‘Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X’ Premiere Recap: Talkin’ Bout My Generation

Martin Holmes

Warning: This recap for the “May the Best Generation Win” episode of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X contains spoilers.

It’s time to text your friends (or maybe page them); Survivor is back!

That’s right; Survivor returns for its 33rd (!!) season and this time the experiment is a showdown between the WhatsApp generation and the “What’s that?” generation.

Seriously, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X is about as zeitgeisty as it gets, or at least a close second to Survivor: Hillary Supporters vs. Trump Supporters. The show has a history of dishing up contentious themes designed to snatch headlines and inspire think-pieces as we saw in 2006 when the show divided teams up by ethnicity(!).

As with most Survivor themes, the whole thing feels rather forced, especially here where it presents Gen X as the hard-working grafters compared to the Millennial slackers. It’s weird hearing the Gen X tribe talk down about the “lazy” Millennials, acting as if all those 90s Kevin Smith movies weren’t about them. It’s like listening to Brad Pitt give marriage counseling.

However, despite having a name that sounds more like the title of a Buzzfeed article than a season of Survivor, CBS has managed to find a compelling group of characters that show flashes of depth beyond their forced archetypes. Well, for the most part.

Jeff Probst addresses the newly formed tribes on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X, when the Emmy Award-winning series returns for its 33rd season with a special 90-minute premiere, Wednesday, Sept. 21 (8:00-9:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Jeff Probst addresses the newly formed tribes on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2016

Like any Survivor fan knows, the themes are merely fancy decoration meant to attract passersby and add a few extra rating points in today’s cutthroat television marketplace. We get it — that’s how TV works. It’s what lies beneath that decoration that keeps us coming back season after season: the social game, the strategy, and the characters. We don’t care about your profession or IQ or whether or not you can use a VHS recorder — we care if you can actually play Survivor.

Jeff Probst cares about those things, though, as you can see in his enthusiasm as he reveals the twist to the twenty new castaways. He pushes the theme on them like a new parent forcing you to hold their snot-splattered baby — it’d be rude to say no. So these newbies take hold of the ridiculousness, and you know what? It’s kind of fun. After buffs are assigned, it isn’t long before the insults start flying. Will, a high school student on the best field trip of his life, refers to the Gen Xers as “old dudes.” But of course, everyone is old to a person born in 1997!

The oldest of those “dudes” is Paul, a cross between Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and a shopping-mall Santa, who complains about how only winners got trophies back in his day and how you actually had to walk to the store to get milk, not have it delivered by drone. Mmmm… drone milk.

It’s totally perpetuating stereotypes, but in a light-hearted sort of way. It could become tiresome if it continues throughout the season, but most Survivor themes fall by the wayside once the game begins and alliances start taking shape. But this is the first episode, so of course the producers milk those stereotypes for all they’re worth.

Paul Wachter on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Paul Wachter on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016

Probst gives the tribes their first test, a mad dash into the woods for supplies that requires them to make a decision between short-term value (chickens) or long-term value (fishing gear). Pretty insulting to call the chickens short-term value when Mark the Chicken made it all the way to day 39 last season, but I digress. The idea is to test each tribe’s philosophical approach to life and the game. Gen X chooses the fishing equipment while the Millennials bank on the chickens and their egg-laying abilities — but probably more because it’s the closest thing to KFC on the island.

This short-term approach is the Millennials m.o. for the first half of the episode. Snowboard bro Taylor spends more time schmoozing up to the pretty girls on the tribe than he does getting wood — well, actually, maybe he did both. He also bros down with Jay (a sort of mutated clone of former Survivors Ozzy and Joe) over a mutual love of hairstyles. Resident nerd Hannah already feels on the outskirts of the cool kids club and worries for her position in the game.

The Millennials struggle to construct a sustainable shelter as ominous storm clouds loom overhead turning the whole situation into a kind of metaphor for millennial housing woes. True to stereotype the young ‘uns spend more time playing on the beach than putting a roof over their heads — because they’ve never had to before (probably, according to Paul). It leads to a cold, wet, miserable night huddled under loose palm fronds.

Gen X meanwhile get to work fast, collecting bamboo, building their shelter base, etc… Paul talks up how much of an advantage they have due to their age and wisdom, but male model and America’s next heartthrob, Ken, is quick to state that they shouldn’t underestimate the youngsters. If he saw their shelter, he probably wouldn’t be saying that.

Not that Gen X is problem free. They have two glaring problems in overeager Rachel and paranoid David. Rachel criticizes Paul’s work style while David turns into a wild-eyed conspiracy theory nutjob, believing that Ken and Paul found a hidden immunity idol. David might be the most ill-equipped person ever to step foot on Survivor; he’s afraid of everything, from stick insects to sticks themselves— he can’t even cope with the sound of wood being chopped.

Both tribes have a rough night and despite receiving a good will tarp to protect them from the incoming storms, Probst and the producers deem the situation too dangerous and call for a mass evacuation. A hasty decision? Maybe. But they were probably extra cautious seeing as Caleb almost died last season fighting for condiments in a reward challenge.

