As merges have begun occurring at larger numbers, and particularly since merging at 13, we’ve seen a trend towards eliminating an easy consensus vote as the merge boot. Players like Michelle Schubert of Millennials vs. Gen-X and Hali Ford of Game Changers were inoffensive players in the minority – simple, straightforward targets that would be unlikely to have an Idol. Players like Kass McQuillen of Cambodia and Chris Noble of Ghost Island were more divisive personalities, but they were still an easy name to rally the troops against. Each was eliminated either by a landslide vote or a decisive majority splitting their votes, but the approach has been much the same.
Although the castaways of David vs. Goliath identified that the merge signals the starting point of the true game, where selfish interests and individual strategy are essential, it’s not yet time for the “big move.” It’s hard to argue against the strategy – particularly with the sheer number of factorials at play; it’s smart to play the ‘anyone but me’ card if you’re in the position to use it. So as history was made tonight with our first ever unanimous merge boot, it feels like this trend is cementing itself further into modern Survivor strategy.
At Tribal Council, Probst raised the question of whether the merge boot sets the tone for the second half of the game, but I think that’s becoming less and less of the case. Elizabeth, despite her best efforts to blow up Angelina’s spot, went home in a 12-1 vote, but the preceding 41 minutes of the episode made it clear that there are indeed fractures and factions, working together and against each other with conflicts of interest galore. If tonight’s immunity challenge rang the clanging dinner bell to signal the first Tribal of the merge, the straightforward Elizabeth vote was the amuse bouche – a teaser before the real feast begins.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED FOR THE MERGE IS RIGHT HERE
Tonight’s merge episode had a lot on its agenda, but the myriad of reunions, new alliances, and growing tensions was told with aplomb. Every player, except for Davie, was highlighted throughout the episode – and not only that but in the first merge feast act! As has been the case all season, one of David vs. Goliath’s strong suits is the balance of the edit that ensures that every player has a story – which meant that the arrival on Kalokalo Beach was a cross-over event worthy of an Infinity War meme.
The reunion of pre-swap pairs like Mason-Dixon and the Goliath showmance was both satisfying and enticing. Christian and Nick re-connected like long-lost brothers, and Nick shared the “actual, actionable intelligence” of Dan’s potential Idol with Christian, reassuring both of them in their alliance. Dan and Kara also connected over Idols as Dan couldn’t keep the secret of his second Idol to himself. But the news seemed to heighten Kara’s interest in working with him as two Idols seemed like a “golden ticket” on top of the established Goliath majority, which seemed poised to hold strong based on the confirmation of Angelina and John, who both expressed a willingness to ride the Goliath momentum as long as possible and fight it out as “gentlemen and ladies”.
Information was the currency of the merge feast on a wider stage, too. While Nick – and to a lesser extent, Dan – were able to use information to strengthen existing private bonds, Carl was a font of news for the Goliaths he had just met. Whether it was the brewskis speaking or an intentional effort to forge new relationships beyond the Davids, Carl told Angelina, Alison and John about Alec’s betrayal of the Goliaths at the Natalia vote and later threw Elizabeth under the bus to Dan, pinning her as the “easy vote.” On the one hand, his words led to the isolation of both Alec and Elizabeth which seems like a success, but it didn’t look like Carl gained any solid trust through his deployment of this information, which seems like a missed opportunity for someone in desperate need of allies.
New allies weren’t in short supply as a new coalition was coming together to oppose the David/Goliath status quo – a “counter-Goliath insurgency” as Christian eloquently termed it. Alec, Alison and Mike have been shown to be Goliath outsiders at various points through the pre-merge – Alec made the bold move against Natalia, Alison voiced her dis-identification as a Goliath in the premiere and followed it up last week by identifying with Gabby, and Mike has floated on the outside of the majority Goliath alliance, targeted for Idol hunting and without a tight ally on the inside. Despite this, we’d never seen them come together – until tonight when they established the core of a new alliance and pulled in three Davids: Nick, Mike’s fellow Rock Star, Christian, a new unlikely ally for Alec, and Gabby, who had forged trust with Alison.
