A Journey Through “New-School” Survivor — Season 33, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X

While there is no “official” start to the New School era, I consider its beginning to be after Heroes vs. Villains, the twentieth season of Survivor; often considered one of the best, if not the best season in Survivor history. This season has always seemed to be the “opening of the gates” to how everyone could play things strategically, even when odds are against you and numbers aren’t on your side. Nobody was simply “happy to be here” or “just wanted the experience”, everyone wanted to win and do it in a way that could put them in the pantheon of Survivor legend status. And with that, the old school survival and social experiences of the show took a back seat to hardcore and fast paced strategy that defines the new school era.

And with that, I continue my journey with Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X. Since I took a break from watching Survivor when it aired pretty much after HvV, I’m coming into most of the seasons completely fresh without knowledge of what happens (with a few exceptions of one or two seasons I have watched before and a couple more seasons where I have knowledge of who the winner is already). I will start each article with a spoiler-free review of the season for people who stumble upon my little write-up here and haven’t seen the season yet and want to watch still. After that, I will go into an in-depth analysis of the season’s strategy and entertainment through the vessel of awards and superlatives.

Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X — The Spoiler Free Review

The 33rd season of Survivor offers up the most emotional highs and lows for a Survivor season in a long while, presenting us with an intriguing cast of characters in an entertaining season. For this season, Survivor brings back good old fashioned age wars as tribes are split between two generations. As a theme it offered a lot of intriguing dynamics as long as the show didn’t present them in a heavy handed way. The biggest enhancer of this season and what separates it from past seasons of similar themes is that the emotional storylines hit harder than ever. Without dipping into spoilers, you can’t leave Millennials vs. Gen X without feeling the impact of moments like Adam dealing with the pain of his home life, or Zeke and Bret bonding over the cross generation ties that connect them. On top of that, castaways like Michaela, David, Hannah, Taylor, Jay and others bring plenty of lighter and more typical Survivor entertainment. On top of the excellent emotional stories of this season, the strategic moves also hold their own. There are plenty of exciting blindsides and cool strategic moves to satiate the cerebral Survivor fan’s thirst for an unpredictable season.

If there was anything big to critique from the season, it’s that the character driven stories are a bit top heavy; beyond the big players of this season, the rest of the cast either doesn’t offer enough to be memorable, or gets forgotten when compared to the key players of the season. On top of that, the big twists introduced this season (the legacy advantage and the reward steal) didn’t play out to be as impactful as advertised, so in execution this season does have a format twist that really defines it. Thankfully the key players were entertaining enough to offset these low-impact twists.


Millennials vs Gen X combines emotional storylines and intriguing strategy in a season that is dominated by a couple big players.

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(Here on out it’s spoilers)

Ten Best Moments from the Season

10. The Whole Food Stealing Drama

What an odd controversy. At the merge, Taylor chose to sneak in some food while eating in the middle of night, but gets caught by Adam first, then the whole tribe later. The stealing led to some deals made between Adam and Taylor to keep secrets, but in a later tribal council it ends up blowing up in both Adam and Taylor’s faces as they fight before Taylor’s exit. The whole ordeal was a bit weird, but it gave us some confrontational argument that was mostly missing from the season once Michaela went home.

9. David Saves Jessica with his Idol

Instead of saving his idol for himself to use later, David chooses to make an ally in Jessica and play an idol on her, knowing that the vote was going to be against her. It was a cool play by David to take advantage of what seemed like a clean blindside to gain himself a loyal ally.

8. The Night One Storm Evacuation

For the first time ever, castaways are taken out of the game due to a massive storm that was about to hit the camps. It was a good reminder that the show is indeed called Survivor and that the survival aspect of the game is still part of the show. After both tribe struggle with the rain on night one (most comically the disastrous night one of the millennials), the tribes returned after the storm to completely destroyed campgrounds and a need to rebuild their shelters.

7. The First Millennial Tribal Council

The mental mind games and politicking that Michelle and Jay did to protect their alliance members Taylor and Figgy and vote out Mari were exciting to watch. While Taylor and Figgy’s budding romance made them obvious targets, Jay and Michelle were able to convince Michaela and Will to join them at camp, and pressure Hannah during tribal to flip on her alliance and vote with them too.

6. Jay Goes Home Playing a Fake Idol

At this point it was just mean to Jay… David decides to make a fake idol and plant it in camp in hopes that someone (specifically guys on the outs Jay) picks it up and gets a false sense of safety. It works to perfection as Jay doesn’t win immunity and plays the fake idol thinking he’s safe. Gone are the days of people carving faces on sticks for fake idols, intricate fakes are the norm now, with David’s fake probably being the most convincing at this point in Survivor history..

