8:41pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
Pre-Thanksgiving 'Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X' Thriller Includes More Than One 'Million Dollar Gamble'
[This article discusses the results from the Wednesday, November 23 episode of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.]
Survivor has never cared about your pesky holiday schedules. Other than the NCAA Tournament, nothing stands in the way of a new episode of Survivor and that includes the day before Thanksgiving. This year, Survivor decided to double-down with a pair of episodes on Thanksgiving Eve, even knowing the likelihood that this will be a lower-rated night of TV.
For any viewers who decided to skip tonight's episodes for family time, figuring they could just read a recap and get caught up, I'll issue a rare spoiler repeat warning: If you're a Survivor fan and you decided to just let a recapper fill you in on what went down tonight... Don't.
Stop reading now and get thee to whenever CBS hides episodes of stuff online or OnDemand, because after an up-and-down, fairly tepid season, Survivor kicked into high gear tonight with the best two hours of this installment by far. This wasn't perfect Survivor on every level, because I'm still also a supporter of the physical side of the game and that was largely irrelevant on Wednesday, but for sheer strategic wonkiness and gameplay, this near-peak Survivor.
It's funny that this season of contrived generational discord actually did metabolize into a Millennial against a Gen-Xer on Wednesdays episodes, but the progression didn't go as Jeff Probst probably would have planned. Instead of a contrasting set of virtues representing arbitrary generational characteristics, these two eliminations became a showdown between a pair of underdog nerds and the armies they've unexpectedly amassed. David and Zeke are different generations and 14 years separate them, but they're both playing smart and nerdy "I can't believe how far I've come!" Survivor and their respective forces aren't bound by age categorization. David found himself relying most strongly on Hannah in this episode, while Zeke's key lieutenants have become Bret and Sunday. Everything has become so topsy-turvy and therefore awesome that after a run of Millennial evictions threw away the advantage the youngsters had after an early shuffle, both of tonight's bootees were Gen-Xers and the person who has looked like the mastermind and the biggest target for weeks suddenly became such a non-factor that he guessed on one vote and was explicitly told what to do (and how to spell the name) on the next.
Jay has gone from seemingly easy-going surferdude to kingpin to targeted pariah to irrelevance in less than a month, which can only mean one thing: With an idol in his pocket and nobody even looking in his direction, Jay's on the verge of somehow becoming a key player in this game again.
Wednesday's first hour already would have been the season's best hour and I could almost ignore it entirely.
After blindsiding Chris in a vote at the top of the season, David and Chris made nice on Vanua, so it was cold and calculating when David started this night targeting Chris. But Chris, meanwhile, was continuing to target Jessica, who somehow managed to become everybody archnemesis without seeming even slightly interesting in the final edit. I know Jessica went against Paul early, but that was hardly her decision alone and it's odd that Sunday, Bret and Chris all only blamed her. Even subsequently, Jessica wasn't an important part of any vote, so why would those grudges have been held so long? I don't know.
The pivotal pieces in the first episode's vote ended up being Zeke and Hannah. Zeke became such buddies with Chris, bonding over a shared love of Oklahoma Sooners football, but he saw himself in the middle of what he called a Gen X Civil War, in which both David and Chris thought they were orchestrating a blindside. I guess Zeke's math went like this: Take out Jessica and you weaken the David-Jessica-Ken trio, but you're not knocking out an especially strong player, while Chris was both the center of a cohesive trio and a player with a combination of very real assets. Zeke and Hannah swung against Chris and then Zeke immediately began the process of pulling in Bret and Sunday against David. By waiting until the next morning to appeal to his former tribemates, David missed out and then he made matters worse by calling out their new bestie Zeke, accelerating a new war between calculating chess players Zeke and David, each attempting to measure the loyalty of their army, each attempting to plan several moves ahead and avoid overplaying their hands.
The ending of the episode was so great that I'm not going to dedicate time to pondering the reward in which David and Zeke went on a picnic with Bret and Sunday, but rather than competing for the affections of the swing duo, David went off for a walk and allowed Zeke and Bret to cement their bond when Bret came out to Zeke and they shared tales of different experiences growing up gay, separated by decades of progress. In retrospect, it's easy to say that David was never going to get Bret on his side, but he was in a perfect circumstance to at least try and instead he went for a walk. I don't get it. But it didn't matter.
The ending of the episode was so great that I'm not even going to dedicate time to Hannah continuing to step up, picking David's side against Zeke and trying to both boost his confidence and also orchestrate a vote to protect him, even though her inability to maintain a poker face led Zeke to instantly know she wasn't with him and therefore to target her.
Heck, things got so intense and twisty at tribal that I'm not even going to dwell on the circumstances that led to Bret and Zeke both taunting David and mocking him for getting overly defensive and crying, when just an hour earlier, everybody was supporting David and encouraging him when he tried being humble and pulling himself out of a reward challenge in order to avoid hurting his teammates. My gracious, the first hour was a celebration of David's evolution in this game. He won individual immunity and everything. But somehow the tribal council in the second episode became people mocking David and then David making a blunder of epic proportions.
I've rewound the tribal a couple times on my computer and I can't quite figure out what happened. There was whispering throughout, building paranoia and the perception of realigning and restrategizing and as it got to be time to vote, Ken went off on a monologue and Bret got hostile and impatient with Ken and people starting talking about sticking to the plan and amidst the confusion somebody said "Ken" to somebody. Was it Sunday to Hannah? And was it to throw her off or just because Ken was talking or what? Was it an accident or evil genius? Either way, the vote came back, David went to play his idol and Adam, who had been sitting behind Hannah and being whispered to the whole time, announced to David that he was sure the vote had been switched to Ken, so David ignored Hannah's protestations and played the idol for Ken. Would David have played the idol for himself otherwise or given it to Hannah? Hannah sure thought the latter, but we'll never know.
