Since 1991, give or take a few coddled years, the millennial has been a fearsome thing to behold. She is somehow simultaneously “selfish” and a lover of the “sharing economy;” she has little understanding of how the political system works, and yet is still responsible for a possible Donald Trump victory in November. As the country now teeters at the cusp of election day, the division between Millennials and their preceding generation, Generation X, has never been more stark: Millennials, disillusioned with the political process, and Gen X, disillusioned with millennials’ disillusionment, have made it clear that in 2016 they are not on the same page.
So which generation is to blame for the sorry state of our country? The one who is so narcissistic and entitled that it is willing to risk it all by voting for third-party candidates? Or the other, who reaped the benefits of the economic boom of the 1990s only to ruin the next generation with the Iraq War and the Great Recession? Depending on whom you ask, you will always get a different answer. The only truly rational solution? Host a Battle Royale for the whole country to see. And so we have thirty-third season of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.
But first, a disclaimer. I have never seen the show Survivor. As a millennial myself, I was just eight years old when the first episode premiered in 2000. (Editor’s note: <<Blows away into dust>>) But the premise of dropping a bunch of youngs (born 1984-1997) and olds (born 1963-1982) on an island in Fiji and seeing who can make it through several rounds of exhaustive mental and physical exertions, was too delicious to pass up.
We are introduced to a group of people who are probably the most stereotypical millennials and get-off-my-lawn Gen Xers in the country. There’s Taylor, a square-jawed, blue-eyed twenty-something, who calls himself the “Peter Pan type” because he will “never grow up.” Taylor, 24, blissfully recounts his lifetime achievements: He’s been a beekeeper, brewed beer, worked as a snowboard instructor, and been to North Dakota. Then there’s Mari, 31, a professional video gamer with dyed hair, who declares, “I want to make my entire life about playing.” On the other side we hear from the proud Gen Xers who define themselves mostly by not being Millennials. Sunday, a 45-year-old youth pastor tells us, “I’m a mother of four. I’m surprised at the 25-year-old kids who live at home and play video games all day,” as she gives the young guy sitting next to her, who perhaps reminds her of her own mooch of a child, a withering side-eye. During the first task—constructing a shelter—we see these cultural divides in action. The Millennials, in an almost laughably predictable scene, decide to take a dip in the ocean rather than build their shelter. The Gen Xers, on the other hand, are hard at work chopping and digging—after all, who knows when a rainy day might come?
Of course, Survivor, like all reality TV, is a contrived notion of actual reality. The showrunners obviously took great pains to select a cast of what they imagined to be the most archetypal and dramatized versions of each generation and then threw them on an island together. In doing this, we actually get a clearer picture of just how preconceived the differences between the generations are. Even in this horrible heightened reality, its the Millennials who are able to break through the stereotypes—they win the first immunity challenge by deciding to take less shortcuts, thinking instead of the long game. And the most coddled person on the show is, by far, Gen Xer David, who has to cover his ears when his teammates chop wood too loudly.
The truth is, all of us (me especially) are better than the dweebs on Survivor, because we are all better than the worst stereotypes that each generation has been pigeonholed into. The episode premiere, like this election season, over ascribes the relevance that different characteristics between these specific generations play—after all, haven’t old, rich people hated young, poor people since the beginning of time?
There are forces greater than generational differences at work on this season of Survivor. In February, Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere—equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane—hit Fiji with a catastrophic force, killing 42 people in the archipelago. The Survivor cast arrived in April to a country still heavily damaged from Winston, and on the second day of the competition, Cyclone Zena, a category 3 storm, narrowly misses landfall but delivers a powerful rainstorm that stops all work and all play.
Both groups huddle miserably in their hastily built shelters, with the Gen Xers marginally better off than their younger counterparts, who had spent the day in the ocean. The next day, the weather gets so bad that both groups have to be evacuated for the first time in Survivor history. There is one sobering moment in the episode, when the contestants return back to the island post-cyclone to examine the wreckage. A palm tree has crushed the Gen Xers shelter. “We would have been totally hurt,” muses CeCe, 39, an insurance adjuster. “Now you’re talking about our lives.” Apparently, it doesn’t really matter what generation you belong to—when a big enough storm hits, we’re all fucked.