Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X

Survivor Idol – The Evolution of Performance

Sarah Freeman has been writing for RHAP since Survivor: Philippines when she wrote a weekly column. She currently writes special feature blogs that are more in-depth looks at topics, many of which explore sociological themes.

Survivor Idol – The Evolution of Performance

It’s been more than ten years since the Hidden Immunity Idol was first introduced to Survivor as an odd little wrinkle in Guatemala. Only one was hidden and only at the merge; it was only discovered when Gary Hogeboom knew full well he would be voted off and was driven to search until he found it, playing it hours later and taking it out of the season just one episode after it was introduced.

We’ve come a long way since then…

The next Hidden Immunity Idol was at least in play for the entire game, although in reality, it had no greater impact than Gary’s. Production continued to experiment with the rules, and by Fiji the concept was more or less as we know it today: multiple idols in the game which need to be played after the votes are cast but before they are read.

However, as with most elements of Survivor the real rules are made by the contestants. A successful evolution of the idol happened before Fiji, when Yul Kwon demonstrated that it had a second power: that of information. Knowing the idol’s location was a focal point of Cook Islands’ strategy; Candice and Jonathan mutinied at least in part because they believed Adam had it on the other tribe. Yul tied allies to him by entrusting them with his secret, used it as both lure and threat to flip Jonathan, and then wielded its power publicly as a shield to the end and victory.

Fiji brought the tactics of splitting votes and giving away the idol, China proved that the latter could be done successfully, and Samoa taught us that aggressive hunting can secure you idols, but all the idols in the game can’t ensure you the win.

After five years of the players getting their heads around this new game-factor, the Hidden Immunity Idol stagnated. A dominant alliance would appear at the merge, any idols in the minority alliance would be flushed without consequence, and any idols in the majority would be left alone until they expired at final five. Production would have been forgiven had they retired the idol in favor of some new twist, but they persevered. That perseverance paid off in the form of one Malcolm Freberg.


“Hold up, Bro.”
– Malcolm Freburg

A superfan with a flair for showmanship, Malcolm played back to back games in Philippines and Caramoan, finding idols in both seasons. He didn’t do anything revolutionary with the idol his first time around, but one particular tribal council must have stood out to him: the second vote after the merge, when Lisa Whelchel tried to target him.

Lisa failed, but Malcolm was rattled enough to pull the idol out at tribal council and swear he would play it that night. In the ensuing confusion, Abi-Maria revealed an idol of her own, but Malcolm was bluffing and neither idol was played (nor needed) that vote.

Afterwards, Philippines reverted to idol stagnation as Abi-Maria’s was flushed in a split vote and Malcolm brought his home to his mother as a souvenir. (Malcolm himself was voted out at final four, when no idols were valid.) But Malcolm was to expand on his bluff tactic in Caramoan, aided by his idol-holding counterpart on the Fans tribe: Reynold who made up for any lack of Survivor expertise with all the eagerness of a golden retriever.

When he found himself in the minority, rather than play his own idol, Malcolm coaxed Reynold into giving up his—even though Malcolm had written Reynold’s own name down, anticipating a split vote. When both survived that night, Malcolm located the rehidden idol while Reynold won immunity, which resulted in all three of the minority wearing immunity around their necks at the following tribal council.

Did Malcolm’s tactics avail him in the slightest? Not really. He played Reynold’s incorrectly, as the votes were actually going on Michael Snow. While Malcolm was the target next time, Cochran and Erik called him on his bluff, flushing two idols at the cost of Phillip and deferring Malcolm’s boot by just one tribal council.

But Malcolm got points for style, and in the mixed bag of a season that was Caramoan style counted. After an uncomfortable pre-merge and in the midst of what should have been a predictable pagonging, Malcolm gave us two of the most unexpected and entertaining Tribal Councils in Survivor history. Hold Up, Bro became a viral LEGO music video, while The Three Amigos spawned several memes and considerable fan hours discussing what would have been the most effective play for their triple immunity.

Malcolm’s efforts couldn’t win him the game, but they did garner him a massive spotlight which ensured his influence on future players (not to mention $100,000 as fan favorite). He was far from the first player to flash the idol around, but it was after Malcolm’s sojourn on the game that we had a five season stretch where the jury voted for a finalist who had been in possession of an idol.

