I’ll start by saying that episode one of David vs. Goliath was one of the best premieres I think we’ve ever had – definitely the best since Second Chance. With all of the characters, conflict, triumphs, and trauma, I was captivated from start to finish. I liked the theme (gasp!) already, but this opener proved why it works so well. Immediately, the game was set with tension between tribes and as the hour and a half went on, we learned so much about each of them and its members. Everyone had at least one confessional which meant we got to know this cast extremely well which is a relief with much less of the standard press on them before the season premiere. That had me worried this season would sink, but this episode not only showed it could swim but that it might just soar.
WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE?
Already within the opening minutes of the show, we learned the personal stories of more individuals than we did in the entire season of Ghost Island. Beginning with the David tribe, we met Christian, the most obvious-looking David of all, who said that looks can be deceiving. I don’t know. To me, that robot t-shirt of his pretty much makes it clear that he’s this season’s biggest nerd. I use that word typically as a term of endearment, but I’m still not in love with Christian as much as the general Survivor fandom. I am in love, however, with the next few newbies we met: Elizabeth who’s been baling hay since before she was potty-trained and the Goliaths including the fairytale princess Angelina and everything-she-touches-turns-to-gold Queen Midas a.k.a. Natalie who has had people literally take bullets for her before. At least that’s what I heard…
Aside from perhaps the Davids capsizing on their way to meet Jeff, the contrast between David and Goliath couldn’t have been clearer from the start. One tribe rolled up looking like behemoths, and the other was led by a guy with a pink sweater tied around his waist. Angelina’s “bless their heart” look over to them was quite telling who the “favorites” were going into this.
Now I’d be kind of pissed if I was put on this season and labeled a Goliath (thankfully, though, I would never be if for nothing else – looks). No one read the story of David versus Goliath in the Bible and went, “Yeah, I was really pulling for Goliath there.” Much like in the biblical story, the story of this season is designed to be that of the underdogs. The Goliaths were shafted in that sense, given that a David is sort of pre-destined to win in order to fit the theme, so as a Goliath I’d have felt like the only people rooting for the Goliaths were me and the other nine members of my tribe. Who’s really the underdog in this story, then?
The surprising personal content kept being drawn out as Jeff polled some of the Davids and Goliaths about their background. He first called out Nick who shared that he grew up in the hollers of Kentucky (I had to look up what that meant), was raised in a trailer with food stamps, and climbed his way out of it all by going to school and becoming a public defender. Going into the season, I liked Nick and chuckled at the label he gave himself of “Redneck Lawyer.” Maybe if Survivor doesn’t go his way, CBS will hit Nick up with a sitcom of the same name. It would at least be more successful than the latest soon-to-be flops, that new Damon Wayans Jr. show and God Friended Me. On second thought, maybe Redneck Lawyer should go where they’ve always been doing comedies better: NBC.
We could have guessed that Jeff was eager to talk to pro-wrestler John, naturally making him the first Goliath singled out. John’s used to show biz so he played right into the Goliath role which I appreciated more than him trying to pretend like he wasn’t an athlete. After the brawn came the brains from Alison, admitting she was a physician but in the same breath defending that Goliaths don’t necessarily have it so easy and that many on that mat likely worked just as hard to be standing there as the Davids on theirs – a completely valid argument, but not one that Jeff wanted to hear. Being an initial fan of them theme, Jeff constantly pigeonholing everything into it made me reconsider a bit.
In a “versus” season it only makes sense to kick it off with a challenge and in the show’s history, I’ve been on board with some sort of “event” to start the game rather than a “hike” (boat ride) to camp. The most iconic will forever be the Heroes vs. Villains opening, firmly and with fanfare establishing the “versus” element of one of the greatest seasons.
Christian attempts to study the chemical composition of Lyrsa’s hair dye.
The David vs. Goliath twist here was that the Goliaths chose who they thought were the two weakest Davids to compete against who they picked as their own strongest Goliaths. The Davids then were able to choose which tasks in the challenge they’d all be tackling. Even the strongest and fastest would take time at the plank bridge and a cube puzzle is absolutely more difficult than a slide puzzle with half the number of pieces, so then “what is the advantage?” It was what was given to the Davids.
With that in mind, I won’t call Christian and Lyrsa’s victory over John and Alison an upset, but it stoked the fire between the tribes and set the stage for their battle appropriately. For now, the Davids walked away the victors over the Goliaths, and they were ecstatic…except Christian. He was too focused on what he did “wrong” in the puzzle that his tribe still won with ease.
