Hit after hit after hit, David vs. Goliath has not skipped a beat, and as we charge into the final weeks of this spectacular season, the momentum only seems to grow. Over the past few months, I’ve joined the chorus of praise for this season’s balanced editing and storytelling, its well-rounded characters and a cast willing to be transparently themselves while also playing to win. If there was any doubt of the latter point, this week’s episode should put those fears to rest.
In the wake of their flip against Carl, Christian took the heat for the move as it fractured his position in the game while Gabby saw the opportunity to capitalise on the situation to make a necessary move against her ride-or-die. But it wasn’t a vote as simple as a betrayal – on every front, we saw emerging finals deals and smart self-preserving gameplay. In what would become her final active Tribal Council, Gabby declared her growth from needing constant reassurance to taking control of her game: “I’m saying with confidence, ‘this is how I’m going forward’ and if it gets me voted out, at least I did something with gumption.”
Gabby’s words resonated not only for her game but for every one of her fellow Kalakalos – there is no shortage of shrewd, resourceful initiative in this crowd and it’s making this season one of the most competitive and unpredictable seasons in years.
NOT THE SIDEKICK
Throughout the season, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Gabby’s story. Her honest vulnerability is refreshing, and her narrative of insecurity contrasted by determination has been compelling, particularly given her relationship with Christian. The two players gravitated towards each other on Day 1, and it was easy to see why. Intellectually, they were on the same wavelength, and Christian’s natural inclinations to be a calming and assuring presence balanced Gabby’s anxieties allowing them to work in tandem as a formidable team.
So often these strong, natural partnerships are unbreakable – but even though they’re often equals when working together to advance, in-game perceptions tend to rate one half of the alliance over the other. As fans, we tend to find ourselves wondering why the so-called beta didn’t turn on their alpha – didn’t they realise they had no chance to beat their closest ally who would get all the credit for both of their games? Yet this was not to be Gabby’s fate. She made her move against Christian, and even though she got caught in the blowback, I’m confident that she made the right move – it just didn’t work out.
Gabby has been seeking solid ground through the whole game, regularly finding herself on the outs in the pre-merge and exasperated by being the perpetual underdog at the merge. She fought hard to escape that danger, working to build alliances with Davids and Goliaths alike and playing a pivotal part in the strategic planning. But perceptions were not on her side. The moves that she was making were overshadowed by the theatre of Idols and Advantages played by her allies, and even when she initiated the move against Carl, it was Christian who was credited for the flip (for good and bad).
For Gabby to win, she couldn’t sit beside Christian – and her epiphany confirmed this after the family visit. Upon seeing Christian’s assuring, kind love for his girlfriend Emily, she recognised that continuing to play her game under Christian’s wing would result in his game literally overshadowing hers.
Gabby worked quickly and efficiently to mobilise the numbers against him. Christian was trying to swing back to the Davids and eliminate an easy target in Alison. He was confident in his allegiance with Gabby, as seen in his assurance to Nick that Gabby wouldn’t flip on them. He wouldn’t see the move coming against him – which was vital given the Idol in his shoe. So Gabby pulled in Alison, her strongest cross-Tribal alliance and Christian’s target, who was eager to make the move – particularly after staring down the Grim Reaper at the last Tribal – and Kara, who rejoiced at the opportunity to finally remove such a dangerous player. Furthermore, she recognised Nick’s infuriation at Christian’s betrayal and pitched the plan to eager ears.
The only hiccup – and one that no-one saw coming – was that Davie wasn’t ready to let go of the Christian meat shield. Also, she had no reason to expect that her name would be in the conversation – from Gabby’s point of view, even if Christian played his Idol, Alison would be the one to go out. In the end, Gabby was outplayed – but if not for Davie leaking the plan and Christian being able to deduce the necessity of playing his Idol, her move would have been a success. Nevertheless, it came up short – perhaps she should have waited an extra round, but with animosity for Christian at an all-time high and Christian himself targeting Gabby’s next-closest ally in Alison, waiting would have been a dangerous option. In the end, she took a calculated risk, making a move that she could confidently claim the credit for if she made it to the Final Three.
