Warning: This recap for the “Million Dollar Gamble” episode of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X contains spoilers.
Hugs, tears, fighting. No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving dinner with your family; I’m talking about tonight’s delicious double serving of Survivor. A stunning two hours of television that proves once again why Survivor is still at the top of the reality food chain. It had everything a fan wants from a great episode of Survivor: emotional moments, personal stories, heartwarming human interaction, strategic scrambling, and massive blindsides. It’s an episode we can all be thankful for.
As there are two full episodes and eliminations to cover, I’m going to do this recap a little differently, and rather than go through step by step, I will instead break down the most important moments of the night. So make like Bret, crack open a beer, relax, and enjoy the ride (but no cannonballing in the pool).
GEN X CIVIL WAR
The first hour focuses on the fractured Gen X alliance. After sending Taylor to Ponderosa last week, where he’s no doubt penning ballads for Figgy, the majority alliance came back to camp itching to turn against each other. Adam apologizes for not revealing his advantage, and Jay tries to earn some goodwill by digging up Taylor’s hidden mason jars. But no one really cares because the Gen Xers are busy loading up their missiles to take out their own numbers.
Chris declares war on Jessica, stating that he still “owes her one” from earlier in the game when she blindsided his ally Paul (remember him? the pirate-Santa?). When he finishes his confessional saying, “I’ll get her out if it’s the last thing I do,” it’s one of those classic “uh-oh” moments where you know that soon Chris will be scooping those words off a plate and forcing them into his big Boomer Sooner mouth.
Ken and Hannah share a moment watching the sunrise together. When I say moment, I mean Ken talks about the beauty of the sun and the earth (as he his wont to do) while Hannah fantasizes about the new life they’re going to have together. It’s hard to tell when Hannah is joking or being serious, but the edit certainly played it straight when she said, “I could see that” (i.e., them becoming the new Figgy). What would their couple name be? Hen? Unfortunately for Hannah, I don’t think the Ken doll is going to be moving into the Barbie Dreamhouse with her any time soon.
What this did set up, however, is Hannah growing closer to the Ken, David, and Jessica side of the Gen X alliance. A point that becomes crucial in the drama that unfolds in hour two.
JAY DOES HAVE AN IDOL!
One of the highlights is the game of telephone that begins regarding Jay’s hidden immunity idol. Realizing that Jay is a sinking ship, Will decides to gain back some trust by telling Zeke that “Jay does have an idol?” Will hopes that the secret will stay between the two of them because he “[doesn’t] want to tell too many people.” Cue hilarious montage of Zeke telling David, then David informing Chris, Chris spilling to Bret, and so on. The best part is everyone using the exact same phrasing, “Jay DOES have an idol.” It’s one of those playful editing flourishes that Survivor absolutely nails time and time again.
And Jay’s idol does play a role in this episode even if he doesn’t end up using the thing. Chris comes up with a plan to force Jay into incorrectly playing his idol while Jessica remains the real target. That way they flush the idol and remove Jessica in one fell swoop. Simple, right? Riiiight.
LOVE FROM HOME
A reward on a floating pizzeria drifting just meters away from camp is the prize in the first reward challenge of the night. Once again, the tribe is split into two teams, and with an odd number of castaways remaining, it means one person will not be able to compete and have a chance at winning. In a touching act of kindness, David offers to sit out, knowing that his lack of swimming ability could cost his team. But the rest of his tribemates root him on, telling him not to give up and that he can do it. It’s a beautiful contrast to their reaction to David at the end of this double episode.
Jay ends up sitting out, and David’s team does in fact lose but not through any real fault of his own; he and Chris struggle with the final puzzle portion of the challenge giving the opposing team chance to catch up. Adam, Bret, Hannah, Sunday, and Zeke end up winning and are not only treated to food and drink but a surprise in the form of letters from loved ones.
Before Adam is even handed the envelope he breaks into tears, knowing that the message will contain an update on his cancer-stricken mother, and it could be good news or bad. He’s happy to find out she’s doing OK and even attended the ballet. After a rough couple of weeks, Adam says this love from home is “enough to keep [him] going.”
Also, I’d be remiss not to mention the return of drunk Uncle Bret. He seems to have this Pavlovian response to alcohol consumption that makes him cannonball into the nearest body of water — this time off the side of the floating pizzeria into the ocean. We shall now refer to him as Druncle Bret.
GEN X CIVIL WAR, PART II
While the reward winners are drinking beers and spilling tears, David, Ken, and Jessica have a moment to discuss their options moving forward. After praise from Ken about how much he’s grown as a person, David talks about how this game is helping him overcome his anxieties. He has always had a “fear of death,” but says that recently it’s manifested itself into a “fear of life.” Survivor has allowed him to come out of his comfort zone, and he now has the confidence to make a big move — like blindsiding Chris.
This newfound confidence is perhaps what spurs on David to win the immunity challenge, where each tribe member must balance an idol at the end of a pole. As everyone else drops out, thanks mainly to an attack of ants (which allows for a gratuitous close-up shot of Ken’s abs), the challenge ends in a showdown between David and Zeke — an excellent foreshadowing of what’s to come in hour two. David pulls out the win and soaks up the praise, saying he needs to start listening more to the voice in his head that says, “I can.”
Back at camp after the challenge, Jay points out how nobody wants to talk to him (just talk to the voices in your head, Jay; that’s what David does). The reason no one is bro-ing down with Jay is because they’re all scrambling for numbers in the Gen X standoff. Chris is ready to make his move on Jess, and David is ready to strike at Chris. It all comes down to the man in the middle, Zeke — as where he goes, Adam and Hannah go too, for now at least.
Zeke relishes his newfound position as the Gen Xers’ go-between. He talks about pitting the Gen Xers against each other and trying to amass soldiers for his army. “It’s about to get bloody!” he says almost sadistically. He developed a bond with Chris and David while back on the swapped Vanua tribe (mainly over belching and farting, if you recall) and both men trust him implicitly. He’s like a translator between two people speaking completely different languages; if he wants to tell one of them that the other person just called him a “stupid idiot,” nobody is going to question it.
At tribal council, in what seems like a flashback to Survivor: Second Chance, the tribe starts talking about “voting blocs.” When Jeff Probst asks Zeke if “voting blocs” is a good way to describe the current state of the game, Zeke says that it’s somewhere between a voting bloc and an alliance. Hannah pipes up to add her own term to the conversation; she believes the game is full of “trust clusters,” which sounds like a tasty Kellogg’s cereal, but is instead another try-hard name for what is essentially an alliance. Stop trying to make “trust clusters” happen!
During this huge trust clusterf**k, Jay sits there baffled about what is going to happen, yet when it comes time to reveal the votes he takes what he calls a “million-dollar gamble” and decides not to play his idol. It turns out it was the correct decision, as the votes come in for both Chris and Jessica, with Chris leaving, 7-4, in a blindside to the former Oklahoma football player. I’m sure someone served him his words on a big plate when he got to Ponderosa.
BATTLE OF THE NERDS
In the second hour, the Gen X warfare dies down as the real power struggle emerges between David and Zeke. Blindsiding somebody that you’re in a working alliance (or voting bloc, ugh) with is always risky, not just because of all the ways it could potentially backfire, but once you’ve made that move it sets a tone for the rest of the game. Once you take out an ally, it sets a precedent; suddenly everyone becomes fair game and the allies you think you have could now turn around and vote your ass out. We’ve already seen examples of it this season after the swap, when each tribe voted someone out of the majority, inspired, whether consciously or subconsciously, by the actions of the other tribes.
Both David and Zeke recognized that change in the game and knew that it was only a matter of time before they came after each other. It was time to “amass their armies,” as Zeke would say.
