Jeff Pitman's Survivor 37 recaps
In praise of faking it
By Jeff Pitman | Published: October 9, 2018
Survivor: David vs. Goliath Episode 2 recap/ analysis

In praise of faking it

"Just smelling this, it smells like an idol ... This is authentic idol leather. Oh, I love it!"

- Davie, talking about his newfound (actually authentic, despite appearances) idol

Davie was the perfect person to find this idol. You really can't beat his enthusiasm. Nothing makes Survivor fun to watch more than people who are having the time of their life playing it. More mirth, less misery! (Yes, this is another argument against intentionally trying to film during monsoon season.)

Still, as the episode ended, Davie was just as blindsided as the rest of his alliance by the outcome of the vote. Although of the four on the losing side of the numbers, Davie also appeared the least-connected member of that group. So maybe there's hope he can split off to find something new. Either way, at least he has an idol in his pocket. (Not his jacket pocket. He's not Dan.)

The biggest treat in Davie's idol find, though? That would be the overall shittiness of the idol itself. It looked fake. Like maybe something David Wright whipped together in the dark, then crammed inside a coconut husk. It may have smelled like authentic idol leather, but it looked like fresh garbage, just as Dan's did in Episode 1.

Dan's idol

And that's an authentically wonderful development for this season.

Fake idols are fun. Fake idols facilitate drama. They create opportunities for higher-level gameplay, potentially enabling a determined player to save themself, even if they don't have access to one of the (surprisingly) small number of real idols.

Too often in Survivor's recent history, though, well-made fake idols have been crippled by the show itself, usually because the actual idols churned out by the art department are too elaborate and un-fakeable. In Worlds Apart, Joe Anglim fashioned a beautifully crafted fake idol, only to have his attempt to use it as a ruse fall flat because that season's idols were identical stamped medallions (identical apart from the tribe-specific color coding, that is). And Joe unfortunately tried to pass his idol off on the one guy who had an actual idol in his pocket, Mike Holloway.

In Millennials vs. Gen X, the idols were all hidden in a similar way, giving prior idol finders a huge advantage in finding a second one, which functionally limited their availability. Although that did facilitate David Wright ensnaring Jay with his well-placed fake.

By HvHvH, both the appearance and the hiding mechanism were varied enough that Lauren's crappy-looking two-piece leather cord-and-seashell number required a lot of work to acquire both pieces—a lot more work than went into designing the idol itself. But that created room for other fakes to breathe. Sadly, it came too close to the end to make much difference (and Dr. Mike burned half of it, and also it was buried under an avalanche of real idols).

That brings us to Ghost Island, where the idols were different from each other, yet were still impossible to fake, because they were highly memorable relics of Survivor's past on a season full of fans who remembered them. (One of James's from China! The fucking stick!) There was still a big, creative, idol-related gameplay moment when Michael Yerger claimed the China idol protected two people (which seemed plausible, since James had been blindsided while holding two). But the more par-for-the-course experience was one not shown: Wendell fashioned another (allegedly) great fake idol, but Michael torpedoed it, by telling Jenna it had to be fake, since it didn't resemble any past ones.

So having idols that look fake from the start opens up this season to a lot more creativity. There's still the problem that real idols come wrapped in instructions, which all superfans know to ask about at this point. But a fake idol flashed at Tribal Council might still be capable of creating a chaotic re-configuring of a vote.

Or at least it will until the idol nullifier comes into play. But wait... how great would it be if someone blows the idol nullifier on a fake idol? See, the ability to create plausible-looking fakes inherently creates more opportunities for fun moments.

Play on.

Faking it: Is Natalie trying to irritate her tribemates? (Spoiler: Yes)

Master of puppets

Perhaps the most fascinating character of the season thus far is the one who's seemingly been playing it all wrong, yet who might have been fooling all of us since Day 1: Natalie.