The editors made a joke of this by splicing together a super-cut of his confessionals, but I hardly noticed enough to laugh as this is what all of his confessionals of the night sounded like to me. Christian would probably be delightfully funny in smaller doses, but the show just doesn’t know when to stop with someone like him. WE GET IT. HE’S GOOFY AND WEIRD. I don’t hate Christian as a person – I’m just going to hate his edit more than anything else this season, but I’ll try my best to not imitate the show in beating a dead horse over it.
Mike’s cover for his celebrity was quickly blown by Dan asking where he’d seen Mike before followed by Natalia popping up out of nowhere and—
Uhh, yeah. That’s where Mike’s from. He was on The Amazing Race… twice! Mike’s found success in Hollywood which is why he’s a Goliath so he must also come from money because if not, then he’d be a David, no? I don’t know. Probst really needs to post the official qualifications for each.
Not so much star-struck, but all the Goliath girls were love-struck by Dan. Even stone-cold Natalie admitted to him, “You fine…” Dan shared his story about being an overweight cop before dropping more than an entire Courtney Yates in weight and joining the S.W.A.T team. Now most, like me, are probably questioning why this isn’t a David story, and the answer to that is… no one fucking knows. This is apparently Whose Survivor Is It Anyway? where the theme’s made up and labels don’t matter. Good for Dan though on achieving that Goliath stature… er, status.
Proven moments later, every Superman has his kryptonite, and Dan’s will apparently be Kara. He’s got a thing for beautiful blondes and Kara is just that. Additionally, she shares the name of his dog which is… hot, I guess? This whole conversation between them was a mess. After Dan called her his kryptonite, Kara pointed out that Supergirl’s name is Kara. Dan responds by saying he named his dog after her, to which Kara asks, “What’s your dog’s name?”
Same, Natalie. This girl is definitely going to be trouble for Dan, and he knows it too, so why does he still insist on finding a way to kiss her in secret!? What’s weird here is that we kind of know that Dan and Kara aren’t going to be the next Rob and Amber and find everlasting love on Survivor. Alec swoops in at some point to steal Dan’s Supergirl, but did that all happen post-game, or will The Bachelorette meet the beach with two men fighting over Kara? And who is supposed to win when it’s Goliath vs. Goliath?
SHELTER AND SHOUTING
The David tribe seemed like much more of a cohesive group, likely bonded together by that “we’re in this together” mentality up against the Goliaths. No one on this tribe was seeking showmance before shelter. One clear standout, though, was Pat. With Pat’s background in property management (more character exposition, yay!) he took charge of building camp. It’s not a bad idea to have someone do that… it’s just a bad idea to be that person.
I’d have probably found Pat irritable to live with, but as a viewer I was highly entertained, especially when he yelled “CHRISTIAAAAAAN!” at Christian. I’m also a man who enjoys crude humor, so Pat also had me cracking up at some of his one-liners.
Question for Pat: if you’re going to give up a whole nut, why settle for going back to only thirty-six? Or would it cost two nuts to go back to your twenties? Such a fun character. Rewatching this scene made what came later hurt that much harder…
THERE’S A STORM BREWING
Natalie was not having it with her own tribe’s shelter building, particularly when it came to Natalia. We saw Miss Bossy Boots come out from Natalie which was my biggest fear for her pre-game. Seeing her end up as the first Goliath with a target on her back was a blow but what sucks for me is that Natalie being made out as a villain just makes me even more in support of her! The show decided to say, “Here, we’ll give you more reason to love her, with also more reason to fear for her life.” WHY DO THEY DO THIS TO ME?
I think Natalie can still make it out of this alive. No, I’m not crazy – I’m confident! Her nemesis Natalia also didn’t receive the most favorable edit and while I think Natalie came across as the bossier one, there’s enough of evidence of Natalia having potential to blow up as well. The storm has only just started, and we’ll definitely be seeing this rivalry of Natalie vs. Natalia continue in what could be a very confusing vote-reading at the Goliaths’ first tribal council. Natalie seems like the more obvious boot at this point which makes me believe that she actually won’t be. I need her to stay because I am living for all of her facial expressions.
If one’s to ever stare that last one in the face, “You fine”? No, you fucked.
