Survivor finale

The ultimate generational battle between Millennials and Gen-Xers has finally come to an end, and there is a clear winner: Us. Yes, the audience came out on top this time, bearing witness to a great, unpredictable season of Survivor that just kept picking up steam and never stopped getting better. That held true all the way through tonight’s two-hour finale, as well as one of the better, tighter reunion shows in recent memory. It was a fitting end to one hell of a season.

Of course, tonight they crowned the Sole Survivor of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X, the 32nd person ever to hold that title.  Thank you for being here and sticking through this truly great season…and you’ve come this far, so we might as well journey through one last recap before you catch your breath and ready yourself for Season 34 next March (and it looks promising…more on this later). Let’s do this!


Well I am rarely correct with my predictions, and have never, ever predicted a winner from the season’s beginning. And even though this season threw me for more than a few loops along the way, and even defied my expectations from episode to episode by going against traditional “norms” of editing, I called Adam as early as the Premiere Episode as being one to watch since he seemed to be getting the “winner’s edit” right out of the gate.

Adam is a worthy winner, an imperfect winner for sure, but a worthy one. His game was all over the place, but he navigated it beautifully and was able to surround himself with bigger fish throughout. He incorrectly played more than one Idol, but to even come in possession of so many was a testament to his game. It’s always great to see a super-fan living out his ultimate Survivor dream, but there has never been such an incredible emotional backstory that I can ever remember. It’s not uncommon for players to go out and play for their families, or their loved ones, but what an incredible story, to have not only come out to play Survivor after Adam’s mom received a devastating diagnosis, but to win the game.

As we learned at the Live Reunion Show that followed, the story becomes even more heart-breaking, to learn that Adam raced home after the show, only to have his mom pass away just one hour after he got there. Putting this in perspective, he even reminded us tonight that this is his real life…yes, it is a touching story for all of us to hear and go “aaaaawwww,” but this is the reality that he is living in every day. Imagine yourself in Adam’s shoes for one moment, and you’ll begin to see just how incredible his Survivor experience really is.

Before I go any further, I want to throw out the website where you can help donate to lung cancer research: As Probst explained, a company (I forget which one) offered up to $100,000 in matching donations. Adam also announced that he would be donating $100,000 of his million dollar winnings to the cause as well.

Survivor winner Adam

Pivoting awkwardly back to the game, let’s talk about how Adam got to his million dollar prize! When the Finale began, Jay was more than a little bit upset that he played his Idol at the last Tribal Council, but that would not be the last Idol he would get to play. Well, technically, it was the last REAL Idol that he got to play, because he ended up playing a fake Idol in what was just an epic first Tribal Council of the night. But after having spent his REAL Idol, Jay’s days were numbered simply based on how big a threat he was to win this thing. Here was a likable guy that had dominated physical challenges down the stretch and who had played a great social game. As he should have been, Jay was everyone’s number one target should he lose Immunity…which is easier said than done. But when Jay got out to a huge early lead during the first Immunity Challenge, he failed to cover up his puzzle combination, which allowed all of the others to steal it and quickly catch up to him. It didn’t help his game that David was the one that ended up winning, as he was the other major threat left in the game.

But David had meticulously crafted a fake Idol, stealing beads and other items over the course of the entire game, and even went so far as to hide it in a painted coconut, along with the official instructions parchment that David had found with his Idol. Brilliant, if it worked! And boy did it work. Not only did Jay play this fake Idol at Tribal, but he got all cocky about it. Probst just loves moments like this, and when he proclaimed, “This is NOT a hidden Immunity Idol,” it was truly tragic to see Jay’s reaction, as it slowly sank in that he had been duped in a major way. On par with most everyone else this season, Jay gracefully, hilariously, left the game.

