Over the next few weeks, Inside Survivor is counting down all forty Survivor seasons from worst to first. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season No: 37
Broadcast Date: September 26th – December 19th, 2018
Location: Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
No. of Castaways: 20
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Of all the new school seasons, David vs. Goliath sets itself apart as an example of excellence. It’s not just one of the best seasons of recent memory; it’s also rightfully placed as one of the greatest of all time. David vs. Goliath is a season that shows that even in this meta-advantage-heavy-era, Survivor is still capable of delivering classics. It’s a season that proves what has been said all along: the format of Survivor is so good that if you get the formula right (a compelling cast of characters, balanced editing, and dynamic gameplay), you can’t go wrong. David vs. Goliath has all of those things and more!
Like Millennials vs. Gen-X, David vs. Goliath is one of those themes that sounds cheesy on paper, but it actually works well in practice. The castaways finding out their tribe designations during the marooning is a fun way to start the season and introduce us to some of the fantastic characters, like robotics nerd Christian Hubicki, “Mayor of Slamtown” John Hennigan, and purple-haired Airline Agent, Lyrsa Torres. Sadly, the premiere ends on a somber note, with Pat Cusack’s medical evacuation preventing the Davids from going to their first Tribal Council. Seeing a man that was so eager to play be taken out in such a devastating way is utterly heartbreaking. Luckily, Pat’s evacuation is just one sore spot in an otherwise incredible season.
Things pick up quickly after the first episode, with two compelling tribes that each provide their own brand of hijinks and disagreements. The Goliath tribe is marked by the Dan Rengering and Kara Kay “showmance” and the beef between Natalie Cole and Jeremy Crawford. Meanwhile, the Davids break into factions, with Nick Wilson and Christian cementing an alliance, Elizabeth Olson and Lyrsa pairing up, and Gabby Pascuzzi wondering where she stands in it all. The tribe expansion is placed perfectly and complicates dynamics further. The David and Goliath tribal divisions are existent but not indelible. This makes for a strong pre-jury phase, with blindsides abound and plenty of prominent personalities to keep viewers on their toes, plus an attempted jacket-heist.
A great pre-jury phase means that the season has a lot of hype to live up to once the merge hits. With a tribe total of seven Goliaths and six Davids, this could easily be a set up for an uneventful Pagonging, and if some of the Goliaths had their wish, that would have been exactly what happened. This seems even more of a likelihood after Elizabeth becomes the first merge boot. Much like the biblical story of David and Goliath, the Davids have a lot to overcome. However, while the Goliaths focus on keeping the numbers, the Davids are racking up idols and advantages to finally even out the score.
The Goliaths aren’t completely advantage-less because Dan has two idols, an impressive achievement, but the Davids have a few more tricks up their sleeves. Davie Rickenbacker has an idol, and Christian later finds one too. Carl Boudreaux finds the first-ever Idol Nullifier, and Nick is able to steal a vote. Both sides have some fail-safes, so the question becomes: What to play, and when? The Davids play better in this regard, resulting in the epic blindsides of John and Dan. The scene where the seemingly down-and-out Davids come together and each reveal their advantages is a highlight of the season. Also, to further prove how amazing David vs. Goliath is, the Dan and John vote-outs are just two of the blindsides this season, and it’s debatable that they are even the best ones.
Sometimes too many advantages can be disastrous, interfering with the game to the point of being a nuisance. Not so with this season because the advantages are timed in such a way that they add to the excitement rather than detract from it. No amount of twists, idols, or advantages can save a boring or unlikeable cast, as we’ve seen in some of the lower-ranked seasons. David vs. Goliath does not have that problem because these castaways are everything. The personalties beam off the screen, from the strong-willed Angelina Keeley and her brilliant deal-making to Davie’s child-like enthusiasm to Gabby’s heart-on-her-sleeve attitude to Christian’s mid-challenge filibuster to beer-swilling Carl. No one person is consistently in power. Tribe dynamics shift all the time, and players are not afraid to take out threats, even threats that are their own friends and allies.
