Welcome to episode 13 of Survivor's 33rd season, Millennials vs. Gen X, a cringeworthy premise that actually turned into great television. Part of what makes this season so much fun is that memorable new faces are playing at an extremely high level. The Zeke-Adam-David showdown in the last two episodes was like watching wizards duel. Also, the season has largely given up the obnoxious generational stereotypes. Players are bonding primarily on their love of the game and eagerness to play. (Some football, too.)
Everyone seems to be in fairly good standing, with a good shot of winning some votes if they make it to the end. Everyone, that is, except Will Wahl, the 18-year-old, who finally decided to make big moves and stop being a pushover — then annoyed everyone around him.
So the alliances look like this: On one side, we have David Wright's group of Adam Klein, Hannah Shapiro, Ken McNickle and suddenly Will Wahl, the baby, who flipped on his side and voted out Zeke Smith in episode 12. On the other, we have Justin "Jay" Starrett, Sunday Burquest and Bret LaBelle, who sided with Zeke — and even came out to him in one of those Survivor "awww" moments — only to lose him. Sunday is loyal to Bret, but they're willing to move wherever they need to, and they know they're on the outs — so they approach Adam early in the episode, offering their services.
Now comes the first individual immunity challenge, which involves untying a pole, stacking discs on it and balancing the stack over a balance beam and other obstacles, then rolling the discs into an oversized coin slot.
Will struggles early, but Jay and Bret fly through the course. Jay, however, feels right at home rolling the discs in what's basically the Survivor version of Skeeball. He wins the challenge handily, leaving him with immunity — and an idol in his pocket, to boot.
At this point, Jay is in a great position in the game. Because he's on the alliance with fewer players, he hasn't been targeted as a player to beat, even though he's a charmer and a challenge monster. But he's got people on the jury who love him, like even chiller bro Taylor Lee Stocker and pal Michelle Schubert.
Cue the scrambling. Will loudly guns for David, the well-liked, sensitive and anxious John Cochran type who's had a remarkable run on the show, including a challenge win — an irresistible Survivor story of finding inner strength and confidence that surely positions him as a potential winner and a major threat.
Will is trying really, really, really hard to show he deserves to be there and can prove he's worthy of the million dollars. (But come on, who'd want to vote for a winner who's still in high school?) Adam spies a player he doesn't trust, however, and asks Hannah to blindside Will — but Hannah feels like he owes Will, who flipped and voted out Zeke in the last episode. So the choice is Will or David, who's arguably the biggest threat in the game.
We go to a quick tribal, and the votes come in: David, David, Will, Will, Will, Will... and Will. Sorry, kid! David's loyal group stays strong.
Whew! That was fast. On to the next scramble. Jay vows to keep fighting, so he attempts to make peace with Adam. He calls it a #YinYang relationship — hashtag courtesy of CBS — meaning they love each other, then they hate each other. They seem to agree on one thing — don't take David to the end — but in confessional, Adam says Jay is the guy he's gunning for. They've gotta flush out that idol.
The next immunity challenge involves a block puzzle with a Jeff Probst twist: They can only solve the puzzle while they roll a ball on a table maze thing without dropping it. David and Ken battle for first, and Ken, even after an initial puzzle snafu, pulls through and wins.
Cheers to Ken, the beardy model dad, who hasn't had much speaking time on the show despite his general popularity. That's a bad sign, according to a lot of Survivor fans: Generally, the theory goes, show winners are edited with consistent airtime and confessional scenes, and Ken has been kind of a no-show.
Adam says he's glad Ken won. After all, the guys he wants to target are David and Jay, and they're now at risk. David's feeling anxious again: If people vote for Jay and he plays his idol, David goes home. David seems to trust fully that Adam is on his side, however.
Hannah opts to vote for Sunday at the upcoming tribal, saying she's too close to Bret: "She's made herself into a tempting goat," meaning anyone's likely to bring her to the final two or final three — and win.
Adam wants Jay out. "We need to get his idol," he tells Hannah and Ken. He wants votes against Jay and David so David's out if Jay plays his idol. Bret agrees: Jay "could win every immunity," he tells Adam.
Then it gets interesting. Adam confronts Jay and tells him he has to play his idol — they're gonna force it out of him. Jay pleads, "Just get me there, man." And Adam decides to reveal his biggest secret: that his mom has stage-four lung cancer. They share the hammock and cry. "I can't waste this opportunity," Adam says. He tells Jay he's scared, and Jay tells Adam he fears for his mom's life, too.
It's a hell of a moment, a shared secret that transcends the game. There are serious Stephen Fishbach-J.T. Thomas bromance vibes going on. This is what the #YinYang relationship is all about: They screw each other over, but they help each other too. "He's a good frickin' dude, he's a warrior," Jay says in confessional about Adam.
Adam knows Jay respects integrity in the game — Jay even brought Adam on the loved-ones reward challenge after Adam refused to play his advantage, which would have stolen a reward — but this is a super-risky move. The moment Jay lets it spill that Adam's heart-tugging secret could win him a million dollars in final tribal council, Adam's a marked man. But if Adam can vote out Jay and get to final tribal council, he might have just earned a vote.
They're one of several surprising bromances in the season that turned the whole theme on its head. Besides sensitive homeless shelter manager Adam and skimboarding real estate agent bro Jay, think of Ken and David's unshakable connection, or how Zeke and Chris, who looks like the hulking Scottish warrior dad in Pixar's Brave, formed a tight bond over Oklahoma football. The show tried to create a demographic divide, but the cast's age barely mattered — except when Jeff denied 18-year-old Will a beer.
Anyway, on to the next tribal council. Sunday argues that hey, she's not a goat, she's played a decent game too — and of course, she's still sitting here to prove it, having outlasted a lot of the season's power players.
They vote, and Jay plays his immunity idol with a resigned "All right." Better safe than sorry! But he was safe after all. Sunday, the 45-year-old mom, youth pastor and breast cancer survivor, goes home. #Blindside.
Props to Hannah for orchestrating it and identifying a threat everyone could rally around, and props to Adam for flushing out Jay's idol without looking like a jerk. The lovably weird Hannah, now the only woman left, has played a smart and sensible low-key game so far, even if she doesn't always seem to know what's going on — and her reactions have made her a breakout star in her own right. No one's enemy and no obvious threat, she's likely to make it to the end.
Next week, in the Survivor finale: A fake idol, and a lot of dudes battling it out.