5. Tribal Council Goes to Rocks

This tribal council pitted power players David and Zeke head to head in a battle for the top spot in the game, as the tribal council gets chippy and the castaways go to rocks, ending in an unexpected exit for Jessica. The numbers were ever shifting as players had to make a stand in a game-defining tribal council as Zeke’s alliance came out on top, as they were able to trick David and get him to play his idol on the wrong person and take out one of his allies in a roll of the dice move.

4. The Taylor and Figgy Romance

It has really been quite a few seasons since a true Survivor romance, and there arguably have been none in Survivor history more confounding than the escapades of free spirited flirt Figgy and surfer boi Taylor. It was equal parts genuine connection and youthful horniness, but all parts comical as Figgy faces the attitude and judgement of Michaela and Taylor thinks that Figgy and him are concealing their relationship excellently in from of his tribe swapped Gen X teammates.

3. Bret and Zeke Bond Over Shared Sexuality

In one of the most surprising moments of the season, Bret chooses a reward with Zeke as the time to tell him that he is gay, and that he had been hiding his sexuality from the very beginning of the game. It was one of the best results of the generation gap theme of the season: the millennial is able to live his sexuality outwardly while the Gen Xer felt it best to “keep in the closet” on Survivor because he was worried about how his tribe would perceive him. It is a poignant moment where the social experiment part of Survivor that the show was built on could shine.

2. Michaela gets Blindsided

I don’t think I can remember a blindside in any of the seasons I’ve written about where the person blindsided looked like they might kill their betrayer on the spot like Michaela did when she realized Jay had turned against her. It was the end of an entertaining pre-merge run for Michaela who felt like a genuinely real and unique person while on the show.

1. Adam’s Season-long Struggle with his Mom’s Battle with Cancer

It’s the defining storyline of this season, as Adam played out the season with knowledge of his Mom’s deteriorating condition due to cancer. It’s moments like Adam’s family visit and his conversation with Jay on the hammock where he confides in Jay about his pain that reality TV was made for: real and raw look-ins on the emotions of people going through real struggles and seeing how they respond and overcome. It’s only further impactful given the end of the story at the reunion, as Adam wins the season and gets to see his Mom one more time before she passes away.

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All-Survivor Teams: Outwit and Outplay

Similar to the All-NBA teams, the section awards five contestants who did the best in the season, separated by Outwit (for best strategic play) and Outplay (most entertaining to watch)

2 men, 2 women, and a wildcard spot for each team
*Because this season strategically felt so male dominated, All-Outwit is 4 men, 1 woman… in retrospect Kaoh Rong would have had a four women one man All-Outwit team

All-Outwit Team

Zeke — Until his target inevitably became too big, Zeke had the best grasp on the social game of this season, making a good impression on everyone on the island and putting himself in a position where he could essentially choose his alliance to take to the end.

David — Once he got his footing in the game he played quite well from a strategic standpoint. He was the head of a seemingly unbreakable Ken and Jessica alliance (which Ken broke at the final four, but right before the final tribal council is really the only time you can do it without facing any backlash), and he played well with both real and fake hidden idols, saving Jess with one and fooling Jay with the other. For how much people wanted to paint him with the “he’ll win it all in the end” title he lasted so much longer than he should have, which is a compliment to his solid political game.

Adam — A lot of his success came from out-working other castaways, finding idols and advantages throughout the game, and his flexibility to be able to work with whatever cards were laid in front of him. He was one of the few who garnered respect as a gamer without being called out as the frontrunner, and his backstory pushed the jury towards a vote for him at the very end.

Hannah — I appreciated how she overcame a pawn role to make moves that set her up for a trip to the very end. While early on she was easily influenced (like the first millennial tribal council) and catching strays for her alliance members (mainly Adam and Zeke), she gained momentum in the final third of the game and led the vote-outs of both Bret and Sunday. I also felt like she did well in the final tribal council defending her gameplay, even though Adam won in the end.

Jay — His social game was impressive. A lot of how his game went reminded me of Joe Anglim in Second Chance… likable guy who’s seen as a huge post-merge threat, but can play the politics enough to protect himself without the necklace.

All-Outplay Team

Michaela — An electric personality whose confessional game is on point, and her whole approach to the game was refreshing, as she felt the most genuine and . It was a travesty seeing her get blindsided so early, but even then her reaction made for one of the most entertaining blindsides in a long time. On top of that you have to mention her unwavering disgust towards the idea of Figgy and Taylor making out with each other while on the island, and her drive to compete leading to removing her top in a physical challenge.

Zeke — I think if there’s a quality he had that most elevated his ability as a Survivor main character, it was his self-awareness. Zeke brought the right amount of humor, levity, and braggadocio to his confessionals, which made him an entertaining character to cheer for.

Hannah — At the start of the game she was the human version of Courage the Cowardly Dog, easily influenced by other tribemates and a ball of nervous energy and anxiety, with all of it climaxing in a panic attack while watching a challenge early in the season. Seeing her grow into a legitimate player in the game as the season went on was cool to watch.