David vs. Goliath is a top tier season and by far the best of recent memory. It has everything a Survivor fan could want… an excellent cast, well-used advantages, and memorable moments at every turn. By the time the finale hits, it really feels like any of them could win because they all deserve it. Nick’s victory even provides the storybook ‘David beating the Goliaths’ ending, with Nick’s journey from initial tribe outcast to the eventual winner in itself being an intriguing story. No season since has been able to top it, and it isn’t even close. David vs. Goliath is the golden nugget within the mostly lackluster 30s seasons. Hopefully, new seasons can learn from this excellent season, and we’ll get more like it in the near future.
Pat’s medical evacuation — As I said before, Pat’s medevac is one of the few low points in an otherwise amazing season. It’s heartbreaking to watch and shows how dedicated he was to staying and getting his shot to play the game. Let’s hope he gets a second chance somewhere down the line.
“Can I Have Your Jacket?” — In an episode for the ages, the Jabeni tribe loses the Immunity challenge, and the vote comes down to either Lyrsa or Natalie. Angelina wants Lyrsa to go home, but she also wants something else… Lyrsa’s jacket. However, Natalie is the one voted out, but in Angelina’s quest not to be cold, she then starts asking Natalie for her jacket, to no response. It’s a hilarious moment that highlights Angelina and Natalie, two of the season’s best personalities.
Brochacho Blindside — This is probably one of the best-edited episodes in recent Survivor history. The game has reached a point where blindsides are expected, and the only question is who will be the victim. Normally, as viewers, we know all of the likely targets, even if the players remain unaware. Not this time, as both the audience and the Goliaths are thrown for a curveball. Only a brief confessional from John himself about a “Brochacho Blindside” and a quick mention from Nick about John and Dan being tight is an indication of his fate. Not to mention, Davie’s brilliant idol play to save Christian saves us from a predictable David boot.
Bing! — Dan loses the Immunity challenge, and his ally Kara is ready to break away from him to better her own chances. But Dan has an idol, the Goliaths aren’t budging in voting him out, and the Davids are still down in numbers. Then, on the beach, the Davids start sharing the advantages that they have left. Christian has an idol, Nick can steal a vote, and Carl has his idol nullifier. So, what do they play, and when? When Tribal comes around, Nick steals Allison Raybould’s vote, prompting Dan to use his own idol. Jeff Probst reveals the idol nullifier, which Carl successfully played on Dan, making him the third juror. Carl sounds off the night with a “Bing!”, revealing his parchment and letting everyone know that he played the advantage.
Uncomfortably Numb — You don’t tend to see these epically long endurance challenges much these days, especially compared to the iconic challenges of early Survivor. It comes as a nice surprise then when Christian and Alec end up in a 5-and-a-half-hour showdown, with Christian adding his own touch by talking Jeff’s ear off for most of the challenge.
Gabby & Christian — The dynamic between Gabby and Christian is one of the best of the season. They develop a friendship early on on the Davids beach (“Do you want to play with me?” “In the sand?”) and both comfort one another through the swap and beyond. Yet, they are also competition for each other because they’re smart, intuitive players. As much as it pains her, Gabby knows she has to take out Christian, and she begins plotting his blindside at the Final 8. The only issue, Christian catches wind of it, plays his idol, and Gabby ends up going home instead.
Ladder to an Idol — I feel like I’m really doing readers a disservice by limiting this post to just highlighting two Angelina moments, but we’d be here all day if I tried to cover it all. After the Final 6 Reward challenge, Angelina asks her two closest allies, Mike White and Nick, to help her find the idol, which she needs a ladder to get to. Shenanigans ensue as the trio attempts to retrieve an idol, complete with Mike sipping wine and making snarky comments as he watches them… well, they did their best.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 4. You can check out the previous entries here.