A single scene this episode demonstrated what's been so rewarding about this season. It started off innocuously enough: Adam and Jay sitting in a hammock together, openly discussing Adam forcing Jay to play his idol. This in itself was a welcome new approach to the game. Why can't we have more contestants who play like that, openly half-joking about trying to vote each other out? But it didn't end there, with the good-natured head-butting, the same scene then took an amazing U-turn into drama as Adam and Jay tearfully shared their respective worries about their mothers' mortality, and bonded over it. Then they promptly went out and voted oppositely at Tribal Council, flushing Jay's idol.
The Adam and Jay frenemies subplot has been such a deep, complicated, interesting, human story. It's great when Survivor has twists, and backstabbings, and Big Moves, but it's even greater when it has all those things while still remembering it has a heart. This is that reverie. We're a little hesitant to overly praise it, mainly because whenever Survivor hits on something good, it immediately tries to recapture the magic. This story cuts really close to the line between three-dimensional character development and exploitation of actual tragedy for dramatic effect, and we worry that if Survivor (or, more likely, CBS) thinks "Yeah! Everybody loved that! Let's do it again! Let's go find more people with terminal illness in their immediate family!" that would be horrible and ghoulish and utterly reprehensible. So far, however, the show itself has clung firmly on the right side of that divide. This happened, they caught it on film and aired it, and it gave the audience a deeper understanding of these two young men. Really powerful content for a simple reality-competition show in its 33rd season.
Back to the original topic, though: It's great that Adam and Jay are both playing hard, and not being mean-spirited about it. Even with the additional backstory drama, that helps keep the overall tone of the season light and fun. It's the same "Too many people take it too serious and it shouldn't be" mantra that Tyson espoused in Blood vs. Water. We get the sense that Survivor has finally discovered that Tyson was right, and would like to keep doing that. Great! The solution is: Cast more people like Adam and Jay. (And Hannah, and Michelle, and David, etc.)
This kind of high-level aggressive play has been true for the season as a whole, though, not just those two specific people. There have been a few exceptions (angriness at Gen X camp over the Paul boot, Chris initially refusing to talk to Zeke at Ponderosa), but they've been few. Reading between the lines of Jeff Probst's preseason and in-season hype, we're a bit worried that Probst has concluded that this resulted from having so many younger players, especially since all the dour sourpusses were on the Gen X tribe initially. We would argue that it's more likely those people (Chris in particular, and Paul, and Lucy) were intentionally cast to be inflexible, because it clashed with the millennial free spirits, like Taylor. We would argue that Chris's attitude is similar to that of people like Jeff Kent and Scot Pollard, who like Chris happened to be former high-level athletes (top-tier NCAA in Chris's case, pro in the others). So instead of casting an entire season of Taylors, maybe just aim for the same formula as this one, but replace the Chris/Paul/Lucy types with older Adams or Jays? Thanks.
The new narrative
Last episode, the show made a huge deal out of Adam's idol play, as the cameras cut repeatedly to Hannah's delighted, jaw-dropped gasps of shock, and all but ignored the fact that Will had voted for Zeke, the revelation of which was relegated to the closing credits. Which made sense in light of the show's love affair with idols: Of course Will's flip was an afterthought, trumped by the all-powerful idol play. Almost as if the show was giggling along, saying "Ha ha, Will! You tried to make a big move, and got pwned by an idol!"
From the the very first seconds of this episode, however, that narrative took a 180-degree turn. In his Previously On... recap, Probst's voiceover praised Will for his Big Move™ and dismissed Adam's idol play as unnecessary. Then the post-Tribal shots back at camp showed everyone congratulating Will on his résumé-building move. Later, when Hannah and Adam discussed targeting Will, Hannah argued "But Will saved us!" Adam wasn't shown even raising a partial objection, which was a little bizarre, considering that Hannah received zero votes against her solely because of Adam. Then at the first Tribal, Probst further alters history, leading off the interrogation by telling Will, "Last time everything centered around you... you made a Big Move™, took out Zeke." What happened? Are we even watching the same show from week to week?
Admittedly, some of this was necessary to build up the case of Will as some sort of strategic threat who needed to be taken out, however far-fetched that may actually be. But even so, would it hurt to have some episode-to-episode continuity in the storytelling? These aren't POV chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire. It's okay to have a point of view with respect to who's winning and losing in the era of Big Moves. It just weird to have the score reversed with no explanation.
