Over the coming months, Inside Survivor is undertaking its biggest list ranking yet, as we count down the 100 best episodes of Survivor ever. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season: Millennials vs Gen X
Episode: “I Will Destroy You” (Episode 7)
Original Air Date: November 2, 2016
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If there’s one recurring criticism of Millennials vs. Gen X, apart from the cringe-worthy theme, it’s that it lacks the genuine dramatic tension of a million-dollar game. Everyone is eager to get along, the drama is mostly lighthearted, and there isn’t a real contender for the pantheon of true Survivor villains present in any capacity. This relatively new editing style approach, like it or not, has stuck around just like its Fijian locale. But “I Will Destroy You” is a unique mold-breaker for the season.
Most will remember this episode as the infamous Michaela Bradshaw boot, where her so-called Millennial allies Jay Starrett and Will Wahl stab her in the back. “WHAT?!” Michaela dramatically shouts during the vote reveal, cursing her old allies on the way out and punching a nearby branch after nearly forgetting to take her shoes. It’s Tribal Council at its theatrical best, from Michaela’s shock, right down to Jay’s icy stare and cold-hearted confession that he “did it.” And yet, it’s also completely authentic, genuine reactions from some of the season’s stand-out characters.
The Tribal Council is the obvious highlight of the episode, but the lead-up is also compelling. There’s a moment at the Ikabula camp where the entire tribe just sits together in silence, crushed by their challenge loss and not wanting to face the consequences. Rather than just skipping straight to the action, the episode lets this moment linger, building the tension. Still, it’s Tribal itself that steals the show. And had the rock draw not happened a few episodes later, this could have been the peak of the season. Amid a sea of people just happy to be there and taking their exits on the chin, here we have the exact opposite, and the episode is all the better for it.
Michaela was the breakout star of the season and seemed destined for a deep run. To see her so viciously booted just before the merge is one of the most shocking viewer blindsides Survivor has ever crafted. Do I think the season suffers without her presence? Sadly, yes. Michaela’s unabashed, big personality was one of the season’s major draws and having yet another woman of color voted out pre-merge was massively disappointing. But it’s hard to deny that this episode is so good due in large part to Michaela’s downfall. It’s so swift, so tragic, and so brutal in the best way a blindside can be.
There are other great moments in this episode. Your mileage may vary with the gassy aftermath of Vanua’s reward meal, but Takali and Ikabula offer some classic Survivor comedy. Adam Klein‘s awkwardly blunt apology to Taylor Stocker for voting out his island girlfriend, Jessica “Figgy” Figueroa, is amusing and kicks off one of the early merge storylines. And while it retreads Tony Vlachos‘ iconic “I’m not a cop” routine from Cagayan, Hannah Shapiro sussing out Bret LaBelle’s job as he desperately claims to be a funeral director is a welcome bit of LaBelle in a season that needed a larger dose of the guy.
Overall, “I Will Destroy You” is an episode with a bit of something for everyone. It’s got fun and poignant character moments, on-the-edge-of-your-seat strategic drama that has tangible weight in the game, and a massive blindside for the ages, which people will still be quoting lines from years from now.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 54. You can check out the previous entries here.