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Vanessa Rousso: Poker 'Was The Best Preparation' For Deep Run On 'Big Brother'

Poker Pro Talks About Bubbling Reality TV Show


Rousso On Big BrotherGoing into the season finale of CBS’ Big Brother late last month, poker pro Vanessa Rousso basically had a 50-50 shot to secure a top-two finish. Unfortunately for the 32-year-old, she ran bad in the last competition and was evicted in third place. She missed out on the $500,000 top prize and the $50,000 for second.

Rousso was a fan favorite, though there were, of course, a portion of viewers who wanted her gone. Regardless, Rousso was considered by some, including other contestants, to be one of the better players in the show’s 17-season history.

Once she was out of the competition, Rousso told everyone on the show that she was not actually a professional DJ, which was her story all summer. Keeping her poker success a secret for 98 days was vital to her being able to last as long as she did, Rousso said.

The chance on Big Brother was big enough for Rousso to miss the entire 2015 WSOP. It was her first time skipping the tournament series since she began her poker career.

Card Player caught up with Rousso last week to talk about her deep run on Big Brother and how the game of poker helped prepare her for a grueling reality TV challenge.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about your experience on the show and how you feel about it now?

Vanessa Rousso: So I would say that as a life-long game enthusiast I went on Big Brother looking for the ultimate game challenge, something that would challenge me physically, mentally, strategically, emotionally, philosophically, morally, on every level. In every way, I would say the show delivered. I’ve challenged myself with a lot of games in my life and I would say that it was probably the hardest game on earth. It was an unbelievable challenge, and even though I didn’t win I still look at it in a positive light because a) I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and b) I learned a lot about myself. When you are stripped of everything in an environment like that you really develop a thicker skin and learn how to rely on yourself, what your weaknesses are and how to turn them into strengths. Also, as a games player, it’s important to me how I played, and by and large strategically, I was very well-received after the show. Even people who were fans of other people on the show said that I deserved to win. Hearing that was the best consolation prize.

BP: Throughout the show you were hiding the fact that you are a professional poker player. Do you think if that had been known to the house it would have really impacted your game and your finish?

VR: Yeah, I think I would have gone out a lot earlier. People inherently don’t trust poker players. They equate bluffing with lying, and if they had known I was a poker player, essentially a trained bluffer, I wouldn’t have made it as far in the game. I would have been a much bigger target earlier on, and being a DJ, in their minds, was someone they wanted to trust a lot more than a poker player. I think that was a good decision on my part game-wise.

BP: Was there a chance anyone on the show might have known that about you the entire time and never revealed it?

VR: No, if they would have known they definitely would have said something. There was too much at stake to keep that secret quiet.

BP: Do you think poker was great preparation for Big Brother?

VR: Yes, being a poker player was the best preparation I could have asked for to go handle the pressure and stress of the show. I am a tournament player, and this was essentially a 98-day tournament. Granted the hours were longer than a typical tournament, but I’ve honed skills over the past decade being a poker player that allowed me to know how to go into total mental focus mode. When you are in a [poker] tournament you have to ignore all the distractions of the outside world; you extract all the available information and use it to your advantage. I basically did that for the full 98 days. Beyond that, over the course of the game, there were a lot of things that didn’t go my way. Poker has been preparation for helping me deal with loss or dealing with a bad run. No matter how great you are at poker you are going to have bad runs. Dealing with that emotionally is really the toughest thing for most poker players. On Big Brother, when you have a lot on the line in a high-stakes situation, a lot of people weren’t as prepared as I was. I took things calmly, cool and collective, because of my training in poker. I was like, ‘Alright, that didn’t work out, let’s turn to the next option,’ while other people maybe focused on what could have been. I didn’t waste any energy on what could have been. I looked at where I was at and focused on moving forward. Poker also taught me how to bubble with good sportsmanship and have a positive perspective. I essentially just bubbled for a lot of money and walked out with a smile on my face and good things to say about the winner.

BP: Did you have any part of this mindset before poker or did the game really bring it all out in you?

VR: Oh no, poker definitely gave that to me. I would say that a lot of people who come to poker are those who had school come kind of easily to them, and they were used to ‘you study hard, you get an A.’ In poker, you work hard and you don’t always get the best results. Sometimes results don’t correlate with effort. For people who did well in school like me, it’s a hard adjustment at first, learning how to deal with risk and sometimes the lack of correlation between effort and outcome, also decisions and outcome. Learning to deal with that in poker during my first few years was definitely an uphill battle. I would say that someone who taught me a lot in that regard was Chad [Brown]. He was older than I was and was extremely emotionally mature. I grew a lot over the course of my relationship with him, learning how to handle the beats and when things don’t go my way. I’ll give credit where credit is do and say that poker and Chad helped me become a lot better dealing with that.

BP: Do you think Big Brother is going to improve your poker game? Further enhance your ability to handle the swings and understand your opponents?

VR: Definitely. Something I just thought of: Before this, one of the biggest things I needed to work on in terms of my poker skills was my mental endurance. I would do well in short bursts. In very long tournaments I would usually run out of steam on day 4. Most of my results, except for my very first cash in the WPT $25,000, come from two or three-day events. That’s because I would need a lot of downtime to regroup after three days. In Big Brother you don’t get that downtime. It’s 24 hours a day for 98 days straight. I think I learned how to dig down to a whole new level to keep me going mentally. I think compared to 98 days a seven-day poker tournament feels short.

BP: People often say that after they get exposure at a TV final table opponents sometimes play differently against them. Do you think the mainstream attention of Big Brother will affect how people play against you at the WSOP or elsewhere?

VR: That’s a really good question. Since I’ve been back [in Las Vegas] I’ve played some cash games at the Wynn, and I would say there wasn’t a huge difference in how people were playing against me. I was pretty visible in the poker world before this, and I would say Big Brother definitely has brought me more mainstream visibility. I would say the only tournament where I will see a difference is the main event, where you get a lot more of your average Joe playing. But for the most part, I’m already used to playing against people who try to make moves, have something to prove and everything that goes with being a known person at the poker table. I am sure I will be OK in that regard. It would be great if people are intimidated more (laughs), and just want to fold and give me their chips, but I am not counting on it.