7:17pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X' Emotions Build and Moves Are Made in 'About to Have a Rumble'
[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, Nov. 30 episode of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.]
Last week's two-part pre-Thanksgiving episode of Survivor was a game-changer for the season: It offered the current installment's best hours back to back, climaxing in the exquisitely rare series oddity that is "drawing rocks."
Wednesday's (Nov. 30) hour inevitably was going to fall short, wasn't it? There was no way it could produce as many all-caps, exclamation point-driven moments as last week, could it?
It came surprisingly close to hitting those heights, in an episode driven by emotion, insecurity, and whatever the heck you want to pretend drives Ken other than just plain Survivor ineptitude. If last season started off great and then fizzled out by the end, are we in the middle of a season with the opposite arc? It's feeling a bit like that, though losing another big personality also could spell trouble.
This was Adam's episode all over, and if you reflect on the roller coaster his season has been in macro, this episode was an even more abrupt roller coaster in micro, especially if you pick things up at the previous tribal council when Adam got duped by the rival alliance into encouraging David to waste his immunity idol on a player who ended up not receiving any votes. Because this is Adam we're talking about, I'm not sure if this episode was a net-positive for him, but it sure delivered a lot of drama.
The episode began with the reward challenge featuring visits from loved ones. Has the show always dedicated nearly a full 10 minutes to the hugs and tears between castaways and their parents, siblings or spouses? It's always been a big deal, but it feels like it's only been in recent seasons, perhaps since the cancelation of Jeff Probst's talk show, that the initial greetings have become practically an episode to themselves almost guaranteed to make you cry. Did you get emotional with Bret's father hugging him and saying, "Look at you, you're a hunk"? Or did Jay begging his sister, "Don't make fun of me, OK?" make you start sniffling? For me, it was Zeke's father saying, "This is my hero. This is the strong person here," that got me mushy. Even though we've been watching him cry all season, I'm betting that Adam running and asking his brother Evan about their cancer-stricken mother produced some across-the-board weepiness.
Adam's strategic gameplay this season has been so inconsistent and unhinged that I was very impressed when he loudly told his brother about his reward-stealing advantage and then, as everybody sobbed around him, said, "But I can't use it, OK?" I know fans have been talking for weeks about how Adam could use what the game was calling an advantage as an actual advantage, and this was as wise a psychological play as he could have orchestrated. It was just two weeks ago that the threat of Adam being a family-stealer became a tribal council issue, so a public sacrifice in this context was a great gesture of good faith, especially since Adam also had to at least suspect the winner of the challenge would get to pick multiple people for family time. Indeed, Adam failed to win the challenge on his own. He got stuck under a log. It was sad. But Jay, who won, made Adam his third and last bonus pick, a classy turn for Jay as well, since he and Adam haven't gotten along and there was nothing in Adam's challenge performance that would have justified a, "Well, you came so close" move otherwise.
Giving Adam extra time with his brother gave the editors plenty more crying footage: Adam's mom's latest round of chemo didn't go well and Evan was left to encourage him with the promise that what he was doing on Survivor was inspiring her so much. It was hard to watch.
But then why did Adam have to actually give Jay the reward advantage? It's one thing to feel thankful and even to promise Jay that he wouldn't use the advantage to take anything away from him, but why GIVE it to him? I guess you give it to him if you think that the advantage was always a curse and you're better off letting somebody else deal with it. You give it to him if you haven't been saving it for an auction and the possibility to turn it into a bigger advantage later. If all the advantage means to you is stealing somebody's protein at some point, you might as well give it to Jay. Even then, the advantage's biggest threat to other people related to the family visit. That's gone. Might as well just steal a steak or a spa day or something. It was gratuitous.
Adam briefly moved to the background in the middle of the episode when Will announced that he hadn't gotten enough credit for things he'd done previously (that he hadn't exactly done, at least per editing) and screamed, "I didn't come here to be dragged as a goat! I came to play!" in a line you know he's been practicing in front of a mirror for 10 years. Will's big play was to tell the Ken-Hannah-Adam-David alliance that he wanted Zeke out as the biggest threat in the game and would flip on his chums. This absolutely would have been a big move. Will, a better liar than Hannah, then went and hung out with his former alliance as they freaked out at how calm everybody else was, decided David must have an idol and decided to vote out Ken instead.
So Will, figuring he wanted to prove his devotion to his new alliance, went walking with Ken and told him that his name had come up, but that all was well and they were still voting Zeke. I don't understand Ken. You don't understand Ken. But I feel like we've been amused by Ken and indulged his oddness. But for Ken to run off and tell first Jay and then that entire alliance that Will was flipping? What the heck was going on in Ken's mind? Ken couldn't justify it to us or to his incredulous alliance — or probably to anybody.
This left tribal council as a battle for Will's heart. Would he make the big move and turn on Zeke, stabbing him in the front at this point, proving his mettle in the game? Or would he go with the comfortable, complacent move and stick with his old alliance, a move he surely wouldn't get credit for, but that would keep him from having to be tied, however loosely, to Ken.
