On ‘Survivor,’ Millennials and Gen X Get the Showdown They Deserve

Reality television really was the only way to settle this generational clash. Too bad they get most of the details wrong.

Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen. X.

Photographer: Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images

There's an ironic mustache, a police sergeant, and a man who apparently never wears pants. Welcome to the 33rd season of Survivor, millennials versus Generation X. 

Twenty cast members spend 39 days stranded in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji trying "to outwit, outplay and outlast one another." In the end, one survivor takes home $1 million. Designed to be a culture war between youth and experience, both sides spend the season premiere making some ridiculous—and inaccurate—claims about one another. We're here to fact-check. 

Student debt myths 

To kick off the show, youth pastor Sunday Burquest, a member of Generation X, claims millennials are comfortable taking seven years to graduate from college and that their parents typically pay for their education. Burquest is mistaken on both accounts.

Considering one in six American adults has an outstanding federal student loan, parents aren't exclusively ponying up for their child's education. Collectively, Americans make roughly $160 billion in student debt payments annually. 

Due to the rising cost of education and their ever-mounting piles of debt, millennials aren't eager to take on a super senior (or super, super senior) year. The average annual cost of attendance for a four year undergraduate program is $24,706, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. A decade or more ago, when Gen X was still graduating, that cost was $19,578, about 21 percent less.

Flying milk 

At least Burquest's claim was a fairly common, if incorrect, stereotype about millennials. An assertion made by Paul Wachter, the oldest cast member, was just plain weird. Back in his day, he claimed, people "actually had to walk to the store and get milk—it didn’t come in a drone." Dairy products aren't delivered by the milk man anymore, but they certainly don't arrive by drone. Yet. 

In fact, millennials aren't overwhelming fans of online grocery shopping. A survey of American shoppers from savings website Retale found just 30 percent of millennials bought groceries online. The study found that it was older millennials, ages 26 to 34, who were more likely to buy groceries this way than younger millennials, ages 18 to 25. 

Millennial infighting

That's not to say millennials on Survivor have any idea what they're talking about, either. Zeke Smith, the proud owner of the aforementioned mustache, is a standard-issue Brooklyn hipster who claims "Twitter is the worst thing ever invented," while adding that he nevertheless uses the social media platform.

"I've never called myself a millennial," the 28-year-old asset manager proclaimed. "I'm on a tribe with children. They can't do anything.” He added that his counterparts look like they have never held down "a real job." 

But millennials surpassed Gen X as the largest generation in the American workforce in 2015, according to a report from the Pew Research Center. Though unemployment and underemployment continue to be an issue for the younger generation, it's not really their fault. Many millennials entered the workforce during a recession—an economic disaster created by their elders. 

Here comes Generation Z

For generational purists, there's a Survivor cast member whose mere presence is begging to be fact checked: 18-year-old Will Wahl, a current high school student. By Pew's definition, Wahl is right on the line between Generation Z and millennials. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which defines millennials as those born between 1980 and 2000, allows for the teen to be included. But Gallup does not: their cut off is at 1996, the year before the youngest contestant was born. 

The probable victor on Survivor: Millennials vs. Generation X? Probably no one, least of all the viewer. 

Watch Next: Millennials, Don't Worry. You'll Be Able to Retire. 

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