Darren Franich
September 05, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Do Kalia and Porsche actually deserve to be in the Final Five? Daniele carried the two girls through a bleak period that saw most of their fellow Newbies eliminated. Heck, Daniele basically invented Kalia and Porsche, gameplay-wise: Without her, Kalia would have been one more Jorff-worshipping Newbie, and Porsche would have probably gotten lost in some corner of the Big Brother house. Certainly, Jordan and Rachel seem to hold a dim view of the two Newbie ladies. But the remaining Veterans haven’t exactly had a commanding season, either. Jordan won an early HoH competition, but she spent most of the summer following the “Nod When Jeff Says Things” strategy. Conversely, Rachel has been HoH three times and has left a trail of dead enemies in her wake…but she also spent a month moping, whining, and letting Jeff’s prowess save her.

In a sense, Jeff and Daniele are still inside of the Big Brother house. The essential dynamics of this season haven’t changed in their absence  — it’s still Veterans vs. Newbies, Team Jeff vs. Team Daniele, with Adam simultaneously on both sides and neither. Every nomination has been an act of vengeance for the Double Eviction Bloodbath two weeks ago; every decision made by the remaining houseguests has flowed directly from plots Jeff and Daniele set in motion.

It feels a little bit as if two great rival tribes met in a battlefield — picture Jeff as the pugilistic Chief of one army, and Daniele as a canny Chieftess from the opposing side. The battle with the Chief and the Chieftess facing each other in one-on-one combat, and the Chief won fair and square, slicing off the Chieftess’ head. But the Chieftess had dipped her sword in poison, and the Chief ultimately died from very minor wounds he suffered in the duel.

With Jeff and Daniele gone, Rachel has emerged as most-likely-to-be-elected-dictator-for-life. She won the Doughnut-themed HoH competition last night, ensuring hers and Jordan’s safety for another week. In stark contrast to last season — when Rachel spent her Head-of-Household weeks insulting her enemies and generally acting like her reign would never end — the Redheaded Wonder has shown herself to be a wisely political HoH, taking meetings with her enemies and smiling as she plots future backstabbery.

Kalia and Porsche had identical sitdowns with Queen Rachel. They both promised Rachel that they wanted to stand next to her and Jordan in the Final Three. Kalia made an massive plea for a late-season alliance: She apologized (“I pegged you wrong from day one”), she begged (“I think I deserve to be at the end!”), and she made a smart argument for sisterhood, telling Rachel: “We’re very similar in lots of ways.” It’s true, too: Rachel might be a better player overall, but her and Kalia have both played this season with a nifty mixture of aggressive gameplay and fade-to-the-background Second Banana-dom — by which I mean, you could argue that Rachel and Kalia both used their respective alpha dogs (Jeff and Daniele) as force fields, letting them absorb all the damage.

NEXT: And then there’s Adam.

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