Well, that was a doozy! It’s painfully rare that Survivor is able to pull off the one-two punch of blindsiding the audience while still leaving them satisfied with the outcome. As one example, I was critical of the storytelling around instances like Michaela Bradshaw’s elimination in Game Changers which was a shocking outcome but, even accounting for the bizarre “non-transferrable” circumstances of that particular Tribal, felt unearned, confusing and disorienting. Tonight, however, while the Davids executed their move with panache, David vs. Goliath gave the audience their own perfectly seasoned taste of the #BrochachoBlindside.
The possibility of Davie playing his Idol was foreshadowed through the episode, but the ingenious minority split was barely hinted at aside from a passing comment. So while we’re still unsure exactly how the plan to throw the votes on John came into effect (and I hope we might see a flashback to that pivotal moment in next week’s Previously On…), it was instantly understandable how this blindside came to be.
Ultimately, the Davids outsmarted the Goliaths, but to understand how we got to that point, let’s start with one of the most significant developments of the night: the curious case of Mike White. Last week saw the development of the Strike Force – an unlikely but promising alliance of six in Alec, Alison & Mike and Christian, Gabby & Nick. It seemed like this new coalition could be a driving force in the weeks to come, but instead, it was cast aside as quickly as it had begun.
Spurned by Gabby’s vocal contributions at Tribal, Mike took her frustration as a sign that Gabby wasn’t committed to the Strike Force. If she was on board, then why was she so worked up about the Davids being picked off – wasn’t that part of the plan? As Christian’s reaction demonstrated, it seems like a strange takeaway for Mike to latch onto. Couldn’t Gabby’s emotional arguments help cover any suspicion of the cross-Tribal Strike Force by making it seem like the David vs. Goliath divide was alive and well?
Although I still think this may have been an over-reaction on Mike’s part, and it’s deflating to see the School of Rock writer immediately disband the Strike Force, there is consistency to the MO. Mike has consistently been a player who’s flirted with the bold move, but when push has come to shove, he’s sought safety in numbers. He reluctantly joined the unanimous decision against Jeremy. He cut Lyrsa before the merge in favour of keeping Angelina and by extension, a Goliath majority. Then tonight, once again, he chose to target a David over Angelina and the Goliath numbers. He barely knows Gabby and Christian, and the former just lambasted the Goliaths at Tribal while the latter is a clear and present threat to win, so naturally, he gravitated towards the devils he knew in the “dysfunctional Goliath family.”
To his credit, Mike didn’t just slink back to follow the Goliaths, but came in with a voice of his own, picking up where Angelina had left off by targeting Christian. Essentially, his move also strong-armed Alec (and presumably Alison) into rejoining the Goliaths as well. But I hesitate to say it was the right move. Tonight Mike scoffed at the pizza reward, identifying the getting far in the game is his true priority, but is he really better off with the Goliaths over the Strike Force? While seemingly well-liked and respected, he doesn’t appear to have strong in-roads that could get him to the Final 3, unless the powers that be decided to drag him to the end as a “he doesn’t need the money” goat. The Strike Force gave him more room to move and play, and there is still ample time to still take someone like Christian out of contention, it seems like closing off his options at this point is only going to harm him.
It certainly didn’t sit well with Alec, who was cautious to lock himself in with the Goliaths. At this stage of Survivor, in the middle game, having options is particularly critical, so losing a potential 6-strong alliance with himself at the core is a huge blow for him, but he’s smart enough not to rock the boat. Losing Christian would be unfortunate, but he has other options as demonstrated by his conversation with Nick where he revealed that Christian was on the block. Unlike Angelina’s attempt to tip off Elizabeth (tonight confirmed by her to have been a failed attempt at Jury management), Alec went to the allies who would still be in the game, trying to ensure Mike’s betrayal wouldn’t hurt him by extension. It was risky – particularly after Angelina was shot to pieces for playing the messenger – but it worked. And whether intentional or not, it also gave Nick the ammunition to actually turn the tide.
