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The Criminal Minds Episode That Pulled In The Most Viewers

There are many contributing factors to a TV show's longevity but at a certain point, it usually comes down to ratings. On that note, we could spend hours picking through the viewership numbers for CBS' "Criminal Minds" but, suffice to say, it wasn't on the air for 15 seasons because nobody was watching. The series had steady ratings throughout most of its run but there is one episode in particular that really took the series over the top.

"The Big Game" is an iconic "Criminal Minds" episode on a number of fronts. It was the first of a two-part storyline that is a favorite among viewers (the second part, "Revelations," is one of the top-rated "Criminal Minds" episodes on IMDB) and features a truly memorable unsub. The episode sees the BAU on the trail of a serial killer who turns out to be a troubled man named Tobias Hankel (James Van Der Beek). Hankel's father was a Christian extremist who abused and drugged Hankel, causing him to dissociate and develop an alter-ego named Raphael, an avenging angel who murders sinners. The two-art story is full of twists, extremely tense moments, and Hankel himself has been cited by fans as one of the more complex and sympathetic unsubs in the show's history.

That all no doubt contributed to "The Big Game" getting blockbuster ratings — it raked in over 26 million viewers according to ABC Media Net — but there's one other crucial element that played a big role in its success. And the clue is right there in the title.

The Big Game got a big boost from the Super Bowl

Cast your mind back to February 4, 2007. George W. Bush was in the White House, Myspace was still the social media website of the day, and on that date, in particular, the Indianapolis Colts were playing the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI (spoiler alert: the Colts won 29 to 17). The Super Bowl is consistently one of the highest-rated TV events across all channels and genres each year. And the shows that are chosen to air immediately following the Super Bowl usually enjoy a healthy bump in ratings.

Shows like "Friends," "Survivor," and "Grey's Anatomy" all had their turn at being the lead-out show for the Super Bowl broadcast and in 2007, "Criminal Minds" got to bask in the same spotlight. The episode title "The Big Game" is even an obvious meta-reference to its special place on the schedule (slightly more subtle than the "Friends" episode "The One After the Super Bowl"). Of course, in "Criminal Minds" fashion, the episode pays homage by kicking things off with a couple being brutally murdered after watching the titular big game.

Now, we don't want to attribute all of the success of "The Big Game" to its post-Super Bowl time slot. The episode aired during the show's second season when "Criminal Minds" was still a hot new commodity, and it promised viewers the opportunity to see former "Dawson's Creek" star James Van Der Beek as a brutal serial killer. But there's no doubt that the boost "The Big Game" got from the Super Bowl helped make it the highest-rated episode of "Criminal Minds."