Coming into the merge episode, history would suggest that with a narrow 7-to-6 numbers advantage, the most likely outcom would be a straightfoward Pagonging: the Goliaths sticking together and picking off a David.
That's exactly what happened. Well, okay, not exactly. In fact, it was anything but straightforward, went through multiple twists and turns to get there, and everything nearly fell apart at Tribal Council. All of which was great, and hugely entertaining. But the best part? None of it involved any idols, advantages, nullifiers, or any other production-forced shenanigans. Just thirteen moderately paranoid people scheming and plotting against each other.
Guess the old franchise still has some life left in it, huh?
The storytelling in the episode really helped sell the unpredictability. One exceptionally well-placed red herring was the shot of Angelina reassuring herself, "I got this," right before the trek to Tribal Council. As an echo of Dan's self-affirmation during the immunity challenge (which he did not win), it created significant doubt as to which of Angelina or Elizabeth would be returning to Kalokalo camp that night. Really well done, all around.
The other key narrative point of the episode was a feeling of accomplishment, mixed with anticipation. The Strike Force alliance of six was central, and clearly focused on the future, as they made distinct plans to keep their identity cloaked, by allowing the original Goliaths to simply pick off an original David for at least this first round. Similarly, the show emphasized that, true to theme, this was ostensibly the larger, dominant Goliaths exercising their numerical advantage over the outnumbered Davids. But on a broader scale, clear fractures within the Goliath ranks are becoming evident (Dan vs. Angelina, Alec vs. all of them), and the battles ahead appear more likely to involve intra-Goliath skirmishes than... well, David vs. Goliath.
So in contrast to Ghost Island, this first post-merge episode is unlikely to be the final big blow-up as the season gradually dwindles, becoming less and less suspenseful. Fortunes are changing. As part of that, as we'll discuss below, the power dynamics established in this episode seem likely to keep shifting, perhaps in the very near future.
Changing (?) fortunes: Angelina vs. Adam
There's no avoiding the conclusion that things looked pretty grim this week for Angelina. Elizabeth called her a "bitch" (to Gabby) shortly before Tribal. Dan (and to a lesser degree Alec) gloated when she appeared upset about being left out of the Goliaths' decision-making. And of course, she very nearly became a Live Tribal victim, after Elizabeth exposed her secret-leaking secrets in front of everyone. At best, she remains accused of transparent (attempted) jury management.
In the end, though, she made it through the episode. The central question for Angelina's game now becomes: Can she recover from this, and learn to take a softer approach to strategic manipulation? Or will she continue on the same steamroller-like path? While the pre-merge argues strongly for the latter, this question may not be as straightforward as it seems, mainly because there's a potential gameplay parallel between Angelina and one of Survivor's past winners. One with whom she has a personal connection.
Angelina, as we learned in the pre-season, is a college friend of Millennials vs. Gen X winner Adam Klein. For her part, Angelina made a strong impression in the pre-merge, driving the strategy on the Goliath tribe and (less successfully) at Jabeni. This episode, Angelina made a huge strategic error in telling Elizabeth she was the target, and came off looking like a Goliath pariah at Tribal Council. At first glance, this seems to argue she now has little chance of following in Adam's footsteps. So this is a great time to remind ourselves about Adam's trajectory during MvGX:
(1) After the first Millennials tribe vote blindsided Mari, Adam and Zeke were clearly on the bottom of their tribe's power structure. They mourned their position on the beach, sitting together in the dark, with Zeke memorably declining to even allow Hannah to explain her decision to side with the majority.
(2) Shortly after the merge, Adam discovered Taylor's squirreling away of leftover merge feast food into Mason jars. Adam tried to leverage that knowledge into forming a secret alliance with Taylor. The payoff for his efforts? Taylor (and Jay) blowing this attempt up at Tribal Council, making Adam look at best untrustworthy, and potentially a fellow food thief. Not a great look.
So what did all these struggles and blowback do to Adam's chances of winning? They made no perceptible impact, as he won unanimously, 10-0-0.
Just a reminder that, yeah, sometimes moves fail, and things look pretty bleak in Survivor. Even as late as the merge. Despite that, all is never necessarily lost, and huge comebacks are clearly possible.
Can Angelina repeat Adam's trek back to the top, after finding herself on the bottom? It seems unlikely, but it depends: Did this change of fortunes metaphorically make her a David, and thus capable of winning?
Changing fortunes: Dan vs. the edit
As rough as Angelina's week in the edit was, Dan somehow managed to come off even worse, despite getting his way in the boot decision (which actually parallels where Angelina found herself after the Jeremy boot). It was a stunning change of edit tone for Dan, who had previously been basking in the golden boy glow of his Brochachos bromance with Christian and John.