Ken didn't need the idol. Stupid Adam. Nobody was voting against Ken.
The vote was five-five between Hannah and Zeke.
Revote! [Anybody paying attention to their watches knew that we started tribal way too early for this to have been a straight-forward vote, but even knowing that there was more drama couldn't have prepared you for David wasting his idol on Ken or for the different pieces to come.]
Zeke tried aggressively to lobby Jessica to switch her vote. She did not. Four-four.
Could the players come up with a unanimous vote against either Hannah or Zeke to avoid going to rocks? They could not. I thought David made a pretty good case that regardless of whether you thought Zeke or David were the biggest threat in the game, there was only an opportunity to vote one of them out at that moment, but Bret wasn't suddenly changing position.
So we went to rocks and...
Jessica drew the black stone.
Drawing rocks can be anticlimactic and a really harsh way for somebody's game to end, but Jessica going out here was probably perfect. She'd only escaped elimination in the first episode because of Zeke, so going home here because people couldn't commit to voting Zeke out and because she refused Zeke's pleas to join him? That's good drama. And Jessica was only going along with David because she felt like she owned him something since he saved her back at Gen X camp. The signs had been pointing to the game wanting Jessica out for a long time even if I rarely ever remember she was there. Whatever Jessica's legacy advantage turns out to be, she didn't feel like she owed David THAT much. She left it for Ken. At this point, Ken appears to be a safe bet to make it to Day 36, because even if Adam got duped into protecting Ken, I don't think anybody has even started to worry about Ken.
Hello, wildly promising home stretch to the Survivor season.
I could probably have dozens of Bottom Lines for these two episodes, but I'll try to keep these short, because this is already too long:
Bottom Line, I. It's another afterthought, but there were a couple great challenges in this episode. The reward challenge in the second episode with people doing the worm up and down dunes on a gorgeous sand spit in the middle of the water was goofy, photogenic and showed way more of several peoples' butts than I needed to see of those butts.
Bottom Line, II. Let's go quickly back to David's awesomeness in that first episode, since he was the opposite of awesome in the second episode. He tried being selfless and recusing himself from the reward and everybody encouraged him, but then he participated adequately (even if his tribe lost). He won immunity in a challenge that came down to him and Zeke and presaged the duel in the episode to come. Everybody was so encouraging and friendly to David and his positioning to get Chris out went so well. So much for that, I guess.
Bottom Line, III. So that's three straight booze-filled rewards for Bret? If he keeps getting alcohol-and-food rewards he could gain weight on Survivor. [He's not gaining weight on Survivor.] Bret's got so many secrets going this season that we all just assumed he was going to admit to Zeke that he's a cop, but nobody even cares anymore what Bret does for a living. That conversation about progress, but also the difficulties of pretending to be someone you're not on Survivor if you've never needed to keep things about yourself hidden in regular life, was pretty great. But why did Bret get so mean and worked up at the second tribal? He was red-faced and shouting at everybody. If we didn't already know that Bret's a happy drunk, I'd think he somehow smuggled some beers back to camp. Oh and the conversation between Bret and Zeke was one of the few times this season that drawing Millennial/Gen X distinctions didn't feel inappropriate.
Bottom Line, IV. So much happened in this episode that you might not even remember that Will finally came to play, telling Zeke about Jay's idol and setting off a sequence of wonderful back-and-forth editing as various people revealed various people's secrets in ways that didn't ultimately necessarily mean anything. Yes, Jay had an idol and Will outed him on it and the big purpose of that first vote was to simultaneously get somebody out and get Jay to play that idol, but... Jay didn't play the idol. And he survived. And then Jay won immunity in the second hour and nobody was even going to vote for him anyway. So in Wednesday's two hours, Jay made it through two votes, held onto his idol, did what he was told to do and can possibly now coast as Zeke and David continue their conflict. That's a great week for Jay. Plus, by not being on the jury, he didn't have to deal with that hideous and clingy bug that landed on Taylor and refused to leave. Bug aside, nobody enjoyed this week's two tribals more than Taylor and Michelle.
Bottom Line, V. I guess we have to give Hannah kudos for "trust clusters" even if positioning a category between "blocs" and "alliances" may have been drawing a distinction without a difference. The first tribal vote was along bloc lines, the second around alliance lines, I'd say. Or, if that's not the case, then they were both bloc votes. Maybe alliances are just dead on Survivor because everybody is playing so hard at all times that you can't trust anybody and nobody would trust you for anything more than tribal-to-tribal. So even if "trust clusters" doesn't catch on, Hannah got to hear Probst use her terminology and that's gotta be a rush. But man, Hannah's not a good liar and she also discovered that two pathologically insecure people putting their trust in each other is a bad idea, even less good when your alliance includes a third person who has insecurity, but no strategic sense at all. Adam is just very bad at all of this. Still, it was hard not to get choked up when he got his letter from home.
Bottom Line, VI. I'm already excited for next week, thought I worry that Bret's boorishness might continue if he decides his mission in the game is to play enforcer for Zeke. Nobody this season has held onto power for long, but this week and the couple episodes before it have finally given shape to which players are deserving the prize.
GREAT episodes. Back next week...