Justin Starrett, Michaela Bradshaw, Mari Takahashi, Jessica Figueroa, Michelle Schubert and the rest of the tribe try to stay dry on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X, when the Emmy Award-winning series returns for its 33rd season with a special 90-minute premiere, Wednesday, Sept. 21 (8:00-9:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Jay Starrett, Michaela Bradshaw, Mari Takahashi, Jessica “Figgy” Figueroa, Michelle Schubert and the rest of the tribe try to stay dry on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016.

It’s not often Survivor focuses on survival elements anymore. Shelter building and starvation take a backseat to the scheming and strategy. All we get these days is the obligatory palm frond weaving scene and if we’re lucky maybe someone will fall ass-first out of a coconut tree. But last season changed that with three medical evacuations, and in what almost seems like nature’s attempt to outdo itself, the stakes are upped here as the entire cast are whisked away in speedboats against crashing waves and ungodly winds.

The mass evacuation is serious and scary but thrilling at the same time because it’s something we’ve never seen before in 33 seasons. A fact that CBS was quick to yell about in the pre-season press. It’s impressive how the show keeps falling upon “Survivor firsts” 16 years into its run. It’s hard to think what “first” will happen next. Maybe next season a contestant will eat a fellow player?

After returning to their wrecked camps the next day, both tribes refocus their energies on rebuilding their shelter. Apart from David, who decides to go idol hunting with all the subtly of Godzilla stomping around Manhattan. Much like Tai last season, David is quickly painting a huge target on his back.

Over on camp Millennials, some of the quirkier castaways are starting to take charge. There’s Zeke, with his pornstache and flamboyant Hawaiian shirt, surveying the beach like he’s auditioning for the lead role in a remake of Magnum P.I. (that’s a reference for all you Gen Xers). Zeke doesn’t see himself as a Millennial, mainly because he has a job and doesn’t abbreviate the word biceps to “‘ceps.” He openly admits that he’d fit in better at a Miami nursing home singles mixer than he does around the bros and broettes — who have taken to calling themselves “Triforce.”

But Zeke is willing to be the adult of the tribe, and not only does he take charge of shelter construction, but he starts the fire with no flint. An achievement which even surprises himself.

Ezekiel/Zeke Smith on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X, when the Emmy Award-winning series returns for its 33rd season with a special 90-minute premiere, Wednesday, Sept. 21 (8:00-9:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Zeke Smith on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016.

Hannah confesses her earlier concerns about the cool kids to professional video game player Mari, an anime fanboy’s fantasy come to life. Mari is on the same wavelength and takes quick advantage of the numbers, corralling the rest of the so-called “Freaks and Geeks” to mount a counter defense against the “Triforce.” That’s the problem when you form an alliance of three (with Michelle on the outer) on a tribe of ten.

Challenge time!

The first immunity of the season is up for grabs in an obstacle course which includes a dilemma. Tribes can choose to take two shortcuts to reach the puzzle portion of the challenge faster, but each shortcut they take adds more pieces to the puzzle they have to complete. In a sweet stroke of irony, the Gen X tribe take both shortcuts, giving them the largest puzzle. The Millennials only take one shortcut, allowing tribemates Figgy and Michelle to finish the smaller puzzle and earn the victory for their tribe.

Back at Gen X camp, all eyes are on Rachel for her poor puzzle performance. Meanwhile, David’s eyes are on everyone, paranoid that his paranoia has caused his tribe to distrust him — how’s that for a conundrum? He comes clean about his idol search but emphasizes that he doesn’t have it and assures his loyalty to the tribe decision-makers (which at this point seem to be lawyer duo Chris and Jessica, and police sergeant Bret, a live action Fred Flinstone).

David Wright attempts to solve the puzzle for his tribe on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X, when the Emmy Award-winning series returns for its 33rd season with a special 90-minute premiere, Wednesday, Sept. 21 (8:00-9:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
David Wright attempts to solve the puzzle for his tribe on SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016.

Heading into tribal council, it appears the choice is between David or Rachel, with the majority alliance likely to split the vote in case of an idol play. A split vote does happen, and Rachel is eliminated, but it’s CeCe, who was hardly in the episode, that receives the next highest amount of votes. In the end, David only receives one vote. There’s also a random vote for Sunday thrown in there from Rachel.

It feels like there’s a beat missing in the story somewhere between the challenge loss and tribal council. We do see CeCe and Rachel discussing how they feel on the outs, but there is no attempt to set CeCe up as a potential boot in this episode. Instead, David receives all the focus, which suggests he’ll be a character worth investing in.

What this episode ultimately proved is that the line between Millennials and Gen X isn’t as clear-cut as the show wants us to believe. Gen X took the shortcuts and lost, living up to their original slacker image that they used to be tagged with back in the 80s and 90s, while the Millennials kept up high spirits, built a shelter, started a fire and won immunity. Right now, it’s 1-0 to the Millennials.

Players of the Week

Zeke: He took control of the Millennials tribe by being the most adult, and everyone seemed to appreciate him for it.

Jessica: She managed to snag an advantage in the opening scramble for supplies called a Legacy Advantage. We don’t know what this entails exactly, but we do know she has to last until Day 36 to use it (if she’s voted out before then she must pass it on to a fellow player).

Mari/Hannah: They seized the opportunity to take the numbers advantage.

Who are your players of the week? Which tribe are you rooting for? Let us know in the comments.

Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.