Jay — He filled in the lovable underdog role on this season with his undeniable charm. His rivalry/friendship with Adam was exceptionally intriguing to see develop.

Taylor — He was a good one and done Survivor idiot. He contributed plenty to the season, from romance to general cluelessness.

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The Wallflower Award for Most Forgettable Player: Sunday

She tried to make one move on Jessica and then quickly backed off of it. Other than that she seemed to only be a follower of whatever Bret wanted to do strategically

Foulest Move: Taylor’s Blatant Food Stealing

I found it just incredibly funny that everyone knew he was stealing food but everyone just kind of played along with it and let him do it.

Idiot Award: Will

He didn’t want to be defined as “the kid who played Survivor”, but it seems clear that production wanted to cast Will to be the immature, impressionable youth in the group. It unfortunately only highlighted the amount of growing he still had to do and made him look like a kid playing among adults, especially in the most leading up to his demise in the game.

Most Cringeworthy Implementation of the Generation Theme: The First Immunity Challenge

I saw what you did there Survivor production. We all did. You either work hard to go through the obstacle or you take the “easy way out” and skip obstacles to do a harder puzzle. Because Millennials don’t work hard like Gen Xers and take shortcuts. Ok we get it Survivor. Very Boomer there.

Best Day One Player and Biggest Gamer Girl: Mari

Mari was a key figure in the millennial tribe early on, pulling together the more nerdy tribe members to build the “misfit” alliance to go up against the foursome of Jay, Taylor, Figgy, and Michelle. Unfortunately Jay and Michelle performed some black magic to get people on their side, and Mari was the first voted out of her tribe. Side note: production really did her dirty in confessionals by having her lean in the millennial “I’m a girl who plays video games” background. The cringe had me in convulsions every time she had to compare Survivor to playing a video game.

Most Old-School Player in a New-School World: Ken

Does Ken beat Adam and Hannah if this was Season 12 and not Season 32? Maybe he does, as he played the honorable and trusting game but lacked the strategic plays, allowing David to do all the strategizing. Ken was an odd character to get a read on: he had the model looks but seemed to be a social outcast (especially on the Gen X tribe) outside of a few close allies. I get the vibes from him that remind me of Amazon runner-up Matthew.

Biggest Unanswerable Question: How Close was Paul to Dying on the Island?

Is it crazy that I almost forgot that one of the castaways was having seizures at one point in the game? Goes to show how much happened in this season that a near-death scare was overshadowed.

Personal Conspiracy of the Season: David’s Success was Producer Driven

It’s reality TV so I am aware that production will always have their hands on whatever we see, be it an edit or a twist or whatever. Never have I in this re-watch personally felt production fingers on a storyline more than David’s… and you know, this might be a lot of me just disliking David in this season. I’m sure he might be a nice guy in real life, but on the show I felt he had as much charisma as one of the coconuts on the beach. So, in my personal head canon I see David just happening to stumble on a conveniently placed and easily movable marked coconut with an immunity idol in it when he absolutely needs it… or in a challenge that required strong and steady arms to balancing a statue on a pole we can just make his pole easier to hold so the little guy can win a big immunity challenge…

On a scale of one to ten, how much did the winner deserve the win?


Adam did plenty to deserve consideration to win even before factoring in the emotion of his story outside the game. He spent time in and out of power, but ultimately always kept the priority target off of him while still being able to have an impact on who goes home. Obviously his emotional reveal to the jury about his struggle with his Mom’s illness also helps at the FTC, as it was the connecting piece for the jury to understanding who Adam was and how he acted in the game. It would be interesting to see how he does in a FTC situation against someone like Zeke or David, because I think they played better games than he did, and Adam didn’t have the strongest FTC compared to other winners

Who Should be Invited Back Again for a….

Heroes vs Villains Season

Heroes — Adam: His story makes him perfect as he overcame so much personal adversity to win the season. I would love to see him return again once he’s processed the death of his mother, free of the weight of that on his game.

Villains — Michaela: There wasn’t really a villain on this season, but Michaela’s too entertaining with her no-nonsense attitude, and that would fit well as a personality type in a villainous tribe.

All Stars/Fans vs. Favorites Season

Zeke — Great charisma, definitely deserves a second chance. Which he did in Game Changers.

Speaking of which, Game Changers is the next season. Who knows when I’ll finish it???? Also, Survivor 41 has only a few episodes left. Who will win???? Excited to find out!



Reality TV connoisseur writing about the shows I like, especially Survivor. I also watch the Challenge, the Bachelor, Love is Blind, and more.

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Reality TV connoisseur writing about the shows I like, especially Survivor. I also watch the Challenge, the Bachelor, Love is Blind, and more.