In the wake of one of the most unexpected and enthralling premieres in recent memory, the sophomore episode of David vs. Goliath had a lot to live up to. With the normal hour timeslot and the necessity for a Tribal Council as per usual, would the follow-up be able to juggle the balanced edit with well-rounded characters and could the cast also deliver on the compelling strategy teased but unfulfilled in the first episode? I was cautious, but it was another stellar episode that expanded on the characters we established in the premiere – and often in unusual ways – and balanced strategy with camp life (both fraught and frivolous) before culminating in a blindside that cut the David tribe in two.
“IN THE MOMENT, YOU’RE FALLING”
In just three days, the trajectory of the David tribe took a sudden turn from a force unified by Pat’s evacuation to a tribe divided by a shattering vote. It doesn’t sound that shocking on paper. The anticipated majority planned to vote on the basis of challenge strength, while their intended target Lyrsa worked with her closest ally Elizabeth to sway some of the swing votes on the periphery of the tribe to turn the votes around on Jessica, one of the instigators of the move and the social glue of their opposing alliance. The strategy at the core of the votes might have been rudimentary common sense for the parties involved, but it formed the scaffold for a brilliant examination of the social dynamics at play on the David tribe.
First of all, there’s the crowd that ended up in the minority tonight. Last week, we saw the seeds of this cohort come together, as Jessica teamed up with Carl with a pseudo-father-daughter connection and with Bi, whose relationship was strengthened by their personal stories shared in the dark of a stormy night, and we also saw Carl and Davie discuss strategy more than once. With six days to build on those original bonds, their alliance seemed to be strengthening at the core of the tribe. The freedom with which they discussed their plans with players like Elizabeth, Gabby and Nick (who just last vote, had been their target!) suggested that these players were confident in their position nestled at the centre of the tribe, and how firmly wedged they were as a social nexus filling the void left behind by their morale-boosting ally in Pat. From that vantage point in the middle, they were able to approach the vote as something simple – trimming the excess off the edge by eliminating the “weaker” player – and it was ultimately their passive confidence that undid them.
Trusting the entire tribe to be on the same page is a big ask. Unanimous votes aren’t uncommon in large tribes – particularly early in the game while “as-long-as-it-ain’t-me” is the prevailing strategy – but as Christian articulated at Tribal, everyone is playing their individual games – and those games just happen to coalesce along the way. This was immediately evident in Elizabeth’s response to hearing Lyrsa’s name pitched. The two women had formed an unlikely connection in the premiere, and Elizabeth wasn’t about to lose her other half. She warned Lyrsa that Carl, in particular, was throwing her name under the bus, and together, the two began to conspire for an alternative. While Lyrsa was incensed that she was being targeted as “weak” after she had helped the tribe win the first challenge, Elizabeth was a woman of action, boldly suggesting that they turn the vote back on Carl – or better yet, onto Jessica. Both women quickly recognised that as the link between Bi and Carl, Jessica was the centre of the centre alliance. If she was cut out, it would destabilise the opposition while still preserving the ostensible physical strength required to go up against the Goliaths. The choice was insightful and clever – and it only needed a few more to jump on board.
The first to join their cause was Gabby. After a strong showing in the premiere, Gabby got caught in her own cyclone of paranoid despair. With the vote being based on strength – far from her strong suit – she began to grow anxious that her name wasn’t too far from the block. When her fears were fanned by a dismissive and vague conversation with Bi & Jessica, it only sent her into a bigger tailspin. When Elizabeth approached her about the new plan, her first instinct was to assume that she was telling her that she was going home. Later, she spiralled in a conversation with her closest ally Christian, seeking reassurance of his loyalty as they played in the sand. Nevertheless, Gabby saw the opportunity to put her trust in the plan that would put her in a better position, and resoundingly joined the vote against Jessica.
I’m always glad to see the “weaker” players overthrow the notion of voting to keep the tribe “strong ”, and Gabby’s decision to join Elizabeth & Lyrsa was a solid move of self-preservation built on trust forged through social bonds with Christian, and with Elizabeth & Lyrsa. It’s also worth noting that when a challenge can come down to an hour-long puzzle requiring brains and dexterity, the concept of tribe “strength” isn’t just a question of muscles or fitness, so there’s nothing to say that taking out Jessica would leave the tribe any weaker than eliminating Lyrsa.
But the key players in tonight’s episode were a new duo who wasted no time in dubbing themselves the Mason-Dixon Line. Rattled by his narrow escape from becoming the first boot, Nick sought to build connections and alliances and saw a comfortable rapport with Christian. Although compared to the city-boy-country-boy dream team of Stephen & JT, there still seemed to be an almost instinctual connection between Christian & Nick. Both Survivor fans, they were a natural pair, and they found themselves in the power position of the vote. Although they saw the value in toeing the party line by keeping the tribe “strong,” they also felt the exhilaration in the risk of making a big move at the first Tribal Council.