A year later, Malcolm’s flashy take on idol-play was validated irrefutably by Tony’s win in Cagayan. Tony one-upped Malcolm by playing up his “bag of tricks” at almost every post-merge Tribal Council. He showed off an idol around his own neck only to play it on LJ (who returned the favor in more understated fashion). Once he found a super idol that could be used after the vote, he lied cavalierly about its powers at every opportunity, using it as an insurance policy while he bluffed with a regular idol.

When it came to who went home, Tony’s gambits probably had a lower success rate than Malcolm’s, but once he got to the end, his game-long performance art compensated for a more subdued final tribal argument. As many problems as the jury had with Tony, they could not deny that he had played.

As Dan Heaton observed last week, we are in a Big Moves era of Survivor. Malcolm and Tony made idols the cornerstone of this, and Tyson, Tony, Natalie, Mike, and Jeremy all reaped the benefits.

The pattern was finally broken in Kaoh Rong, when Tai entered the zero votes club despite being the only finalist with an idol and the first holder of the voting advantage to make it to the end. In part this was due to the new twist where two idols would make one super idol to be played after the vote. Tai’s big move in the game ended up in the negative space where he refused to join his idol with Scot’s, sending his ally home with a quiet shake of his head.

We had seen from the previous tribal council that showmanship still counted: Scot and Jason had hammed up an idol bluff with a game of Rochambeau (while shy Tai stayed quietly to the side). Tai fully intended to play his own idol at final five, and perhaps he would have managed to entertain the jurors while doing so, but Joe’s medevac meant that tribal council never happened, and the idol was relegated to souvenir status.

In the meantime, his alliance had deliberately let him squander a voting advantage, and so Tai faced the jury with a résumé of might-have-beens and they punished him for it, telling him that he had wasted his advantages in this game. Tai’s loss proved that, in this new era, simply sitting on an idol (as did Kim Spradlin and Boston Rob) is no longer acceptable.

Worlds Apart was another season where an idol holder lost the votes, though only to another holder. Both Carolyn and Mike had saved themselves with their idols, but Carolyn couldn’t compete with Mike’s underdog story.

In fact, Mike was the first winner to be saved by an idol, closely followed by Jeremy in Cambodia, ending the philosophical debate that a jury might not reward a player who had effectively been voted out. (Amanda, Russell, and Parvati had all lost the jury vote after an idol had saved them from elimination.) Of course, Mike and Jeremy each had another tribal council performance to point to: Mike had bluffed that he’d play his idol on Shirin, and Jeremy had directly saved Stephen. Mike’s bluff was called, and Stephen went home the next Tribal Council, so these acts had no long term effect… but it seems the jury appreciated them anyway.

Clearly, a lot more went into all these victories than an idol play. Tony benefited as much from Trish’s social game, Kass as a distraction-villain, and Woo’s… woo-iness as he did from his bag of tricks. Mike’s immunity run did more for him than his idol. It was Jeremy’s social game and a jury dominated by parents that carried him to a unanimous vote. But each of these very disparate winners made sure to play up their idol, and each time they did so, they reinforced the new jury philosophy: “Idols are used for Big Moves, and Big Moves are rewarded.”

With that in mind, perhaps it’s Natalie Anderson’s game that should be looked at as the role model for modern idol play.

right-lizard-shadow“Jaclyn, did you vote for who I told you to vote for?”
– Natalie Anderson

In San Juan Del Sur, Natalie never needed her idol, thanks to a strong social game. Indeed, she should, by rights, never have found one, since she was never picked to go to Exile Island where the clues were. But she volunteered to go, giving herself that option as well as a bond with Baylor with whom she found the idol.

(For the record, I would rather endorse the Kelley Wentworth school of idol hunting, as I believe looking for the idol with somebody else is too great a risk. Baylor might easily have found the idol and become its holder instead of Natalie. Luckily for Natalie that didn’t happen, and, aside from Baylor and later Missy, nobody else in the game knew she had an idol.)

