It’s time for the bi-annual double dose of Survivor. With one episode concluding with a unanimous vote and the other being the tale of two factions with a singular swing vote, it could have been a rote journey through Day 30. But David vs. Goliath is not settling for the ordinary, and over tonight’s double feature, there was a wealth of emotion, humour and strategy told with a narrative finesse. So why waste more time on the preamble – let’s dive straight in.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
In the wake of the Davids’ incredible coup and efficient advantage execution, the tribal numbers had evened up once more, but it wasn’t an even playing field. For the first time in the game, the Davids had the momentum, and the Goliaths found themselves humbled, scattered and scrambling – not aided by Kara and Alec’s attempt to save face at the last Tribal, where they threw Angelina under the bus as a contingency plan. With any semblance of ‘Goliath Strong’ in the rear-view mirror, it was now a question of which Goliaths could get in with the Davids first.
Angelina cashed in quickly to join the Davids’ ranks, while curiously, the unit of Alec, Alison and Kara found themselves in the uphill battle. After stringing the Davids along from the start of the merge, their votes for Angelina were too little too late. Until this point, their promises of working with the Davids had value as much-needed salvation from the numbers deficit, whereas with the numbers even and the Goliaths fractured, the Davids – quite simply – didn’t need them.
The Davids held the power, and Carl, confident after his effective use of the Nullifier, took the reins. From Carl’s perspective, it was as simple as choosing which Goliath was expendable. After another of Alec’s flawless performances at the Reward challenge, Carl landed on the bartender as not only an unnecessary number but a dangerous physical threat. Just as the Goliaths had spoken relatively freely about targeting Elizabeth and Christian, it was the Davids’ turn to throw a name out and have it stick – but unlike the Davids, the Goliaths had no way of countering with a well-placed advantage. Kara, rightfully, was shocked that Carl so casually looped her into his plan to eliminate Alec, but with the Davids firmly in the power position, there was little she could do to retaliate.
Thus, the episode became a tribute to the battle against the inevitable as Alec desperately tried to turn away the avalanche. He pulled out all of the stops – turning up the charm with Christian and Gabby as if they were the “hottest girls in the bar,” speaking to Christian privately and pitching himself as a useful meat shield, and battling it out for 5-and-a-half hours in one of the more gruelling challenges in Survivor’s rotation. Challenges are a double-edged sword on Survivor, sometimes making for thrilling television but regularly becoming a necessary but bland sequence. But this challenge had it all: the always welcome eat-or-compete opportunity, Gabby’s emotional breakdown as she pushed herself to her limit, Alec’s do-or-die drive to hold out during Christian’s time-lapsed lectures to his captiv(ated) audience, the pair’s bargaining, and Christian’s unlikely victory against a despondent Alec – not to mention the wealth of small gags and moments.
But for Alec, this was his death knell. The momentum was moving against him, and short of a miracle, there was nothing that could turn the tide. His allies Alison and Kara – and to a degree, Mike – were willing to work with him, but now they were the minority in desperate need of numbers. But at this point, Christian and Gabby had no reason to flip, even as their frustrations with Carl’s dismissive behaviour of Gabby fuelled an emotional reason to turn coat. For them to hand the numbers back to the Goliaths after needing three advantages and excellent subterfuge just to even the score would have been callously risky, particularly after Alec, Alison, Kara and Mike had shown a willingness to stick it out with a Goliath majority.
Thus, it was an inevitable march through the formalities for Alec. In a confessional, he tearfully lamented getting this far only to go out as the safe, easy unanimous vote – ironically, after he had passed up a few opportunities to make the big play in favour of a safe, simple majority. Alec played a strong game, far exceeding my expectations of him pre-season. It’s unfortunate to lose such an ambitious player at this point in the game – but gratefully, there are many more of that ilk still on Kalokalo beach.
Thus, for the first time in the game, the Davids had an unequivocal majority, 5-4 on old tribal lines, and just like the vote before, the Davids had the opportunity to simply pile their votes onto one of the Goliaths and emerge victoriously. But power corrupts, and just as the Goliaths had grown over-confident and divisive in their comfortable majority, so too did the Davids splinter. Having positioned himself in the doomed Hammock of Power, Carl’s game began to fall apart. We’d seen seeds of his loose and flawed approach earlier in the season – his dismissive treatment of Lyrsa and Elizabeth in the pre-merge, his loose lips at the merge when he leaked details of the Vuku Tribal and threw Elizabeth under the bus – yet tonight took it to another level.
After finally winning a reward challenge, Carl – and his main man Davie – got sloshed on booze during their speedboat ride. Let this be a warning to future players: alcohol and strategizing is a terrible combination – even if it makes for a fantastic TV sequence almost too ludicrous to be true. Between the shots of his drunken stagger, Carl once again revealed too much, impulsively telling Kara about their intention to vote out one of her allies. This time it was Alison in danger, and the remaining Goliaths found themselves with a warning flag – but they still needed something to go differently – and once again, Carl provided the ammunition.
The collision course between Carl and Gabby was the through-line of tonight’s episode. Carl’s insensitivity when Gabby – quite reasonably – reacted with surprise and frustration upon learning that he had informed Kara about the Alec vote without including her, pushed her away. Gabby felt displaced from her alliance – and she was vindicated as it became explicitly clear that Carl had slotted Angelina into the Davids’ alliance above her when he planned to exclude her from the vote against Alison, instead instructing her to waste her vote on Angelina. For all of his concern that Gabby was too close to Alison, Carl never seemed to suspect that someone like Christian could reveal his schemes, giving Gabby a blank cheque to make a move against him.
Thus, where Gabby’s frustration with Carl could be suppressed as an emotional disagreement at the Alec vote, the revelation of Carl’s betrayal validated her concerns and prompted her to trust her gut and make her move against him. Christian, too, found himself in the swing position alongside her. Also frustrated with Carl’s newfound godfather role as he called his subjects to his drunken hammock to “kiss the ring,” Christian saw the opportunity to upset the David hierarchy that was quickly pushing him down the pecking order. Gabby had little to lose by flipping to work with Alison, Kara and Mike – but Christian was still a trusted member of the alliance of Carl, Davie and Nick. Nevertheless, Carl’s unpredictability was a liability, and if Christian’s closest ally in Gabby was being forced out of the alliance, where did that leave him? Although making a move against Carl disrupts the status quo and exposes them, Gabby and Christian made the right move in removing a player with whom their interests did not align – and in doing so, preserved bonds with players who needed and wanted to work with them in Alison, Kara and Mike.
This trio of Goliaths is an interesting one. Throughout the season, each had expressed interest in working with the Davids to make the move that would advance their game, but in just about every case, they got cold feet. Now, they had nowhere to hide. Kara reflected on this turn of fortune with humility, and Alison recognised that she couldn’t save every patient, both realising that they needed to move forward with independence and self-preservation. Meanwhile, self-preservation has been Mike’s modus operandi as he’s fallen easily into the majority’s decision at nearly every step. Tonight, though, it seemed as though he was finally forced to pick a side between sucking up to the Davids and taking out a physical threat in Alison, or joining the insurgency to execute the hit on godfather Carl. It would seem that it was a no-brainer to work with the side that wasn’t trying to eliminate a long-term ally and fellow Goliath, but nevertheless, the episode managed to build the tension of Mike’s decision, particularly as it mulled over how good of an actor this Ned Schneebly could be.
Ultimately, the horse ended up in the bed, and the blindside was successful in sending Carl out. It’s a great move for Alison, Kara and Mike who were able to regain some traction for their dwindling Goliath numbers. It’s obviously a big loss for Davie and Nick – and particularly Angelina – who have lost not only their numerical security but also the figurehead of the alliance that was attracting all the negative attention. For Christian and Gabby, the road ahead is unclear. Their move could damage their relationship with Davie & Nick – or, as necessity finally yielded fruit for Gabby and Alison’s bond, it could draw them back together now that the source of conflict has been removed. But there’s also the risk of evening up the numbers again – and even if they were to stick with this new five alongside Alison, Kara and Mike, these two Davids would find themselves on the outs of a potential all-Goliath Final 3. The future is mysterious, and this only increases my adoration and excitement for what continues to be a compelling season.
NIGHT WALKS & NEGOTIATIONS
There were a couple other significant events in this two-hour extravaganza that are worth touching on. Again, the Davids got the jump on finding the rehidden Idol as Davie and Nick woke early to search the areas of the island where an Idol had yet to be found. The clever deduction led Nick to a clue to his Idol – which would require him to pull a Jeremy Collins or Chris Noble and sneak out of camp in the middle of the night to find his quarry. Nick is a great player – likable but still non-threatening, even in spite of his calculated and aggressive gameplay. Having an Idol fall into the hands of an intelligent player is exciting – particularly now that Mason and Dixon, both armed with an Idol, have found themselves on the opposite side of the vote.
Meanwhile, the actual survival element again came to the fore as Angelina recognised that the tribe’s rice supply was dangerously low. Utilising her background in negotiations, Angelina co-ordinated her tribe in putting together a pitch to Probst, trading in the bulk of their reward winnings in exchange for more rice. Jeff seemed impressed by Angelina’s pitch – if not her lowball offer – but his counter-offer requiring just one player to sit out of the Immunity challenge seemed a little too easy itself. Just one round before, three players had sat out of a challenge for nachos, and Angelina’s decision to put her hand up and sacrifice a shot at Immunity for reward was certainly on the no-brainer side of the calculated risk. Nevertheless, Angelina managed to get what she wanted – fresh rice rations for the tribe – and something she could unequivocally claim as her own ‘move,’ so I would call that a win. While I still feel like Angelina has a tough road to becoming the Sole Survivor, I am impressed by her intentionality in finding opportunities to play to her strengths.
Just eight castaways remain, with only a few weeks to go, and still, the field is open. Tonight’s episode title promised that tribal lines would blur, and they certainly seem scattered moving forward. It’s been a while since I’ve felt like a season was still an even fight at this point in the game, but these castaways are here to play – and there’ll be plenty more blood on the floor before all is said and done.