Regardless of their choice, the first vote dispels the ambiguity around a tribe’s dynamics and draws lines in the sand, so why not draw the line that would best favour them. For Nick, siding with the players who weren’t instigating his ouster seems like the obvious choice. But for Christian, too, working with the apparent outcasts like Lyrsa and supporting his first ally in Gabby, help to solidify him in a stronger position in the tribe – and targeting Jessica, he is able to weaken his competition. It’s almost as if Jessica was Christian’s counterpart – where Jess was the glue for Carl and Bi, Christian is the middle-man for Nick and Gabby.
A divide may have been drawn tonight, but it’s clear that the David tribe is playing hard. So even though the vote left Bi, Carl and Davie on the outs, I wouldn’t count them out just yet. Particularly Davie, who put his newly-found provider skills to get use, providing himself with a Hidden Immunity Idol. His discovery of the Idol had a purity about it as he inhaled the scent of the “authentic Idol leather,” but he strikes me as a player willing to leave his mark on the game. Now in a potential minority, I can’t imagine he’ll waste any time before hustling to get himself in a better position, whether it’s through his advantage or his social game.
Either way, the Davids are a compelling bunch. Christian’s eloquent analogies, Lyrsa’s animated passion, and Gabby’s trepidations highlight them as the big characters, but even the more even-keeled players like Elizabeth and Carl are striking as intentional players with enough personality to make them pop. I have a feeling I’ll be saying this a lot this season, but the casting for Survivor 37 is top-notch… and I’m only now getting to the Goliaths…
“A LACK OF SELF-AWARENESS”
Meanwhile, the Goliath tribe continued to dominate the challenges, crushing a complicated twist on the balancing puzzle of recent seasons, but the dynamics back on the beach were a little less cohesive. In fact, it all seemed to come down to the notion of self-awareness, as Dan and Natalie both drew attention to themselves for very different reasons, and in doing so, amplified the tension in the group.
For Dan, it was a series of rookie mistakes that pushed him into a precarious position. Blinded by his budding showmance with Kara, he was becoming too obvious in his interactions with her – and the tribe was noticing. Even Kara was growing exasperated at his conduct, feeling stifled by his lack of subtlety, but it was heartening to see Kara recognise her situation. As Jeremy observed, “Dan’s in a showmance, Kara’s in a strategy.” Kara knew she had Dan as a number – and with an Idol to boot – but she had to be cautious and shore up her allegiances elsewhere, turning to Natalia and Angelina to prove her loyalty. It seemed to be an effective play, as Angelina cleverly proposed an alliance between the three of them that could also exploit their individual ties to Dan, Alec and John to give them a majority in the tribe.
But that was only the beginning for Dan, who followed up an obvious showmance with an obvious Idol. Neglecting Kara’s suggestion to hide the Idol he found, Dan left it bundled up in a sock in his jacket pocket. In the end, his cavalier attitude to keeping his secret safe caught up with him as Jeremy and Mike looked through his pocket and discovered the Idol. A huge advantage of the Idol is the element of surprise, and with their discovery, Dan was robbed of that benefit. As Mike stated, “information is the advantage,” and their knowledge of Dan’s Idol gives them the ability to use that intel for their own gain – and likely, Dan’s detriment.
The saving grace for Dan in the immediate, at least, was that another Goliath was painting an even bigger target on their back. While the tribe as a whole was looking for some light-hearted reprieve, particularly in the aftermath of the cyclone, Natalie had other plans. Her direct and self-assured attitude is surely a boon back home, but on the island, it only served to cement her as an outcast who was difficult to work with – and an easy first one out. That’s not to say she was without friends – John saw her as an unlikely ally in the long run, and Jeremy felt a kinship with her based on their ethnicity. But Natalie seemed to waste those opportunities to find a way out of the firing line.
When John warned her of the target on her back, he urged her not to say anything – but she immediately confronted Alec, Dan and Angelina, fixating on the idea that because she was the older woman, she was no threat to anybody. All the while threatening to drop the “Natalie napalm” if she needed to (notably, a contrast to Lyrsa, who after discovering Carl was targeting her, knew to avoid a confrontation if she wanted to preserve her social game). And when Jeremy attempted to have a heart-to-heart, pulling her aside to try to help her course-correct her social game, Natalie seemed unwilling to hear him out – driving him to frustration and a resolve to target her at the next opportunity. Admittedly, Jeremy’s approach may not have been perfectly tactful, but it’s a worrying sign when a player doesn’t even seem interested in considering another’s perspective.
In both Dan’s and Natalie’s case, their Achilles Heel seemed to be a lack of self-awareness. For Dan, it was naivety in his gameplay and in his social bonds. For Natalie, it was an inflexibility in adapting to the other Goliaths – even when warned of the effect her abrasive behaviour was having on the tribe’s opinion of her. But, as with the David tribe, these strong personalities are giving us fascinating tribal dynamics, and I can’t wait to see if they can escape the repercussions of their first 6 days of play – and how the smart, but currently underplayed, gameplay of the likes of Angelina and John will play into it all.
“THERE YOU HAVE IT”
Two weeks in and we’re on a roll. So far David vs. Goliath is giving us a dynamic cast, a compelling social and strategic game, and engaging storytelling and editing. The storm threw the season straight into the thick of it right from the get-go, and I’m hoping that that momentum is going to keep building over the course of the remaining 33 days. If it does, this season has the potential to be something truly biblical.