There were two brand-new challenges this week, and both were highly entertaining, mold-breaking delights. Both departed completely from the recent insufferable trend of motionless balance/endurance for immunity. And one even included a puzzle! Sadly, not one of those that David 3-D printed in his pre-game preparation.
Two key ingredients make a challenge great: visual interest, whether through an epic build or perceived difficulty, and fairness. You can have the fanciest design ever built, but if a small skinny person has an unbeatable advantage (Get A Grip), or it's something in which just one person has real-life expertise (basketball challenges for NBA players), it's neither fun to watch nor enjoyable for the non-favored contestants. Similarly, the recent trend of pure balance (this season's Bow Diddley) favors surfers and snowboarders, as Will correctly surmised. But who practices rolling wooden discs through a vertical slot? Or doing puzzles while distracted by a cue ball rolling through a tilted field of nails? That's partly why both challenges this week were so fun. Plus, well, shiny new objects = interesting.
Side note: The editors tacked on an extra 5 seconds of various balls glacially rolling down the ball-return ramps after Ken had already won the second immunity challenge. Since the challenge was over, this served no purpose except to drive home how frustrating it must have been for the contestants to wait for that process to complete. Completely unnecessary to show, but a really satisfying touch.
David vs. Jay: A tale of two players
This episode made clear the two biggest remaining threats to win are David and Jay. It would be a fitting end to this season if both could end up in the final three together, giving us a modern day Yul vs. Ozzy showdown. They're the real yin-yang duo of this season. Plus, one is an Millennial, and one is Gen X. (Sorry, Adam.)
David is the traditional mastermind, leading the season in voting people out, but he's also been surprisingly solid in the post-merge immunity challenges (second-best active Mean % Finish), especially in light of his tribal challenge shortcomings. Also despite his continuing inability to win a puzzle challenge (albeit with an extremely limited sample size). He's a Cochran-esque figure who has also played an aggressive idol game, and actively changed strategy in that arena. Everyone now seems to respect David as a gamer and strategist, even if some like Bret still don't *love* him. David would fit nicely into the pantheon of Kims and Todds and Cochrans.
Jay is the "Peruvian Ozzy" who (unlike actual Ozzy) is also a gifted social player. Everyone likes Jay and gets along with him, even if they're on the other side of the vote. Which is important, because at the same time, Jay is also demonstrably terrible at actually voting people out, with only 3 successes in 9 tries. You'll remember the ones that worked--Mari & Michaela--and he was shown guiding the strategic discussions on those plays. (The exception would be his vote for Taylor's boot.) This may actually end up working in Jay's favor: He tried (and failed) to save a lot of people on the jury. Michelle, Taylor, Will, and Sunday all tried to work with him. He's still friendly with Bret, Adam, and Hannah, all of whom could end up on the jury. He's had no real alliance for quite a while. If he reaches the end despite those odds, especially if he runs the table on the final three immunities, and he can talk about how he's playing for his mom? A jury full of his friends would be hard-pressed NOT to give him the million.
By the numbers: Pending records threatened
There's still quite a bit of game (three challenges, three boots, plus the jury vote) left in the finale, but several players have a chance at single-season immortality. At least until someone else passes them in the future. Here are some of the pending highlights:
- VFB (votes for the bootee): David has already voted 10 people out. Ken has voted out 9. They currently have the majority alliance and the numbers, so it's not out of the question that they could cruise through the three remaining votes. Three more for each would tie David for third place (or fourth) all-time with 13, Ken for fifth with 12. Not bad for a couple of guys whose days on the Gen X tribe appeared numbered from the outset. Full leaderboard here.
- MPF (mean % finish in individual challenges): Jay has three individual challenge wins, but most importantly, he's finished near the top in a lot of the ones he didn't win, for a 0.768 MPF. (He took a bit of a hit with the tie for second in the F7 IC this week. Nice work, Adam.) Taking a look at the single-season leaderboard, Jay's score puts him in the Top 20. If he wins the last three ICs, he'll be at 0.832, good for seventh place all-time, and ahead of South Pacific Ozzy. And 6 individual challenge wins would tie him with Cook Islands Ozzy for third place all-time. No pressure.
- Lowest MPF: The flip side of strong challenge performance is consistent futility. Chris cracked the Top 30 all-time lowest MPF leaderboard briefly this season, until Sunday knocked him back to #31. There's still one contestant who could find her way onto this chart, though: Hannah. She's currently sitting at 0.409, and would have to be considered the all-around favorite for a last-place finish now that Sunday and Will are off the field. You can do it, Hannah!