This dream team of gutsy players is such a fascinating mix – a blend of players that I wouldn’t have predicted to come together, but that makes so much sense in the context of the story until now. The most promising part of this alliance is their willingness to play big – but to bide their time in doing so. Christian pointed to Alec’s boldness to walk the walk on making his attack, but both Alec individually and his new alliance, were willing to wait a couple votes before striking when they would have the majority at 11, sacrificing a couple of Davids along the way to lull the Goliaths into a false sense of security. Patience is challenging on Survivor, but we’re not even in the endgame yet – the big, bold moves can wait for the opportune moment.
The unfortunate side of the alliance’s decision to wait was that it left Elizabeth out in the cold. Her Vuku connection with Alec could have been her way in as the 7th member of the alliance if the big move was to be made tonight, but instead, she found herself trying to keep the Davids together, and that ship had sailed. But more on that later…
With the Davids and Goliaths both fracturing internally, it left those committed to their Day 1 numbers in a precarious position. While Elizabeth tried to work with Carl (who was actively targeting her), Gabby, Christian & Nick (who had their own options), Angelina found herself trying to corral the Goliaths who were on their own divergent paths. With the vote circling Elizabeth thanks to Carl’s move against her, it was set to be a straightforward decision. But just as she had flipped the vote from Natalie to Jeremy, Angelina attempted to lead the pack again by turning the vote onto Christian, the David who was a “Goliath in his own right” and the biggest threat amongst the opposition.
On paper, it’s a pretty clever call. With the modern Survivor trend pushing towards easy votes at the merge, there’s the extra opportunity to pull a bait-and-switch and blindside a dangerous opponent. Everything posited about Christian was correct – he’s likable and game-savvy and he has a social game to support him (that incidentally helped save him tonight). The trouble for Angelina was that the trend towards consensus votes at the merge is happening for a reason – just like no one wants to be the first one out of the game, no one wants to be the merge boot, and with such a large tribe, keeping it simple is the safest option for everyone. The other trouble was that there were allegiances at play that Angelina didn’t know about, as independently, Dan & John and Alec, Alison & Mike had ties to Christian and weren’t ready to see him go. On top of that, Dan was in his own panicked spiral after hearing Elizabeth was throwing his name around and wasn’t willing to change the plan. So the majority retconned Angelina’s call, bluntly informing her a short while later.
This only seemed to exacerbate Angelina’s biggest flaw, which is her need to have a say in what goes down. Again, on paper, a lot of what she is trying to do sounds good. Using intentional language, such as military tactical phraseology, can be uniting in the same way that Nick’s goofy nicknames or even Christian’s labelling of his new alliance as a parachuting “strike force” can mobilise a sense of drive, purpose and loyalty. The trouble is that Angelina’s allies aren’t wanting her to lead the charge, and her attempts to govern the decision are interpreted as self-interested. It’s unfortunate – Angelina has a lot of great tools to use in playing a great game, but due to the perception of her personality and her limited knowledge of the cross-Tribal alliances, she finds herself walking into trap after trap.
JUST BAD STRATEGY
And so we arrive at the crux of the episode and Angelina’s decision to tell Elizabeth that she’s the target. Moments before, Angelina had touted the tactic of not letting the enemy know where you’ll hit – and this is why. While I completely empathise with her desire to share a human moment with Elizabeth, particularly when she’s already feeling unmoored by the Goliaths leaving her out in the cold (without a jacket), no good ever comes of warning your opponent of an incoming attack. At best, it demoralises them or comes across as pity or condescension – why are you telling me if I can’t do anything about it? At worst, it gives them the opportunity to launch a counter-offensive.