By final five, Natalie’s place in the finals was practically assured. The only scenario where she would be targeted was if Baylor and Missy were in the final four and Keith won immunity. However, it seems likely Natalie could have persuaded Keith to give her a firemaking tiebreaker against Missy—not to mention either Baylor or Natalie would have won that final challenge over him anyway, and Keith was always too big a jury threat to keep around once he’d lost.

The straightforward moves were for Natalie to keep the idol as a souvenir or to play it on herself for absolute security. Instead, she blindsided everybody by playing it on Jaclyn who had no idea Natalie even had an idol until that moment. It was risky, it was unconventional, and it was totally unnecessary because Natalie could have swung a majority just by telling Keith to vote Baylor as well.

But above and beyond all those adjectives, it was awesome. Baylor, Missy, the jury, the viewers… we all thought she was playing it on herself. Saving Jaclyn came out of left field and dropped every jaw in the room. Natalie had worried that the moves she had made had not had enough impact for the jury. There was no denying the impact of this one.

That’s the standard for the Millennials vs. Gen X idol holders: Adam and Jay who are hanging onto theirs, and David who has played one twice—the first time surprisingly early, saving Jessica, who wasn’t even a close ally, on day twelve. Usually, holders prefer to save their idols for the merge unless they themselves are being targeted.

Tribal dynamics aside, there were two things working in favor of David’s move. One was that idol holders have a reasonably high track record of finding another, for various reasons: Kelley got her second clue by pure luck, Tony simply never stopped looking, but Reynold, having found the first one on a beach, went straight for a distinctive spot in the jungle. (Tip for future players: if you find an idol, lie about where/how.)

This season, more than any other, knowing how the idol was hidden gave David a huge headstart in locating his second. While everybody else was looking for nooks and crannies, David was looking for a splash of paint. Sunday and Cece passed right over it while David waited for them to move on so he could take his prize. Most of the tribe had suspected he had the first one; nobody guessed he’d found a second.

The second advantage in playing his idol on Jessica was that he knew it would work. There aren’t many times in the game that you can be totally sure of a vote and how your idol play will affect it. Jeremy admitted that this was partly why he saved Stephen in Cambodia, because he knew it would be successful.

Jeremy, of course, had the insurance policy of another idol sitting in his pocket and he made his move post-merge, in full view of the jury. David was able to get his second idol, but jurors rarely reward pre-merge gameplay. True, he made a speech, yet at best, only five of his potential jurors heard it, and now the whole jury has seen David not only get an idol play wrong, but in misplaying it, lose the ally he originally saved.

On the other hand, Tony misplayed an idol as well. David still has a reputation as a player, the guy with the idols. It’s a target but also a great image for the jury.

Jay has taken the opposite tack, holding onto his idol when those of us with lesser testicles would have begged Jeff to take it. When the vote was split between him and Taylor, he considered pulling it out at tribal council for a bluff, but he was rightly concerned that no matter what he did, either he or Taylor would go home that night. Instead Jay (deliberately?) encouraged Taylor’s grudge against Adam, even as Jay voted for Taylor, increasing his chances of surviving the split vote.

It also created as much tribal council drama as an idol ever could. Jay wasn’t thrilled about that, but they say all publicity is good publicity. Jay took a quieter role at the subsequent tribal council, but again he gambled and held onto his idol despite being left out of the majority’s plans.

Rob and Spencer concluded that they would rather play it unnecessarily than go home with an idol in their pocket, but playing conservatively isn’t modern Survivor practice. Jay explained that he wanted to use it not as insurance but as a spotlight: “How can I make this idol become a big move? … I want to play an idol so that when I get back to camp, everyone is like: ‘Goddamn. How did you do that?'”

Remember, Natalie never needed her idol. She was never a target and she forged her own path to the end with a social game that commanded the win. Her idol possession could have been just a footnote of her game; she made it into one of the highlights.

The other great benefit of Jay not playing an idol when he was in the minority is that now nobody should expect him to have one…


“Jay does have an idol.”
– the Cast of
Millennials vs. Gen X

Back in Cook Islands, Yul proved that there was a lot of merit in telling people about your idol. It builds trust, and in the era when your allies preferred to wait until your idol had expired before they tried to vote you off, this was a very useful tactic, although always a risk. Stephen Fishbach has been one of the biggest proponents of using idols to build trust, after successfully doing that in Tocantins, yet even he kept it a secret from his closest ally, JT, and panicked when JT found out about it. (Though it must be said their bromance recovered well.)