- Non-VFB (voting for the wrong person): This is, perhaps, our favorite stat of all. Any stat in which the top three are Eddie Fox, Keith Nale, and Keith Nale has to be, no? Well, then: Bret has a decent chance at tying, if not beating one of the most hallowed and seemingly unapproachable records of all: Eddie Fox's NINE whiffs in the voting booth in Caramoan. Bret has voted the wrong way seven times already. Jay, a.k.a. "The Black Plague," has done so six times. If either one of them manages to end up on the wrong side of the numbers for the last three votes? HISTORY.
That's enough of that... on to the vidcaps!
I AM THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER! EVERYONE NEEDS ME!
You forgot the accent marks, guys. I'm not resuming anything.
The high school kid does homework by pounding one hand with another and checking boxes, apparently.
Wait, there are three Daves? That's too many.
Bret also claimed Will is a huge threat! The only W in that kid is in his first name. Okay, also his last name.
Good news! We remembered challenges are supposed to be fun, not excruciating leftovers from Nicaragua.
Ten seconds in and Sunday has an insurmountable deficit. Oh well. Fun is relative.
It's a game you can play in your backyard! If you're a master carpenter.
Also, it helps to know to throw from the bottom. Everyone knows that.
Fun fact: Jay was the Florida state Vertical Disc Rolling champion four years in a row.
Probst: Whoa, just had a flashback to another Ep13, Jay.
Probst: Nah, just kidding. I don't even remember what happened last episode! Was there a Big Move?
Yes! Now I can catch fish and vote the wrong way at Tribal!
Um, excuse me? I can catch fish and vote the right way at Tribal. Probably.
Wait. Is there a #BlackPlague hashtag down there? No? Okay, phew.
I made a Big Move! I'm somebody! Things are going to start happening to me now.
Wait, *I'm* not the snake, Bret! Have you been talking to Figgy?
That and underwear modeling. *Wink, wink* ladies! But mostly not getting voted out.
No, Adam! Don't open that door! It's cursed!
Don't worry, I'm lying. I'll probably work with him next episode, THEN get voted out.
Ah, the traditional 'thermos, two arms and a head' framed shot of Hannah.
Is that really a thing? Come on, you don't show me enough for that.
This is the show! Welcome to it, Hannah!
Ow! Stop complaining! At least they're not framing the shot so it looks like you're literally on fire!
Why yes, I *DID* make a Big Move last week, Jeff! Thanks for telling Zeke about it!
Wait, are idol plays not Big Moves any more? I had one for each hand!
Big Move lifespan: Day 33-Day 34. Rest in Ponderosa.
Anyone out there want to be my date for the prom? Wait, I'll be in college when this airs. Dammit.
Hello darkness, my old friend...
Hey, thanks for stacking up the endgame so I can do this every night for a week.
We're like Two Battering Rams! Or the HvV merge tribe. Whatever.
Really looking forward to that #Vinaka hashtag in season 52!
Hey guys! I think all the human growth hormone I've been injecting is finally starting to show results!
Dammit. I am going to have a word with that 'Doctor' Joe.
Hey, fun! A challenge where I can stand around, doing nothing! I'm good at those.
Sure, snicker. Go ahead. You people won't be laughing when a Mialiillenn wins this season.
Sigh. Fine, I'll drop my stack. It's for Ken. And America.
America thanks you, Adam. Peru seems less pleased.
Ken, I really love those orange and purple highlights you've added. Very on-theme.
I did the job Albert didn't want to in South Pacific! Is that Game Changer enough for you?
Wait, was Adam just sitting here? This is so awkward.
Ah, the tradtional 'hand on hip' framed shot of Hannah.
It *IS* a thing? You people are so weird.
You can frame me with twigs or whatnot. Just keep showing me. Is shirtless good?
Heh, we're just two fun-loving kids playing a game for a million bucks.
Sigh. That was more short-lived than Probst's gigantism.
Aw, how sweet. Jessica and Zeke are waving goodbye to someone.
Good news, guys! As the jury gets larger, the seating gets more uncomfortable.
Why do we care? None of us are going there.
Oh, fine. I'll make a Big Move. That's sure to move the numbers in my favor.
Hello darkness, my old friend...
Did someone write this with their foot? Penmanship, people.
Can I have a confessional now?
Millennials vs. Gen X Episode 13 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Will Wahl
Exit interviews: Sunday Burquest
Episode 13 Podcasts