It is the time to give thanks, so let’s give thanks right here and now for Survivor. Because here we are, in season freakin’ 33, still experiencing shock, delight, and dismay over a television program that — by all measures of logic and precedence — has no business still being on the air. And yet it is! And it is still awesome. Look for no further proof than the two humdinger episodes unleashed on Thanksgiving eve.
This is the night when Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X graduated from a very good season to a great one. As if the blindside in the first hour wasn’t enough, we were then treated to one of the tensest Tribals ever when a thrice-deadlocked vote led to the dreaded black (né purple) rock. Let’s begin with the end, as we dive deep into this second-hour Tribal Council.
First off, let’s set the table. Zeke was coming for David and David was coming for Zeke. Zeke knew David was coming for him because Bret told him. Also, Hannah is a terrible liar. I mean, seriously, the worst. Zeke had gone to her to solidify her support, and instead of just lying and saying, “Sounds good, you’re right, he needs to go,” she may as well have turned on a giant neon sign flashing “I WANT TO VOTE YOU OUT!” on top of her head by not agreeing immediately with Zeke’s plan to oust David.
So now Zeke wants to take out Hannah instead (because David already told him he had an idol — WHOOPS!). Hannah sensed she was now the target and said this to David before heading to Tribal: “I’m probably going to need your idol tonight.” That’s important. File that one away, because it will definitely come back into play.
Now we get to Tribal Council and everything goes haywire. First off, Hannah and Adam spend the entire time whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears. Usually, this could be a good sign of two strategic stalwarts fine-tuning their game play, but it strikes me as something else — two neurotic Nervous Nellies looking for any reason to talk themselves out of the right move to make.
Meanwhile, there is other drama afoot. Bret and Zeke — who had a really nice moment earlier in the episode, when Bret told Zeke he was gay and we actually saw the starkest example of the cultural differences between some members of different generations — start making ugly personal attacks on David, mocking his anxiety and asking if he’s going to cry. That was a bad look for Bret and Zeke. And then Bret starts yelling at Ken for asking about all the whispering going on. And then a giant bug goes and lands on Taylor’s shirt, causing Taylor to ignore the rest of Tribal Council while he keeps gazing into the bug’s eyes and telling the flying menace how hot it is.
Like I said, crazy stuff. But we’re not done. Not by a long shot. Because Hannah will not rest until she has whispered with every single cast member, past, present, and future. She starts asking Zeke “What is happening?” and Sunday “What’s the plan?” Sunday tells her the plan is to vote out Ken.
Okay, awesome. So now, since Hannah and Adam know Sunday is on the other side of the great David vs. Zeke divide, the only clear and rational deduction anyone with half a brain could make is that they’re actually planning to vote for Hannah. Because why would they tell you whom they’re voting for if they’re trying to vote one of you out? So obviously Sunday is lying. Game. Set. Match. See ya, Zeke!
And yet, then the most inexplicable thing this entire season — and that includes Zeke’s Hawaiian shirt — happens after the votes are cast when David stands up to play his idol. Clearly he is about to play it for Hannah, but then Hannah tells him to wait. Then she stops. Hannah looks really confused. Granted, Hannah always looks really confused, but now she looks even more confused, if that’s possible. Then Adam weighs in about Sunday whispering to go for Ken. So David listens to Adam and Hannah and wastes his idol playing it for someone nobody was voting for.
This is not unlike watching a horror movie and seeing some oblivious buxom coed about to open the door to a closet in which the serial killer with the meat cleaver is waiting inside. You see her death coming, yet are powerless to stop it. So you just start yelling in slow motion in your mind. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
How could Adam and Hannah fall for this? They consider themselves students of the game, but they just got schooled. I would give major props to Sunday for outwitting them, but what she was doing was so patently obvious I actually thought it was a bad move on her part — it essentially told the Millennials they were actually targeting Hannah instead. I mean, of course she was lying to them! Honestly, this was the most shocking moment of the episode for me.
So we end with a 5-5 tie between Zeke and Hannah. That means it’s time for a revote. You can see Jessica wavering. Zeke tells her he realigns with people all the time. Hannah tells her to stay strong. Jessica pulls an Eliza Orlins and pauses at the voting urn for the same amount of time it takes Bret to polish off nine drinks, which, granted, is not all that long.
NEXT: Why Jessica had no choice but to go to rocks
We’re all expecting Jessica to cave. But she does not. Another tie. Now all eight must be unanimous or else everyone but Zeke, Hannah, Jay (who has immunity), and Ken (who had the idol played for him) has to pick rocks. Unfortunately, Keith Nale is not here to volunteer to go home and then rescind his offer, but might someone else waver? Jessica appears on the verge of flipping to save herself, but even if she does, at this point is has to be unanimous, so it’s too late unless she can convince everyone on that side to flip with her. Wow, wouldn’t it be cruel if after all the hesitation and all those reservations, she ended up picking the dreaded black rock? Wouldn’t that be the cruelest form of Survivor justice?
