This season, Dan Heaton will write feature blogs on issues related to Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.
Finding the Story in Survivor 33
The pre-merge game is a tricky time for Survivor fans, particularly those who search for the larger story in the mayhem. It’s fun to believe we’re ahead of the players and can read the edit. I’m not talking about anything as complex as Edgic either. It’s more of a sense that we get from who’s getting screen time and what they’re saying. Jeremy’s win in Second Chances is a good example. Many viewers had a strong feeling he was going to win as the season progressed. Frequently, the predominant narrative in the early episodes (especially before a swap) says little about where we’re heading. Who are the players to watch for the endgame? What alliances will stick? The answers aren’t always there near the start.
For example, Kaoh Rong’s first four episodes spent a majority of the time with the Brawn tribe. That group visited Tribal Council three times, had a fierce immunity-idol hunt, and bickered regularly. They also lost fun players like Darnell and Alecia. Combining that focus with the extended medical emergency where Caleb left the game, there was little time for much else. We briefly visited the other tribes, and most of that time showed us that Debbie and Tai were big characters. There was also the Peter/Liz debacle on the Brains, but that was an exception.
The central theme of Kaoh Rong’s game was the terrible conditions. The season was sold that way in the first preview at the Second Chances finale and matched the hype. Aubry and Cydney took over after the merge, and Michelle arrived closer to the end. Even during the finale, many of us still thought Aubry would win the game. Her strategic play was stronger than Michele’s, but the players didn’t have the same knowledge. The confusion on Kaoh Rong helps illuminate the disjoined feeling that has carried over into the new season.
This brings me to our current game, which has been peculiar in its first four episodes. The Millennials vs. Gen X theme has taken center stage, but it isn’t clear whether anyone but Jeff Probst cares about it. He seems giddy to make obvious comparisons, yet we’re nearing a point where they won’t matter. The players pay lip service to the differences, and fans aren’t really lining up to fight for their generation. We’re just wading through the talk of texting and hard work to reach the swap. There have been good moments, but few relate to the theme.
Thus far, the Gen-X tribe has visited Tribal Council three times. Unlike with the Brawn tribe, we haven’t dug too far into these characters. David is neurotic, Ken is endearing, and that’s about it. Part of the reason is the time spent on the storm during the premiere. That extended sequence cut into the usual introductions and made players like Lucy non-entities. We also have seen a lot of David even though he hasn’t been a target. Despite the three Tribal Council visits, I don’t have much to say about them. Let’s dive further into this narrative and try to figure out this group.
Casting for Youth
In his pre-game interviews, Jeff spoke with Josh Wigler about the show’s need to bring more young players into the fold. In theory, that approach would draw younger viewers to Survivor. I don’t have a problem with this strategy on the surface. The Millennial tribe has no real duds either. I’m rooting against Figgy and Taylor, but they are colorful doofus characters. More success will make them bolder, which should lead to a stupendous fall. I’d take them over grumpy hard workers any day. Even with losing Mari (who had great potential), the tribe still has so many fun characters. It’s one of the more consistent groups that we’ve ever seen.
The nine Millennial players remaining include four I love (Michaela, Zeke, Adam, and Hannah), three with potential (Jay, Michelle, Will), and two that are entertaining while being oblivious (Figgy and Taylor). There are no total misses. Add Ken to those nine and we’d have a great final 10. Casting wanted young stars and built a fun and mostly likable tribe. The story favors them in every way; David’s antics would also seem more normal with the Millennials. He’s received attention because he’s in the same mold and is playing big. Jeff likes people who make “big moves”. There’s a reason he raves about Ciera Eastin so much.
Sadly, casting did not take a similar approach and craft an interesting Gen-X tribe. They wanted to prop up the theme of hard work vs. laid-back entitlement. The players seem like good people. Paul was humble and genuine in his exit interview with Rob, and Lucy made no excuses in her conversation. I suspect that Jessica, Chris, and others will act the same way. However, that doesn’t lead to exciting TV. I picked Bret to win, but he’s been largely absent. I know little about him beyond his alliance. He wants to win and seems laid-back, but the editors are giving us little.
Scanning the rest of the group, Sunday and CeCe are into a similar boat. They are down-to-earth and nice but don’t leave much of an impression. Are they heading for the exit soon? Michelle didn’t have much screen time in the early Kaoh Rong episodes. Could a Gen-X player still emerge and win? Anything is possible, but I don’t see this group dominating. A few of them will be king makers that help determine which Millennials take charge.
David Wright, Edit Superstar
The standout character on Gen X has been David, who began the season with a Fishbach-like premiere. He seemed like an obvious boot, but all the screen time gave us a different story. David has remained front and center all season. He found the idol in episode two, warmed up to Taylor at the summit last week, and played his idol for Jessica this time. He’s dominated the Gen-X story. The big question with David is whether he’s the scorched earth figure that shapes the long game or a Jeff Varner-like early star. Will playing the idol and then having an unlucky swap doom the TV writer? It wouldn’t shock me, but I suspect he’ll at least make the merge. Exits for the Gen-X core players are more likely to happen based on the edit.
Is David a bad player? In the big moves era, the show wants us to admire his daring play and root for him. While I like that he’s trying, David also has nowhere to hide. If Millennials on the bottom like Zeke and Adam want to target a volatile Gen-X player, David is a prime candidate. Of course, they don’t know what we know. He fits in with the gang of misfits better than a guy like Chris. If David makes the end, the editors really showed their hand early this time. They’ve gotten better at hiding the big players early, so I suspect they’re disguising a lot.
