Jeff Pitman's Survivor 37 recaps
New recipe: Less napalm, more Machiavelli
By Jeff Pitman | Published: October 16, 2018
Survivor: David vs. Goliath Episode 3 recap/ analysis

Less napalm, more Machiavelli... please?

Survivor works best when it's about scheming and plotting, not screaming and shouting. Subtle manipulation, not in-your-face hostility. This week's episode, which has been widely praised as "great TV" due to the high-intensity dramatic blow-ups in camp and at Tribal Council ... was not that.

While this episode did give the Survivor lexicon some new memorable catchphrases and voting booth shenanigans (which Ryan Kaiser rightly celebrates here), those came only after some fairly ugly, deeply personal, line-crossing verbal attacks. It was a disappointing turn of events, because Jeremy was a really fun, dynamic, interesting player in Episode 2, and had some moments of real character depth early on this week, but with his back against the wall heading into Tribal, went a bit too far in fighting for his position in the game. (Then he continued to cross lines in his exit press.) For her part, Natalie held her own and mostly stayed above the fray, which is admirable. But the bickering in camp and at Tribal were still unpleasant to watch.

Reigning Survivor champ Wendell Holland went on the On The Island Podcast this week, and shared his similar discomfort with the Natalie-Jeremy fighting, with some wise words: "From my perspective, there's already enough negative stereotypes of black people on television ... I felt the need to go to the end with someone who looks like me, and show America that there are other images that can be portrayed."

As late as Episode 2 (just last week), Jeremy seemed to have the same intentions with respect to playing alongside Natalie. He approached her and tried, as a fellow person of color, to help prevent her conflicts with other people, by giving Natalie some straight talk about how she was coming across to her tribemates. His overtures were not well received, things spiraled out of control, and we ended up with the mess we saw this week. So how did all this happen?

Mostly, Survivor decided to put Jeremy on a tribe with someone who had little chance to win, mainly due to being at least two decades older than the bulk of the tribe (which has six people in the 24-30 age range), and with a personality geared for conflict over the "Can't we all just get along?" Rodney King motto (ironically) emblazoned on Mike White's shirt. As the only other African-American on the tribe, Jeremy felt a responsibility to try to help Natalie, and he became the target when that backfired. Which would be sort of surprising, if it were a novel development.

Except it wasn't. And it's just not that fun to watch two people verbally attack each other, especially when the situation seems so contrived. This is the exact same set-up we saw fifteen seasons ago.

Jeremy's dilemma is almost *exactly* the scenario in which Francesca Hogi (who was also an attorney who lived in New York!) found herself during Redemption Island, just with the genders reversed. Well, that and being on the purple tribe instead of the orange one. Right down to the conflict-maker being an LA-based African-American in their 50s (Phillip was even initially listed as a [software] CEO, before becoming a "Former Federal Agent?"), and Franny's only actual ally being a wealthy, white, late-40s LA-based Survivor fan (Mike White is the new Kristina Kell). And the majority alliance being chock full of recruits.

So yes, even though each season's contestants made choices and performed the actions they deemed optimal in their respective situations, Survivor mixed together approximately the same ingredients two times, and produced the same combustible reaction twice. A fireworks display, after which Jeremy and Francesca were each voted out, the first time their tribes attended Tribal Council.

Maybe it's not following a script, but it does seem like it's following a recipe.

Of course, the other part of that recipe is the reactive ingredient: making someone so isolated, so dissimilar from the rest of their tribe, that they retreat into cantankerous hostility, rather than trying to blend in. It happened with Phillip, it happened with Debbie in Game Changers, it happened here. Other times, the response of the isolated older contestant has been to become the genial clown (Tarzan in One World, and somewhat Phillip later in Redemption Island). But whatever the outcome is, it's usually not something that leads to winning.

Having older contestants around is great: they have a deeper perspective on life, and have usually faced and overcome more challenges than, say, the token teenager. What's needed to prevent them becoming anything other than obvious cannon fodder is surrounding them with at least one or two like-minded people. Rudy had Hatch and Sue Hawk in Borneo. Joe Del Campo had Debbie and Aubry in Kaoh Rong. And as was just seen in Survivor AU: Champions vs. Contenders, Shane Gould had several people (Sharn, Mat, Steve), and she went on to win, at 61.

It can be done. Just not like this.

Risk vs. reward: swap danger rankings (minor potential tribe number spoiler)

Swap danger rankings

The press photos for the next episode show that, somehow, we'll be swapping up to at least three tribes (orange, purple, green lanes visible at the challenge, at least). This will apparently be an unbalanced swap, with two tribes having six people, and one only five. That'll be a huge swing in numbers for the smallest tribe, which will end up with just half the population the Goliath tribe had less than 24 hours earlier. So who benefits, and who is most at risk from this new situation?