Naturally, that is exactly what happens. Then come the tears. Then she gives her Legacy Advantage to Ken. Then come the tears again. I mean, full #SurvivorBreakdown stuff here, ladies and gentlemen. No doubt she has spent the minutes, hours, days, and months since then regretting her decision and thinking something along the lines of “Why did I sacrifice my game and chance at the million dollars for freakin’ Hannah?!”
But I am here to say something to Jessica, and Jessica, I hope you are listening. Or reading. Whatever — same thing. I don’t know if this makes your fate easier or harder to swallow, but the simple fact is this: You did the right thing. It didn’t work out for you, but as I’ve said a million times before, you cannot judge the validity of a move based solely on results. You have to play the odds, and —with apologies to The Hunger Games — the odds do not always go in your favor.
But this is not about mere alliances and numbers moving forward, because this game has indeed proven to be incredibly fluid. I do believe alliances could shift again immediately after the vote. So why still pick rocks? Because if you do not, you are effectively killing any chance of winning the game. And isn’t that the goal: not to make it as far as possible, but to win the game? If you don’t show the guts to go to rocks, then you have not only immediately lost the respect from all of your alliance members (that’s potentially four final Tribal votes you just kissed goodbye) but the opposition will view you as someone who easily folds under pressure, which does not bode well for getting their votes either. Simply put, if you are the only one who flips, you look weak and undercut any argument you can make down the line as to why you deserve to win.
Going to rocks sucks. Your game can be immediately extinguished for no reason other than crappy luck. But if you don’t want to go to the tiebreaker of doom, the time to avoid it is in the plans you make before you go to Tribal Council. Once there, you have to ride it out. Which is why I say to Jessica, once again: It stinks what happened, but you really had no other choice if you truly cared about winning this game and not just making it through a few more votes. You got the wrong result, but you did the right thing. (Of course, this would all be moot had Hannah and Adam not been suckered by Sunday, but there you go.)
Okay, let’s touch on a few other things that made me thankful about this double dose of Survivor goodness.
Hannah + Ken = WHAT?!
Wait, what just happened? Did we just get a segment implying a possible Hannah and Ken showmance? (Kannah? Hen?) “You look at Ken and you’re like, Ken wouldn’t have any sort of crush on me,” said Hannah. “Because look at him.” But the next thing you know, Hannah is saying she could see her and Ken. Is she talking romantically or strategically? Because if she is talking romantically, I want to put this entire season on pause and just focus on these two exclusively because that would be spectacular in every fashion.
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
It started with this exchange:
Will: “Just don’t say anything about the idol.”
Zeke: “I won’t.”
Will: “I know you won’t.”
That was followed by perhaps the best Survivor montage all of time, as we cut to Zeke telling David, then Zeke telling Chris, then David telling Hannah, then Zeke telling Hannah, then Chris telling Bret, then David telling Ken, then Zeke telling Chris, then Chris telling Jeff Probst, then Jeff Probst telling Tata the Bushman, then Tata the Bushman telling Negan, then Negan telling Dwight while he irons half his face off, then Dwight telling Daryl while he feeds him cans of dog food and blares “Easy Street” over the Sanctuary speaker system.
I loved this montage because it perfectly illustrated the speed with which secrets can spread in this game. If you tell one person not in your alliance something, you have to assume there is a strong probability the news will go viral within a minute. I’m actually surprised more people do not use the Survivor grapevine to spread disinformation. If you want to subtly confuse or manipulate your opposition, drop some fake intel on one of them and then watch it spread. For some reason, we rarely see this in the game.
NEXT: Zeke and David amass their armies for battle
A Rewarding Experience
Just a little fun inside intel for you about the first reward. That floating bar/pizza joint the winners got to enjoy just offshore from their beach is actually called Cloud 9. It is usually stationed out in the middle of the ocean, but producers basically towed it to the Vinaka beach for this special treat. Here’s what it looks like out in its natural habitat.
I snapped that picture when the Survivor press group made a pilgrimage there one afternoon to enjoy the same drinks and pizza (surprisingly good for Fiji) — and yes, there was a lot of jumping in the water off the side of the second floor, especially after we were all a few beverages in. Here we are enjoying a rare break from what is usually a pretty nonstop schedule (see if you can spot QB1 from Friday Night Lights in the mix here).
A Tale of Two Immunities
We had two immunity competitions here, and I was more a fan of the second one, even if it was a blowout. I actually thought the first one — in which you had to stand on a narrow beam while balancing a statue with a long pole — was pretty cool in and of itself. I mean, who doesn’t like watching people get pissed off when things fall? But it came directly on the heels of last week’s balancing act on a narrow perch for immunity…which also came directly on the heels of the previous week’s balancing act on a narrow perch.
That makes three straight immunity challenges all about keeping something still while balancing on something. Varity is the spice of life, people! So let’s spice things up! (Or at least spread these out a bit more.) So even though the second challenge — which forced contestants to stand behind a caged door and blindly maneuver a handle through a maze to unlock a door and then compete a slide puzzle — was a somewhat drama-less blowout for Jay, at least it had the feel of something different.
