Anyone who learned basic psychology in high school will have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The theory proposes that one must satisfy certain needs – such as the physiological needs of food and shelter – before one can pursue greater needs – love, belonging, social esteem, and ultimately, self-actualization. It’s commonly stated that one of the most compelling aspects of Survivor is that it undercuts its players at the base level like pulling out the lowest pieces of a Jenga tower as it deprives them of their physical needs for fundamental survival, while pushing them into a social game that is ultimately dependent on the higher social needs.
With the greater focus on the strategic game in modern Survivor, this deprival – the survival aspect – has played a lesser role in each season’s stories. It’ll still rear its head in the extreme circumstances of inclement weather or a medical evacuation, but it largely falls to the background. Yet with the ongoing storms that have plagued David vs. Goliath – to the point of requiring a total evacuation of the cast for almost 2 days – the castaway’s base needs have been at the forefront as they’ve fought through truly tornadic circumstances.
Tonight, it reached a pinnacle – although Natalie had been on a dangerous trajectory due to her abrasive social game, the story of her exit ultimately came down to the titular matters – jackets and eggs; shelter and food. It feels like the Survivor of a bygone era, where seemingly petty conflicts are inflamed by the desperation of starvation and exposure to the elements, and it feels strangely fresh to be seeing both camp life and survival play such a key role in the narrative.
Nevertheless, Natalie’s demise cannot be pinned down to a mere squabble over produce storage and apparel acquisition. This is an outcome that’s been telegraphed since the very first episode when her stone-cold reception with the Goliath tribe cast her as the problematic outsider, and yet with the merge peeking through the clouds on the horizon, I was beginning to suspect that Natalie might make a deep run as a perceived non-threat. Thus, for her to go out now, leaning into her confrontational perception, coldly denying Angelina her jacket after the Goliaths threw away yet another numbers advantage… There’s a lot we’re going to need to unpack.
Just like Vuku last week, the Jabeni tribe had a straightforward story ahead of them: 3 Goliaths easily held the majority against 2 Davids, and the only strategic complication would need to be which of the two opponents to boot. But there was one major wrinkle, as once again the Goliaths found themselves disjointed as one alienated another. Enough has been written about Natalie’s apparent lack of social graces, and it only worsened tonight as she stayed true to her promise to remain Goliath Strong, but in doing so, completely belittled and ostracised the Davids.
Disputing food science with Lyrsa, who has studied at culinary school, in the debate over how to handle the eggs won at the Reward Challenge was needless. But by the time Natalie was bluntly threatening Nick to steal or otherwise filch Lyrsa’s jacket on Angelina’s behalf, and exasperating Jeff at Tribal with her continued interjections and clarifications, I was floored. Surely this escalation was intentional? Surely Natalie was leaning into this caricature in an attempt to play the goat? Surely!?
Whatever the intention behind her behaviour, it was clearly ineffectual. Not only did she drive away any possibility of gaining allies with Lyrsa and Nick, who felt bullied by her impersonal disregard for them, but she also grated on her own supposed allies. Nick and Lyrsa correctly used that to their advantage, approaching the other Goliaths and appealing to the frustration shared by Angelina and Mike. Although Angelina was able to put aside her differences in the pursuit of retaining a numbers advantage, Mike was ready to strike, dispelling an aggravation and earning some new allies in the process.
Mike seemed to be a peripheral player on the early days of the Goliath tribe, with his only clear ally, Jeremy, taken out on Day 9. He had nothing to lose moving forward, and the swap provided him with an excellent opportunity to pave a new path. Living by the motto on his tee-shirt, Mike sought to “just get along” with the Davids. He bonded with them over a shared disdain of Natalie’s behaviour, and with the added bonus of his newly named alliance with Nick, he found an opportunity that wasn’t about helping out the Goliaths – where he felt like he was on the bottom – but about advancing his own position in the game. After flipping at this vote, he’s earned the trust of Nick, and if Lyrsa’s expression of relief is anything to go by, I would anticipate that this will bring them closer together as well.
However, was this the right move at the right time? Although not a perfect one-to-one comparison, Alec’s move last week to ditch the Goliaths and hand numbers to the Davids seemed questionable at best. Is Mike’s move tonight, which betrays the Goliaths – including an explicit betrayal of Angelina – and evens up the Davids and Goliaths at seven apiece, really any better? I think that it may be. With the Goliaths, Mike can fall back on the argument that Natalie was too big of a thorn in the side socially, and the Goliaths will understand after their 9 days with her. He also has his bases covered with Angelina – he approached her about making the move on Natalie, but she decided to go the other way*. With the Davids, Mike’s alliance with Nick, in particular, seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement for two players who have been relative free agents since day dot. It could still backfire, but I don’t expect Mike will cop the same kind of flack that Alec will.