Zeke takes the early initiative, chatting to Bret after returning to camp and explaining why he voted against Chris. Luckily, Bret is in a receptive mood and understands that Chris needed to go sooner or later because he was a big threat. Both Bret and Zeke play this perfectly, listening to each other, putting aside differences, and agreeing to move forward together if possible. After so many cringeworthy post-tribal chats this season, this one almost brought a tear to my eye, it was so beautiful.
David takes a similar approach except he arrives a little too late, waiting until the next day to talk to Bret and Sunday about the previous night’s vote. He tries to plant the seed that Zeke is the biggest threat left in the game and that if he makes it to the end, “he’s going to win.” Although what David is saying could very well be true, it’s a risk making your target so clear to people you don’t fully trust, especially when David himself says he plans to take out Zeke within the next three votes, not necessarily right now.
We talked last week about how information is currency in this game, and once Bret had that intel, he went right back to Zeke and filled him in on David’s plans. Knowing that David was coming after him, Zeke spilled the beans to Bret about David having an idol, which led to my favorite line of the night: “I know he has an idol. Know how I know he has an idol? Cuz he always has an idol.” Truth.
DO THE WORM
At the reward challenge, the tribe is split into three teams of three (with one player automatically getting to attend the reward by random draw), and each player has their arms and feet bound together while they must slither across the sand before putting a snake puzzle together. Seriously, WTF? Who invented this challenge? The crazy doctor from Human Centipede? Ridiculous but also hilarious watching these poor folks wriggle around in the sand, some of them losing their shorts and tops in the process. The team of Bret, Sunday, and Zeke pull out the win while Bret exclaims, “I got naked on Survivor!” A high achievement only a few have attained.
All that being said, the reward is epic: a helicopter ride and a picnic. And of course, more beer for Druncle Bret; he might have to check into AA before this season is done. David, having been randomly drawn, also gets to attend, which is just perfect given that both he and Zeke are battling for Bret’s and Sunday’s votes. Zeke again takes the early advantage, becoming Bret’s drinking buddy, and when David and Sunday leave the table, Bret opens up, telling Zeke, “You’re not the only gay guy here.” It’s such a fantastic moment, as the two bond over their experiences as homosexual men, with Bret talking about how he grew up in a time when people weren’t as open with their sexuality, and how he admires Zeke and his openness. Zeke coins his new friendship with Bret the Rainbow Connection.
It’s moments like these that make Survivor great. Forget all the strategy and idols and blindsides. Of course, those things are fun too, but Survivor is at its best when it explores human relationships. The human aspect is something the show has tended to focus on less and less in recent seasons, so this episode was a welcome return to the character-driven Survivor of years gone by. And we also had all the bonkers strategy, idol, blindside stuff too. It was a perfect mix.
After the reward is done, the human chess game between David and Zeke continues back at camp. Zeke is looking more successful in gathering numbers, but one of the people he’s relying on is Hannah, who, as we’ve seen in past episodes, can be scatterbrained at times. Hannah has been aligned with Zeke for a significant amount of the game, but she’s also had her ups and downs with him. (Remember their post-tribal chat in Episode 3? Yes, I’m still cringing too.) In turn, she also feels close to David, relating to his neurotic side. Knowing that Zeke is planning to blindside David, Hannah decides to follow her gut, and tells David about Zeke’s plot, hoping they can turn it around and take out Zeke. Unfortunately, this information seems to undo all the progress David has made over the season and sets him on a downward spiral of neurosis. Hannah tells him, “Don’t get neurotic,” which coming from Hannah is kind of like Bret telling you not to drink too much. In fact, David could have done with a stiff drink at this moment.
