True to its title, the Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X season played up the tricky cultural and social dynamics of not only age but generational differences. Bret LaBelle found himself getting the short end of this stick as one of the older players of the game. But it didn’t exactly start off that way in his first strong alliance, which saw several older players banding together. However, one of his core alliance members, Sunday Burquest, passed away in April and LaBelle has shared a heartfelt message about his former ally and friend.
Bret LaBelle and Sunday Burquest remained close throughout Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, until Burquest’s vote-off two days before his own on Day 37, and even beyond the show. Sadly, Burquest died of cancer at the age of 50 in April. In his questionnaire for Entertainment Weekly, LaBelle said Burquest “really was special.” He continued,
I'm heartbroken that I can no longer pick up the phone and call Sunday anymore. Or just send a text to check in with her. I think we all are. She was something special to each of us: mother, sister, aunt, therapist, life coach, family member, and friend. Losing Sunday was like losing a part of our season and our story. We all love you Sunday... you are missed every day.
Players like Bret LaBelle and Sunday Burquest certainly helped epitomize their Survivor season. They banded together from Day 1 because of their shared viewpoints on the world and quickly became comfortable because of it. They had to learn the hard way together, when their ally Jessica Lewis flip-flopped, that safety and power is not guaranteed but earned every day on Survivor.
The heartfelt message by Bret LaBelle about Sunday Burquest’s passing is yet another reminder that Survivor often acts as a microcosm for life, and nothing is guaranteed forever so we must appreciate those we have while they’re still here. LaBelle shared that Burquest’s death prompted him and his other former Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X players “to reach out to each other and check in and mourn the loss of our friend.”
The Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X season wasn’t only defined by age, though. As what often happens, other social and cultural differences become a huge point of either contention or celebration, both in the game and for those watching. For Bret LaBelle, he was ultimately celebrated for his bravery to come out as gay to fellow contestant Zeke Smith on national television.
Bret LaBelle’s coming out moment on Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X did shock many fans at the time. His masculine bravado, particularly seen in the beginning with David Wright, made some people presume his sexuality. About that moment, LaBelle reflected,
I definitely loved that they waited to spring on everyone that I was gay till the end of the season. It gave everyone time to judge me and make their own conclusions on who I was long before they knew my entire story. It's a great old lesson that we should ALL learn again today: Don't judge a book by its cover.
Many people like to criticize the ins and outs of reality television. But in the case of Survivor, it seems to constantly make strides in furthering hard conversations that come about from different people meeting each other. We can only assume it will continue this tradition in its first post-COVID season airing this fall on CBS.