BRIDGES BUILT AND BURNED
However, Gabby wasn’t the only player looking to advance their individual games. In the aftermath of Carl’s elimination, Nick was livid at Christian’s betrayal. Not only had he and the other Davids burned three advantages to save Christian, but also in the interests of gaining a majority over the Goliaths – a gargantuan effort that was compromised by Christian & Gabby’s flip. Thus, Nick was out for blood, cutting ties with the Mason-Dixon and looking for an opportunity to get his revenge.
While there is something to be said of Nick’s frustration at Christian jeopardising the David majority, only to seek to vote him out and actually give the Goliaths the majority back, I don’t view Nick’s reaction as impulsive. Just like Gabby, Nick knows that sitting with Christian at the Final 3 would be a very risky endgame, and so it’s not a question of if – but when. The heightened emotion of the betrayal might have amplified his eagerness for the move, but when Gabby put it on the table, he was in a perfect place to take advantage of it.
In addition, Nick had other options with his newly forged Final 4 deal with Davie and his fellow Jabeni tribemates Angelina and Mike. Solidified over their barge-cue with their loved ones, the new group was an ideal landing spot for Nick, and thus, his decision to bring Angelina and Mike into the plot against Christian confirmed his commitment to this new path. Cleverly, he suggested Angelina and Mike throw a split vote onto Gabby to ensure that even if Christian played his Idol, this new alliance was secure. It’s worth noting from Mike’s perspective that ensuring Gabby is the back-up also served to regain the Goliath numbers. In talking to his boyfriend Josh, Mike admitted that he was playing the middle, and Nick’s split vote plan gives him the option to either stick with the new Final 4 or to reunite with Alison and Kara.
The only dissenter in the group was Davie. As has been emphasised a few times throughout the season, Davie has been quick to remind his fellow castaways that this is a game and that blindsides should not be taken personally. Unlike Nick, Davie didn’t get caught up in the betrayal of Christian and Gabby, and upon learning of Gabby’s plot, he chose to pave his own path. He was already wary of the proposed Final 4 deal, recognising that he could easily be the fourth given the Jabeni bond between the others, and so he sought to keep his options open.
Davie warned Christian of Gabby’s move, but deftly avoided becoming an instigator of a counter-strike. He knew Christian had an Idol and a means to defend himself and knew that if he played it, it would eliminate Gabby who was not a part of Davie’s plans. So even though he wanted to keep Christian around, he still covered up the conversation by proceeding to vote with Gabby & Nick’s plan. A brilliant play – indicative of an excellent game being played by Davie.
So we come to Christian. I was high on the Carl blindside for both Christian and Gabby last week, but it’s evident in the aftermath that Christian’s stock is plummeting. He’s still a dangerous player and a threat to win if he can make it that far, but after not realising how badly his move would burn Nick (who admitted he was surprised he was feeling like such a “sore loser”) and getting out-flanked by the split vote on Gabby (he threw a sole vote at Alison), he is left in a vulnerable spot. Christian managed to play his Idol correctly – to the approval of the Jury – with a great piece of theatre as he made a point of studying Gabby’s reaction before he committed to playing it – but I wonder what relationships he can use to advance at this point.
Everybody else has a potential alliance to get them to the end, whereas Christian is on his own. Yet Christian is an intelligent player and a surprisingly capable challenge performer in the remaining pool of castaways.
IT’S A LONG GAME
Of the seven players remaining, there may be varying levels of threats, as Angelina identified. But each and every player is making calculated moves to advance, manipulating and manoeuvring their way forward. It’s thrilling to watch a group of players all competing with such intention and, well, gumption.
With only two weeks left, I have no clue how this could all play out. There is so much game left to play, and with everyone making moves in their own best interest, anything is possible – and it would not surprise me to see any of seven remaining players emerge victorious.