* = okay, let me get this off my chest, what happened to Generation Y? Wasn’t I in that generation? I thought it went Baby Boomers (born in about the decade after WW2), Gen-X (children of the baby boomers, so late 60’s thru the 70’s), Gen-Y (children of whatever the generation is between the boomers and Gen-X) and then the millennials were the kids born from around 1990 onward. The internet was the dividing line, I feel. Millennials have basically always known a world with an internet, my generation had it emerge in our early teens, Gen-X had it come around in their college years. Anyway, it was a silly theme. Moving on!
So a good season, wrapped up in somewhat odd fashion thanks to Survivor’s latest marketing push. Here’s what I mean…
How He Won: Adam won, essentially, an old-school game hidden under a pile of new-age Survivor “big moves” theatrics. Here’s what I mean — from the merge through to the final five vote, Adam, Hannah, Ken and David voted together every single time. Zeke and Jessica were also part of that alliance until Zeke tried to align the remaining players against David, and Jessica was lost in the rock draw. The Bret/Sunday/Chris trio was also aligned with the core alliance as it suited their purposes (to eliminate Michelle and Taylor) until they tried to pull their own move and it ended up with Chris getting eliminated.
So let’s forget all this talk of “voting blocs” or “trust clusters” or whatever goofy term the show is pushing to create suspense when, essentially, nothing about Survivor has changed all that much. The difference is that Adam talked a big game (more on this later) about always being willing to flip or was open to flipping. When push came to shove, however, he ultimately either felt it more advantageous to stick with his alliance or he couldn’t get the numbers on his side until the final four vote, when Hannah and Ken both voted out David since he was the clearest threat to win. Really, I think it’s pretty clear that David also would’ve won a 10-0 vote, so Hannah/Ken were probably screwed either way. They might’ve felt their only chance of being perceived as more than “David’s puppets” was to cut him out themselves, so I can’t really fault the move. Ken* voting out his most trusted ally at F4 didn’t really help his case of basing his whole game on loyalty, but again, it’s not like he would’ve beaten David anyways.
* = in fact, Ken may be the latest case of Survivor building a player into a hero when they may have been disliked by their fellow cast. In Ken’s case, it might’ve been more annoyance than hatred (i.e. Sugar, Spencer, Woo), but I definitely got the vibe that the tribe was more than a little sick of Ken’s exhortations about how he was such a humble, honorable, hard-working guy that was a little too good for this game. Since none of the S33 cast felt Ken was going to try and murder them, however, he ranks only a 7/10 on the Von Ertfelda Scale of “challenge beast who’s really a goat.”
Pre-merge, Adam’s voting history was pretty limited since his teams avoided five of seven tribal councils. Interestingly, he screwed up almost immediately in the game, as he and Zeke were on the wrong side of the very first Millennial TC that got Mari eliminated. He might’ve been dead meat had the Millennials lost either of the next two team challenges, and he then got some good luck in the tribe swap by having the easy choice to join Ken/Jessica in breaking up “FigTayls” (a portmanteau I am happy to never hear again). Finding the HII aside, Adam was flying by the seat of his pants until he got to the merge and found the security of an alliance.
Skillset: Okay, so here’s where the show let me down. Jeff Probst and, by extension, the show itself has become obsessed with the narrative that you “need big moves to win.” I don’t entirely disagree, as every Survivor winner has done SOMETHING to lock up their victory, whether it’s winning some key immunities down the stretch or simply picking the right person to align themselves with. But the idea that you need to be a Russell Hantz (who, it can’t be stressed enough, never came close to winning) and constantly throwing around idols and blindsiding alliance members is nonsense.
Adam made the move (albeit an obvious one) of turning on the millennials by way of voting out Figgy, he won an immunity challenge, and he managed to find two hidden immunity idols, which was at least worthwhile in the sense that he kept more dangerous players from finding them. This is pretty much it, as much as the show revealed to us. Since the phrase “Survivor resume” was used to an eye-rolling extent this season, let me point out that this resume is awfully thin.
Finding that last idol might well have saved himself, since it was implied that Hannah told Ken/David about Adam having the HII and thus they moved the vote back onto Bret at the final five. But since we have no hard evidence that Hannah did this, let the record show that Adam twice used idols when he didn’t have to. If David/Hannah/Ken were set on voting for Bret anyway, Adam finding that F5 idol meant nothing. Adam playing his other HII on Hannah to negate the votes against her also meant nothing since Will had flipped anyways. (Aside from David using his first HII to save Jessica, there was nothing but lousy idol play all season long; Jay, Adam and David all played idols when they didn’t have to or played idols on the wrong person.)
So ultimately, I’m left with the fact that Adam talked a big game in his confessionals but didn’t really do all that much out on the island. He constantly *seemed* like he was always planning moves, yet they either petered out into nothing or were thwarted. Adam is sort like a poor man’s Todd Herzog, in that Todd also rode heavily on his persona as a Survivor savant, when he really had Amanda bailing him out multiple times from ruining their alliance’s game. Adam didn’t really do all that much until he finally turned on David, yet because he was always seemingly *about* to flip, he got credit as guy who saw the big picture. Chris assuming that Adam was the one who convinced Ken to flip on David is a prime example of that — Adam didn’t do jack, as it was Hannah who seemingly did the work and she actually had to tell Adam to “let me handle” Ken. (And this is assuming that Ken needed convincing anyways.) I was never super-impressed with Todd’s win but I could at least give him credit for a spectacular jury performance. Adam didn’t even really do that. His FTC performance was nothing special, and neither Hannah or Ken were particularly bad, from what we were shown.
And yet again, I’m falling into the trap of basing his game solely on the “big moves!” criteria when Adam probably played a strong social game. Despite the fact that seemingly nobody had any respect for Ken and Hannah’s games, you don’t win 10-0 unless you’re at least somewhat popular. Virtually nothing of Adam’s social game was shown, however, since the editors loved painting him as the prototypical modern player who is always a heartbeat away from blindsiding someone, when in fact he ended up being (pragmatically) loyal to his core alliance.
The only time Adam was really shown connecting with someone on a social level was that heart-wrenching scene when he revealed his mother’s illness to Jay*, and it’s hard to believe that was only time Adam fell out of pure gamebot mode. Still, again, we were never SHOWN any of this. I mentioned Ken-as-Matthew Von Ertfelda earlier, and S33 has another echo to S6 in the sense that we never had any sense of how popular the winner was within their camp. As the S6 editing told us, Jenna was a classic ‘mean girl’ and Matt was the hard-working socially awkward guy finding his way within the game. In reality, everyone liked Jenna and everyone thought Matt was a freakshow, hence her 6-1 blowout win.
* = there has already been some suggestion that Adam’s win was a pity vote due to his mom’s health condition, though I doubt that’s the case. A 10-0 result doesn’t happen out of pity. Even if Adam doesn’t mention his mom at the very end of FTC, he already had the victory in the bag, based on Chris’ earlier comments.
In short, I’m not really sure what Adam brought to the table here. He was decent at challenges, good at finding idols (if not necessarily playing them), and only by inference can we assume he had a good social game. I can’t tell if Adam was a particularly lucky winner or if he was a good player whose path to victory was presented to us in a shoddily-edited way. Survivor’s entire next season is based around this idea of “returning players who changed the game,” so they’re shoving the Big Movez! narrative down our throats even moreso than usual. It’s more than a little annoying when one season basically becomes a commercial for the next (shades of S19 being nonstop Russell to prepare us for S20), and especially when the winner’s story may have been built up into something it wasn’t.
Could He Do It Again: It’s inconclusive. Adam’s win legitimately shocked me, and the fact that he won 10-0 absolutely shocked me. Going into the finale, the show’s editing was heavily forecasting David or Jay as the winner. Adam, if anything, was painted as the Spencer-esque gamebot who was annoying everyone around him with his play. Since I’m not really sure how he won, I can’t forecast if he could do it again.
As I’ve written before, Survivor is ultimately just a popularity contest. The jury will never vote for a person they like or respect less than another finalist. Even if Adam won simply by Not Being Ken Or Hannah, tell us why those two had no shot. If Adam is a stone-cold Brian Heidik type who arranges his victory by getting to the end with a goat (or two), then show that as the explanation, even if “stone-cold gamebot” may not quite track with the “kid playing the game for his sick mother” storyline.
While trying not to sound like an impossible gasbag, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been watching this show for 33 seasons and I know how Survivor tells its stories, from hit-you-over-the-head lampshading to subtle hints. When even someone like me can watch 15 hours of a Survivor season and still can’t give a solid explanation about why the winner won, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m dense, I think that’s a failing of the editing. Survivor needs to quit trying to make itself into the bonanza of blindsides it wants to be and stick to being the show it is.
Also, if some movie studio ever makes the weird decision to shoot a Mike Mizanin biopic, Adam needs to be the lead. The resemblance is uncanny!