This episode belonged to the Davids – but particularly to Nick and Davie who, armed to the teeth with advantages – were able to pull off one of the smartest plays in recent history. At the start of the episode, the pair found themselves out in the woods, hunting for an advantage to help the Davids out of their numbers predicament. It’s a smart move by Nick – who much like Alec, is keeping his options open by maintaining the relationships he built with the outsider Davids in Davie and Carl. And it only got better as the pair found a clue to the advantage hidden at the merge – a roll of paper bearing the 80s t-shirt-style logo of the merge feast. Proving Gabby’s suspicions correct, the boys teamed up with Carl and bee-lined for the unmistakable palm tree by the beach. With some devilish deception, Davie distracted the other Goliaths on the beach while Nick and Carl were able to slip by and find the advantage: a Vote Steal.
In the excitement, Nick also learned of Carl’s Idol Nullifier, and the arsenal of advantages brought this trio closer together. The Vote Steal in and of itself is a tricky advantage to use effectively. Needing to play it before a Tribal vote tips off your opponent that something is going down, and it is only useful when the vote comes down to a one-vote swing. Luckily for Nick, the numbers are such that a situation like that is tantalisingly possible. After Alec tipped Nick off that Christian was in danger, the Dixon set to work to figure out a way to save his Mason. He alerted Christian, but the power lay with him – and this new-found advantage. With 7 Goliaths to 5 Davids, Nick proposed using his advantage to steal a Goliath vote and force a tie in the hopes that the divided Goliaths would have no interest in risking rocks for “slimeball” Angelina.
It was a plan that had potential – but it’s unclear whether the stolen vote would have carried over into the re-vote (as occurred in this year’s Australian Survivor) or whether it would be a one-and-done in the vein of Kellyn’s Extra Vote in Ghost Island. Nevertheless, it was far from a sure thing and as Nick recognised, making such a move would immediately raise his threat level – and the whole reason the Strike Force was falling apart was because Christian had been labelled as too much of a threat.
In the end, Nick chose not to play his advantage, which certainly benefits him. Whether or not he had learned of Davie’s Idol beforehand (as the split David vote might suggest), keeping the Vote Steal in his pocket gives him a circumstantial tool down the line – and lo and behold, the numbers are now 6 Goliaths to 5 Davids, and what did we say about a one-vote swing?
Ultimately, though, Nick’s advantage wasn’t the star of Tribal Council – it was Davie. I’ve long championed The Gandalf Rule of Survivor advantages: it’s always better to “Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe.” Davie’s ability to keep his Idol secret gave him the opportunity to skate on by under the radar (ironically, Mike asserted that Davie would be incapable of surmounting an insurrection). He was able to use the Idol wholly for himself and was under no external pressure to play it for Christian – he was able to discern whether using his secret advantage to save someone else would actually benefit his game, and then he was able to use his Idol to surprising effect. His play at Tribal seemed to catch the Goliaths off-guard, and even though they planned a contingency, it still wasn’t enough because Davie and his Davids were one step ahead.
Knowing that the votes were piling onto Christian, and knowing that Dan, at the very least, could play an Idol as a reaction to Davie playing his for Christian, the Davids were able to cleverly circumvent the expectation that they would just pile their votes onto one person. We have to assume that at some point, Davie told the other Davids about his Idol and they hatched their plan to not only save Christian but to disrupt the Goliaths and tip the scales in their favour. At Tribal, they were able to play up their helplessness and even as Davie played his Idol, he made a point of apologising to his allies for not telling them about it, subtly implying that no further shenanigans were underway. Yet as the votes were read, we learned the full extent of the intricate scheme: the Davids split their minority vote, putting two votes onto Angelina, the expected target, and three votes onto John – a steadfast Goliath loyalist and someone close to Dan, who was noted in passing to be the effective leader of the alliance.