Can we please stop coming up with new words for alliance? First we had to suffer through “voting bloc” and now, because this season was filmed after Second Chance aired, everyone has not only been hopping on that term, but also trying to spin it forward. Zeke told us what we had now was actually a cross between a voting bloc and an alliance, and then Hannah termed it a “Trust Cluster” — possibly the least-catchy phrase I have ever heard on this program. Or in life.
All that nonsense led up to our first final Tribal Council vote. Chris’ plan was to hit the Daily Double by both flushing Jay’s idol and voting out Jessica. But he did neither. Even worse, he was blindsided out of the game. So Chris’ Daily Double instead turned out to be a Trifecta of Doom, which, by the way, is also the name of my 1990s speed-metal band. I wouldn’t say Chris was the most dynamic character out there, but his insatiable thirst for revenge and the corresponding moves that came with it made him a welcome addition to the cast. I still don’t quite get the whole Boomer Sooner thing, but I look forward to Chris carrying major grudges onto the jury.
David vs. Zeke
I have always said the very best Survivor seasons have clear players to root both for and against. That gives you a strong rooting interest and increases your viewing enjoyment, because you care that much more about what happens. But occasionally something really interesting happens where you find yourself rooting for both sides. And that’s exactly what happened for me in the second hour of Survivor this week as Zeke and David used lots of war metaphors to finally take aim at each other.
Zeke is fantastic. The guy has served as this season’s most reliably entertaining narrator and he is there to play the game. On the other side is David, and while I do roll my eyes a bit at the heavy-handed approach producers have taken in building the whole “Here’s another guy who was scared to clip his own toenails and now look at him out in the wild!” narrative, I still think he is a really interesting guy who has also come to play the game and play it hard.
Hard, but not always well, mind you. His decision to use the idol on Jessica right before the tribe shake-up was a mistake, as was his decision to use the idol here on Ken instead of Hannah (although, as previously stated, I pin that much more on Hannah and Adam). His decision to tell Zeke about his hidden immunity idol also backfired. But I like David. He’s trying. He’s not letting the game pass him by. He’s making bold — if not always smart — moves, and I respect that.
David and Zeke are similar in many ways, which is exactly why they each realized the need to take the other one out. While clearly not on the level of Boston Rob vs. Russell in Heroes vs Villains, (or even Jeremy vs. Josh in San Juan del Sur) this second hour did have the really cool feel of two heavyweights heading into battle. I mean, weight-wise it would take about three Davids — or three Daltons, for that matter — to equal one heavyweight, but you catch my draft.
NEXT: Bret confides in Zeke
Bret’s Big Reveal
First off, huge props to Survivor’s location-scouting department for having the second reward challenge on that sandpit surrounded by water. That looked AMAZING! And props to the challenge department for that bizarre contest in which players had to slither through the sand on their stomachs with their hands bound.
For one thing, it was hilarious to watch contestants do their best Shabba Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp impersonations by performing the worm up and down the beach. Plus, it gave Jeff Probst the opportunity to belt out classic lines such as “Hannah like an elephant seal, trying to beach herself,” “Bret, that white butt, glowing in the sun,” and my personal favorite, “Zeke looks like a Survivor mime!” (That’s odd, I thought Lucy was the Survivor mime because we never heard her talk except for one episode. ZING!)
But I don’t want to talk about the challenge itself. Nor do I want to talk about the fact Sunday’s dream was to win a Survivor helicopter reward, because that seems like a pretty low bar when it comes to dreams. No, what I want to talk about is the chat between Bret and Zeke.
When Bret told Zeke he was also gay, it was a great moment and easily the best illustration of the differences between growing up during Generation X and as a Millennial. “I’ve lived with not saying anything,” said Bret, coming from a generation in which some members still felt a public stigma attached to revealing their true sexual orientation, while Zeke talked about how he never even considered not coming out and talking about it. “I owe a lot to Bret’s generation,” said Zeke, who mentioned how Bret served in the military during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “I would not be able to come out at 15, were there not the pioneers that paved the way.”
This was awesome — a really nice, human moment in the middle of a cutthroat game. I mean, don’t get me wrong — I will take cutthroat game over nice, human moments any day of the week. Still, it was impossible not to be moved by this scene and watching the two guys bond over mediocre Fijian beer.
Okay, this is ridiculous. I’m supposed to be spending time with my family on the holiday and yet here I am again, passing the 3,000-word mark. What does that say about me? And what does it say about you for reading all those words when you should be off snuggling your significant other or arguing with your uncle about the election. Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? (And stuffing. It’s all about the stuffing.)
But wait! Before you go, make sure to check out our exclusive deleted scene in the video player below. And for bonus intel and insight, read our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. We’ll speak to the ousted Chris and Jessica Monday morning on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105), and for more Survivor nonsense you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
But now it’s your turn. Did Jessica do the right thing (even though she got the wrong result)? Are you Team David or Team Zeke? And are you as shocked as I am Hannah and Adam fell for Sunday’s bluff? Hit the message boards to weigh in with your thoughts, and I’ll be back next week with some leftover scoop of the Thanksgiving crispy!