Dan stated flat out in confessional: "I have an advantage no one else has: I know what to look for" when hunting for idols. That advantage would be looking for some item wrapped in Tiva-green string. Did he find one? Of course!
On the one hand, yeah it was a nice nod to fairness to merely place a clue (for finding the idol at the IC) in the brand-new Tiva camp, rather than the idol itself. Dan's then having to retrieve the second idol in the middle of the immunity challenge was an impressive bit of sleight-of-hand, and fun to watch. On the other hand, why does Survivor continue to reward prior idol-finders in this way? Why should someone who has already found one idol be given a headstart on finding a second?
Having a system where initial camps all have idols hidden in a similar way probably made sense in making it appear that the original tribes were all being treated equally. We would quibble with the necessity of that, but sure, probably good intentions there. Still, when a third camp is added, why continue using the same coding scheme? As Dan said, it does not make things equal, in contrast, it gave one person a huge advantage. So why do it?
Furthermore, the initial camps are not identical, so forcing a themed hiding mechanism on them just doesn't make sense. Why not just hide them in different ways? Case in point: while both original camp idols had string attached to them, they were far from "equal." Davie's idol find was an impressive demonstration of his observational skills, requiring him to notice a string wrapped around a branch inside a random bush. In contrast, Dan's first idol was ... just sitting out in the open on top of a rock. Wrapped up in a package tied with string, sure, but not exactly "hidden."
One of the reasons this is an issue is the same one Angelina brought up in the first episode: Balance. In seasons where there's a consistent system for hiding idols (mainly MvGX), men have found the first round of idols, then used that advantage to run up the score on the second round. As a counter-example, Australian Survivor featured many different methods of idol-hiding during Champions vs. Contenders, and they ended up with an exactly even gender distribution of idol finds (four by men, four by women). We saw hints of a similar result in HvHvH: When the distribution method shifted away from marks on trees in camp, Chrissy found a clue on a reward plate (even if Ryan actually grabbed the idol itself), and Lauren found her half-idol in camp.
Having a clue-hiding theme only serves to further enrich the already idol-wealthy. Let everyone else have a shot, too! We'll never be free of themed season names, but let this at least be one theme that Survivor ditches.
Strategic coalitions begin to e-merge
With just 14 people left, Survivor: David vs. Goliath should now be just one Tribal Council away from the merge. And at this point, all three current tribes, as well as both original tribes, show some degree of fracture, such that a merge at this point might have enough diversely aligned groups and sub-groups that the gameplay could be unpredictable post-merge. Perhaps more importantly, there are also a number of people willing to make bold moves (at least Christian, John, Davie, Elizabeth, Angelina, Nick) that it's unlikely an outnumbered alliance will just sit quietly and allow themselves to be Pagonged. Not to mention the three idols and a nullifier already floating around.
So there's credible hope that this season's post-merge could feature multiple power shifts, and could be as fluid and exciting as Millennials vs. Gen X. And that's not just because the minority groups in the first two post-swap tribes to attend Tribal have flipped the majority's power advantage, just as happened in MvGX.
Or at least that's how things look on paper. To explore this in more detail, let's take a tribe-by-tribe look at who has power potential and who could be in the most trouble as the merge approaches.
Tiva - the green team
Tiva has (mostly) been a welcoming oasis of comic relief since the swap. Lighthearted Brochacho/Slamtown hijinks, with only a few (not unreasonable) worries from Gabby to dampen the mood. Plus there's whatever unshown mini Exile Island Alison has been hiding on. Tiva has been the show's respite from the tumult of Napalmland and the backstabbing Vukus, although that's mostly been because they haven't had to vote anyone out. So what happens if they do?
We bring this up because Alison has suddenly reappeared in the previews, and she's wanting to blindside (half-) known idol-holder Dan, before it's too late. Which, since he has zero incentive not to play one now, since he has a spare, seems like a narrative with a foregone conclusion. Alison tries to blindside Dan, Dan gets wind of it (through Gabby, then Christian), Dan plays one of his idols, Alison is our final pre-juror. Done and done. But let's not get ahead of ourselves: How might this tribe divide if Alison's blindside plan comes into play? And how might that affect alliances heading into the merge, which will probably come the next day?
The three guys obviously have a (multiply named) connection with each other, although Christian's late addition to the group still seems like the most tenuous one. There's also the Christian-Gabby nerd-liance, ensconced in canon since Episode 1. Alison hugs Gabby in the previews, so for the short-term, which is a hint they might vote together, but if Gabby knows there's an idol in play, why would she jump into the losing side of a 3-2 split? The most likely outcome? They (everyone but Alison) sticks together, and the vote builds trust between them moving forward.