David’s choice to save Jessica with the immunity idol was questionable. She’s been a nervous player who’d rather act first and then figure out the consequences. Part of that approach could be her legacy advantage. It’s made Jessica push harder to make day 36. Psychologically, she’s thinking too far ahead and can’t sit still. That nervousness played a role in her choice to vote out Paul. David would be wise to avoid an unpredictable player like Jessica. Of course, he’s also the same kind of player. He’ll need to do a lot of damage control next week or risk being ostracized.
Approaching the Swap
Looking forward to next week, I suspect the story will become clearer very quickly. The preview hinted that Taylor and Figgy would be separated, which could quickly put one in jeopardy. The show seems more engaged in this potential dilemma than we are. Despite the Millennials’ laid-back attitude, they may act to split the couple if they get the chance. Michelle in particular showed an understanding of how to remove a threat when she targeted Mari. I don’t believe that Jay would protect his buddy either. The Tri-force (or Quad-force?) may not live forever.
The 9-7 split between the two tribes could also lead the Millennials to be okay targeting one of their own. It would also show which Gen X players will open their minds and lose the focus on old alliances. There’s still a possibility that even the most listless player could dramatically alter the game. With that said, I believe the likely beneficiaries would be the Millennial power players. I’ll make this bold prediction: a Millennial is winning this game. Going a step further, I believe the winner will be one of these five players:
I’m notoriously bad at predictions, but the editors thus far seem most interested in show them positively. David and Jessica are too erratic, and Ken focuses more on personal slights than the game. A stoic guy like Chris might win, but he seems conservative and not strategic enough to reach the top. It might take a Holloway-like run for Chris to grab hold of the game. The odds aren’t in his favor. He’s a superstar athlete, but that will only enhance the target on his back.
Adam and Zeke aren’t in control of the Millennials, but that’s not a bad place to be during a swap. They could sell their place on the bottom as a way to connect with the Gen X players. Adam’s emotional idol discovery this week set him up as a player to support. They’re underdogs but haven’t been discouraged by their lack of success. The Millennials’ challenge wins have given Adam and Zeke a chance to recover, and the sky’s the limit now.
My favorite player this season is Michaela; she’s outspoken and gives hilarious confessionals. She’s also a beast in challenges and could surprise everyone when the individual game begins. Her rift with Figgy seemed like a problem, but she swallowed her pride and voted with the majority. Jay and Michelle made a point to secure her vote, and they seem tight. This trio has a better chance to control the game than the original Tri-force. I’m not convinced that any is a master strategist, but they may not need ridiculous ideas to run the show. David and Jessica have shown that complex plans rarely go well. Sometimes a social player that doesn’t ruffle any feathers can win. Last season offers a perfect example once again.
Bloggers Predictions Update
It’s time for the most important section of this article. During the pre-season, the RHAP bloggers each made predictions about what would happen this season. Unfortunately, Christian joined a little too late to participate. Judging by his blogs, I suspect he’d be doing well. For the first time this season, we also earn points for correct answers. Thus far, only Catherine has received points. She gained five for choosing Rachel as the first boot of the Gen X tribe. There’s a long way to go, however.
Looking at our winner picks, Scott did lose Mari in the second episode. The other picks look strong with the exception of my choice of Bret. Michel (Jay), Christine (Michaela), Catherine (Will) and Sarah (Adam) are all set up well. Our runner-up picks are all still alive too, and it’s too early to tell which will work out best. I suspect they’ll start falling soon.
The biggest chance to earn points comes with the merge; we’ll earn one point for each correct answer in the top 12. Here’s an update on who’s doing the best with this question:
Christine (11): Adam, Bret, CeCe, David, Hannah, Jay, Jessica, Ken, Michaela, Rachel, Will, Taylor
Sarah (11): Adam, Bret, Chris, Figgy, Hannah, Jessica, Ken, Michaela, Rachel, Taylor, Will, Zeke
Scott (11): Adam, CeCe, Chris, David, Hannah, Jay, Mari, Michaela, Michelle, Paul, Taylor, Zeke
Catherine (10): Adam, Bret, Chris, David, Jay, Lucy, Mari, Michaela, Sunday, Taylor, Will, Zeke
Dan (10): Adam, Bret, Chris, David, Figgy, Jessica, Lucy, Mari, Michaela, Taylor, Will, Zeke
Michel (9): Adam, CeCe, Figgy, Jay, Ken, Lucy, Mari, Michaela, Paul, Taylor, Will, Zeke
We also have chances to earn points from the merge boot and who wins the most individual immunity challenges. Chris, Ken, and Jay were the only merge-boot picks, and they’re all still there. Chris feels like a prime contender for that slot. With the challenges, I’ve also lost my poor choice of Mari. Everyone else is still good, with Taylor as a popular choice. It’s truly anyone’s game, though I don’t have much faith in my picks.
The Story Is Just Beginning
There are still 16 players remaining, which makes me wonder if we’re in store for a second swap. The merge rarely happens with more than 12, so we’re still looking at four more pre-merge episodes. The other possibility is someone quitting or leaving for an injury. Terry’s exit in Second Chances helped that season quickly dwindle its numbers. I’m hopeful the show doesn’t set up a double Tribal Council, but nothing is really off the table with so much game remaining.
I’ve enjoyed this season thus far and think it will only improve with mixed tribes. The sooner we can escape the generational theme, the better. That story hasn’t grabbed me despite Jeff’s efforts. The good news is that there are quite a few engaging characters remaining. With apologies to Paul and Lucy, their exits were okay with me. I did not expect to prefer the Millennials so much when the game began. As a Gen-X guy, I still feel more connected with the Millennials’ approach to the game. The show wants them to succeed; will they have what it takes to take charge? I can’t wait to see what happens.
For more blogs this season: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule.