From Adam to Zeke - everything's coming up Adam
Apart from his Leifian stalled performance in the reward challenge, just about everything went Adam's way this episode. He disavowed his Reward Steal advantage in front of the loved ones, a victorious Jay gratefully responded by including Adam in the reward, then Adam performed the heist of the century by graciously paying Jay back by handing him the advantage, "no strings attached." In doing so, Adam escaped perhaps the worst "prize" ever, at least since the "You have won second prize in a beauty contest, collect $10" Community Chest card in Monopoly. Well, and Brenda's either-way-you're-screwed decision after winning the Caramoan loved ones RC. Adam followed that up by winning his first individual immunity. And then he topped that by correctly playing his hidden idol for Hannah, guaranteeing that Zeke would be sent to the jury, whether or not Will decided to flip. It's hard to imagine a more complete single-episode tour de force.
Most importantly, Adam's successes were extremely public (apart from the advantage handover). Because of this, he likely gained a significant amount of gameplay gravitas among the remaining players, and also with the jury. Where before, Hannah and Zeke had dismissed him as untrustworthy and overplaying, now he's confidently supported an ally and played an idol to save her. It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to win over a jury, should Adam have that chance, but he's definitely built a solid foundation.
Probably unnoticed on the first viewing, there was a great and prophetic metaphor for Adam's episode-long success in the opening moments. Hannah led things off in the aftermath of the previous episode's rock draw, tearfully saying "I feel guilty and I feel thankful" at having survived the tie vote, the guilt for having lobbied Jessica to maintain that tie, only to see Jessica's game ended by drawing the black rock. This was bittersweet sentiment was echoed throughout the episode, as Adam struggled with feelings of guilt at playing Survivor while his mother battled Stage IV lung cancer, concerns largely assuaged by his brother Evan at the loved ones reward, when Evan assured Adam that their mom was gaining strength from Adam following his dream, and encouraged him to keep fighting.
Clearly, this material was significantly weightier than an average reality show, even Survivor, routinely deals with. But unlike many entries in Survivor's long tradition of tear-drenched loved ones' visits, the emotion here did not feel forced. Absolutely, at times it felt unbearably sad, particularly when the cameras kept cutting to Adam's reaction to seeing his tribemates almost exclusively reunite with (or talk about) a parent. Somehow, though, Adam not only endured the episode, he flourished, and perhaps that gave the overall episode the emotional boost it needed to feel at least partially redemptive.
In all, this episode made the best of a bad situation. As has Adam. While his mom's story did not have a happy ending, Adam is trying to use the show's spotlight to stimulate something worthwhile: raising money for lung cancer research. He has set up the #LiveLikeSusie Memorial Fund for Lung Cancer Research in his mother's memory.
From Adam to... Zeke
The pinnacle of Adam's episodic success came at the expense of Zeke. Which is a pity, because Zeke contributed a great deal to what this season has done so well thus far. While Zeke careened between hero and villain roles in the overall season edit, he never lost his unabashed zeal for playing Survivor. That enthusiasm burst from the screen in his many confessionals, and in doing so, Zeke created a new, or at least recently unseen, archetype: the superfan who isn't just a boring strategybot, but is also a three-dimensional, entertaining narrator of the game they love to play. Very early on in the (pre-?) season, Probst hinted that Zeke was similar to Richard Hatch, which seemed ludicrous at the time. Upon seeing a full season (almost) of Zeke, we're convinced that maybe Probst wasn't that far from the mark. Like Hatch, Zeke connected well with everyone around him, played aggressively but intelligently, but most importantly, he seemed to be having a world of fun. And Zeke did so with style. Miami retiree style, sure, but style nonetheless.
Obviously, Zeke's first season fell short of Hatch's in one key area: Zeke ended up in 9th place (albeit lasting until Day 33, just six days fewer than the Borneo winner). But Zeke also competed against a much more strategy-savvy (and Survivor-aware) set of opponents. That contributed to Zeke often having to play as the underdog--ending his first Tribal Council outside the numbers (with Adam), then facing a 3-2 majority of Gen Xers on his post-swap tribe, with the other Millennial being his sometime foil Michelle. He also had a stroke of luck on that tribe, connecting with Chris over shared Oklahoma roots, and with David over fellow superfandom. At the merge, Zeke's game hit full stride, and with Adam and Hannah, he set about removing the remaining popular kids from the Millennials tribe, while maintaining and nurturing new connections to the Gen X people.
Maybe he shouldn't have expressed such glee at the Gen X Civil War he helped stoke, maybe he shouldn't have trusted Hannah and Will. Maybe he should have tried harder to work with David, rather than building an army against him so soon. But throughout the game and in his exit interviews, Zeke's zest for the game made him a relentlessly interesting player to watch, and his presence will be missed (luckily for only two more episodes).
Will: Don't you forget about me!
Before the season, we predicted that due to his age, Will would not be taken seriously, especially by the Gen X contestants, and in this episode, that prediction finally matured and bore fruit. Admittedly, the cagey Adam 100% stole the spotlight from Will with his #crotchidol. But even in the moments before the vote, Will was still not receiving credit for being the Arthur of his own fate, but was instead being dismissed as having been swayed. This is obviously frustrating for Will, who's a huge fan of the show, but is being sidelined due to his age.
This is less a problem with Will himself, and more a problem with the show and its casting decisions: Why let an 18-year-old high school student play in the first place? What's the rush? Everyone involved had to know Will faced a Sisyphean task in overcoming 19 other people's preconceived notions, and proving himself worthy of their respect. As Will himself complained, "Everyone treats me like the 18-year-old high school kid. I don't want to be treated like that, I want to be treated like an adult." But despite wanting that, he still is, as he announced upon arrival, an 18-year-old high school student. Nothing can change that, except time.
To be fair, some of Will's in-game decisions have been suspect, and maybe he doesn't deserve quite as much credit as he believes. He turned on Michaela for poorly explained reasons (one of which may have been that she knew about Jay's idol), then he leaked the information about Jay's idol himself, betraying the one alliancemate who had his back, all in order to forge a new alliance with Zeke... who he then flipped on in the very next episode. The Purple Rock Podcast had a great discussion this week about how inane it was for Will to go to rocks last week when could simply have flipped on Zeke at last week's re-vote, and saved everyone the angst and drama of the rock draw. But no. It had to be this way, for reasons unknown. (We expect that if Will exits this week, he'll be asked about that.) Even worse, Will committed the cardinal sin in this season of Survivor: Dissing Ken in confessional. Sorry, Will. You are now the über-villain.
Despite the mixed actual results, Will theoretically could have played the best game of anyone out there, and he'd still have the additional barrier of biased expectations working against him. Admittedly, trying to guilt his alliance into letting him take credit for a move probably wasn't the optimal path to gaining that respect. But because of his age, Will was still in a no-win situation, and it's unfortunate that Survivor keeps casting people they know have zero chance of winning. Especially in this particular case, where, if they'd just waited a few years, this would not even be an issue for Will. Maybe instead of "high school student," he should have told everyone he was an actor who played a high school student on TV, in which case he'd probably be in his 20s.
With Zeke out, who is the favorite to win?
Believe it or not, just two episodes of this season remain, despite the Vinaka tribe's massive 8-person roster. Of those left, the only people who seem completely out of the running for the million are Bret, Sunday, Will, and Hannah. When they've been shown, Bret and Sunday have almost exclusively been foils this season: Bret as an antagonist to David, Sunday to Jessica. With Jessica gone, Sunday's edit again returned to the cutting room floor. Bret did have a side-arc as Zeke's drinking buddy (having previously been Chris's buddy), so it will be interesting to see how he's shown now, if at all. Meanwhile, Will finally did make a big move, and in doing so, barely avoided receiving his first vote against (yes, believe it or not, Will is now the only person who has yet to see his name written down). Still, it's hard to imagine anyone on the jury voting for Will. Finally, while her edit has been complex but generally positive, Zeke's exit interviews revealed that the other contestants seem to resent having to support Hannah, so it's unlikely she'll be receiving many jury votes.
That leaves four people: David, Jay, Adam, and Ken.
David seems to be the consensus frontrunner. He's the journey player, Cochran 2.0, the superfan who initially had no business being out here in the wilderness, but has since found his niche and thrived. He's gone from running away with his ears covered when people chop bamboo to running the game, finding and playing two idols, and even winning an individual immunity challenge. And his dad is proud of him! Despite all that, he's obviously also a known threat, so his path to the end is far from guaranteed, and with five more boots forthcoming in the next two episodes, just getting to the point where he can plead his case to the jury will be treacherous. But if he can do that, he should be the winner, hands down. He's respected and generally well-liked, certainly foremost among the superfans remaining (if he's in a final three with Adam or Hannah, he beats them easily).
Jay, however, could give him a run for his money, because he's a different kind of player, and has key connections with a different set of jurors. A final three with both David and Jay could be as close as Yul vs. Ozzy, and in this case, the Peruvian Ozzy could come out on top. Jay almost certainly gets Michelle's and Taylor's votes, probably Will's, and probably also Bret's and Sunday's. That's five on a 10-person jury. He was tribemates with all of them, and seems to generally be well-liked, even by people he wasn't on Ikabula with. He still has an idol (and a probably useless advantage) in his pocket. He's the only person to win two individual challenges, and among the remaining contestants, has a commanding lead in Mean % finish (with only Adam close), so he's the heavy favorite to win challenges from here on out. Somehow, he's slipped through the past three votes unscathed. If he can keep that up, he could sneak into a surprising victory.
Adam's great episode this week vaulted him back into contention, but it's hard to forget that Zeke and Hannah were both contemplating turning on him at the merge because he was an unreliable alliancemate. He's made a number of awkward non-apologies, to Taylor, and to his tribemates for not revealing his advantage sooner. He's certainly won back a lot of goodwill since then, and if he continues to win challenges, he could pitch himself as a more well-rounded strategist than David. But even here at the loved ones reward, at the peak of their getting along, Jay's quote reflects Adam's mixed stature: "Sometimes I hate you, sometimes I love you. But at this moment I truly respect you, and you're a cool dude." Adam could still win with a strong finish and the right opponents, but it's a bit of a longshot.
Ken is the now-fading fourth contender. We've known from the beginning that Ken has been a bit of an outsider in his tribes. He's prone to lengthy philosophical soliloquys that his tribemates find irritating. This week, he was something of a loose cannon as well, spontaneously throwing Will into a trust test, apparently as a reaction to hearing Zeke's alliance was thinking of casting their votes for... Ken? "I don't understand that!" Still, like his brother, he's "so handsome." The show has gone all out making him a (surprising) underdog, and he's incredibly popular with the viewers at home. He's Handsome Rupert! It seems unlikely his edit would have been this haloesque if he reaches the finals and loses. (They wouldn't do that to the audience two seasons in a row, would they?) So he either wins, or he falls just short. Most likely the latter.
No vidcap gallery this week... sorry!
Millennials vs. Gen X Episode 12 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Zeke Smith
Episode 12 Podcasts