Gabby could face some lingering post-merge resentment, left over from the David tribe, where Nick had convinced Carl and Davie that Gabby was solely responsible for Jessica's boot. That dispute remained unresolved when the swap separated everyone. But if Gabby sticks with Christian, she should otherwise be fine for the most part, because he'll probably be in the majority.
Why? Because Christian brings the Tivas a connection with Nick and however many Jabenis Nick can bring along with him (Mike? Lyrsa?). Add in Elizabeth for good measure, and that's a majority on a 13-person tribe. That's great news for John and Dan, who would otherwise be immediate targets as obvious physical threats. So it behooves all the Tivas to stick together, at least in the short term, and as the most cohesive tribe of the three, it seems probable that they will continue to be post-merge.
Vuku - the great orange mess
Vuku is probably the most fractured of the three tribes. There are no 100% solid alliances, and a lot of people there are working together out of necessity, with no apparent intention to stay that way in the future.
For the former Goliaths, Kara seems quite eager to torpedo Alec's chances, and Alec's first post-swap vote signaled a willingness to do the same to Kara. For the Davids, Carl and Davie were sort of together on David, but apart from a few-second clip in the premiere where the two basically nodded to each other, we've never really seen Carl or Davie talk about working together. They do have two useful pieces of equipment to help them (an idol and a nullfier), so maybe that'll bring them together? Furthermore, it's not clear that Elizabeth really has any affinity to either of them, due to her participation in (not to mention leadership of) the Jessica blindside. Elizabeth also doesn't trust Kara, although she thinks Alec might be a useful asset.
So, honestly, any of these people could run back to any of the other nine people in the game, and immediately start working with them post-merge.
How will they be received? The gasps and shocked expressions of the former Goliaths were quite telling as the Vukus showed up at the RC in this week's episode. Kara's expression made very clear that she was unhappy with Natalia's departure, while Alec's grin told everyone assembled where the Goliath Strong betrayal had come from. That will hurt Alec heading into the merge, a position made worse by his almost single-handedly winning both challenges for Vuku this week: he performed key tasks in each challenge (knocking off sandbags and hitting a target in the RC, finishing first in the snake maze in the IC). He was consistently a top performer for the Goliaths as well. So he's both untrusted by his original tribemates AND has demonstrated that he's a challenge threat. If he's not the merge boot, it'll be because he foolishly increased his threat level even more by winning the first immunity.
Apart from that, no reason for anyone else's original tribemates to question their loyalty, and so far, nobody has stood out as a challenge threat (except maybe Elizabeth, if the challenge involves roping or slingshotting). Elizabeth and Davie each seem capable of driving a Big Move to completion, so there's potential here.
Jabeni - the purple former home of reign
Jabeni is the group where the connections between the players seem most murky. Nick and Angelina have received the most narrative focus, but instead of this tribe bringing them together, they now seem to be at odds.
Nick was already loosely working with Lyrsa back on the David tribe, but oddly, they have never had a named alliance, despite spending 15 straight days together. In contrast, Mike received one within minutes of meeting Nick. So Nick's stronger connection seems to be to Mike. Post-merge, he could get back together with Christian and Elizabeth, as well. Can the Rockstars, Mason-Dixon, Thoroughbreds, Brochachos, and Slamtown Town Council all peacefully co-exist on one tribe? (Answer: Ugggggghhhh. We guess?) Lyrsa also has an (unnamed) alliance with Elizabeth, which we assume each will be happy to rekindle.
That leaves Angelina, who had a lot of sway back on Goliath, pretty isolated. She might have Kara. Maybe John and Dan will welcome them back. Mike doesn't seem all that excited to work with her. If only she could find a way to get Dan's jacket, it now contains two idols, and those would really help out right about now.
How will this all fit together? The short answer is: Things are looking pretty good for the Davids, as you probably would have expected from the theme. Christian and Nick are each particularly well-connected, and as they have a connection with each other, could be the fulcrum around which power revolves, at least initially. But there are enough headstrong, unaffiliated people who know what they're doing (Davie, Angelina, and maybe Gabby, Elizabeth, and John if they don't like Nick/Christian being in charge) that a Ghost Island-esque march to the end *should* be more difficult to pull off.
Let's hope, anyway.
Challenge balance: With three challenges now complete in the three-tribe phase, every tribe has lost one challenge. That's pretty impressive. Not only that, but Jabeni looked physically overmatched from the moment they drew their purple buffs, and while they did stumble on the more athletic early portion of this week's IC, they were still able to come all the way back and solidly contend in the race to complete the snake maze. You can't ask for much more in challenge design than an evenly balanced, nail-biting race to the finish. (Although we'd still wouldn't mind more puzzles.)
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 5 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Natalie Cole