7:00pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X' Premiere Features a Cyclone and Generational Stereotyping
Back when I was Generation Y, before Generation Y was devoured by Generation X like a weaker twin in utero, I remember reading stories about the culture wars that claimed Boomers were the generation that had to work for everything, the generation that knew what it was like to earn their position in society, while those darned Generation Xers were the mopey, soft dreamers raised by Mister Rogers to think that everybody was special and everybody deserved a trophy.
Heck, thanks to the magic of CDs, I still remember when people tried to put The Who and their g-g-g-generation down, just because they got around.
Perhaps the only thing more obnoxious than stereotypical millennials is arbitrary generational blither blather and once Survivor host Jeff Probst announced that the theme for the show's 33rd season was "Millennials vs. Gen X," I shuddered, especially coming off of a bottom-of-the-barrel season of The Amazing Race featuring obnoxious "social media stars," which might as well have been called The Amazing Race: Millennials vs. Millennials.
Thanks to the glories of low expectations, I'm gonna deem Wednesday (September 21) night's premiere of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X as... Less awful than I worried it might be, while still a come-down after last fall's terrific season and the 4/5ths of a great installment last spring.
The start of Wednesday's premiere, fortunately 90-minutes so that I can now pretend to identify at least a few of the castaways correctly by name, was every bit as bad as I feared. You had Jeff Probst explaining the show's partially arbitrary generational breakdowns (1963-82 for Gen X and 1984-1997 for Millennials [Sorry to my brother, born in 1983 and now rendered demographically invisible]) and entirely arbitrary generational attributes. It's Generation X that has now become the hard-working generation, the generation that earned its darned trophies, the generation that values climbing the ladder and committing to jobs, while Millennials are flighty, free-spirited, raised on the internet and able to jump from job to job, convinced that they're entitled to more and more professional clout and responsibility that they don't want. If you went and showed the characters on Reality Bites how Jeff Probst was pretending Generation X was forged and developed, they would probably laugh and laugh and laugh and then Winona Ryder's character would hate-date Probst for a while.
It's almost as if old people always think young people have it easier than they did and don't respect the process as much as they did, when the reality might be that young people are always young people and old people are always old people, at least until we start getting our Logan's Run on. But anyway... Let's ignore the facts so that we can make generalizations.
And everybody on each side of this "culture war" lived up to those generalizations as much as possible for a while and that was awful as well, especially after Probst entrapped them with an opening Supermarket Sweep-style sprint through the jungle gathering supplies. Teams were given a couple in-task choices, including the option of fishing equipment or chickens. Because the Millennials went with the chickens and Gen X picked fishing, Probst could declare "Gen X is looking longterm, Millennials are looking shorter," as if this were a meaningful choice in a game that will doubtlessly be shuffled or merged within 10 days. Nobody's taking up permanent residence in Fiji, so maybe the Millennials just like eggs and the Gen Xers had a player who lists "spear fishing" among his hobbies. Since the casting was done after the selection of the theme this time, at least contestants vaguely fit their categorization, though the selection of a handful of ostensibly blue collar Gen Xers and more than a few no collar Millennials had a strong finger-on-the-scales vibe.
But then the episode actually started and even if the editors tried to pretend that things were playing out along generational lines — Gen X got a better start on its shelter initially, but then a cyclone blew everything away — they were actually playing out along Survivor lines and that made for a perfectly satisfying middle 30 minutes. Zeke, for example, may have felt disconnected from his Millennial tribe based on his old soul crotchetiness, but the reason Zeke was so fun was the regular Survivor underdog story of the nerd discovering he could make fire and direct the construction of a shelter. And then you had Gen X David having the opposite journey, having all of his most paranoid fears realized regarding his own weakness and, well, paranoid fears and only exacerbating the issue with his behavior. And despite a surplus of bro-calling and nickname-spawning, the Tri-Force alliance of Figgy, Taylor and Jay was basically just your standard group of pretty kids forming a Survivor clique and alienating the nerds, with outcasts Hannah and Mari plotting to overthrow them. This all could have played out on any Survivor tribe in any Survivor season and it would have been equally satisfying.
And the disappointment of the last chunk of the episode also had nothing to do with the theme. The Gen X tribe lost the challenge not because they earned every darned trophy they received as kids and they couldn't go online until they were in their teens, but rather because two stupid people announced they were good at puzzles when they were not, in fact, good at puzzles. The Millennials didn't win the challenge because of their distrust of physical media or their adulation of Bernie Sanders, but rather because they were slightly better at puzzles than their competition.