For the second straight week, there was conversation shortly before the reading of the vote in proximity to Adam, with Hannah expressing certainty that the vote was against her. Now Hannah's kinda anxious and paranoid, and I don't think anybody even knew Adam had an idol, but he keeps overhearing things. Last week, he told David what he thought he heard and David blew his idol. This week, he whipped his own idol out of his pants, presented it to Probst and then everybody sat back as Probst read four straight votes for ... Hannah. Followed by enough votes (three) to send Zeke packing. At least from what we saw, Probst didn't read all of the votes. Does that mean that the players don't actually know that the truth was that Will decided to vote out ...
Let's all just take a few moments to laugh. There's one interpretation of the vote in which Adam used an idol he didn't need to use, meaning that in this episode he tossed aside both an idol and advantage that might come in handy later. But the interpretation I prefer is that nobody will ever know which way Will voted, and he'll go back to camp swearing he voted for Zeke and he made this huge play and Adam will be all, "Well, I guess we'll never know, because the person who sent Zeke home was ME." So Adam's idol play didn't determine the vote, but it determined the credit for the vote. Adam will get to claim he took Zeke out. Adam will get to hold sway over Hannah for saving her life. And Will will be stuck in a corner rocking back and forth, bellowing cool confessional one-liners that nobody wants to hear him say anymore. Will's transition from previous non-factor to credential-free egomaniac was so funny that what I'm taking away from this episode was a hilarious theft-of-spotlight courtesy of Adam.
And bye, Zeke. His departing confessional was disappointed, but contemplative. He was likable, entertaining and smart, and he'll get to play the game again soon (very soon, if rumors are accurate). That's good. He might have overplayed his hand by a tribal council or two, but he did it in a way that entertained me. His reward conversation with Bret last week was also probably the season's signature moment, theme-wise, as the gay Millennial and the gay Gen-Xer bonded over social progress in a way that actually felt entirely organic and earned.
Some bottom lines from a really good episode...
Bottom Line, I. I'm going to be so interested to see how the momentum swings next week. One play is Will sticking with his new group of five and taking Sunday, Bret and Jay out, probably not in that exact order. But Will could just as easily refuse to stay with his new gang because that gang includes Ken, and look for another big move to take Ken out. Would anybody want to trust him? I'm not exactly sure why they would, but despite his best efforts, Will may have shifted into goat territory this week and people might be willing to drag him along knowing that nobody's going to take him seriously at a final tribal and having seen how cartoonishly hyper he gets when he tries to make his points. Will can't win this game. He's a goof. [Keep those sentences filed away in case I'm really, really wrong.] Why not take him to the end? You'd sure rather go to the end with Will than with Ken or David or with a sympathetic, boring mom like Sunday or with Jay, who you know has a block of Millennial votes just waiting for him. If I'm still in the game, I'm desperately trying to be nice to Will for a few days just to use him as a pawn.
Bottom Line, II. A couple secrets that either are or aren't out in the open at this point: Do we think Jay immediately came back to camp and told everybody that Adam gave him the advantage? Being shady hasn't helped Jay and his ilk in the past. But Jay has an idol still and only Will knows about it. And do we think everybody knows about Adam's mother? He conversed with Evan either in whispers or in private later and I feel like if everybody had known that Adam was waiting for word about a sick mom, Jay would have made him his first reward pick, rather than his third. So I'm wondering how those secrets will play. With David and Adam using idols the past two weeks, it sure seems like there should be a scurry next week for more idols. Do we think one or two will be there now? [UPDATE: Somehow I completely forgot the extended back-and-forth last week with Will telling Zeke about Jay's idol and then everybody telling everybody. A lot of water under the bridge since then.]
Bottom Line, III. Again: What was Ken thinking? That whole creepy conversation with Will about recognizing shared authenticity was ridiculous. And there was no good reason to blow up Will's game in that way and it absolutely could have blown up in Ken's face. Ultimately, Will had, as I said, the choice between sticking with his big move or sticking with comfort. Plenty of players in the game would have opted for comfort, even knowing how distrusted he'd be, but Will was determined to do something big so that the grown-ups would respect him. That was what drove him. But it might have been interesting if somebody within his original alliance had been sure that Will was back in the fold and then swapped their own vote to Zeke. Like if you were Jay and you were sure both that Will was voting Hannah and that you were probably at the bottom of your alliance anyway, you could have voted Zeke, taken out the bigger threat and made Will's move into your move, confident that you still had an idol to play on yourself later if there was blowback (but also plausibly planning to still make Will look like the flipper so that he could be a hated target going forward, knowing that nobody would believe him). I'm not saying that would have been smart. But I'd have applauded the silliness of it.
Bottom Line, IV. I'm tired of fruit bats. This season needs more biodiversity.
Bottom Line, V. I don't know that everything Adam did this week was "right," but I think I'm back to rooting for him. I'm also rooting for Hannah to find a way to do something big. I'm no longer rooting for Ken.
Another great episode!