The Top 10 Moments of Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X

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]

Bravo, Survivor.

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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Andy and John are the hosts of the Purple Rock Survivor podcast.
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87 thoughts on “The Top 10 Moments of Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X

    1. That it happened was certainly surprising. But the moment itself was too understated to make the list. As you say, an honourable mention.

      1. I get the reasoning. I would also give a honorable mention to the Hannah and Ken moment of them staring at the sunrise just for the WTF factor, but nothing really tops your top 10.

      2. I wish that we as Americans would adopt the “superfluous u” in words like “honor.” Classes the place up a bit.

  1. Before we give CBS too much credit. Let’s remember that their scripted lineup is still utter garbage. They may have gotten lucky with Survivor, and they may have allowed it to be a weird window into the diversity of American lives, but they’re also still the network that greenlit The McCarthys.

  2. During the reunion Adam said that he and his mom were in the process of applying for “Blood vs. Water” (he must have meant SJDS) when they found out she was sick, and that casting told Adam they wanted him for the show “in a year” (which evidently got pushed out a second year because of Cambodia). That implies that they were very far along in the casting process.

    @disqus_GpYJ355BVM:disqus alert (I’m guessing this is a searchlight with a silhouette of Leslie Knope): Do you know if they were actually cast in SJDS, and if so who replaced them? Based on maintaining age/relationship/ethnic balance, I’m guessing that Dale and Kelly were the substitutes, but that’s complete speculation.

      1. That was my assumption as well. After all, we know that the tenth pair was supposed to be So Kim and her sister.

        But the fact that they could have had another super fan pair on SJDS just adds another reason for Probst about why he hates SJDS.

    1. I don’t think think they were cut from SJDS because his mom was sick. What I understood of the chronology was:

      1.)Adam and his mom are in consideration for SJDS
      2.)Casting decides to pass but says “hey, we’re not losing your number.”
      3.)Adam gets the call for MvX.
      4.)They find out Adam’s mom is sick.

  3. 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”.

    *quietly shelves his comment comparing Fiji and MvX.*

        1. Or South Pacific, which the Funny 115 guy claims is the second best season in the Nicaragua through Worlds Apart period (1 was Worlds Apart, which I can at least understand from a humor and character perspective).

          Seriously, in what universe does South Pacific, one of the shows most mean-spirited and boring seasons, have fewer entertaining moments and Characters than Cagayan, Philippines or Blood vs. Water?

          1. I don’t recall South Pacific being especially funny. I guess if one finds Ozzy yelling “Come on, Cochran!” repeatedly as peak hilarity, it is sort of funny. Or “hey, remember that time Brandon was super creepy and weird and lasted the whole season?” Guffaw-inducing.

          2. I enjoy the lists, but I realize that A. I watch Survivor at a different (I.e. Better) level than he does and B. He seems to get into “The Worst Idea of All Time” territory, where you watch something so much that you notice the extras and have made up side plots for them that the show never bothered to put in. My thought is that, if I am focusing on the invisibles, extras or unstated stories, the main work is not doing its job of holding my attention.

            I do support his One World basing though. That season does not get the hate it deserves, since one great player does not redeem Nicaragua/Thailand/South Pacific levels of nastiness.

          3. Yeah, One World is the pits. Maybe it’s because I watched it and only half paid attention, but it seemed like the show didn’t know quite what to do with Kim’s edit. A lot of that cast was rough, and they all keep getting invites back! Normally I’m ok with seeing how some players might have done when separated from the awfulness of their first season/cast. But, yeah, I’m all set here.

          4. Survivor doesn’t know how to edit a female winner who didn’t play a UTR game? Shocking…

          5. Mario is OK if you understand his prejudices and blind spots. I think he rates SP second best of seasons 21-30 simply because Coach is in it, and he adores Coach (which to be fair, is understandable if your mission is to exhaustively chronicle Survivor’s funniest moments). I also think Sophie is going to get her share of entries (at least three: fake praying, the movie, “Drop your damn stack!”).