We had two straight seasons last year in which practically every tribal council was unpredictable and delivered drama, but it wasn't the theme's fault that David and Rachel were obvious targets and that Rachel was an even more obvious target than David. Period. What I'll grant is that Rachel was mostly voted out because her personality rubbed her tribe the wrong way and that was because she was a bit of a ditz on a tribe of determined workers, but in seasons like this, theme outliers are always in even greater jeopardy than weak players. Rachel was both weak and an outlier, so she went home. Oh well.
So I was annoyed by the Survivor theme as Jeff Probst presented it on Wednesday, but the game still worked when it worked and it still struggled when it struggled and that had nothing to do with sociologically fungible generational distinctions, which was a relief even if the episode wasn't great.
This was a longer recap body than I plan to normally do, so let's get to the weekly Bottom Lines...
Bottom Line, I. We missed something in voting strategy for the Gen Xers, right? Last we heard, the vote split was between David and Rachel, to flush out the idol he didn't have, but then to get Rachel out. But then why did the votes go against CeCe instead? CeCe didn't do anything to anybody. Why did Rachel vote Sunday? None of this matters, of course. I just always remain perturbed by the early vote splits out of suspicion of idols. Yes, David went hunting for the idol in clear sight of everybody, but do they think he's an evil genius capable of lying to them? I sure wouldn't have thought that. David's the kinda guy who, best case scenario, does something crazy and deceitful that makes him memorable and then gets invited back and suddenly becomes a better player the second time around, but for all that talk of how much he loved Survivor as a game, we saw no hints that he has anything resembling a game.
Bottom Line, II. Where did the tribes sleep on cyclone night? The show doesn't like us to see the seams and having Probst arrive and tell both tribes to collect their belongings and come with him to shelter was exposing a huge seam. I get that we see things like that as a reminder that weather conditions can sometimes be harsh and that's a part of Survivor, but I want to know if they were kept sequestered in a dank shipping crate overnight, if they had cots in a Fijian high school gym or what. I assume they weren't fed, but what actually went down? I often miss doing exit interviews, but I wonder if the players will be free to reveal this secret. And how odd was it that the camera guys had to stick around at least for a while to chronicle the devastation? I know that's their job, but... still.
Bottom Line, III. It helps to have 90 minutes to get to know more players, but tell me anything meaningful about Lucy or Sunday. [Actually, Sunday has four kids. I remember that now! Never mind. She was there some.] High school student Will was important in the introductions, but then invisible from there. Michaela was rolling her eyes so aggressively through the intros, but vanished. Ken announced he'd been living off the grid for five years and knew everything about surviving, but didn't do anything useful and then was left out of Bret's vote split. Last season's winner, whose name I've already forgotten because she didn't deserve to win (fine, Michele), was a limited factor in the early episodes, so don't count anybody out based not seeing them. After all, it was necessary for the editors to show David saying he's his own worst enemy 17 times.
Bottom Line, IV. So... Legacy Advantage? Jessica found an envelope and a note telling her she has a special advantage that'll only come into play if she makes it 36 days. If she gets voted out, she has to will it to somebody. I guess that's plausibly cool? Jessica said she was planning to stay around for 36 days, but she already has an unfortunate eye infection in both eyes after getting exposed to flying sand in the pre-cyclone. Do we think there's any chance this means that there won't be hidden idols? Just as a deviation from the routine, it'd be fun to make players stress out for a full season over idols that aren't there.
Bottom Line, IV. Tayls + Figgy = 4eva! The Millennials so far are a bit like a tribe of Fabios. I will also give Missionary Michelle the opportunity to live up to listing "Hungry, hungry hippos" as the three words that describe her on the Survivor homepage. And the Hannah is giving off such a ridiculously strong Aubry vibe that I want to root for her to beat Michelle just to avenge last season's jury abomination.
Bottom Line, V. Labels aside, this is the same Survivor cast as always. Will's on the young side, but we've had contestants nearly as young. The average age here might be a hair older than usual. Maybe. The women are a pretty diverse group. The men are not. But it's just Survivor with Jeff Probst saying stupid things about generations.
And that's that for Week 1... I'll try to keep things shorter next week!