Over two episodes, Natalie has sat around, given orders, and ignored multiple efforts to rein in her gruff demeanor. Jeremy even went the extra mile, and explicitly warned her that she's lacking in self-awareness. She dismissed this gesture so summarily, that if Jeremy had literally been offering her an olive branch, she would have smacked it out of his hand. Even in confessional, we've been given no hint whatsoever that any of this is an act, or an act of gameplay.

But listen to pre-game Natalie in "First One Out": She came into this season knowing full well that she faced numerous obstacles, especially early in the game, due to her age, relative lack of athleticism, and gender. She's studied the game, and can rattle off deep-cut analogies between her castmates and past players from over a decade ago. She's smart, she's knowledgeable, and she's far from oblivious. There's almost no chance she's doing this all on accident: She's faking it.

For years, people have talked about how great it would have been if Phillip Sheppard had told the assembled Redemption Island jury that he was actually a master thespian, and all the pink underpants shenanigans and feathers and Stealth-R-Us-ing had been an elaborate pantomime to throw people off his scent, and convince them to drag him, one of the eldest castmembers, to the end. Whereupon he would remove his acting mask, then take a bow, receiving a worthy round of applause from the jury and the million-dollar check. That must be what Natalie's trying to do here, right?

Historically, leaning into being a curmudgeonly irritant has had somewhat mixed results, but as an older player, it's really not a bad path: It worked out for Rudy in Borneo, for Clay in Thailand, and the aforementioned Phillip in Redemption Island. All three made it to the final three, the latter two all the way to second place. Jean-Robert tried it for a while in China, then course-corrected. He was voted out shortly thereafter. Abi-Maria, between Philippines and Cambodia, turned her unpredictable in-camp volatility into fifth- and seventh-place finishes.

So really, it's not a bad hustle, the main difficulty seems to be keeping it up for a full 39 days. Also, to do it right, the player has to tread the fine line of being *just* obnoxious enough that people see them as an obvious goat, and therefore want to keep them around, while not being so toxic that they're the first boot. (Which, in Natalie's defense, was probably her most likely fate if she just played nice and went along with everything.)

Natalie's been delicately tip-toeing right along that line so far. She told Kara, for example, that people were aware of and commenting on her connection to Dan. She appeared to have John pulled in enough to want to work with her.

She also had a stream of logical comebacks ready to go when the news dropped that her name was being mentioned as a potential boot target: "I'm damn near 60! Come on, now" and "I want to know how the senior citizen in the game, who doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning, is the first to go out?"

It's not at all clear that Natalie can actually pull this off. But it's been fun watching her try.

Not faking it: Dan's super-secret idol and showmance

Sock puppet

One person not making any discernible effort to fake anything? Dan.

Dan is, in theory, in a great position: he's part of the majority alliance in his tribe, and he's armed with an idol. The problem is, he's (apparently?) so unaware of how these things have worked in the past that he's opened himself up immediately to multiple reasons to vote against him: First, he initiates a Day 1 showmance. Then he finds an idol, but leaves it in his jacket pocket, right out in the open, where anyone can find it.

Not surprisingly, at least one person has now caught wind of both of these things: Jeremy (and through him, Mike). Jeremy ran strategic circles around Dan this episode, both identifying the showmance, and Kara's reluctance to see it as that. Then, using Mike as a lookout, Jeremy checked the pockets of Dan's jacket, and found the idol. But don't worry, it's in a sock, nobody will ever find it! Because it's common to store abnormally heavy and non-flexible socks in your jacket pocket. Everyone does that!

Poor, sweet, innocent Dan.

This can't end well. (Although Dan seems to have a lot of allies, whereas Jeremy just seems to have Mike.)

Not faking it: Bi's fighting wisdom

Bi's fighting wisdom

This vignette was sort of buried in the episode, because Bi's side came up short in the vote. But it was pretty inspirational, especially in the real-world context of our times, as we face a drowning, tsunamic tide of authoritarians amassing more and more power, here and around the world:

When the Davids came back to camp, Lyrsa seemed overwhelmed, saying "It's like they're invincible. They're so big."

