At the start of "Big Brother 17," Julie Chen offered us a sinister array of houseguests to love and fear. There was Da'Vonne, the motormouthed bandit who couldn't help but rip her teammates to shreds. There was Clay, a Men's Health cover posing as a contestant. There was Audrey, the show's first transgender houseguest and millionth clumsy game-player. You loved these tireless dynamos. And then they were eliminated.

We're left with a house of languid combatants. Some of these people are just emojis with haircuts. Yet the show remains fascinating, perhaps the most entertaining season in five years. Why? Let's observe the remaining houseguests and figure out why we love this game. (Keep in mind Shelli and Jackie can also return and win; we'll re-analyze later if either of them reenters the house.)

  • Vanessa, the hysterical pragmatist
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    Why she's dull: Vanessa's limp snowboarding cap has more personality than she does, and that's remarkable considering she's such an active player. Has she cracked a joke? Laughed? Noticed that Austin is insufferable? Things humans do? I can't say I've witnessed it. 

    Why she's great: Vanessa brings creepy poker authority and an unfeeling shamelessness to her game. That is why she rules. There's a serious anti-Vanessa current in the BB fandom universe, and I can't understand why. She has the manipulative smarts of a classic BB legend, but her surprising tantrums end up placating her opponents. That's an interesting balance to strike. I'm not saying she'll pull it off in the long run, but she has a weirdly bald-faced ambition that is both comically intense and sometimes effective. 

  • Meg, the whatever
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    Why she's dull: Meg divides her time between napping 19 hours a day and weeping that her friends were evicted. Her strategy is announcing how much fun she's having and, on occasion, how nice she is. Dear Meg: We didn't come to Chenbot Manor to make friends. Certainly not with a narcoleptic set of bangs. 

    Why she's great: Meg is a non-player who finds herself having to choose a side in the house, and that's funny. She mocked herself for her inability to perform in any HOH or POV, and that leaves us with an interesting question: What will the rest of the house do with Meg? It's up to them and their tolerance for jean vests.

  • Austin, the rad loser
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    Why he's dull: "Big Brother" has had no shortage of contestants who think their "character" is inherently amusing. Jason loved playing the wise-ass but could only muster up "Oh, Mylanta!" as a sassy retort. He didn't even make that up. Da'Vonne threw down big talk, but she saved her funniest moments for post-elimination tweets. Austin is positive we're amused by his "alter ego" Judas. Austin is routinely -- and this time specifically -- wrong. 

    Why he's great: Say what you will about his strange delusions, but Austin is now in a powerful showmance. He spends 98% of his day on tricep workouts and the other 2% following Liz into hammocks as Julia hides in a bush. He's sold the house on his softie cred. Could he win the whole thing?

  • James, the confused bro
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    Why he's dull: Is there ever a time when James doesn't look befuddled? Remember his astonishment when Julia joined the game? You'd have thought the train that hit Becky just entered the house. He doesn't have the appearance of a savvy player, and that general confusion is frustrating. 

    Why he's great: Face it, when he threw Shelli and Clay on the block after promising them amnesty, it was gold. No one seemed too bothered by the slight either, which made it even better. 

  • Liz and Julia: Austin's boring-ass angels
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    Why they're dull: Because they're dull. There's not much more to it. 

    Why they're great: Even though they've been given a distinct advantage in Julia's late entrance to the game, the rest of the house doesn't quite know what to make of the twins' alliance with Austin (and sometimes Vanessa). They've got numbers on their side, and I have a sneaking suspicion they'll know the right order to eliminate opponents if they maintain power. In their blandness, they're infuriating villains. And what could make a normal human being angrier than the alliance name "Austin's Angels"?

  • Becky: Hilary Stank-Face
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    Why she's dull: For the first month of this game, Becky was as lifelike as a battery-deprived Zingbot. She did pipe up once to announce her showmance with the locomotive industry, but that was short-lived. 

    Why she's great: Becky built a beautiful, livid grudge against Vanessa. She gained power and decided to eliminate Vanessa. She got everyone to agree about eliminating Vanessa. Then Vanessa stayed. Her lingering resentment and rancor suddenly makes her one of the game's most memorable characters. Thank God Vanessa outmaneuvered Shelli; otherwise we'd have a content Becky and a comfortably dull Shelli.

  • Johnny Mac, the Novocaine-numb spin doctor
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    Why he's dull: Remember when Johnny Mac had his blowup with Vanessa, let Vanessa walk up to the HOH room to vent, and then barged in to say, "Heh, is this awkward?" Johnny, don't show up to a confrontation and say, "I'm sorry about this confrontation." Show up and say, "I'm about to give this game a nitrous-free root canal." 

    Why he's great: First of all, Johnny is smug about his own intelligence. That makes for fine entertainment value, particularly on a show like "Big Brother" where intelligence is a hilarious idea. He's been a hapless pawn in several evictions, but he seems amused by that "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" type of alienated, continued existence. Also, his crushworthiness is an acquired but satisfying taste.  

  • Steve, the potential Jesse Eisenberg role
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    Why he's dull: Steve has spent this entire game greeting other houseguests with a polite nod before leaving the room to talk to himself about that brilliant game move for hours. He is self-congratulatory in the extreme, and no one's even around to notice how annoying that is. 

    Why he's great: Steve, the resident "Willard" of "Big Brother 17," is weirdly beloved for a hyperventilating rat king. Notice how the twins and Vanessa comforted him after his eviction of Jackie. It was strange. He's secretly more nefarious than Vanessa but deemed more harmless than her. I don't think I like him, but I also don't think he should go home. That's the backhanded compliment all "Big Brother" contestants should want to receive.