Elizabeth was rightfully frustrated by the news, which seemed to arrive in the final moments before Tribal. Yet Elizabeth is not one to sit on her hands – she flipped the vote onto Jessica to save her ally Lyrsa, she was willing to vote out Davie if she needed to, and tonight she was going to do anything to save her skin. Confiding in Gabby, she decided to blow up Angelina’s spot at Tribal in a Hail Mary to fracture the Goliath majority. It wasn’t the best play – votes rarely change at Tribal – but it doesn’t seem like there was much opportunity for Elizabeth to action a plan at camp, and during her warning, Angelina didn’t give her any indication that she would be willing to work with her to save her. Her points were accurate too – there were clearly fractures in the Goliaths – but the trouble was that the Goliaths already knew that, and they knew they had the upper hand. Elizabeth’s reveal wasn’t so much new information, merely confirmation that Angelina wasn’t to be trusted. Nevertheless, her play was definitely explosive, and its impact will be felt in the weeks to come.
With Elizabeth’s accusation, Tribal Council descended into madness. There was so much going on that people getting out of their seats to whisper was just part of the background scenery. Angelina naturally attempted to defend herself, but when her first response was to criticise Elizabeth’s last-ditch desperate play as “just bad strategy,” it came off as a cold criticism in contrast to her assertion that her actions had been out of compassion. It was no wonder that Goliaths like Dan and Alison interpreted the revelation as yet another situation where Angelina was trying to have a final say – in this case, trying to pocket a Jury vote.
Meanwhile, Gabby’s tearful contribution to the debate was an interesting addition. Gabby has consistently felt marginalised through the first twenty days of the game, and her statement at Tribal – that Angelina taking umbrage at the Davids attempting to play instead of lining up to wait their turn to be picked off – was a release of pent-up frustration. That said, I’m curious as to how intentional Gabby’s involvement was. She joined the vote for Elizabeth, but she was right beside her, egging her on and supporting her argument. The blow-up against Angelina certainly cracked the Goliaths – so was she using Elizabeth’s predestined exit to try to open up the game for herself? I don’t know if I buy it to that extent, but it’s a curious note to a direct vote.
So Elizabeth becomes the Mayor of Ponderosa, the first member of the Jury. I have to say that I’m disappointed to see Elizabeth go out here. She was a savvier player than she was given credit for – the Jessica blindside was perfectly played, and she had strong instincts, such as sensing Kara would go right back to the Goliaths and that her partnership with Dan could be particularly troubling. That said, she missed cues too – tonight, she was repeatedly shown strategizing with Carl in order to keep the Davids together when their incompatibility had been brewing for some time. Nonetheless, she was a great character, and the good news is that we should have an excellent library of Jury Reaction gifs by the end of this all.
DOUBLE DATE ME!
I’ve praised this season’s edit before, and I’ll do it again tonight. David vs. Goliath has been outstanding in this department, and there were so many delightful moments this episode that I wanted to take a quick moment to point some of them out. This season has excelled in dropping in the silly jokes and moments like Alec and Gabby’s “date me” banter, Christian bumping the log in his confessional and Dan’s pep-talk to himself at the challenge (“Keep telling yourself how awesome you are – you are the man!” is beautiful). Dramatic moments also had some fantastic tricks, such as the unconventional tense string music as Angelina waited to speak to Elizabeth, and her quick “I got this” stinger before the ad-break, foreshadowing the cyclone headed her way.
But my favourite of all goes to the challenge editing. Once again, US Survivor has pulled from the cream of the crop of Australian Survivor challenges, and I was so excited to see this pendulum challenge again. The challenge is a perfect blend of endurance, motion and sound and the editing montage interweaving the clanging of the pendulum onto the metal frame into the soundtrack was inspired. Keep up the great work, editors!
THE PARTY WE RSVP’D FOR
So despite the unanimous vote, there is nothing unanimous about the Kalokalo tribe, and in the wake of Elizabeth’s departure, there is so much to still look forward to. With old alliances breaking and new bonds forming, anything could happen – and I legitimately have no idea where this story is heading. But if everything up until this point has been the pre-party, the one we RSVP’d for is going to be somethin’ else.