November 2, 2016

Survivor: "I Will Destroy You"

I reject the idea that "generations" can be categorized, labeled, or otherwise divided and classified in any real way. I find the articles and studies that aim and claim to do so belabored and flimsy, even by the already squishy social science standards. To make matters worse, almost every article you read on the subject is laden with bias - usually either derision or defensiveness. So when I heard that the upcoming season of Survivor would pit "Millennials" against "Generation X," I was less than enthused. (Clearly, CBS thinks this premise is a real hit or they wouldn't have also premiered The Great Indoors this year.)

As long as we're stereotyping, I guess these are the two generations to pit against one another, if you have to pick two. You have to have the millennials in there (for the buzzword), and millennials and boomers are really cut from the same cloth. I mean, this song could just as easily be our anthem as theirs. (Oh yeah, I'm a millennial. Did I mention that?)

The generational splits in this game have proven to be far less important than CBS had no doubt hoped. In none of the tribal councils after the tribe swap did the majority generation stick together. Now, I haven't kept Survivor statistic spreadsheets, but as I remember it, that's unusual. And it means that these generational tribes were even less reliable an indicator of unity than tribes of random, unrelated strangers. Which brings me to my main point: This season of Survivor, meant to be an exciting cultural battle between the young and the slightly older (Or, as CBS liked to swing it, the lazy and the hardworking), has quite possibly achieved the opposite of its goal. Instead of proving how distinct these so-called generations are, the show has demonstrated how people are people. No matter their age, you'll find the same weaknesses (arrogance, overconfidence, anxiety) and the same strengths (empathy, loyalty, strategic smarts) within a tribe of five, eight or ten. Those traits will play out in the same unexpected, if predictable in hindsight, ways throughout a season of Survivor. Which makes Jeff Probst's attempts to highlight the generational differences adorably out of touch. (He thinks we still write "u" for "you" when texting! He's such a Gen-Xer!) (←That's a joke, obviously.)

So yeah, I balked at the premise of this season, but then something weird happened. This season became GREAT. There's this cast of interesting, strategic players, many of whom are exceedingly likable. There are interesting home stories, especially for the millennials. There was an ill-advised power coupling that went down in flames. Exciting challenges, fun twists, and oh-so-many hidden immunity idols.

Adam, Jessica, Taylor, and Ken arrive at a challenge.
The Takali tribe surprised the rest when they returned from Tribal Council sans Figgy.

Take tonight's episode for example: Despite it's ominous title, "I Will Destroy You" was a lot of fun. Unexpected comebacks made both the Reward Challenge and the Immunity Challenge exciting. Michaela proved to be a challenge beast once again, which, combined with her football coach-esque plan for the remainder of the game which she all too readily shared with her tribemates, proved that she was entirely too strong to keep around.

Hannah brought the social game, if only briefly, when she identified Bret's ridiculous and shady occupational lie. Identity lies are about as old as the game itself, and they almost never work. But they sure are fun to watch play out. It almost makes me glad that Bret is still in the game, because I want to see what happens when the truth about his lie is revealed.

Jay made the most strategic move of the game so far. And OWNED it! Michaela was right - you want to go to Tribal Council. It is the way to get ahead in the game. You know who took that advice to heart? Jay. His move wasn't a paranoid one; it was a brilliant one that he made in the nick of time. By the next episode, the tribes will merge. Had Michaela been around, she would have dominated the individual game from that point forward. Jay smartly realized that he's got plenty of followers in the Millennial tribe. What he didn't need was another leader. Michaela was that leader that he had to take out. Plus, she knew about his idol. She was much too big a threat. Now, what Jay doesn't realize is that Adam has been making some big moves of his own and has been making ties with the Gen-Xers. See? So many moving pieces! So many clever players! I have no idea where this game will go next and that's what makes it great. CBS might think Survivor needs a gimmick to get us to watch, but all we need to keep us watching is the game itself.