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A pawn is a term used in the North American series of Big Brother to describe a houseguest that is nominated by the Head of Household without the intention of them being evicted. A pawn is typically a houseguest that is well-liked in the house or not seen as a physical or social threat, and is nominated in hopes that the house will instead vote to evict the other person on the block.
The use of a pawn is one of the most common strategies in North American Big Brother, and pawns are used many times each season. Depending on the HoH, they may get permission from the intended pawn to nominate them or nominate them without the pawn's permission. Additionally, the HoH may make it clear to the house that the person they've nominated is just a pawn, or may make it seem like the pawn is their target in order to lower the suspicions of their actual target. A pawn may come from inside the Head of Household's own alliance, or may be a neutral member of the house.
Regardless of the strategic intent however, being used as a pawn is still a risky strategy due to the inherent possibility of the pawn being evicted against the will of the Head of Household. Among houseguests, this has led to the common saying "pawns go home".
- AJ Burman from Big Brother Canada 1 gained the nickname "pawn star" on his season due to commonly being used as a pawn by people on multiple sides of the house, as well as due to his willingness to reference his own pawn status. He was nominated a total of three times before being evicted and becoming the first member of his season's jury.
- Spencer Clawson from Big Brother 15 (US) was used as a pawn numerous times in the jury phase of the game. Out of the last 10 evictions on the season, Spencer was a nominee on eviction night for 7 of them, and was only finally evicted at Final 3. He was nominated a total of nine times, the at-the-time record for most nominations, and is currently tied for second most times being nominated.
- Victoria Rafaeli from Big Brother 16 (US) infamously came to be used as a pawn due to her inability to win competitions on her season combined with her lack of strategic gameplay. By jury, she came to be known as "Princess Victoria", due to her seeming immune from eviction in spite of the many times she was nominated. She was finally evicted at Final 3 when Cody Calafiore chose to take his ally Derrick Levasseur to the Final 2. She is one of five houseguests to make it to Final 3 without ever winning Head of Household, and is the highest placing female to never be HoH. She was nominated a total of ten times and currently holds the record across US and Canadian Big Brother for most times being nominated.
- Jordan Parhar of Big Brother Canada 3 volunteered to go up as a pawn when his ally Zach Oleynik was Head of Household in an attempt to evict Godfrey Mangwiza. Jordan was so sure of his safety as a pawn that he willingly threw the Veto competition and told Zach not to use the Veto on him once he won it. On eviction night, Jordan's love interest Sindy Nguyen infamously voted to evict him, leading Jordan to be evicted in a shock 5-4 vote. This was Jordan's only time being nominated.
- John McGuire of Big Brother 17 (US) was also used as a pawn many times on his season, and was nominated every week for the first four weeks of the game. He became known for openly referencing and calling out his status as a pawn, even showing mock offense in one instance when he was not nominated. Despite attempts to use him as a pawn, John won the Power of Veto four times and used it to save himself from eviction three times. John was evicted at Final Four by Vanessa Rousso due to her mistrust of him as well as his alliance with Steve Moses. He was nominated a total of nine times and is tied for second most times being nominated.
- The term "pawn" is a reference to the piece of the same name from the game of chess. In chess, a pawn is often seen as the least valuable piece on a player's team due to their abundance and lack of use in chess. A chess player may sacrifice one of their pawns in order to get to a better point strategically in a chess game, similar to pawns in the game of Big Brother, which are seen as "expendable" by the Head of Household.
- This is one of many allusions to chess contained within the game of Big Brother.