After initially setting in, the Davids started to splinter off and plant the seeds of early alliances. We made it about halfway through the premiere before any real “game” talk, which was refreshing. Even these discussions, though, didn’t come across as gamebotty. In fact, the conversations all seemed personal. Jessica and Carl stepped up as surprisingly savvy with their assessment of their place in the game, syncing up with each other while Jessica also made a connection with Bi as Carl and Davie exchanged “the look.”
The fun, unlikely duo of Elizabeth and Lyrsa then came about, or as Lyrsa called it the cowgirl and the punk rocker lesbian. Lyrsa doesn’t initially seem as doomed as I thought she’d be, as Pat and Nick ended up causing the biggest fuss around camp. We’ll never know exactly how that first tribal council could have played out, but maybe Lyrsa has some legs in this game. I’m all for this new odd couple. Another sitcom idea if CBS is looking to give it a third go.
In even more shocking and unlikely news, Christian admitted he was “a bit of a weirdo” but only to Gabby who identified with the nerd herd herself. She called herself the “nerd whisperer” to be precise, and the two admitted they liked each other because of their shared level of intelligence. If Christian didn’t have a girlfriend, this honestly could have been something more, but unfortunately for Gabby (and Probst), Christian made it clear their love was purely platonic. Speaking of nerd love, I also imagine J’Tia was probably watching from home thinking, “Why couldn’t THESE people have been on the Brains tribe?” sporting her “I ♥ Nerds” shirt proudly.
A JOHN OF ALL NAMES
Later on the Goliath tribe, we learned more of John’s career dancing in sparkly spandex. He’s actually not the typical breed of meathead and instead has a decent brain. Evidently he has a degree in geology which may not do much for him in the wrestling ring, but should he ever have to stick his hand in a bag of rocks, he may know which one not to pick, being able to identify which feels the most purple or black. That’s what Paschal, Katie, and Jessica needed – a semester of Geology 101.
Back to the man that goes by many names, the editors missed a big opportunity by not going the way of Debbie and giving John a different name in each of his confessionals. He cited off the comprehensive list, but I think the delivery could have been much better executed by going this sort of direction:
You know, I bet at some point in her life, Debbie was a pro wrestler. We just never realized it because she was recognized exclusively by her stage name – Mrs. ABraham Lincoln.
There’s always that guy. “I went to get my shoes…” on the other side of the island? Idols are no secret in the game by now, but going off to search for one in secret is a big mistake because it’s never actually a secret. Mike thought that the tribe was too caught up in their social game to realize what he was doing, but ironically his own social game was tanking as a result of his “shoe search.” The entire Goliath camp was in a stir over where Mike was, but it didn’t take more than a second for them to know what he was doing.
This would have been a good opportunity for Natalie to stay put and help the tribe bury Mike after Natalia was still stuck on how creepy Natalie was. The way she described the scene reminded me of a particular Patrick Star quote from Spongebob Squarepants…
I’m a '90s kid, so this likely won’t be the last nod to Nickelodeon I make.
Unfortunately, Natalie didn’t stay put for long and instead went to go fetch Mike. With Natalie and Mike away, the Goliaths quickly huddled up and solidified a plan to oust one of them. Natalia was still heavily hell-bent on the boot being Natalie, but Mike’s sneakiness raised more concern with the rest of the tribe. I also snickered at Jeremy citing “he wrote School of Rock” as another reason to get rid of Mike. Jeremy must not be a Jack Black fan.
Despite all the negativity, if history repeats itself, Mike may have just secured himself a spot in the finale. Tai and Dr. Mike were the last two players in Mike’s demographic to make a scene by going idol hunting, and both made the finales of their seasons. Therefore, I don’t believe this will be that big of a nail in Mike’s coffin and instead I’m chalking it up to Probst sitting in the editors room wanting the staff to show more of his buddy Mike making BIG MOVES. At least this made Shakespeare meet Survivor with the line, “hoisted by my own petard.”
What a goofy goober.
As most of the Davids bonded tighter together in the relentless rain, one other emerged as the player most in the game for themself. I was taken aback a bit when all of the sudden Nick was painted as the first scheming snake of the season. While Elizabeth talked about it being the nature of Davids to care about other Davids, Nick made it clear he only cared about himself, intentionally skipping out on work to preserve his own energy. This was not a good look for Nick and was a shockingly stark contrast from his initial introduction. I suppose it’s also a David’s nature to fight for what they want, but being this noticeably aggressive this early has me rethinking how high I ranked Nick before the game. If he’s a known schemer and isn’t lifting a finger around camp… this David may soon be done.