As always, the composition of the new tribes and how they're populated by the pre-existing alliances matters a lot, and that's something that the show has relatively well kept hidden. Still, some other small-tribe axioms should also hold true that could guide our thinking about the swap. So let's look at the people most at risk, and those most likely to be rewarded by a swap at this point:

  • Risk: With small tribes, the people most at risk will be those seen as challenge liabilities: Natalie, Lyrsa, possibly Gabby. Anyone who's older (Mike and Natalie, again) will also be suspect. Also anyone injured (Bi).
  • Risk: Anyone who has a grudge held against them. For example, Nick pinned the blame for Jessica's blindside squarely on Gabby in the last episode, so she could be in trouble if she ends up on a new tribe with Bi, Carl, and 2-3 Goliaths.
  • Risk: Known idol-holders (read: Dan). Clearly, everyone on Goliath knows Dan has an idol, otherwise they would have split the Jeremy vote, rather than going all in, 9-1. Because of that, knowledge of Dan's idol will almost certainly spread to all the new tribes. That makes him a continued target for a blindside, although perhaps a little closer to the merge is the most likely timing for that.
  • Risk: Anyone who didn't fit in on Day 1, because it could be Day 1 all over again. For example, if Nick or Natalie ends up on the tribe that needs to build a new shelter, and reprise their no-work routines, they won't be winning any new friends. Presumably they'll be forced to make more of an effort on a smaller tribe, though.
  • Reward: If someone who's not great in challenges can somehow luck into an otherwise challenge-dominant tribe (such as Yanuya in Ghost Island), they should be in great shape until the merge (or another swap). It's 50% easier to escape going to Tribal Council with three tribes, and as long as a challenge liability can avoid finishing last in this first post-swap immunity challenge, they can sit out the next one.
  • Reward: Because we're pretty far from the merge, it's unlikely we'll lose any challenge threats just yet. Great news for people like John, Dan, Natalia, Alison, maybe even Christian (for puzzles).
  • Reward: Obviously, anyone at the bottom of the numbers at the end of Ep3 (Bi, Carl, Davie, Natalie) wins a potential reprieve with a new tribe, as long as they can make connections with their new tribemates.

All in all, this swap doesn't change the dynamics all that much, at least without knowing the distribution of the players. People who were already in trouble will probably continue to be, unless they're potential challenge assets, like Carl and Davie. But if a Carl or Davie is outnumbered by Goliaths, they're still in trouble. There's also the potential for some major power swings if a previously comfortable Goliath somehow ends up outside the numbers on a new tribe. At the very least, we should (hopefully) be spared any further talk of "as a David" and "as a Goliath" going forward.

That's a reward for everyone.

Shorter takes

Pyramid scheming

  • Pyramid scheming: This puzzle, as we've now seen in two iterations (last seen as the final task in the F5 IC in Ghost Island), can be completed in a few seconds if you know how it works. As such, it's probably a better choice for a challenge-ending equalizer than the vertical puzzle from the last time this challenge was used (the Ep4 RC in Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers). Now that it's been used twice, it's probably time for all future players to study and learn it. Although since none of the people here had seen it used before (since Ghost Island was airing while this was filming), it's also possible this was the last time it'll pop up for a while.
  • The 'mance that remained unspoken: No, not that one. Nor the alleged other one. For all the talk of showmances on the Goliath tribe, both in the three episodes that have aired, and in Jeremy's exit press, it's odd that another obvious pair, of a type rarely seen on Survivor—Jeremy and Mike, two non-straight men in their 40s, who seemed to get along well with each other—was shown, but not really explored. Was it ever even mentioned that Jeremy is gay? Sure, the Jeremike pairing was platonic, but couldn't they at least have been a bromance?
  • Mayor of Slamtown for Mayor: How unlikely was it that the one person defusing the tension at Tribal Council with humor was the pro wrestler? John's mix of cockiness, intelligence, and levity has been one of the best surprises this season. If Survivor must keep casting pro athletes, please make them be fun and smart like John.


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 3 recaps and analysis


Exit interviews - Jeremy Crawford

  • Dalton Ross at (10/11/18): "Jeremy drops showmance bombshell on Angelina"
  • Gordon Holmes at (10/11/18): "Jeremy - 'I Made a Joke Around the Campfire and That Got Back to Angelina'"
  • Mike Bloom at (10/11/18): "Jeremy Crawford Gets Dismissed"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (10/11/18): "Exit Interview | Latest Player Out from David vs. Goliath - 10/11/18"
  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter (10/11/18): "Contestant Blames Elimination on Off-Screen Feud"