CBS Entertainment
Dalton Ross
December 08, 2016 AT 06:06 PM EST

What a weird season of Survivor this has been. Not weird in terms of there being a big trunk of cash and a gong at Tribal Council (which does still freak me out when I go back and watch season 1), but weird nonetheless. Think about it: Millennials vs. Gen X has had a ridiculous amount of lying, backstabbing, and blindsiding. So, what naturally comes with lying, backstabbing, and blindsiding? A lot of pissed-off people who were just lied to, backstabbed, and blindsided. The two are inexorably linked. We’ve seen it a million times: We go to Tribal Council, then the people who were on the wrong side of the vote get angry when they get back to camp. The night vision freak-out where everyone looks like they’re in some low-budget found-footage horror movie is a Survivor staple, for crying out loud!

But not this season. People have been flipping this season more than Greg Louganis, but instead of others getting all riled up about it, everyone just moves on. For maybe the first time ever, we have a cast that’s able to distinguish pretty clearly between the strategic and the personal. Sure, Zeke gave Hannah the business a bit after her early flip on Mari. Yes, Michaela went into Tribal Council stare-down mode once Jay blindsided her. And indeed, there was the time Bret and Zeke unnecessarily went after David’s anxiety a few Tribals back. But all these incidents were isolated as opposed to festering.

What we’ve seen is a season where the players respect each other even as they’re trying to bury one another. Look at the two interactions between Adam and Jay in this week’s episode. After Adam betrayed Jay by voting out Will instead of David, the two rivals had a nighttime chat. Instead of a screaming match, we got an apology (Adam: “I’m sorry that I lied to you again”) and a compliment (Jay: “I respect you fully”).

Then, later, Adam told Jay that although they had now become best buddies because of the loved ones’ visit, he was still going to force him to use his hidden immunity idol. “Am I that big of a threat to you that you have to strip me of everything?” asked Jay in a disappointed, rather than angry, tone. “Yeah, that’s the only way that I beat you.” replied Adam, matter-of-factly. On most other Survivor seasons, this would have led to yelling, finger-wagging, and confessional name-calling. Here, it was followed up by the two grown men crying together on the hammock as Adam told Jay about his mother’s stage 4 lung cancer, and Jay opening up about his own mom’s brain aneurysm. And it ended with Jay — instead of being pissed off — telling us, “He’s not a weasel in my book anymore. He’s a warrior.”

This is next-level stuff, ladies and gentlemen. Instead of the ugliness of World’s Apart or Kaôh Rōng, we are getting fierce gameplay that rarely crosses any personal lines. For the most part, folks are doing battle and then genuinely respecting those who best them. It’s pretty refreshing to see. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love a good Survivor freak-out as much as the next guy. It’s good to see some emotion. It’s not as if I want this game to played by robots and never want to see anyone get angry ever again. (Although if this game were to be played by robots, I am totally calling Delores, Maeve, and Teddy as the final 3. Lock that prediction in now!) But it is a welcome change of pace. And with all the anger in the world lately, it’s nice to not have to watch it go down on my television set for at least one hour a week.

Ah, but the question is: How will that factor in when it comes to my reveal of the latest season-by-season Survivor rankings? That’s right, it’s the penultimate episode, which means it’s time to see where Millennials vs. Gen X falls. Stay tuned for that. But first, let’s recap the other big things that went down this episode.

Will’s Journey From Hero to Zero

I guess it’s sort of a given that almost every Survivor challenge will involve two of the following three things: balls, poles, and discs. Now, I don’t know if that’s done specifically to make me giggle like an idiot whenever Jeff Probst says those words, but I have to imagine it is. This first challenge involves the second two of the magic trifecta as players race out to a group of discs (snicker…snicker) and then stack as many as they can on their pole (hehe!), which must then be transported over a balance beam and through a wire maze. Then everyone must put their discs into a target, which sounds more scandalous than it really is.

Apparently, young Will is having trouble controlling his disc — sorry, couldn’t help it — as he falls out of the competition early, but Jay does a great job of handling his, climaxing by reaching his target in record speed! (Okay, I suppose I could have helped that one.)

That means Jay wins his third of the last four challenges and the immunity that goes with it. And Will, feeling a burst of pride and power over helping to get Zeke out, all of a sudden wants to control the shots. He says they should get rid of David. And you know what, he’s right! They should! (This, by the way, will be a running theme throughout the night.) He tells Adam. He tells Hannah. He tells Bret. He’s like a teenager showing off his brand-new driver’s license! Hey, check me out, everyone! I’m playing Survivor! Or is Survivor playing him?

NEXT: Will gets (high) schooled

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