GIRLS JUST WANT TO FIND IDOLS
That’s what she said?
I love that Angelina referenced some online Survivor stats and I’d like to think she was giving a shout-out to our own Jeff Pitman who compiled that list of idol distribution between men and women right around the time this cast would have left for Fiji. The number, as Angelina indicated, is around 20% for women finding idols/advantages compared to men who then make up the other 80% of those claims. I was thinking, “Neat! The show’s referencing its own history – this must mean the girls are finally gonna be the first to find the idols this season!” Then as usual, it disappoints me…
WHOA! HAND CHECK!
Turns out, the idol was in Dan’s pants the whole time. Though I’d have rather had the idol in the hands of Alison or Angelina than Dan and his kryptonite(s?), I give props to the trick editing played with having Dan tell us he had the idol before we actually saw him find it. I kind of wish the show would do this more often. The original idol play by Gary Hogeboom and Amanda’s in Micronesia are among my favorites because they weren’t only a blindside to the players but to the audience as well. Perhaps showing us when idols are found prevents anyone from crying “rigged!” at Production, but is it really any less questionable when someone’s alone in the woods with a cameraman? Points for creativity at least with what could have been an otherwise mundane idol grab like so many in the past. Maybe the David ladies will have better luck…
WHEN IT RAINS IT POURS
“Davie Crockett” may have brought home an octopus dinner for his tribe, but it was far from sunshine and rainbows for the David tribe that evening. As the rain continued to pour, eyes struggled to stay dry underneath the shelter. There was so much emotion in this premiere that I almost forgot I was watching Survivor, or at least modern Survivor. Jessica shared the story of her mother being abused which led to Bi opening up about her own past with an abusive relationship and how she now serves as a mentor for young women. It was a beautiful bonding moment for the tribe.
I had few expectations of Jessica going into the show, but I was a huge fan of her edit this opening week. It reminded me of that classic sweetheart like in the days of Colleen and Elisabeth, two characters who would probably be edited more “purple” these days because they’re less about Big Moves™ and more about having a big heart. These were players I most supported in the show’s early life before I grew up and grew cold and now root for whoever has the most ice in their veins. I guess I felt some nostalgia in watching Jessica this week which is why I cared enough to comment. Maybe her show of heart will be the GAME CHANGER that changes mine…
Nah, I think I’m set on cheering for my debauched little villains.
On the topic of villainy, we learned Nick had more heart in him than we previously witnessed when he came out about his own mother’s struggle in life, paralleled to earlier conversation in the shelter. I’m confused as to why there was this creepy shift in tone as the scene transitioned from Jessica and Bi shedding tears to Nick’s emotional breakdown. The way it was presented, I was almost waiting for the Jonny Fairplay reveal from Nick that his mom was alive and well, but that sadly was not the truth. A strange editing choice, but maybe this came up uncomfortably in order to match Nick’s own personal feelings.
Rounding out the camp scenes for the week, the editors did a fantastic job with the Davids. We got a significant amount of everyone’s personality and backgrounds where I feel I know this tribe and can easily distinguish all ten of them. The Goliaths were just a little bit more “game” focused but their characters shined through enough with the exception of Alec who’s definitely going to be getting the purple edit it seems because of his Instagram incident. The episode wasn’t over at this point, but what a damn good two-thirds. We’ll be going back to just 60 minutes in the weeks to come, but if the show can maintain this level of deep, compelling story-telling, then this could be the most consistently content-filled season we’ve had in years.
IMMUNITY – KNOCKING DOWN NUMBERS
The skies opened up for this opening challenge, making the first big battle between David and Goliath a wet one, and all the more epic. I’m never most invested in the challenges every week, but I do get giddy when they feel as intense as this one did. Things started off neck-and-neck for the two tribes, but Alec pulled the Goliath tribe ahead in the second stage. No one should be surprised – Alec’s now well-known for digging holes for himself.
No one was yelling “CAAAAARL!” but he certainly lost the Davids some time. However, with the final puzzle being the great equalizer, they managed to make up that time bringing the challenge back to a photo finish. Once again, Christian and Alison commanded the puzzle, but this time it laid down for a lover like Alison and the Goliaths came out on top of the Davids.
They edited in a sound bite of Mike yelling “woo!” here, but if you read his lips here, he actually shouted, “School of Rock!”
As for the less-than-thrilled Davids, they were down but didn’t feel defeated with Pat eerily foreshadowing that the tribe would lose an artery but not its heart. The consensus looked to be that the Kentuckian would be kicked out first, but Mother Nature was plotting her own #SurvivorBlindside.
