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[This article contains spoilers for the Wednesday, November 2 episode of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.]
When it comes to Survivor, I am fickle and as changeable as the wind, but I’m not a hypocrite. So let the record show that I can get a kick out of a good blindside even when it takes out my favorite player of the season and perhaps my favorite player in several seasons.
Farewell to Michaela, who was clearly too good for this Survivor world.
Am I wrong or was Michaela the first player voted out this season who we can guarantee will be invited back for a future all-star installment? I can see bringing Figgy back in a season that also brought Taylor back as well — Survivor: Famous Pairs, in which players who had famous alliances or famous showmances are brought back, but immediately placed on separate tribes? — but otherwise, we’re not going to remember CeCe, Lucy, Mari, Paul and Kelly beyond this season’s merge. And you don’t even know which one of those people wasn’t really on Survivor this season.
But Michaela? She was memorable and her exit was memorable and I can’t necessarily say that Jay was wrong to orchestrate her ouster. Michaela has been physically dominant for much of the season and she has exactly the sort of physicality that becomes even more dangerous when post-merge immunities rely on endurance as much as strength. She’s smart and probably the lengthy point-by-point lecture to her tribemates charting each post-merge vote had to be concerning as much as it was encouraging. And even though the editors made a big deal out of Michaela’s conflicts with Figgy, a brawl in which Michaela was completely in-the-right, her subsequent tribe seemed to genuinely love her. Last week some people felt like Michaela was brow-beating Hannah in the immunity challenge and that Michaela hurt Hannah’s feelings, but if you paid attention to their interactions at the start of this episode’s reward challenge, there were no hard feelings there. Quite the opposite. Hannah was obviously fiercely devoted to Michaela, which you could interpret as Stockholm Syndrome if you like. I’ll miss Michaela and her no-filter sense of humor and her fierce challenge determination and her emotional response to success and acceptance, but if you sense a merge is coming, I guess turning on her is fair. She could have seen it coming. Actually, she did see it coming and so did all of us.
The editing of the episode was against Michaela from the beginning. It was non-stop hubris from her early declaration of “I don’t want people thinking that I’m the one to beat.” The editors even threw in a suggestion that Michaela had been responsible for her tribe’s loss in the immunity challenge by refusing to give up her slingshotting duties even when she was struggling. That was the most minor of impediments — Jay didn’t exactly set things aflame when he took over and the only reason it came back around to her failing again at the end was because nobody else could do it — and played no visible role in her elimination, but it was tossed in as a piece of the case against her. The real case was just that Jay was paranoid and Will was both paranoid and prepared to do anything to give the appearance of actually playing Survivor. That’s all it takes and all it took.
The interaction between Michaela and Jay at tribal? That was an instant classic. The tribal itself was all sorts of blather about how close the Ikabula Six had become and how this vote would only make them closer and how they were prepared to run the game and all of that, followed by Michaela’s initial confusion at seeing her name written down once and her horror and instant recognition at seeing it a second time.
“Did you do that?” Michaela whispered to Jay in shock.
Suddenly realizing that he’d just gone from an innocuously silly stoner to a stone-cold assassin, Jay replied, “Yeah. I did that.”
Hannah, once again stuck in a vote that nobody had warned her about beforehand, gratuitously declared, “I did not do that.”
We know, Hannah. We know.
What followed was an epic staredown between Jay and Michaela that I’m convinced they were urged to hold positions on so that a camera person could sneak behind their benches to give us an angle I’m not sure I remember ever seeing before on Survivor.
“Jay… Damn, Jay. You just [bleeped] up,” Michaela said as the last vote was read. But even before leaving, she had to get a few more last words, mostly because she forgot her shoes, returning to tell him, “Damn, Jay. You [bleeped] up something good.”
Jay remained quite, collected and somewhere between badass and smug.
I’m not sure that they aren’t both correct.
I made the case already for why you didn’t want to even open the door for Michaela to go on a run, especially if you sense a merge approaching and you no longer care about keeping a tribe strong. Also, for Jay, taking Michaela out closed the circle of trust on his hidden idol down to two and Will has proven himself to be only half-a-player at best. It wouldn’t surprise me if in her exit interviews tomorrow, Michaela remains convinced Jay blew it, but also begrudgingly respectful that she didn’t see it coming.
But Jay himself made the best point against taking Michaela out: She didn’t really have anybody else. In the Millennial tribe, she wasn’t ostracized, but Michelle had manipulated her into voting against her best interests in the season’s second tribal. Looking at the Gen-Xers, I don’t have a clear pick for who Michaela was going to instantly bond with after a merge. So what you have is a strong player who professed herself fiercely loyal to what could have been a group of four or possibly five if you believe that Sunday would have been faithful after Bret was voted out, which I doubt. This was Michaela’s only available game and there wasn’t a reason to assume she’d betray it. She came across as smart and strategic, but not as scheming or backstabbing. There’s value in sticking with a faithful player for as long as you can and then ditching them at six or seven after you use them to pick on weaker groups. And it’s not like Jay was awash in better opportunities. Jay had a four-person alliance that was weakened by Figgy’s ouster last week, but he’d still have been on good footing with easily manipulatable Will, easily manipulatable Hannah, with unmoored and monomaniacal Taylor and with Michelle, who previously proved her ability to manipulate both Hannah and Michaela. So why not keep Michaela around as a number for a few more tribals? The Millennials went into the shuffle with a big numbers advantage, but two of three post-shuffle votes went against Millennials and Adam jumped ship in a hard-to-repair manner. A status quo that could have been reasserted by sending Bret out was scrapped.
So it’s 7-6 for the Millennials going into the merge, right? Sure sounds like Adam will be the swing vote no matter what happens next week, unless David reswings the vote no matter what Adam does?
Some bottom lines from this week…
Bottom Line, I. Sigh. I really will miss Michaela. I think Ken is probably my favorite now. Adam’s hyper-apologetic pleas to Taylor took away a fair amount of my support for him, just as I disliked when Hannah did the same to Zeke and Adam earlier. When you do things, you have to own the things you’ve done, otherwise you end up losing two straight seasons that you should have won. You become Amanda Kimmel. So all Taylor deserved by way of apology was, “Dude, you’d have done it if you were me.” But, “I screwed you. I lied to you and I screwed you,” is too far.
Bottom Line, II. The fart-and-belch-fest that was Vanua’s reward win was… a bit gross and not nearly as funny as Blazing Saddles. And yes, that’s the standard to which I hold any fireside fart-a-thon. If you aren’t gonna be Blazing Saddles, keep your gas inside. Was the takeaway supposed to be sympathy for Michelle, with her dainty eating and lack of flatulence? I’ve never listed “Has manners” as an attribute for any of my previous Survivor favorites. I need Michelle to get back to Survivor business, because I liked her at the start of the season and she has largely vanished.
Bottom Line, III. Speaking of vanishing, this was Will and Sunday’s most involved episode yet and they both proved to be… Really dull. Will is, thus far, perhaps the most disappointing Survivor player… ever? I mean, you change the eligibility rules for a guy to basically drop out of high school to be on the show he’s dreamt of being on his whole life and eventually he has to actually play the game, right? He’s still awestruck by everything and we haven’t seen even a hint that he’s settling into the game on any level.
Bottom Line, IV. Like so many Survivor lies, I just don’t see the point in Bret pretending to be a funeral home director, rather than owning up to being a Boston cop. He is, as Jay and Hannah both deduced, very much a Boston cop. Everything about him screams, “Oops on Whitey Bulger.” Nah, I kid. But I can definitely imagine him keeping drunk fans off of the field at Fenway. And has Hannah always had that Boston accent she when she was voting for Bret or was that new? But the “Cops do poorly on Survivor” or “Survivor players respond poorly to cops” narratives has been completely self-fulfilling.
Bottom Line, V. So many great faces at that tribal. I wonder if Jay the Assassin is gonna stick around or if he’s just gonna return to Jay the Bonfire-Living Goofball. I thought he barely contained one personality, but if he turns out to have two, that might be amusing.
Bottom Line, VI. Taylor’s lack of interest in politics is… so Taylor.
That’s all for another week!
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Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media