Thus far, this season has been on a bit of an up-and-down enjoyability see-saw. The premiere was fun and rich and full of big characters, only to close with one of those fun characters being removed in a scary medical evacuation. The second episode started off cyclone-drenched, but dried out briefly, letting some sunshine and gameplay in. Last week sagged under more rain and some wearying personal attacks, then this episode bounced back (after another medevac-adjacent exit) with interesting new interpersonal dynamics from the swap. (Next week, of course, has more cyclone lashing. Hooray.)
Through it all, the cast has risen above the mud and drudgery and produced solid content for the first four episodes. People are playing to win, making moves (even if they're occasionally unfathomable ones), and working hard to crack a smile even in the most miserable conditions. They want this. These results make the show's firing of Lynne Spillman as casting director after 38 seasons all the more mystifying, but that's a discussion for another day. Sure, the show still has a few warts to point out, but here we'll also try to celebrate the brief flashes of transcendent brilliance, of lightness, of fun that the contestants and show are providing.
The merely semi-random swap mechanics
The exact mechanics by which the swap was carried out were almost completely hidden on the show this time around. All we know for sure is that there were two trays of wrapped buffs (visible in the press photos), and on TV we saw Davie, Nick, and Carl drawing their buffs all from the same tray. That fits two scenarios: either (1) there was one tray for each tribe (which seems unlikely), or (2) one tray for men, one tray for women, which is how it's usually done.
If, as seems most likely, one tray was for the men, this raises a problematic wrinkle: While the swap was indeed random, only the men were eligible to to be exiled. No women were in the running to receive the idol nullifier. Take that, idol gender-ratio trackers like Angelina! (Also us, in this table.) Production decided only dudes could be entrusted with the various decisions required to nullify an idol for the first time (apparently).
But wait, you say: The way they controlled the access to it, it had to be one gender or the other! One or the other was always going to miss out!
That's the problem, though. They did have a few other options for getting the nullifier into a contestant's hand, such as: literally any other previously used means of distributing idols and advantages.
They could have hidden one at a camp (or one at each camp!), or in a reward package, or at a challenge. Heck, they could have even hidden one in an urn at Tribal! But they didn't.
Survivor made a conscious choice to only let a guy have access to David's sling, the one that could take down a Goliath. But hey, it's probably just a weird coincidence. Nothing to see here.
Then again, this is probably a moot point. The only realistic scenario where the idol nullifier might actually do anything useful would be to thwart someone trying to recreate Ben Driebergen's late-HvHvH stunt of playing an idol before the vote. Until then, it's a crapshoot (guessing right on who might play an idol) times a crapshoot (actually playing one), which equals ... crap squared?
A momentary glimpse of light: Nick's speed-dating alliances
If there's one thing we've learned in four episodes of David vs. Goliath, it's this: Give Nick five seconds, and you'll have a named alliance with him. We've already burned through the Thoroughbreds, Mason-Dixon, and now the Rockstars. The alliance naming seemed fairly annoying at first (we still have residual "___-R-Us" fatigue), but we've decided to just go with the flow, and propose nicknames for all the remaining possible pairings:
- Nick + Angelina = The Kindling Arrangers
- Nick + John = Slamtown and Slammer Avoidance Town
- Dan + Nick = Catch and Release
- Nick + Gabby = The Bus and Under the Bus
- Nick + Alison = Hi, Dr. Nick!
- Nick + Probst = The Simple Country Boys from Kansas
Actually, that's as much as we can stand. Weird that the one pairing we haven't seen yet is Nick + Natalie, especially considering taking Natalie to the end seems to be an idea every single member of the Goliath tribe independently came up with. Maybe they're saving that for the next episode.
Can Gabby reverse the Dawn edit?
Mike Bloom had a great observation about Gabby's edit this episode:
Gabby had a fun mini-arc this episode, going from feeling she can't communicate with the rest of her new tribe to literally being the only communicator and winning the challenge for the entire group. Another example of interesting storytelling this season #Survivor— Mike Bloom (@AMikeBloomType) October 18, 2018
(This isn't quite what we want to talk about here, we just thought it was cool.) Instead, there's another neat and potentially hopeful parallel for Gabby's edit, in a way: Dawn Meehan.
Dawn famously cried a lot in Caramoan, but played a strong strategic game while doing so, then was punished by the jury (mostly Brenda) for daring to vote people out after they had supported her emotionally. Gabby's arc in the past two episodes seemed like that same one, just played out in reverse. At the beginning, Gabby, Carl and Davie were angry at Gabby, feeling betrayed by her voting for Jessica (a feeling actively fueled by Nick's egging them on). This episode, she tearfully expressed deep feelings of self-doubt in confessional and in-person to Christian, but closed out the episode in triumph. Will Gabby find her footing on this new tribe, grow in confidence, and start running the show?
Let's hope. Until then, let's enjoy the momentary glimpse of light that exists on those rare occasions when Gabby wins things:
That surprise vote: What was Alec thinking?
Elizabeth played the social game really well this episode, sidling up to not one, but two of her new tribemates, and convincing at least one of them (Alec) to join her. Another vote, another flip. Unless, of course, it was Davie who convinced Alec to join him. Well ... it's not really clear. Also not clear: what Alec intends to do going forward on the Vuku tribe, where upon Carl's return, original Davids will now outnumber original Goliaths, 3-2.
The only thing we can think of that makes any sense: Maybe Davie promised Alec an all-dudes alliance, including future tribemate Carl. That would make sense, because while Elizabeth seemed eager and happy to work with Davie, it didn't seem like Davie was all that excited to work with Elizabeth ... who, to be fair, had just betrayed Carl and Davie and voted out their ally (Jessica) at the Davids' previous Tribal Council.
An all-male alliance would also be a counter to the nascent Black Widows 2.0 group that Angelina had put together with Kara and Natalia a few episodes back. Natalia is now gone, and should Angelina now recruit Lyrsa and Natalie, Alec has a counter-alliance ready to go.
Unless it was that Elizabeth convinced him to form an Elizabeth/Kara/Alec alliance, since she seemed to get along well with both of them. Who knows? That's the problem with blindsides that the editors also hide from the audience. We won't know for sure until next episode, if ever.
Postscript: the plotting unwhispered: We didn't see any discussion of it, but the original Goliaths were also splitting their votes, according to Natalia's RHAP interview. The plan was apparently a 3-2 split, with Davie and Elizabeth voting against each other (which explains Kara and Natalia voting for different people).
That was ... kind of a risky plan, considering Natalia claims they also thought either Davie or Elizabeth had an idol. If they did have an idol (Davie does, of course), and had voted together (check, again) and had played that idol correctly, a Goliath of their choosing goes home, -2-1. Maybe *that's* what Alec was worried about. He'd rather be 100% sure Natalia gets voted out right here, instead of crossing his fingers and hoping the Davids' votes don't land on him? Albeit while not removing the idol threat in any way. What was Alec thinking?
Jeff 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, you can do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other David vs. Goliath Episode 4 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Bi Nguyen (17th place)
Exit interviews - Natalia Azoqa (16th place)