The immunity challenge, which is a blowout won easily by Jay, doesn’t change anything in the back-and-forth battle between David and Zeke. David tells his closest allies, Ken and Jessica, that he messed up by revealing his plans to Bret and now he’s in trouble, and he needs them to vote Zeke. Ken says he’s willing to “go out swinging and fighting with David.” Meanwhile, Zeke checks in with Hannah to see where her head is at and, because of her terrible ability to lie, Zeke realizes that’s she flipped on him over to David. This suddenly turns the target to Hannah, with Zeke rallying Jay’s and Will’s votes, while Hannah tries to persuade Adam to vote with her and Team David.
Could we be about to see a 5-5 tie?
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
Tribal council becomes a battleground of paranoid whispering, personal attacks, and utter confusion. After having such a tender moment earlier in the episode, it’s a little disheartening to see Bret and Zeke mock David for his anxiety and claim he’s playing up for his “Survivor journey.” The whole tribal council is intense, exciting and nerve-racking for both players and viewers. Nobody seems quite sure what is happening. “Smoke and mirrors,” Bret calls it. Zeke refers to it as “theater” and, trust me, worse things than booing happen in this theater.
When Jeff collects the voting urn, he asks if anybody wants to play a hidden immunity idol. Up steps David, but whom is he going to play it on? Hannah looks like she wants him to use it on her, but Adam says he overheard the other alliance whispering about voting for Ken. With that, David decides to play his idol on Ken, meaning any votes cast against Ken will not count. But when Jeff overturns the first vote, it reads Hannah. Oops. The votes come in, Hannah, Zeke, Hannah, Zeke … ending in a 5-5 tie. Everyone must vote again, but they can only vote for Hannah or Zeke. Zeke tries to persuade Jessica to flip while Hannah begs her not to. The votes come back … a tie again!
It’s rare that Survivor gets to this stage; usually, someone will flip their vote in a dreaded tie situation because if they don’t, well, this happens. With the vote deadlocked, everyone but Hannah and Zeke must come to a unanimous decision about whom to send home. If they can’t, then Hannah and Zeke become safe, and the remaining players must draw rocks to see who will leave. Will is the first to speak up, saying he doesn’t want to risk his game for Hannah or Zeke, and Jessica says she doesn’t want to draw rocks. But it soon descends into bickering as the group can’t come to a consensus. That means it’s time to rock ‘n’ roll!
Only twice before in Survivor history have players drawn rocks. The first time was way back in Season 4, Survivor: Marquesas, when Paschal English ended up with the unlucky purple rock. The second time, a couple of years back, was in Survivor: Blood vs. Water, when after persuasion from Hayden Moss, Ciera Eastin forced a rock-draw, and Katie Collins landed with the dud rock. In a game full of risks, drawing rocks is the ultimate risk, leaving your game completely up to chance.
Hannah and Zeke are now safe. Jay is safe because he has immunity, and Ken is safe because David used his idol on him. That means the other six players have to draw the rocks to decide their fate. In the tensest moment of the season so far, the players reveal their hands, and it’s Jessica with the black rock and who is eliminated from the game in the cruelest of ways. In her post-vote confessional, Jessica wills her Legacy advantage to Ken, as she said she would earlier in the season.
If anyone ever asks you, “Survivor? Is that show still on?” this is the episode to show them to say, “Yes, it is. And here’s why.” A thrilling double episode that took us through every emotion, dug deeper into the personalities and human relationships, and kicked the strategic game into another gear, ending with an absolutely insane tribal council.
Thanks, Survivor. And Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
Players of the Week
David: He pulled off the Chris blindside and won immunity in the first episode, and while he almost got caught out, he managed to survive the second episode, and he still has a perfect vote record.
Zeke: Much like David, he almost got caught, but he was targeted because his game is so strong. He is able to bond with people on a personal level and corral numbers to his side.
Jay: He came into this episode as the clear odd man out and not only survived, but also had the balls not to play his idol, and he won immunity.
What did you make of that crazy episode? As we reach the final stretch, who do you think will win? Let us know in the comments.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.