            ETA: Mario’s apparently going to carpet-bomb the rubble of Dan Foley, which is a mitzvah.

          6. Dan bashing is always good. I knew Worlds Apart would be a crown jewel for this list. I get why he would enjoy Coach, but this is the worst Coach on my pick for the worst season of the 10. I think he also really likes Cochran, who is a great character and narrator. I think I am just baffled on how Cagayan is less funny or enjoyable (Tony alone is worth 3 South Pacific Coaches in humor value).

          7. Tony’s reactions to some of the votes are so great. And I strongly agree that South Pacific Coach is worthless for entertainment value.

          8. I will say that his write up of Sandra beating Russell was incredible and contained one moment that makes me laugh every time.

            He is showing photos of the jury angry at Russell. The caption under Rupert is something like “He has no honor”. The caption under Courtney? Is something like “Look at this jackass” and the caption under dead-eyed Amanda is “I like ponies; they’re pretty”.

          9. The problem with Lanza isnt his idiosyncratic view (outside of thinking Nate is the only good thing about Cook Islands), its his insistence that he knows the one right way to watch the show and his love of clever-sounding contrarianisms that on examination have no substance.

            Hes a good archivist but a mediocre analyst.

          10. He’s hard to pigeonhole. I recently listened to the Historians episodes on Fiji in conjunction with watching the season for the first time and his analysis of the Yau-Man/Dreamz situation (and of Dreamz in general) was pretty astute. On the other hand, his insistence that Fiji is better than Cook Islands is baffling.

            I really dislike how he’ll run a joke into the ground. I’ve continued on into the China episodes and the way they’re going out of their way to snub Amanda is maddening.

          11. “On the other hand, his insistence that Fiji is better than Cook Islands is baffling”

            You know how Andy is always flogging that straw man who only watches Survivor for the characters and considers any discussion of strategy to be ‘gamebotty.’

            Mario Lanza is the reason I can’t claim that person doesn’t actually exist.

          12. Just know that every “straw man” I construct is based on things I’ve actually heard/read someone say somewhere about Survivor.

          13. Also know that “You know how Andy is always flogging that straw man who only watches Survivor for the characters and considers any discussion of strategy to be ‘gamebotty'” is a thing I’ve already done in tomorrow’s post. Enjoy!

    1. Plus, anyone who writes off Millennials vs. Gen X as a “gamebotty” season probably wasn’t paying much attention. Sure, everyone is playing hard, but this was a great season because of the cast as much the strategy.

      1. The most gamebotty season I can think of is South Pacific. Everyone there, especially at the merge, did the most strategically obvious, unentertaining move possible.

  4. “The only way it could’ve been better is if the sequence ended with someone telling Jay.”

    I stand by the comment I made after that episode that the only way this could have been better would be if the last person in the chain was shown talk to someone with the camera close-up on them, and they’re saying “Don’t tell anyone, but Jay has an idol.” And the camera pulls out to show that person is talking to Will.

      1. I would have wanted to see Will get excited to hear the news, then as the person who told it to him walks away, he does a “Wait, what?” double-take.

  5. Despite my post-finale comments about the reunion focusing too much on Adam’s personal story, my heart has grown three sizes as Christmas approaches and now I can look back and agree that it was the right thing to do.

    In retrospect, I should have been worried that Jeff might have tried to rush Adam along and not let him tell the story at his own pace in order to get to the rest of the reunion. Kudos to Jeff for knowing when to be quiet and let the player talk.

  6. Kudos to whoever got that shot of Michaela’s face as she’s glaring at Jay. I love how we only see half of her face, I almost wish Hannah had not moved her head forward. Such an unusual angle, I loved it.

    1. That was amazing camerawork. I can’t recall the camera ever being in line with the jury like that in any tribal ever. The cameraperson must have raced over as soon as Michaela hunched over and looked up and back at Jay.

