How “Survivor” Is Reinforcing the Generational Gap

With the new theme of CBS’s “Survivor” announced, you can’t help but wonder if the new tribes will embrace their generational stereotypes.

Culture x

With the new theme of CBS’s “Survivor” announced, you can’t help but wonder if the new tribes will embrace their generational stereotypes.

How “Survivor” Is Reinforcing the Generational Gap

Millenials vs. Generation X

With the new theme of CBS’s “Survivor” announced, you can’t help but wonder if the new tribes will embrace their generational stereotypes.

By Michelle Criqui, James Madison University


Admit it: At one point or another, you’ve wished you could duke it out on a tropical island with your parents, professors and all the rest of those Generation-Xers who proclaim that millennials are lazy and socially inept.

Or at least, that’s how CBS’s “Survivor” pictures it.

When the 33rd season of the reality series premieres on Sept. 21, it’ll be all about the great generational divide. This year’s competition is definitively labeled: “Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X,” and will pit ten members from each group against each other in what the show proclaims as “the greatest social experiment on television.”

“Survivor,” which first premiered in 2000, ships its diverse array of contestants off to a remote location, where they are split into “tribes” and forced to work together to find food, build shelter and endure the elements. The contestants are gradually voted off the (physical or metaphorical) island, until one person stands as the “Sole Survivor” and wins one million dollars. I mean, I guess for some people that might be worth freezing your butt off in a makeshift tree fort after eating a dinner of raw fish, but I’m not so sure.

How “Survivor” Is Reinforcing the Generational Gap
Image vis CBS

This year’s “Survivor” takes place on the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji, where there are fascinating (and even some familiar) faces on both sides of the generational divide. From the Vanua (Millennial) tribe, highlights include Mari Takahashi, a 31-year old professional gamer who is well known for her work with YouTube sensation Smosh, Will Wahl, an 18-year old high school student who is the youngest person to ever compete on “Survivor” and Zeke Smith, a 28-year old asset manager and self-proclaimed “ridiculous human being” with a plethora of colorful Hawaiian shirts and the beginnings of a handlebar moustache. Yeah, so far that guy’s my favorite.

But looking at the castaways from the Takali (Generation X) side, the millennials are in for some hefty competition. Featured members include Bret LaBelle, a 42-year old Boston police sergeant with arms that look big enough to snap a tree in half, David Wright, a 42-year old television writer for “Family Guy” and “Malcolm in the Middle” and acts a bit like a cartoon character himself, and Paul Wachter, a 52-year old marine mechanic and rock singer with long, flowing hair who asserts that he doesn’t “come from an era where everyone gets a trophy.”

This division between two opposing generations comes at a time in which many of the issues concerning America seem to have a line drawn down the middle, with the older and younger voices on either side frequently shown to clash and accuse one another rather than join forces. Millennials are often called “supremely self-interested, entitled narcissists,” while Generation X-ers are more commonly seen as “cynical” and “adrift,” raised in a time when divorce first became prevalent and individualism was praised—before the full-fledged emergence of the internet’s global interconnectivity.

So what does this upcoming season of “Survivor” add to the conversation? According to show host Jeff Probst, the projected appeal of this season comes the viewers, who will likely be “either a millennial with a Gen X parent, … a Gen X-er who might have a millennial or … a Baby Boomer who is a parent to a Gen X-er, and maybe a grandparent to a millennial.” Basically, Probst is reinforcing the idea that there are definite divisions across generational lines, keeping people separated based on the year in which they were born. In reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

How “Survivor” Is Reinforcing the Generational Gap
Image via Youtube

In her blog “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Generation X,” Jennifer James McCollum states that “depending on your birth order, the area of the country where you grew up and other influences, you may identify with one generation more than another. … All of this is subjective.” Take, for instance, my mother, who was born in 1964 and totters right on the borderline of the Baby Boomers and Generation X, at least according to some estimates. So where does she stand? Because she’s the youngest in her family, maybe she followed her older siblings and picked up the more stereotypical “Baby Boomer traits.” But does that, then, definitively separate her from classmates born just a year or two later, including my dad? Or does it even really matter?

By dividing the younger generation from their parents and advertising a heated showdown between rival cohorts, “Survivor” is obviously playing into the (incredibly marketable) idea that millennials and Generation X have an inherent rift between them. The theme of “Survivor” pushes that the generations are fundamentally opposed just because they were raised at different points in time and were affected by differing social and political cultures.

While the show’s previews demonstrate that each team clearly thinks it is superior to the other (which, might I add, is also just a common facet of the show in general), one thing that seems to be missing here is the fact that Generation X raised the millennial generation. One woman from the Gen X tribe, 45-year old Sunday Burquest, even says that “definitely, some of the players are my kids’ age.”

Add that to the fact that, over the years, the younger generation has always been criticized by the older, and vice versa. In September 2014, the Washington Post even published an online quiz asking its readers to guess which quotes applied to millennials and which applied to Generation X, and they’re surprisingly similar. Despite all of this division in the media, the generational gap may not be as wide as you think.

This season’s “Survivor” premiere will certainly address these issues in its own way, taking physical challenges and using them in their most basic form: To determine whether children really can out-do their parents and carry on the legacy themselves. But what I really hope comes out of this season is the revelation that perhaps millennials actually do have much more in common with Gen X-ers than we know — or than we’d like t

Leave a Reply