Survivor finale

Prior to this Tribal, Jay had done everything in his power to shift things his way, and it nearly worked. He started by stealing David‘s Reward Challenge with the advantage that was gifted to him by Adam…he then chose David and Adam to eat the steak dinner with him. This was a great move to get the major players at the same table, and Jay’s magic worked on David, who seemed more than willing to keep Jay around and target Bret instead. It was Jay’s yin-yang and soul-brother Adam who was immovable. Adam simply needed Jay to go. I’m not quite sure we’ve ever seen such a complex love-hate relationship on Survivor than the weirdness that exists between Jay and Adam.

Also at this first Tribal, the mysterious “Legacy Advantage” was used by Ken. It was revealed that the advantage was that Ken would get Immunity at that first Tribal Council, and it did negate the sole vote cast for Ken (by Jay). Ultimately though, this was a twist that didn’t work out all that well, and for all of the build-up and mystery surrounding it, it sort of landed with a thud. Oh well. For every good game twist that’s introduced, there are always a few Medallions of Power…but kudos to the show for always trying to come up with new and unique twists to introduce into the game. It’s to be expected that not every single one of them will be a winner.

So with Jay out of the game, the attention turned towards getting rid of David, but as Bret said, it’d be simply if only we weren’t dealing with crazy people. After having been Immune with the Legacy Advantage and with his physical competition out of the game with Jay, Ken ended up winning Immunity which meant that David was going home. Except he didn’t. Adam was gunning for David, and David for Adam, but miraculously, Adam found a hidden Idol…on Day 37. I, for one, felt this is a bit too late in the game to introduce new Idols into play, but Adam found it and played it, although it ended up not having much impact. Instead of voting out David, Hannah flipped on Adam much to his chagrin, and decided to send Bret out of the game instead.


A word on Bret: He was another great character this season, who shared what Probst called “the moment of the season” when he revealed that he was gay to Zeke during a Reward Challenge. He simply was on the wrong side of things through much of the game, but he played tough and hard down to the end. Although it didn’t appear so at first glance, Bret actually had a lot of people rooting for him on jury, so had he been allowed to get to the end, he just might have had a case to win. But it was not to be. Bret’s exit left only four in the game: Hannah, Adam, David, and Ken.

How do you top off a great 39 days on the island? How about with one heck of a nail-biter Final Immunity Challenge. A game of concentration and patience ended in a tie between Hannah and Ken, and then literally at the buzzer, Ken was victorious. It was a thrilling finish. Heart-pounding. And all for naught if you’re Ken. Even though he was Immune for the final three Tribal Councils, he found himself in the awful position of either choosing to take David with him to Final Three, where he would lose for sure, or to vote David out and take his chances with Adam. Poor Ken decided to backstab his closest ally, David, whom he had aligned with back on Day Three. For a guy who talked constantly about loyalty and honesty and integrity, this move against David seemed awfully hypocritical.

Hannah, Adam, and Ken then faced the jury, and it was a breath of fresh air to see a mostly un-bitter jury…which I had called the rarest of Survivor rarities. The greatest development of all was that Hannah came into Final Tribal ready to win. Man did I like her at Final Tribal! She came in guns-a-blazing, and knowing that this jury would respect game-play, she forcefully tried to convince them that she had strategically mapped out all of her big moves, and that Adam was mainly along for the ride. At one point, I even had sort of felt a wave of momentum swing her way, and thought my goodness, Hannah could actually win! I had theorized that she could had she sat next to Bret and Ken and argued the same exact way, but we’ll never know how that might have went. But it was a great, great Final Tribal performance for Hannah.

Ken, poor Ken, realized early on that he had no chance, and even though we the viewers knew this, it was still sad to watch. Ken, as was pointed out, is a great guy and played an amazing old-school game that centered on integrity and loyalty. Had he played 10 years ago, he might have been a great winner. But there is no room for such nobility in today’s Survivor game, for better or worse. Still, it was tough to watch the jury pile on Ken, or dismiss him altogether.