The play was brilliant – there was no harm in splitting the minority vote. If the Goliaths stuck together but didn’t vote Christian, the five David votes wouldn’t change anything. But there was a possibility of an Idol in play – Dan’s Idol was common knowledge, but with Angelina being the obvious target, there was ample reason to suspect that the Goliaths could predict she’d be receiving votes. Thus, throwing the votes onto John was a perfect solution. Even better, by putting three votes onto him compared to two on Angelina, the move all but ensured he would go home regardless of any Goliath Idols. John was a core member of the Goliaths – even making it clear that Christian was only an “honorary brochacho” at Tribal – while Angelina was a source of conflict and division. By undercutting the stability of the alliance, the Davids opened up even more options for themselves moving forward.
I could dig into this move at length – there are many nuances to it that elevate it to something spectacular, and we don’t even know how it came into being or whether it was Davie, or another David, who earns the credit for the idea (though Davie clearly gets kudos for using his Idol to damaging effect). Yet the move, as blindsiding as it was for Goliaths and audience alike, it makes sense. The logic behind the creative solution is sound, the cunning in its execution is apparent, and it can only open the doors for the Davids to take on the divided Goliaths.
There’s one factor in this fascinating episode left to talk about – and that’s the two people who could have easily been the victim of Davie’s Idol if everything had played out just a little differently. As she noted herself, Angelina was in the hot seat as the decoy boot, but Dan, too, was one Immunity loss away from likely going home with at least one Idol in his pocket. The animosity between Angelina and Dan was a thrilling ride with an unexpected twist – have we ever had a player so reluctantly play their Idol for someone else?
In the aftermath of Elizabeth unleashing on her, Angelina attempted to do damage control with her Goliaths, but her choice to lie about her intentions instead of honestly admitting that she’d been caught out pandering to the Jury only made her seem more untrustworthy. Thus, she found herself sidelined to the point where even her plan to target Christian as the biggest threat was taken away from her, when Mike led the charge.
Understandably, Angelina was infuriated by it (and her comments on the casual sexism surrounding female vs. male leaders is certainly food for thought and a welcome inclusion in the show’s narrative given Survivor’s common propensity for male-dominated stories). Yet to her credit, she persevered through Dan’s open condescension and made the best of it, managing to make herself enough of a non-threat that Dan was willing to play an Idol on her to preserve a “defanged” number when earlier that day he’d been itching to take her out.
So was Dan’s Idol play the right move? Even though the Idol was technically wasted, only cancelling two votes on Angelina, I do think it was worth the risk. Even though losing Angelina would have been no skin off Dan’s back – and he noted himself that the Goliaths would still hold a numerical majority – keeping numbers gave security. Dan has been firmly in the Goliath-strong camp, and surrounded by Kara and John, he has much to benefit by keeping that story going – and Angelina is stuck on that trajectory too. Besides, forcing a 0-0 tie in using his Idol to save Angelina would have given the Goliaths the upper hand to just pick off one of Carl, Davie, Gabby or Nick – at least, it would have if the Davids hadn’t outsmarted them.
As Christian & Gabby postulated earlier in the season, to be in Slamtown, you have to have been slammed, and John certainly went out in a memorably epic and ironic blindside. While I’ve really enjoyed John’s charisma and surprisingly touching personal journey through the game, his elimination opens up the game once again. Without his brochacho, Dan’s Goliath stronghold is going to crumble – and from the previews, even his supergirl Kara is leaving him in a Fortress of Solitude, hoping to find greener pastures. Meanwhile, Alec and Alison are poised to pick up where they left off with their Strike Force allies, while Mike will have to do some serious damage control now that the security of a Goliath majority is tentative at best.
Meanwhile, the Davids have fresh opportunities. With Nick’s Vote Steal as an offensive weapon and Carl’s Nullifier as a defensive tool, they’ve got some tricks up their sleeves. Christian, meanwhile, has had his threat level explicitly called out, which will force him to lift his game. By far, though, the greatest advantage to come from Davie’s brilliant play and their collective success is the hope that this move will light in them. Success motivates, and now that the Davids have a win under their belt, the next one will be easier to achieve.
So once again, David vs. Goliath has given us a phenomenal episode full of humour, drama and strategic excitement. Bring on next week!