These days, when split votes are the norm no matter how unlikely an idol play might seem, your allies are less likely to be so patient and more likely to be wary of the extra power the idol grants you. Even as Zeke readily accepted David’s trust before the merge, he was fully prepared to vote him out before final five—and David turned on Zeke even sooner!

N.B. While players have previously worried about losing trust with their allies after playing an idol they had kept secret (this was partly why Kim never played hers), history has shown that this is absolutely something you can recover from. Spencer and Tasha forgave Jeremy his secret twice, even though the first time he played it was to foil a blindside they had planned. The majority in Worlds Apart failed to boot Carolyn when it turned out she had had an idol for the entire game, but they took her right back into the alliance afterwards and switched the target to Sierra, possibly the most honest player left.

There have been times in the modern era when letting others know of your idol is an advantage. Obviously, Kaoh Rong’s super idol twist encouraged idol holders to seek each other out and align. Tony used his secret super idol as a safety net: he flaunted his idol boldly, only to un-nerve his allies when he never played it, despite their attempts to prey on his paranoia.

As Spencer told Rob, one of his Cagayan regrets was that he did not tell Jefra about his idol when he, Tasha, and Jeremiah tried to get her to flip against the majority at final eight. It would have been a greater incentive for her to flip than the prospect of a tie, and she could have told them who Tony and Trish were targeting. In that timeline, Spencer can confidently play his idol on Jeremiah, Woo goes home, and there’s a new majority in town.

Of course, that plan isn’t foolproof. Jefra might not have had the will to double-cross them, but it’s entirely possible that she would have confessed her betrayal to Trish and the target would have been shifted to Spencer. The downside of revealing your idol is formidable.

This season, it might have seemed like good sense to Jay to bring his wingman, Will, along on his idol hunt to keep a lookout. Unfortunately, Will not only failed in that duty, but as soon as they found themselves in the minority, Jay’s idol secret became Will’s way of gaining trust and leverage in the majority—unbeknownst to Jay who still has faith in Will’s discretion.

David reaped the benefit of his earlier sharing here, when Zeke passed the information about Jay’s idol onto him. Without instilling that level of trust in each other, they might not have been able to blindside Chris. Of course, it was only a few days later that Zeke told everybody David had an idol as well.

Oddly, as indiscreet as Adam was about lesser game advantages, he is the only player to keep his idol a secret. On the other hand, he’s also the idol-holder who’s struggling the hardest to make bonds. Perhaps a little idol reveal would help?

Perhaps, but I’d say that Adam’s lack of secure relationships is a problem for his social game; revealing his idol was more likely to make the target on his back even bigger. Even in the minority, Adam’s in a better short-term position than Jay who’s very charming but is on everybody’s radar, and certainly David who’s got the target without the idol or the numbers.

I won’t fully close the debate on To Tell or Not to Tell, but I am coming down on keeping it secret, especially in the era where the voting bloc whose trust you need today will be your target tomorrow.

If nothing else, part of the impact of a modern idol play is in the dramatic reveal. Evidence A: Cambodia and Kelley’s blindside of Savage. Even without a big speech, the reactions of the players around her clearly show the change in their perception: this was the moment Kelley went from a pawn to a queen.


“It sounds like a bunch of malarkey to me.”
– Michele Fitzgerald

Finally, how do you handle idols in the post-Malcolm era if you’re not lucky enough to find one? It’s all about neutering.

Firstly, try to find one. The game dynamics of idols are so fluid and complicated that it’s tempting to keep your game simple and skip that part altogether. But you can’t just skip idols. The best way of keeping it simple is to keep as many idols as possible in your pocket so you don’t have to worry about what somebody else is doing with them.

If you can’t find one, identify who has, bearing in mind there’s usually one idol for each beach. Contrary to Adam’s belief, an idol typically isn’t brought into play at the merge until one of the others has been played. Statistically speaking, men are more likely to have an idol than women (but Kelley and Carolyn were catastrophically underestimated because of this), and as we’ve already covered, a player who finds one idol is more likely to find a second.

Generally speaking, who is playing aggressively? Who seems more comfortable than perhaps they should? One other potential sign: who is giving up information?

The fewer people who have information, the more precious it is, but giving information builds trust, so there’s a balance involved. If a player has two secrets, they’re more likely to reveal the lesser one. Adam took the gamble of revealing his advantage to Taylor but held back the news about his idol. So far as we know, David only told Zeke about his second idol, but once he learned about Jay’s, he used that information to bolster his relationships with Hannah, Chris, and Ken. In Kaoh Rong, the idol holders became pretty casual about revealing their possession but were much more tight-lipped about the super idol twist.

Essentially, if you’re surprised that somebody is telling you something, take a moment to wonder what they’re holding back. Just keep a lid on the paranoia while doing so—not everybody has something extra to hide.

Once you’ve located the idol, the very least you want to do is flush it, preferably while still getting your choice of target to go home—precisely as Vinaka tried to do with Jay’s. For bonus points, rub it in that the idol holder wasted their play. When Spencer played his idol in Cagayan on the night that the majority voted for Jeremiah, Tony interrupted Jeff to ask him: “Do you see the inexperience in the young lad?” and promptly gave himself the credit for Spencer’s misplay.

Be warned, Tony was being incredibly obnoxious and Spencer would have flattened him in a jury vote, but there’s merit to his theory. In Kaoh Rong, Tai never got to play his idol, but his alliance knew when his advantage was coming out. Aubry let him waste it, going along with his plan at camp and throwing him under the bus at tribal council itself.

Yet Aubry didn’t convince the jury with that performance. Raining on the parade is good; stealing the thunder is better. Michele, aware not of what the advantage was but that she was the target, confronted Tai directly at tribal council, staging a battle for the jury’s benefit that she was destined to win.

Michele would have needed to pull off something bigger had Kaoh Rong’s final five tribal council happened. Tai was determined to play his idol, so the core three of Aubry, Cydney, and Joe would almost certainly have targeted Michele. We don’t know whether she could have pulled it off—Tai was always closer to Aubry—but Michele gamely made up with him, and the two of them discussed a blindside, a Big Move, Tai saving Michele the way Natalie saved Jaclyn.

This is the scenario that should have come into play this week. When David got up to play his idol, Hannah started to ask him for it but lost her nerve, letting him have his own way. Socially, that’s a safe call, but had Hannah talked David into playing his idol on her (or better yet, got him to give her the idol so she could have the agency of playing it), she would have saved her alliance at a critical juncture in full view of the jury.

It might have failed had Zeke then turned around and pleaded with Jay for his idol, potentially leaving them with a zero votes situation and a revote to another tie… but that would have been even more dramatic and Hannah would still get credit for protecting herself. It was a golden opportunity, and she shied away from it. You can’t do that in this era of Survivor.

Instead it was Adam who spoke up, though he didn’t need to. Add another modern rule: If you can’t usurp somebody’s idol, you should still take all the credit you can. San Juan Del Sur and Natalie’s prompting of Jon is a nice example: “Dude, play your idol.” She whispered it behind her hand, but Adam made the announcement openly, telling David that Ken’s name had been thrown out.

Interestingly, David only told Jeff that the idol was for Ken after he had played it on himself and sat back down; formerly, players have given the name at the urn. Of course, it’s only been in recent seasons that people have played it on their tribemates at the urn, instead of passing it along for that person to play personally. I don’t know if there’s a hard rule about this, but it seems that production is willing to accommodate the players’ dramatic needs.

This meant Hannah (or any other player) could still have spoken up. Sunday had said Ken’s name as a misdirect, and if Hannah didn’t believe her, she should have argued against Adam’s pitch: that would have been a three-way battle for one idol; Jeff would have been salivating, and the jury would have lapped it up.

Instead, Adam’s advice was uncontested, and only one thing kept him from being the player of the night: He was wrong.

It’s really difficult to say if that idol play helped anybody. Clearly, Ken reaped the immediate benefits, but he was so quiet throughout proceedings that he took no agency for the move whatsoever. Ken’s well-liked, but his silence at this critical juncture could hurt him with the jury if they perceive him to be riding the coattails of David’s gameplay.

David, on the other hand, took a risk but was wrong twice, and while Hannah’s after the fact “Told you,” didn’t help her, it also threw David under the bus by the implication that the votes were predictable. He not only committed the sin of wasting his idol, but he had to go rocks, putting himself in danger again. And of course, it was David’s aggressive move against Zeke that ultimately cost his alliance the numbers.

Sunday probably had the most influence when she answered Hannah’s question of “What’s the plan?” with “Ken.” There’s some debate about how deliberate this was, but I would guess that Sunday lied on the spur of the moment. If she was serious about voting Ken, she had no way of getting that information to the rest of  her alliance, and while it might have been pre-planned (Jessica told Josh Wigler that both her name and Ken’s had been thrown around at camp), impulse deceptions happen more often.

But the jury didn’t see Sunday do it, and they might not be ready to believe her if she tries to take the credit. As much as lying is a standard maternal tactic (remember the Tooth Fairy? Or “I never did that when I was your age”?), it’s not the stereotype. The sweet, Christian Mom of the season is going to need to up her tribal council game if she wants the jury to think of her as a player.

Finally, if you can’t take any agency for an idol play yourself, find another way to make a scene at tribal council. But think twice before you pull out all the stops.

left-lizard-shadow“Unless somebody’s voting my way, I’m drawing rocks.”
– Ciera Eastin

Survivor is a game so dependent on perception that the abstract elements of gameplay can be an impossible case to argue. Idols are something concrete, and they come into play at Tribal Council itself where all the jury can see. There are few substitutes, but Blood vs. Water set a precedent for rocks being one.

Although it didn’t work out for Ciera and company, that was the tribal council of the season, and it set a new tone going forward. Something similar almost happened in Cambodia’s final six, although a double idol play meant that five players would be immune, so a rock draw was impossible. But that was the mentality driving the Millennials vs. Gen X vote this week: if you’re not willing to go all in, then you’re not playing to win.

The Know-It-Alls and Tyson did a very good job of breaking down why this attitude didn’t work in this instance. The previous deadlocks were at final six, between two potential final threes. Each time, one side became the finalists; the other went out fourth, fifth, and sixth. Those players were drawing for their shot in front of the jury—and even then, Tyson noted that he probably wouldn’t have gone to rocks if Redemption Island hadn’t offered an extra lifeline.

In Millennials vs. Gen X the draw happened at final ten, so somebody just put their game life on the line for nothing more than fifth place. That’s not worth the gamble.

Of course, there’s an even older precedent here when Cochran flipped rather than draw rocks at South Pacific’s merge: his original tribe never forgave him for it, while the opposing tribe promised him final three only to vote him out in seventh place.

As Stephen Fishbach pointed out, the game’s evolved in the ten seasons since, and alliances are no longer rigid. The voting blocs and the targets have changed at every tribal council since the merge. Whoever came off on the wrong side this week has an excellent chance of finding numbers next time.

The Millennials vs. Gen X players did recognize this. When Jeff gave them their last chance before drawing rocks, Will immediately put forward that none of them were ready to give up their games for Zeke and Hannah, and everybody else agreed. Unfortunately, that was the only thing they did agree on.

It was clearly a stressful night. Nobody was certain of their numbers going into the tribal council and their tempers were flaring long before they went to vote—most notably Bret, but everybody was on edge. By the time they had to have a rational discussion, they couldn’t do it. Reaching a unanimous consensus was never going to happen.

So they shouldn’t have let it get to that point. Somebody should have flipped. Zeke tried to court Jessica, who was sitting closest to him, but Hannah immediately leapt in, imploring Jessica to trust her and not to write her name down. Ahead of tribal council, Jessica stated that all she wanted was for herself, Ken, and David to make it through. Yet when it came down to it, Jessica effectively sacrificed her game for Hannah’s.

The reason for that is very simple: drawing rocks is a Big Move and Big Moves mean you’re Playing to Win. Pulling a South Pacific Cochran and chickening out of your big move in full view of the jury means a huge black mark on your résumé. Jessica was clearly desperate to avoid the rocks, but she found herself in a situation where flipping could do irrevocable damage to her game.

