Kaitlyn that Big Brother 20 viewers — and perhaps the show’s producers — liked to highlight, in order to make the argument that she’s a little bit batty.

Kaitlyn apparently said a bird in the yard contained the spirit of her grandfather. She talked constantly about following her intuition, but her beliefs of what was going on in the house were often wrong. In short, she was made to seem like a flake. Emotional, somewhat possessive of Faysal.

But crazy she is not. As someone who could very well imagine a loved one coming to visit me in the form of a bird, I’d like to argue that she’s just new at this. She honestly believes the life coach verbiage she uses, but I suspect she doesn’t have the depth of experience to know what it really means. But I imagine she’ll get there.

When time came tonight for the live eviction, I didn’t want anyone to leave. Big Brother 20 has turned out to be a rich season, with complicated and formidable players. It’s like the producers decided this time around that everyone cast would be a Big Brother fan and would be in it for the game. No one on the show is a veteran this season, but no one seems naive about the show. They all know how it works, and they all want to win. The lack of stunt casting, weird twists and showmances has meant the show rests on the houseguests and what they choose to bring to the game. Without gimmicks in the way, viewers have this treat of seeing a pleasing mix of personalities that don’t easily fit into stereotypical boxes. Everyone on this show is somehow relatable, while no one is exactly who they first appear to be. That’s a roundabout way of saying they are real people, who have chosen to get along instead of create unnecessary drama. I was kind of looking forward to another week with this compelling group of 13.

But it wasn’t to be. Kaitlyn, easily voted out after a house-wide debate over whether she or Rockstar was the bigger threat (Kaitlyn, at least on the surface, although I would argue Rockstar is being underestimated), got the chance to earn her way back in the game. That wasn’t a surprise. Sam had let the house know about her power at the veto meeting. The mystery was simply how it was going to play out, and once Chen revealed the details after the first non-split vote of the season — is the house still divided? Maybe not — it seemed like an easy feat. The producers clearly wanted Kaitlyn to stay, and gave her a task that should have been a snap for her to complete.

Kaitlyn was faced with a life-size representation of herself, that she had to break down into pieces. She then had to put herself back together again. Think breaking apart a jigsaw puzzle and then reassembling it, except with much bigger pieces. Her time to complete the challenge? Two and a half minutes. Piece of cake.

But then Kaitlyn dove in, and the pieces weren’t agreeing with her. Viewers like me thought, “it’s harder than it looks. It must be.” It’s a truth of many Big Brother competitions that seem like they should be a snap for armchair observers, but to the players doing the work, it’s not that easy.

With Kaitlyn, there was an added element. She was panicking. Before her eviction, she had cited a list of her “teachers” that she wanted to thank for their influence on her life. Among them, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson. Probably no one she’d ever met in person, but whose work had clearly affected her. I urge you not to hate on Kaitlyn for what might seem like a shaky attempt to come off as an enlightened person. Many of us have such lists. We may not rattle them off on a reality show, but we have them.

I don’t find her comments disingenuous. But that said, perhaps she hasn’t fully gotten the teachings, at least not yet.

Let’s stop for a second and make the point that, for individuals living with anxiety, it’s not always possible to simply take a breath and have it go away. It’s much more complicated than that.

But for Kaitlyn, her panic in the challenge may not have been anxiety. It may have been layers of emotion coming out all at once. “I can’t lift it,” she said at one point, after assembling the puzzle on the floor, since it was easier than putting it together on the required podium. I can’t do this, she appeared to be saying, throughout the entire two and a half minutes. I can’t do it.

Watching the taped broadcast, long after the challenge was already over, I found myself feeling for Kaitlyn. Just stop, Kaitlyn. Stop. Take a breath, or take three. Then focus on the puzzle. That’s what Deepak, Marianne and Tony would probably tell you — if you are in a moment of apparent crisis, just stop. Breathe.

After the shocking end to Kaitlyn’s game, she told Chen it was for the best. Maybe, she’s right, because ultimately what is has to be. It’s a logic loop. Everything happens as it should, because that’s how things happen. But those teachers she listed also talk about life work and meeting the fates halfway. Maybe she was meant to be evicted, but maybe she may also want to take some time to reassess times of panic. It’s true what Oprah said to that guest all those years ago: it wasn’t just about the debt. But the guest was right too. She learned an important lesson about taking care of her money. Her lesson about relationships and self-protection may have just taken a little longer to learn.

My point (to quote Ellen, “and I do have one), is that Kaitlyn is not insincere, nor is she crazy. She’s just 24. She’s still learning how to navigate the world and how to put the life lessons she’s read from important teachers into practice. That takes work; there’s a misconception that following a spiritual path is as simple as learning a few platitudes. It’s not. Growth happens when those platitudes are challenged, or when they just don’t quite fit into the particular challenge you experience.

I will so miss Kaitlyn on Big Brother 20. I almost want to say I hope she returns in a future installment, but if this season is any indication, the best game is played by houseguests who have never before set foot in the Big Brother house.

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