Bi responded with, "In my sport, technique beats everything, so I don't believe in the size thing. And I don't think that y'all should go forth with that mindset. Going into each challenge, thinking you have something against you, which you don't. There are solutions to every problem; you guys know that, in your life. So don't let two losses change your perspective."

This pep talk didn't really fit with Bi's alliance's subsequent decision to do the opposite, and "keep the tribe strong," and target the "weakest" player (who happened to be the same one picked by the Goliaths as weakest, who notably completed the winning task in the first challenge).

Even so, it was a welcome, hopeful, glimmer of light in an otherwise trying week.

Maybe it's actually a good thing to have a David vs. Goliath theme at this particular moment in time?

Shorter takes

Challenge chatter

  • Challenge chatter: The hour-long balance/puzzle ordeal really exposed just how inane Jeff Probst's play-by-play admonishments really are. Despite his bellowing that the Goliaths had "lapped" the Davids due to Bi's slow performance on the ladder, that lead had clearly evaporated a few minutes into the puzzle, as Christian briefly gave the Davids a lead in pieces placed. (Also, the puzzle showed that the Davids probably could have been given a 12-hour lead, and still had no chance of winning that challenge. Just look at the picture above. Were they just randomly placing pieces? What on earth were they doing all that time?)
  • Chaos is a ladder: The opening two-rung ladder race was a fun new element to add to future challenges. In the end, though, combining the wobbly tables with a giant puzzle was also a fun idea, just too ambitious, too difficult to complete in a reasonable length of time for a challenge. Maybe scale it down? Instead of five tables, use just two or three, and maybe skip the paddling out for puzzle bags?
  • Deep bench: The editors seemed to make a big deal of Angelina asking to swap out with Kara, but it looked like just about everybody on the David tribe took turns on the puzzle (at least Bi, Davie, Nick, and Elizabeth did, all of whom were also on the boating leg). Why highlight just that one Goliath substitution?
  • Triumph of the white hat: It was extremely satisfying to see Elizabeth, who was *so* eager to play pre-game, successfully rescue an ally (Lyrsa) by flipping the vote. She flashed a well-earned smirk when the votes came out as intended. It's a bit odd that the so-called "Thoroughbreds" alliance were not shown consulting in any way on this vote, and that it was up to Christian to loop Nick in on the vote. But hey, who needs episode-to-episode narrative consistency?
  • The nerd whisperer? Gabby was presented as the key connection to Christian, but as the scene in the sand unfolded, it kind of looked like Christian had a calming influence, easing Gabby's paranoia about Bi and Jessica (however awkwardly the conversation initiated), and that his reassurance that he was on board was the key ingredient that moved the the blindside coalition toward completion, not vice-versa. But it also worked as Gabby's superior social game locking in Christian's loyalty. Maybe whispering goes both ways?
  • Superfans, unite! If Davie can just flip to the majority Davids alliance, it will be one almost entirely composed of superfans (or near-superfans): Gabby, Nick, Christian, Elizabeth, Davie. Lyrsa's the only one who doesn't seem *quite* at that level of fandom, but she's still a fan. (It's not like she's Alec or John or something.) That's like a Reddit dream alliance, right? (By which I mean an alliance whose members will be loathed by all of Reddit within a week of it forming.)


Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes

Other David vs. Goliath Episode 2 recaps and analysis


Exit interviews - Jessica Peet

  • Dalton Ross at (10/4/18): "Jessica from Survivor reacts to her blindside"
  • Gordon Holmes at (10/4/18): "Jessica - 'I'm Still Rooting for Them... I Want Them to Pull Out a Win'"
  • Mike Bloom at (10/4/18): "Jessica Peet on the Feat of Getting Beat"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (10/4/18): "Exit Interview | Latest Player Out from David vs. Goliath - 10/4/18"