*Editor’s Note: A secret scene released after the episode revealed that Angelina was in on the plan to vote Natalie and only voted with her in an attempt to gain her jacket. This recap was written before that secret scene was uploaded.
While Mike’s stock tentatively rose with his flip, Angelina was left out in the cold – literally, without a coat. I do think that Angelina’s instincts to preserve the Goliath numbers were right for her as someone very much in the inner circle of that tribe dynamic. Furthermore, it was apparent that despite her frustrations with Natalie, she was still able to foster a working relationship. Nevertheless, her misread of the room in sensing the intensity of Mike’s desire to flip against Natalie, compounded by her callous pursuit of Lyrsa’s jacket, have driven a wedge between her and the rest of the Jabeni tribe, leaving her as the easy boot heading into a future Tribal.
For all of the blame Natalie took for the jacket situation, the collateral still hit Angelina, particularly as she went out of her way to defend Natalie at Tribal Council, claiming jacket-gate was coming from a bright place of love – a stark contrast to the Davids’ characterisation of it as mean and impersonal. The only upside for Angelina on Jabeni is the irony of the final moments of the episode – when Natalie gave the silent treatment to her pleas for her jacket. It might have been humiliating in the moment, but hitting that public low might give Angelina room to make reparations with the Davids by framing her decision to support Natalie as a mistake.
LOVE & BELONGING
Meanwhile, over on Tiva, it was all about the bro-down of the brochachos. The strangely perfect combination of Christian, the “ka-genius” and surprise challenge closer, John, the charismatic wrestler with a surprise introspective soul, and Dan, the love-goggled hot cop with a stack of superhero comics and a growing Idol collection, is a wonderful coalescence. There’s an unlikely similarity between the three, all comfortable with turning up the charm and all carrying their own vulnerabilities, and it’s a dynamic that I hope we’ll get to explore more. The only trouble is that the brochachos leaves Gabby on the outside, and her tight connection with Christian could certainly cause dissension if the tribe faces Tribal Council – a very real possibility, as Gabby noted after their over-confidence cost them the Reward Challenge.
The ominous clouds are only getting darker over Gabby as her opponents gain more power. Vocal in his view of Gabby as the easy out, Dan’s location of a second Hidden Immunity Idol is bad news for the technical writer – but great news for the cop, who cleverly used his knowledge of his first Idol find to keep his eyes open for a similar hiding spot on his new beach. Having two Idols at once is a massive boon and gives a player a lot of flexibility to play a little more fast and loose – and with the Idol Nullifier in play this season, an extra Idol could be a life-saver.
Dan is clearly amped up about his growing power in the game, yet power can be blinding. After all, the first player to ever go home with an Idol in their pocket was James Clement in China, who was carrying two of them! Although he’s got an arsenal, Dan needs to deploy it well – and he needs to anticipate the shots coming his way, and given his obliviousness with his showmantic tendencies, he could be caught in an ambush. As Jeff emphasised, it’s not who has the advantage; it’s what is the advantage?
Finally, the fallout on Vuku after Alec’s big move played out much as expected. Isolated by her errant vote and down in the numbers thanks to Carl joining the tribe, Kara knew she had to scramble if she was to find any safety. Her decision to throw Alec under the bus was a good instinct, but it seems too little too late. She chose her side at the last vote, and the Davids have no reason to trust her more than Alec, who already demonstrated his allegiance to them.
This was particularly evident in Elizabeth’s stellar insight, as she observed that Kara’s promise of allegiance came from desperation and that her heart still lay with the Goliaths. By comparison, Alec’s flip had burned the Goliaths and he would need her moving forward. Even though Alec told Kara that he viewed the Davids as merely extra votes in his pocket (or, “not strategically real players”), it seems clear that it’s the other way around. Elizabeth – and by extension, Davie and Carl – have Alec at their disposal, and they now have more power than ever.
Despite the barrage of rain, David vs. Goliath is on fire. Every episode thus far has been riveting, and with a huge character like Natalie now out of the running, the doors are opening for more minor characters like Alison and Lyrsa to take the stage in the coming weeks while goldmines like Christian continue to deliver the goods. The strategy is exciting and aggressive, and best of all, we’re understanding the social bonds that are driving these decisions through storytelling that feels real, raw and rounded.
The season has been unconventional in many ways, but it’s in the best way possible. This is peak Survivor.