NOT THIS WAY
This premiere took a turn that I and likely no one else saw coming, but watching enough of this show, I realized the minutes left in the episode were dwindling which could only mean one thing: this was it for Pat.
I watched much like the David tribe did in shock and silence. Jeff showing up in these moments is like the Grim Reaper coming to grant the sweet release of death. It wouldn’t be long now. When Pat started saying “I can’t… I can’t…” I thought he was trying to say that he couldn’t continue, but when he finally finished that sentence with the word “leave” I felt a blow to my own body. That was gut-wrenching.
I shared the same sentiment as Gabby as Pat was finally flown away via helicopter, feeling guilty for misjudging Pat as the guy who’d just be the “bossy jerk” with little redeeming qualities to watch. Pat packed a punch in this premiere and while there are plenty of compelling characters left in the game, Pat’s early departure definitely robs us of some high comedy which is the worst thing of all to lose.
Jeff, of course, tried to tie this back to the David vs. Goliath theme which kind of killed the moment. I rolled my eyes and said, “Not now, Jeffrey…” but Elizabeth’s final words of “we will keep fighting” sent the real chills down my spine. Ending an episode, especially the premiere, without a vote is always disappointing, but with all that happened in this premiere and admittedly with the theme of the season, this ending was rather perfect. The Davids took the biggest blow they could here, but I’m anxious to see them bounce back with a vengeance. If I wasn’t 100% behind the Davids before, I am now. Do it for Pat!
I can see why Probst and company built a season around this guy now – he had a ton to offer this game and it’s a mighty blow that he went out the way he did. It would have been tough for Pat to win it all, but he’d have brought it for as long as he stuck around. Though a first “boot,” given Probst’s love for Pat, I could see him on the next Second Chance ballot or returning to the game in another way. The players sign their life rights away when they go on the show, but I’m sure with Production feeling “responsible” for his departure, they’ll find a way to #BringBackPat.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
Hurricane Natalie rages on and she’s dropping bombs on the Goliaths. Could anything be more enticing in a preview than a “Natalie napalm?” The odds looked stacked against her, but I still hope Natalie doesn’t die down this early. The Davids look to have some small napalms of their own when the fiery Lyrsa finds out she’s on the chopping block. It’s a war between the tribes but also a war within them – the makings of hopefully another great week of David vs. Goliath.
It’s hard to pick only a few “Players of the Week” because nearly everyone delivered so I’ll just touch on the ones that left the biggest impact and who I think will remain the ones to drive this season’s narrative.
Pat – He’s gone but he won’t be forgotten. He was the “David” that inspired the entire season, so I think he’ll be referenced for at least the next few David-centric episodes. Pat was a Goliath among the Davids and will be sorely missed as a great character on the show.
Christian – Admittedly I didn’t find him as eye-roll-inducing on rewatch as I did Wednesday night. He is funny, and it’s fun when editors noticeably have fun by trying new things, but it’s just still a little much for me. I think Pitman pointed this out already, but I now agree that Christian is his own breed and not just a Cochran carbon copy. If he received just a little less focus on the David tribe, I think that’d work for me, but the show often doesn’t know when to let a something just sit and simmer, so I’m prepared for Christian to still be leading the confessional count each week.
Mike – Like Christian, we’ll be seeing a lot of Mike and while he’s one of the Goliaths with the biggest target on his back, I think it’s a red herring and that Mike will make it far in the game. Like I said, it seems to always happen for his “type” but watch. When I finally change my tune, Survivor will do the same and prove me wrong again.
Nick – Saved by the storm? Likely. If he was set to be the first boot, but in a few more days is able to find his footing, this week will be an interesting one to look back on. I feel like we got the most personal content from Nick and learned the most about his past and present life. With that, I’m expecting him to be a big character of the season. As he swings back and forth between hero and villain, I’m not yet sure where he’ll land, but I honestly hope he never does. I love multi-dimensionality when it comes to Survivors. Too much one side or the other is boring.
Natalie – As expected (feared) she was the root of most of the Goliath groaning this week. Like Mike, my gut says she’ll survive somehow and that if it’s between Natalie and Natalia at the first Goliath vote, Natalie will boss her way into staying. I hope my gut’s better than Kellyn’s… no matter what, though, come hell or high water, I’m staying on this ship. If anyone has a problem with that, talk to this:
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser