When my Gen X boss asked me to recap the premiere episode of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, I had to be honest: I'd never watched a single episode of the reality hit's prior 32 seasons. But I'm a millennial, and I was brought up to believe I can do anything I put my mind to, regardless of my experience or skill set! So I fired up my CBS All Access app, streamed the show to my Chromecast, and gave it a go.
Wait -- how are they defining Gen X and millennial?
According to Survivor host Jeff Probst, millennials were born between 1984 and 1997, and Gen X-ers between 1963 and 1982. Many X viewers might take issue with this seemingly arbitrary range of ages, as Generation X's oldest tribe member, a 53-year-old boat mechanic named Paul, is a borderline boomer, and 33-year-old model Ken is a proto-millennial. And some millennials are horrified to be lumped in with anyone over 30. It's worth noting that Survivor itself, born in 2000 and now 16 (the show airs two seasons per year), is squarely Gen Z.
Right out of the gate, Probst picks on the oldest and youngest contestants: Paul, who recalls having to go to a store to buy milk instead of having it delivered via drone; and Will, age 18, who dropped out of high school to participate in this show, which he definitely won't come to regret one day. But good -- our contestants are already fired up by their disdain for the other demo, even as a chyron asks #WhichTribeRU? in a language only millennials can understand.
Surprise: the millennials don't think they are millennials
"I never called myself a millennial once," claims Zeke, 28, a self-described "80-year-old man" who's "not dressed for the youth parade, I'm dressed for the singles mixer at the retirement center" and is baffled by his peers. "I'm on a tribe with children," the creatively mustached Brooklyn-based asset manager says. "When I looked around and saw all of these kids, I thought, You know what none of these kids have ever had in their entire lives? A real job. They can't do anything."
You know what the enterprising Figgy can do? Flirt. "I'm good at manipulating men," admits the 23-year-old Nashville bartender whose full name is Jessica Figueroa. "People think I'm just a pretty face, but they don't know the brains behind the face," she says. "Maybe I'll get the million-dollar check and I'll get a husband."
Hold up: the prize is still the same as it was 16 years ago? What about inflation? And that hefty student debt millennials shoulder? Seems unfair, considering this is among CBS's most successful franchises. Either way, Taylor the snowboard instructor is falling for the babes of his tribe: "I'm a sucker for pretty girls," he tells us, which is not very woke.
The Gen X-ers are boring
This isn't an indictment of the generation, just the 10 contestants chosen to represent it. Most of these people are interested in lame stuff, like actually building a shelter or finding immunity idols to keep them from getting eliminated. Somewhat interesting: Ken, the 33-year-old model and Gen-X tribe member who, come on, isn't a Gen-Xer, and conducts his on-camera confessionals shirtless. Also David, a goofy 42-year-old who is allegedly a TV writer back on the mainland yet still signed up to be on this show.
David is on the verge of a breakdown in every scene, and bonds with his teammates over his very Gen X fear of mortality. "I was born thinking about dying" is quite an icebreaker on a literal team survival competition.
There's also Bret, a police ah-fficer from Bah-ston who is very good at hut construction and seems inspired by Ken to doff his shirt; and Jessica, who finds and hides an envelope containing something called a Legacy Advantage from her teammates in an extremely obvious manner. Still, most of the Gen X segments serve as a great time to catch up on my Instagram feed, so I can't hate on them too much.
Neither generation is strong enough to weather a cyclone
For the first time in Survivor history, Jeff Probst evacuates both teams because Fijian storm systems are too dangerous -- not until after he lets each team shiver through one night of a monsoon, though. This may seem cruel, but it makes for great television when the millennials fail to construct anything resembling a hut and have to shiver together in a pile.
Millennial Will, the dude who gave up on his high-school diploma to be here, calls his team's makeshift shelter "one of the worst in the history of Survivor." He was 2-years-old when Survivor premiered, so if he's caught up on all 32 previous seasons, he might have dropped out of school a long time ago.
I am very curious about the evacuation accommodations, but Survivor shows us nothing. I've watched too much UnREAL to believe that nothing happens to the contestants when the cameras aren't rolling. I have so many questions about that missing time. Like, how pampered were they? How was the food? Did they bunk with Jeff? Who hooked up? (You know they hooked up.) I guess I'll have to wait for the DVD extras (wrote my editor, who still buys DVDs).
Millennials just wanna have sex
As a Certified Millennial™, I can vouch that this feels realistic -- and we definitely missed something during Evacuation Night. I take a liking to Hannah, the 24-year-old self-identifying Jew in rain-speckled Warby Parkers who astutely sums up the group dynamic as "high school cool kids versus weirdo nerds." (Guess which camp she falls into.)
Hannah forges an alliance with perceived fellow weirdo nerd Mari, who probably makes more money in her career as a YouTube video-gamer than she will on this show. "The good-looking, popular group is isolating themselves from the entire tribe," she whines. Nah, girl. They just wanna bang.
"Millennials are much smaller"
That's a direct quote from our host during the immunity challenge. Way to body-shame the X-ers, Jeff. That final race incorporates both an obstacle course and a brain-teasing puzzle. They can choose "shortcuts" along the course in exchange for a more complicated puzzle; the Gen X-ers go for the latter option, which Probst calls "a wise choice, given their bodies." Sure enough, the lithe youths finish first.
The two tribes barely interact!
Much like the real world, the millennials don't even talk to the Gen X-ers, or acknowledge their existence. Since Gen X lost the immunity challenge, they must vote out one of their own. David is already shaping up to be too much of a Chad to get the boot, so he is sticking around; instead, we say goodbye to someone named Rachel, who basically only complained about the weather and let her teammates down when it came to solving that puzzle. I don't think she did much else; maybe while I was checking Instagram. Bye, Rachel.
Someone "might have had a heart attack"
Next week on Survivor: Youths vs. Olds, we're gifted with the above tease and a foreboding shot of a heart monitor on the shore. Now, I'm not a doctor, but it also sounds like someone might not have had a heart attack. Either way, I am eager to get more fashion inspiration from the millennials who turn their team scarves into tube tops and learn more about what David thinks happens when you go to that great big island in the sky.
Gosh, I'm an expert already. As Zeke would say, "Survivor is helping me rise to my potential." It's true: millennials learn fast. Watch your creaking backs, Gen X.
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