Survivor finale Hannah

When the Final Tribal ended, I thought that Hannah had made a good case for herself, but I still felt like Adam held the edge. I didn’t see a unanimous winning vote coming Adam’s way, but that’s exactly what happened. Yes, Adam Klein, the 25-year old Homeless Shelter Manager from San Francisco, a Millennial, is your Sole Survivor and winner of Season 33. He is also the youngest winner ever, and the fifth to ever win by unanimous vote.

Episode Take-Away: While watching this Finale, I just was in awe over how good this season was and how the Finale lived up to what had preceded it. Just a remarkable finish. From the fake idol, to the aggressive game-play, the twists and drama just never stopped coming. And while I felt myself rooting for David tonight, Adam being the winner definitely does this season justice and doesn’t feel like a deflation, like last season did after Michele Fitzgerald won. It was maybe the most likable cast ever assembled, and I just hope that this so-called “evolution” of the game stays true…because I love watching a group of players who are not afraid to play the game, make big moves and when they get beat, have the respect for the game to still cast an objective vote for winner.

Ken getting no winning votes was expected, but I really thought Hannah may have nabbed one or two. Hannah’s pitch at Final Tribal ultimately came across as too little too late, as perception is everything on Survivor, and the perception was that she was a “flipper” and was often unsure about her own game-play.

I usually love returning player seasons (and I know some hate them), but on the heels of this all-new, amazing cast, I’m almost disappointed that next season, Season 34, will feature all returning players, because I feel like I’ll know what to expect from them. And that, I don’t like. But let me remind you of Cambodia and Heroes vs. Villains…often times the returning player seasons are among the best ever, so I’m more excited now than ever for next season to roll around.

Survivor reunion

Live Reunion Show: Of course, the major take-away from the Live Reunion Show was the preview of Season 34, which is officially called “Survivor: Game Changers.” It will feature all-returning players, eight of which were officially revealed tonight:

  • Newly-inducted Survivor Hall of Famer, Tony Vlachos, winner of Survivor: Cagayan
  • Tai Trang, Survivor: Kaoh Rong
  • Caleb “Beast Mode Cowboy” Reynolds, who was medically-evacuated from Survivor: Kaoh Rong
  • Fan-favorite Ozzy Lusth, who will now be playing for a fourth time
  • Cirie Fields, now playing for her third time
  • The only two-time winner in Survivor history, Sandra Diaz-Twine
  • Ciera Eastin, who appeared on the “Second Chance” season and who is now apparently getting a third chance
  • Millennial vs. Gen-X’s own Michaela Bradshaw

In addition to hearing more about Adam‘s mother and her tragic battle with lung cancer, the Live Reunion Show focused primarily on the transformations that many of the players had out there on the island this season. David, Zeke, Bret and Hannah all shared how the show has changed them, for the better. Probst briefly checked in with Michaela, Will, Sunday, Jessica and Chris, but sadly Paul, CeCe, Lucy, Rachel and Mari were not heard from at all. Oh, and you might be interested to know that the famed showmance known as #FigTails is no more…with the minor issue of Taylor having had a pregnant girlfriend back home apparently being the sticking point. Whoops, I hate when that happens.

For more intel on Season 34, check out the legendary Dalton Ross’s column here.

What’s Next: I have an exclusive interview with the winner of Season 33, Adam Klein, and will have the full transcript from our conversation up later this afternoon. Then by Friday, look for my updated season-end lists: “All-Time Survivor Winners” and “Most Memorable Seasons.” Those will put a cap on my coverage of Survivor for this season.

With that, I truly have enjoyed covering Survivor here on Reality Tea this season! Thanks for the interaction and for reading, and whether this is the first season of Survivor you’ve seen, if you’re a long-time fan, or if you’re just getting back into it after having taken a few seasons off, I appreciate all of your support! Season 34 will Premiere on March 8, 2017, again airing on Wednesday nights at 8pm EST. I hope to be back and wish you all a safe and happy holiday and New Year! Remember we’re not done here…look for my interview and season-end lists in the coming days!


Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets