At the Goliath tribe’s first Tribal Council, Angelina noted that one of the most compelling – and challenging – aspects of Survivor is finding ways to communicate with one another and overcoming the inherent conflicts that arise. This struggle to communicate is only exacerbated by the strong personalities of the castaways who find themselves on the island, and tonight’s episode was all about that clash, as two of the biggest characters of the season locked horns. As other castaways sought to position themselves for a move or two down the line, it was do or die right now for Natalie and Jeremy – and only one could see another day on the island.
“YOU SHOWED ME NO LOVE”
The seeds of the Natalie/Jeremy war were planted in last week’s episode, but I never expected it to actually launch into “turbo overdrive” as it did tonight. In the previous episode, Jeremy’s attempt to aide Natalie seemed like a positive outreach that was thwarted by her stubbornness. Even when he made it personal, commenting on her marriage, it seemed insightful as he discerned that someone married for so long was likely solid in their way of being. However, I couldn’t help but find myself questioning whether Jeremy’s approach had been all that tactful – bluntly accusing Natalie of lacking self-awareness straight to her face as he did last week had an air of patronising arrogance to it. But as the show suggested that the biggest problem was Natalie’s unwillingness to listen and adapt, I put a pin in my read on Jeremy.
Yet tonight, that suspicion was confirmed as Jeremy grew more and more aggressively outspoken, overbearing and condescending as the feud escalated. When Natalie approached him after their Immunity loss, seeking support to save herself, he dismissed her. Then, as she scrambled to try to speak to her other Goliaths, at one point asking to talk privately with Kara, Dan and John, Jeremy sat himself down in the conversation and escalated an argument that blew the encounter way out of proportion. At Tribal Council, it only got worse as he rhapsodised about how terrible Natalie’s gameplay was – and not because of the moves she was making, but because of her personality – summing it up by claiming that if she died, none of them would come to her funeral. It was extreme, it was disrespectful, and it only gave Natalie a valid reason to target him.
So why did Jeremy go so completely off the rails? It seemed that he was fuelled by paranoia about being on the chopping block, but in the chicken-and-egg of it all, it was that paranoia that leapfrogged him over Natalie to become the first Goliath voted out. Seeing his tribemates talking to one another, he assumed they were discussing strategy, and he went into overdrive to try to course correct. First calling a tribe meeting to reprimand the tribe for starting the play the game while they were still on a winning streak, only to follow it up by openly playing the game himself as he began circulating distrust by telling Alec, Alison, Angelina and John about the Idol he’d found in Dan’s jacket. Paranoia is a very real and very dangerous affliction in Survivor, and it looks like Jeremy is the latest victim.
It’s disappointing to see Jeremy’s game end this way. He was a compelling character, particularly through the interactions we saw with Mike White where he was both fun, even in his bossiness, and raw, as he was when he spoke of the complex relationship he had with his father, now struggling with Alzheimer’s. Jeremy was intriguing, a superfan and a force of energy, but ultimately, his overthinking and personal conflicts accelerated his exit from the game.
But what of his opponent? Natalie has been perhaps the biggest character of the Goliath tribe, with her intensity and dry line delivery, but there’s no denying that her first nine days in the game were particularly rough. Her behaviour fostered little support from her tribemates, and she was viewed as a demoralising, divisive presence who offered little to the tribe – the easy first out. But as the reality of the possibility set in, Natalie began to make some positive steps forward tonight. Jeremy’s aggressive attacks against her allowed her to sit back and point to him as equally as difficult to get along with while turning to the tribe with supplication. At Tribal, when Jeremy belittled her for having no self-awareness, she turned the question over to the tribe under the idea of constructive criticism, and received some good feedback as Dan identified that her delivery, not her ideas and thoughts, was her sticking point and Angelina discussed how perception by others is essential, backed up by Alex and Alison essentially warning that second chances to make a good impression don’t come easily. Natalie was able to plead her case as someone willing to work on those attributes and work with the tribe, even heading towards a tribe swap.
But the fire – the Natalie napalm – was still stinging this episode and not just in her stellar voting confessional. While Jeremy came out of his confrontations with Natalie looking worse, Natalie’s willingness to engage him in the heated verbal sparring maintained her persona as a strong force of personality, intimidating and difficult. It might make for good television, but if Natalie hopes to make it past this lucky break, she’ll need to take the advice she’s received on the Goliath beach on board and work hard to be amenable and personal.
“MY SHINING MOMENT”
Jeremy and Natalie might have been the headliner, but neither was the driving force behind the vote. Instead, that choice came down to the majority alliance on the tribe, and most actively, Angelina. Wary of Jeremy’s increasingly erratic behaviour, coupled with his ability to turn on the charm when he needed, she saw him as the more dangerous threat compared to Natalie, a known quantity and an easy vote in future. There was clear resistance from her tribe, particularly Natalia, whose disdain for Natalie has only grown over the nine days on the island and is poised to become one of the great one-sided feuds in Survivor history, and Mike, whose personal fondness for Jeremy gave him pause – although he recognised the value in distancing himself from someone so polarising. But Angelina was able to put her persuasive skills to the test and completely turn the vote around. It was an impressive feat, but was it the right move?
I’d be cautious to say it was at this stage. Angelina’s move might have eliminated the ostensibly bigger threat in Jeremy, but I don’t know if it advances her own game. Keeping Natalie provides little benefit for her, as there does not seem to be any social or strategic bond between them, and firmly going against the popular decision runs the risk of alienating her from her allies who were staunchly resistant. Even though her reasoning had some merit, it wasn’t foolproof. She argued that Natalie posed little danger to the united Goliath tribe, and if she survived to a swap, she wouldn’t be able to be nearly as persuasive as a charming talker like Jeremy, negating her power to flip on them. The issue here is that flipping isn’t about persuasion – it’s about numbers – and Natalie could be a number for a David minority. Regardless, it’s exciting to see an unpredictable outcome, and Angelina has shown herself to be her own force to be reckoned with – though hopefully, she hasn’t also shown her cards.
Whereas Angelina’s move seemed motivated more by macro strategy, John saw the benefit in keeping Natalie on the more personal level. He too noted his growing apprehension with trusting Jeremy, but he also saw Natalie as a valuable asset and a potential ally in the long run. Keeping the vote off of her gave him more options, and that’s great for him. John has been a growing favourite, effortlessly charming to the point where even the other tribe is fascinated by him (the scene of Christian and Gabby’s Slamtonian fan fiction was hilarious). But for John, this charm is working in his favour, both in his cheeky ability to sell the bravado, but also allowing him to charm in those more personal moments, seeking those “old school human skills” of relating to his tribemates on the ordinary scale of human interaction. He’s definitely one to watch.
Meanwhile, in Wimpville, the David tribe found themselves adjusting to the blindside at their first Tribal Council. Bi, Carl and Davie found themselves on the outside after Jessica’s elimination, and it hit them hard. Davie felt left out by his supposed number ones in Christian and Nick, Carl felt lost and alone after losing his daughter figure, and Bi found herself awoken to the need to play a more aggressive game. Each of them sought to find a way back in – going to Christian and Nick to find out what happened. Interestingly, none of them seemed to hold the pair accountable for voting against them, rather seeking to re-solidify them as allies, and instead focused on Gabby as the manipulative flipper who had turned against them, now viewing her vulnerability as a weapon in her arsenal.
Curiously, the Mason-Dixon Line found themselves in the middle of it all, able to choose whether to stick with Elizabeth, Lyrsa and Gabby or flip to join the minority. For Nick, in particular, it was a prime opportunity to shift the blame for the vote onto Gabby and push to align with the outsiders to eliminate her next. He identified the close bond between Christian and Gabby as a threat, particularly to his own alliance with Christian, and she was an easy scapegoat to sell to the minority three looking for a way to get revenge. It’s been quite a trajectory for Nick – from probably first boot to lynchpin and shot-caller of the tribe – but he’s been taking full advantage of his opportunities to put himself in the centre. Christian, too, is reaping the benefits of the situation as Mason-Dixon are able to reassemble their tribe for the best move for them. Like Lego, they’re able to build it up, break it down, and build it fresh – it’s a dangerous game to play, but if they’re careful, it will reap rewards and could give them a wealth of possible allies heading into a swap next week.
Gabby, meanwhile, seems caught in a worrisome position. She did not appear to be aware of the growing target on her back, but at least she took out the win in the challenge, solving the deceptively complex 4-piece puzzle with Christian to win the Davids’ first Immunity. The tribe shake-up comes at the right time for her, allowing Gabby to dodge the bullet of the David minority’s vengeance and find a firmer alliance. On the other side of the challenge, though, Bi’s knees are a cause for concern. Injuries happen regularly on Survivor, but with Bi spraining her MCL, it will disadvantage her in any challenge and could make her an easy target, particularly in a swap tribe where loyalties are less defined.
Season 37 thus far has been a breath of fresh air for Survivor. A diverse and compelling cast has delivered entertaining gameplay and personal drama, and the storytelling has been perfect – well-balanced portrayals of the cast (though I was disappointed to not hear from Elizabeth and Lyrsa after their big move last week!), and a story that has taken ample time to just enjoy itself and the quirks of the adventure, from hermit crab races to musings on the political landscape of Slamtown. David vs. Goliath is 3 for 3 in my book, and with a tribe swap on the horizon, I hope the energy of the season continues to build!