Let’s take one last look at the season by counting down the moments that thrilled, surprised, impressed, and moved us. These are the best moments of Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X.
10. Ken Goes Fishing
Episode 2 – “Love Goggles”
All season long, our readers (and America) were in love with Ken. (Those abs! The sensitivity!) But I was charmed by a different moment early in the season. While always a gorgeous show, the Survivor camera crew managed to catch an underwater glimpse of Ken while he was hunting an octopus. Fiji’s crystal-clear waters and a well-placed camera guy followed Ken as he scoured the bay for food with his sling, and then boom! He snags an octopus, emerges from the water like King Triton, and stalks back to camp. Sure, every season has its B-roll of contestants gathering food, but sometimes you get lucky with the perfect combo of good angles and great visuals. (And it’s still the most flattering Ken moment from the season – WINNER’S EDIT!)
This wasn’t the first impressive moment that showcased the lengths this show goes for a good shot either. During the unprecedented cyclone evacuation, one of the crew left a GoPro on a tree in the middle of the storm, and captured another tree falling onto the Gen-X camp, destroying their Day 2 shelter. Since the show couldn’t reveal that everyone just sat in a hotel for the night, this scene (and the beautiful time-lapse storm footage surrounding it) really gave viewers a sense of the dangers faced that night. Without it, there would have just been a fade to black—a disservice to such a unique moment in Survivor history. Well done this season, Survivor camera guys. [Mark]
9. Idol Reveal Game of Telephone
Episode 10 – “Million Dollar Gamble”
Even before he openly attempted to build his resume, Will Wahl had a tough time trying to make Big Moves™. After losing both Michelle and Taylor, Will decides to use the information about Jay’s idol to his advantage by… making himself the more palatable target? Anyway, no one thought Jay had the idol because they have yet to figure out he is a steel-hearted gangster and thought he would have played it at the previous tribal council. Will attempts to form a closer bond to Zeke and lets him know Jay does in fact have the idol (and America’s heart). The youngest lad displays his naivete and asks Zeke not to share the information with anyone else, except maybe Hannah. The information proceeds to spread faster than the news of Taylor and Figgy’s hookup in a delightful sequence.
This scene really showcases the brilliance of the Survivor editors. Quick cuts indicate how fast everyone found out and really highlights how quickly this unraveled, unbeknownst to Will. Plus we have Actual Child Will Wahl starting a game of telephone on Survivor. This is what happens when you cast teenagers, Probst. Then again, it was so fun that even the preview for it on the prior episode was fun, so maybe the youths aren’t all that bad. The only way it could’ve been better is if the sequence ended with someone telling Jay. [Emma]
8. Jay Plays a Fake Idol
Episode 14 – “I’m Going for a Million Bucks”
There are tactical reasons to create a fake idol- to convince others that you’re immune, to use as a bargaining chip, or to keep someone from hunting for the real idol. Or you could do it just to get some screen time by being a dick to someone.
Presumably, David was going for some combination of screen time and strategy. So when Jay found the idol David had planted, we were all set up for Jay to be punked at tribal council. As Jay plays the idol, Bret assumes it’s real and begins grabbing his stuff to go, and the jury is impressed/shocked.
But the beauty of this moment is how Jay reacts. As soon as the first vote for him is read, he knows he’s doomed. But he has a smile on his face the whole time. And once it’s official that he’s voted out, he responds by playfully saying, “You got me you guys, I hate all of you!” He then proceeds to shake hands and/or hug everyone on his way out, a fitting end for the most enjoyable player of the season. [John]
7. David Saves Jessica
Episode 4 – “Who’s the Sucker at the Table”
When you’re a scrawny, awkward person, the deck is stacked against you in Survivor. You’re going to struggle to get people to take you seriously as you flail your way through challenges and fail to make strong connections with your tribemates. Worse still, who is going to trust you enough to be your solid ally when you’re constantly anxious? You appear untrustworthy even when you’re not.
But as David showed, you can demonstrate your trustworthiness and your credibility as a gameplayer all in one stroke. By playing his idol for Jessica- and playing it correctly, the only person to do so this season- he put Jessica in his debt. And in the eyes of the other players, he became a real threat, to the point that everyone was loudly proclaiming him to be the man to beat after a month of playing.
Reminder: I told you. [John]
6. Adam at the Reunion
Episode 15 – “Reunion”
We like to joke that we are a bunch of robots here. That is because we tend to prefer the gameplay part of the show. But Survivor had a story for its winner this season. It was a story that was genuinely heartbreaking. And at the reunion, we saw Adam tell his story in a completely unfiltered way. And it made even this robot start to tear up. The Survivor editors can do a whole lot, but in heavily producing and editing weeks of content into twelve 45-minute episodes, they sand over some of the rough edges. But Adam at the reunion, telling the story of how he came home moments before his mom died is live. It cannot be edited. And it is emotional and raw in a way that Survivor generally cannot allow its show to be. Adam’s loss was genuine, real drama and it made for one of the best moments of the season. [Matt]
5. The Millennials go to Tribal Council
Episode 2 – “Love Goggles”
We didn’t know it at the time, but the end of the second episode of Millennials vs Gen X would be a harbinger of things to come: wild and crazy votes, a Pagonging of the cast’s women, Hannah being neurotic. Having just lost their first challenge, the Millennial tribe pays Jeff a visit, and the leading story here is how the cool kids of Taylor, Jay, Figgy, and Michelle are on the ropes, with everyone against Figtayls’ stupid showmance. But even at their first Tribal, these kids are here to play. Michelle openly woos Hannah while the questions are still going and alliances begin to shift in real time. Mari then brushes off Hannah’s paranoia. The next thing you know, Hannah is taking 10 minutes to vote at the booth—so long that even Jeff Probst peeks his head in the back of the frame. Once the votes are read, the old majority is stunned as Mari takes the heat for being a power player and is booted in a 7-3 decision.
This Tribal was actually the first of many crazy last minute decisions or public acts and it showed that the cast was ready to play. While the Mari boot was disappointing to viewers and Purple Rock Pick-4 teams, it made for an early boost of excitement in a pre-merge that grated at times. In time, we’ll probably remember the “Probst Peek” more than the tribal council itself, but hey, at least Aubry is no longer the most conflicted voter at the urn anymore. [Mark]
4. Adam and Jay
Episode 13 – “Slayed the Survivor Dragon”
Who knew that a young man pulling a buff over his face would be one of the most powerful and endearing moments on the show? As fans, we’ve known about Adam’s story throughout the season. As super fans, we sadly knew even more than Adam knew at the time. But for a long time, no one on the island knew what our eventual winner was going through. And then the frenemies sat together on a hammock. Good ol’ affable Jay is so frustrated that Adam is trying to flush his idol. “Am I that big of a threat to you that you have to strip me of everything?” he asks. Yes, is Adam’s emphatic reply. He knows he has to beat Jay and he finally decides to explain why.
Not only is this a big moment for Adam, finally being able to get this off his chest to someone besides a producer, but it also makes Jay a truly three-dimensional character. A lot of people wrote off Jay before the season (Matt and I were not among them, thank you very much) because he’s got long hair and talks like a surfer, but the kid’s got heart, even if he does end sentences with “bro” when revealing said heart. He might not fully understand what yin yang means, but he did understand his relationship with Adam.
It’s also one of those rare reminders that even though we watch this show for entertainment, these are real people whose lives affect them while they’re playing this game. Adam’s secret isn’t just a part of his “story,” it explains his motivations and the decisions he makes. Because Jay’s mother also has health problems (it’s unclear whether or not Adam knew this), Jay immediately sees Adam in a different light. He was friendly with the kid before, but now he gets him, even if they’re still adversaries in the game.
But seriously, that moment where Jay pulls the buff over his face. Fuck. [Emma]
3. Michaela is Blindsided
Episode 7 – “I Will Destroy You”
For the majority of its running time, the seventh tribal council of the season was completely uneventful. Some standard-issue potentially loaded answers, a little Michaela sass at Jeff, finger guns. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then, six minutes in and Michaela gets a vote. A little weird, since you’d assume Bret and Sunday would vote against each other. Or maybe for Jay. But nothing major. Two votes Michaela… worrying, but still. And then… and then.
Every vote is called a blind side these days. But this has to be the blindest of sides. She had no idea, and in true Michaela fashion, does not take the news with a poker face. Her “WHAAAAT?!?!?” alone would’ve rated among the best vote out reactions ever. But then… but then.
“Did you do that?!?”
“Yeah. I did it”.
Jay, without breaking eye contact once, completely takes responsibility for the move without an ounce of remorse or regret in his face. He does say “sorry”, but he does not shy away from the moment for an instance. I honestly can not even imagine having the fortitude to do such a thing upon being questioned like that. Michaela keeps staring at him, her eyes desperately searching for an answer he won’t give. Bret, the guy saved by the move, gives a look suggesting he wouldn’t mind being somewhere else right now just to avoid how uncomfortable everything is. Hannah is clearly dumbstruck and more than a little panicked (for once, understandably). Big Moves Will wants no part of a move he’ll later want a much bigger part of. And Probst, to his eternal credit, PERFECTLY interrupts his usual vote reveal cadence to let the moment simmer a moment before dropping the hammer on Michaela, who is so shocked that she forgets her torch, then her shoes. Never before on Survivor have I loved a moment that I desperately didn’t want to hapen.
Of course, it was all for naught as Jay would pay for making such a big move early in the game by… going about as far as a clear threat such as himself could reasonably hope to go without being immune. [Andy]
2. The Black (sigh) Rock
Episode 11 – “Million Dollar Gamble”
This never should have happened. Multiple people had plenty of reason to not draw rocks. To break ranks and vote out their ally. Sure Jay won immunity, so he wasn’t flipping. And David played his idol for Ken, so Ken wasn’t flipping. And Zeke and Hannah couldn’t flip because they were the targets. David couldn’t flip because he felt he would be next and this was a moment for control. But Bret? Sunday? Adam? Will? Jessica? Why would any of them risk their game for the chance to put an ally in control of the game? The answer isn’t entirely clear. During the revote and the chance to agree unanimously, multiple people said they don’t want to risk rocks. Bret brought it up, Will was insistent, but the person least willing to risk rocks was Jessica. And it was Jessica’s visible discomfort with going to rocks that kept everyone else in line.
After all, if you are Will and you don’t want rocks, why flip if Jessica is going to flip? That just reties the vote and you are still going to rocks. If Jessica hadn’t publicly professed her reluctance to go to rocks, it is likely she never would have gone to rocks. But instead, she convinced everyone else not to flip and doomed herself to pick the wrong rock, the doubly wrong rock (a rock that was both the color she didn’t want to see, and a color we at this site didn’t want to see). So you want a great moment? How about the third rock draw in Survivor history, but this time, it was the rock draw that never should have happened. [Matt]
1. Bret and Zeke
Episode 11 – “Million Dollar Gamble”
For a season of super fans who wanted to make Big Moves™, it sure was highlighted by a lot of powerful, emotional scenes. Remember that when someone in the future tries to write it off as a “gamebotty” season while telling you that a terrible season is secretly good because it has “characters”. From Adam’s plight, to Hannah’s jitters, to Jessica’s tears, to Jay’s bond with Adam, this season was loaded with deeply human moments by a collection of incredibly likable people with diverse personalities. In our minds, three of its best moments had very little to do with the game and everything to do with what’s left when the facade of “reality TV” is broken down and we’re left with a glimpse of actual reality. And in my mind, the best of these moments was one of its smallest.
Bret sharing his secret with Zeke is so lovely BECAUSE it’s so simple. It isn’t a practiced confessional. It isn’t drawn out by Probst at Tribal Council. It was just a guy deciding that it was safe to say to his new drinking buddy. Sure, there was some desire to cement a strategic bond with Zeke, but you also get the sense that it was just a relief for him to share that with someone who he knew would get it. And because it was Bret, it was matter of fact. But behind his bravado, you can still see how being forced to internalize who he is for much of his life has affected him. Thinking that he couldn’t tell his tribe because of macho Ken (who is probably more sensitive than he) and Chris (far more liberal than he) feels like projection (it’s “in his head” as he says himself when discussing how he worried about friends taking the news). It’s genuinely moving and a little heartbreaking when you think about how much of a struggle being himself once was for him. And maybe still is at times.
This was a frank, simple discussion of the generational differences of being gay in America (that almost justified the hackneyed generational comparisons shoehorned into the season. ALMOST). And it was showcased on the network that is watched by more old people than any other. A reminder of how far we’ve come airing EXACTLY at a time when we were starkly reminded of how much farther we still have to come. When I think back on this season, I’ll think about the characters I loved. The thrilling moves at tribal council. But I also hope I’ll remember those quiet few minutes where I watched and got to be proud that I was a fan of Survivor. [Andy]
What do you think? Do these moments remind you of why you loved the season or why it was better than you’re already remembering? What did we miss? Let us know in comments.
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