  7. I didn’t think about it until listening to Zeke’s exit interviews but I loved how he managed to convince the rest of his alliance to go to rocks and didn’t correct them when they assumed that he would be drawing a rock too. An alliance of fans should know that he wouldn’t draw a rock as the person in a tie-vote, but I guess everyone was thinking so much about the prospect of a tie and drawing rocks that they forgot that part. It might have all fallen apart for Zeke if one of his alliance had realized “Oh yeah, Zeke won’t have to draw a rock, so that’s why he’s so willing to do it – he’s not going home tonight.”

      1. But this is the season that was full of fans. You can’t tell me that at least one of Bret, Sunday, Will or Jay didn’t already know before this season that if there was a tie, the people that got votes didn’t have to draw rocks. Especially Will, who grew up watching this show.

          1. I can understand if they didn’t see Marquesas, that was ages ago. But BvW? Will would have been watching every episode of that season with his glass of milk and plate of cookies right in front of him.

  8. “… you also get the sense that it was just a relief for him to share that with someone who he knew would get it.”

    It seems that a lot of players that either come into the game with a secret, or gain a secret during the game (finding an idol/advantage), they usually start out saying “I’m not telling anyone about this.” But the longer the game goes on, they usually feel this overwhelming need to tell someone else about it. Even though it may go against the logic of their previous statements (“I’m keeping this to myself – it would be stupid to tell anyone about this!”) they rationalize it as a good thing to tell just one person. Just this season we saw it with idols, advantages, Bret being gay, and Adam’s mom. Sometimes it’s strategic, but usually it just comes out.

    (I was going to have this and my previous comments in one post, but after seeing that top 10 commenters list, I have to climb that ladder)

        1. I would argue and say that honestly that many of the top ten moments from Gabon would be from that two hour premiere episode: (Gillian annoying finding elephant dung, the initial pick um, and GC being the “leader” of Fang) for reference sake.

    1. Duh. It is easily in my pick for top 5 episodes alongside “It’s a Turtle?”, the HvV Merge, the Cagayan merge and the Cook Islands Merge.

  9. Sudden, random thought while watching Orange is the New Black: Having been in prison would be fantastic preparation for playing Survivor (not for the game per se, but for the physical, psychological, and social conditions on the island). Has there ever been an ex-con on Survivor? I can’t think of any. Given that close to 500 people have played Survivor (by my rough estimate), not one of them being an ex-con leads me to believe I’m onto something. I don’t watch BB, but have any of them been in prison?

      1. Vytas. Duh. How could I forget he spent time in prison? I even have his yoga videos (which, BTW, are surprisingly good, and his sequences are quite difficult).

    1. As Barbara said. Vytas. And yeah, I’ve had that thought before, and I thought that it was something that served him well and made me optimistic about his chances on Cambodia, then… well…

          1. Nothing says great like correctly identifying everything that’s going wrong in your game but not having the social skills to do anything about it.

          2. But really the greatness of the players on that original Ta Keo were in order are:
            1. Terry
            2. Spencer
            3. Kelley
            5. Kelly
            6. Jeff Varner
            7. Peih-Gee
            9. Vytas
            10. Woo

          3. I was a reader not a commenter but I am using both of their playtimes to rank them, honestly, in how great they are in the history of Survivor( also these are only my rankings and could see any order as these as potential order in how great they are in Survivor as valid.)

          4. Which “they” are you talking about? I’m not sure you’re clear on which part of this list enrages me.

          1. What is weird about Shirin is that she is able to hold alpha powers for the first episode of each of her seasons. She is in partial control of both the So and Vytas votes yet by the following episodes, she has lost power.

            Also, I have never felt prouder than when I correctly called that Shirin was not long for Cambodia based on the amount of screentime that she got in the premiere.

  10. This season has made me kind of wish next season was all newbies. While I thoroughly enjoyed Cambodia, it seems like they’ve really learned some casting lessons after Worlds Apart, and hopefully future seasons will follow this one’s lead.

    Solid list. I may have put Jay’s blindside of Michaela higher, but it’s all personal preference.

    Honorable mention: Taylor being “great” at mason jars.

  11. These are all good reasons for why the show should still be getting Emmy Nominations for “Competitive Reality Series”. And yet, somehow, it is not.

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