The solution here was most likely to speak up in between votes, before unanimity was required. Jeff didn’t give them time to talk before sending Will back up, but it’s unlikely he would have stopped anybody who asked to make a pitch either. Interrupting Jeff at tribal council isn’t quite a Big Move yet, but it most certainly is good television, and Jeff knows it.

Jessica wasn’t the only player who didn’t want to draw rocks. Will crossed himself, Adam looked sicker than Jessica… Nobody showed the determined resolve of Katie, Ciera, and Tyson in Blood vs. Water. Had one person had the nerve to ask for a deal between the votes, it’s very likely two or three more would have been receptive to it. In the best case scenario, a new dominant alliance could have formed then and there, under the jury’s enthralled eyes.

Instead, the tribal council ended on a somber note, with Jessica openly crying as she left. Notably, nobody looked happy with the outcome. There was no excitement on the jury. The new majority were downcast. Rather than anybody claiming credit for the move, Bret (disingenuously) blamed David.

Despite Jeff’s attempts at a pep-talk, it was Jessica’s bitter tears that summed up this Big Move. Time will tell if future players are still willing to go to rocks that early, but I wonder if Millennials vs. Gen X has triggered a new evolution of the game, one where risking it all on a rock is less acceptable.

Dan explained in his blog that big moves often lead to bad strategy and this rock draw was a perfect example of that. While performing to the jury is important, it’s often better to fake a big move than to actually make one. Idols allow for that kind of exaggeration. Rocks don’t.


“Tribal council’s theater, Jeff, and I think we’ve proven that tonight.”
– Zeke Smith

This is what the players need to bear in mind as we head into the endgame of Millennials vs. Gen X. Based purely on the New School Idol Playbook, I’d say it’s Jay who is the biggest threat to win. He’s not played his idol yet, but he’s building a nice underdog story, he has good bonds with everybody, and we have seen that he can ham it up at tribal council when he needs to. If anybody was going to pull off an idol play on a par with Malcolm’s or Natalie’s, I’d bet on Jay.

However, Jay’s now in the habit of hanging onto his idol, encouraged by his success so far in reading the room. He doesn’t realize the others know he has it, and that means Jay’s also the player most likely to go home with his idol as a souvenir.

So perhaps our frontrunner should be Adam, who has the idol nobody knows about—that we know of. It’s possible that others suspect him, since they know Jay and David didn’t find Vanua’s idol, but they might also believe that Zeke found it or that Michaela or Chris were blindsided with it. Adam has proven that he’s not afraid to speak up at tribal council, and he’s a big enough fan of the show to want to pull off something amazing with his idol.

Adam’s greatest problem is that if he’s not a target now, it’s because he’s a goat, and so far, his idol résumé is a misplay. To make matters worse, he’s got an advantage that is all but designed to be misplayed, and if he doesn’t get that right, it’s very possible the jury won’t want to look for the good parts of his game.

Or will it be David who has gone from being the least likely player to the most recognised schemer? David is playing the game at a higher speed than it’s ever been played before: nobody’s played an idol on somebody else so early, nobody’s found a second idol so early, nobody’s gone to rocks so early… Does David need to slow down? Or should we remember that it worked for Tony?

David also stands to join the elite club of players who have found three idols over the course of a single game. (Yes, Jeff Pitman has stats for this.) However, there’s no guarantee that his idol will be rehidden, and if it is, Adam, Jay, and Will also know exactly what to look for.

Finally, there’s option D: None of the above. The most likely next step in the evolution of idols will be in playing against them. This week showed that the other players need to be more forthright with their own tribal council performances, but most of them are willing to speak up and they all want to play. The only exception could be Ken, and he just got an advantage that might make the tribal council drama for him.

Idol holders clearly have an advantage in this modern era of Survivor, but they haven’t won Millennials vs. Gen X yet. There is plenty of time for another gamechanger to emerge.

Survivor 33

Thanks to Ari Ferrari for his assistance and to Michele Fitzgerald for suggesting a gif when YouTube came up empty. Special thanks to Colin Stone for not reading this blog and discovering my plagiarism of our private conversation.

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