Dan's cascade of errors started gushing as soon as the tribes merged, as he snuck off to awkwardly hug a mostly non-reciprocating Kara, then immediately spilled the secret of his second idol, which he had previously pledged to keep quiet. That interaction paled in comparison to his next shown meeting with Kara, where he flew off the handle ("Ooh, I was hot!") in response to the news that Elizabeth wanted to target him. While sure, it's never great to hear people want to vote for you, he clearly did not engender any sympathy in his non-idol-holding alliancemates, especially when blurting out "Me? Why not John?" This sense of entitlement was not lost on Kara, who in confessional noted that she had two fewer idols than Dan did. He then went on to almost win the immunity challenge, which is another great way to draw post-merge votes (the next-highest placing non-winner was voted out), although it's perhaps less of an obvious vote magnet than being a known idol holder.
After the challenge, as the Goliath majority made their boot decisions, Angelina initially convinced the alliance to vote for Christian, which privately rankled Dan. ("Christian is a brochacho. I love that kid to death.") He also took issue with her use of military terminology, sneering in confessional that as a military spouse, "she don't know jack squat," and condescendingly calling her "sweetheart." (Silly Angelina! Women are supposed to be comfort blankets, not queen bees!)
Then when Alec and Alison (who had a secret alliance with Christian) later reversed the decision, pushing to vote for (Dan's preferred target) Elizabeth instead, Dan made no secret of his glee that the queen bee had been dethroned, and showed some real hostility to Angelina after Elizabeth leveled her at Tribal.
Adding to Dan's net negative edit for the week, one of the deleted scenes from this episode showed John and Dan doing all the work of expanding the Tiva/Kalokalo shelter, while their other 11 tribemates sat around chatting and scheming. John and Dan were rightly annoyed about this, and had this scene been in the show itself, Dan would have had a much more balanced merge episode.
Instead, we were mostly left with the 1-2-3 punch combination of secret-spilling, overreacting, and a hyper-aggressive power struggle with Angelina.
Up until this episode, Dan has seemed like an earnest, solidly rootable guy, perhaps a bit naive about the game, and by his own admission, highly susceptible to the innumerable charms of his kryptonite, Kara. A David among the Goliaths. This sudden editing detour into paranoid/ flexing-his-power territory could be a signal that he's in for some comeuppance, perhaps relatively soon.
Hopefully he'll play one of his idols and come away from the experience chastened but wiser. Dan's been surprisingly game-aware for some parts of the game, and completely blindered and/or making unforced errors about others (Kara, mostly). So an in-game second chance, via a well-timed idol play, could be a good thing for Dan. Although due to Carl's having a nullifier, the much-speculated possibility of Dan being James Clement-ed away to the jury appears to definitely also be on the table.
More likely, though, now that Dan vs. Angelina has been established as a rivalry, they'll probably end up going out in back-to-back episodes, as Natalie and Lyrsa did.
Changing fortunes: A record-setting, unanimous vote
As Ivan from the Survivor Wiki account tweeted after the episode, this Tribal was record-setting: the 12 votes against Elizabeth established a new record for most votes against a player at a single Tribal Council. (See the full leaderboard in the table below.)
That's perhaps not unexpected. Merging at 13 presents a golden opportunity for some poor soul to rack up a huge amount of votes in a single Tribal, and Elizabeth was that person here. That is hasn't happened until now is also not extremely surprising: The merge at 13 has been the norm for 20-person seasons only since Cambodia, which makes just five times it's ever happened. (Similarly, while we've only ever had two winners receive 10 jury votes, there have only been four seasons so far with jury pools that size, with this one making the fifth.)
This vote was also historic for another, perhaps more surprising reason: Elizabeth is the first-ever unanimous merge boot. How did it take 37 tries before everyone finally voted together on this, perhaps the most crucial vote of the game? It does make some sense: In seasons with three tribes, the merge vote is often two tribes ganging up on a third. In seasons with two initial tribes, the merge vote is a superiority contest, all about establishing post-merge dominance, and a merge Tribal in which one original tribe has a narrow margin has historically been a make-or-break attempt to do that, not an easy, X-to-1 vote.
Even so, there have been a fair number of merge votes (see several of them below), where everyone more or less agreed on a single target, but one or more people still decided to vote against the plan, whether out of misguided loyalty or simply being out of the loop. Whatever the case, it took over 18 years to reach this point. It's something of an achievement, right?
|1||S37 - David vs. Goliath||Elizabeth Olson||12||11||Merge, 12-1|
|2-t||S36 - Ghost Island||Chris Noble||10||8||Merge, 10-2|
|2-t||S24 - One World||Jonas Otsuji||10||8||Merge, 10-2|
|2-t||S21 - Nicaragua||Alina Wilson||10||8||Merge, 10-2|
|2-t||S19 - Samoa||Erik Cardona||10||8||Merge, 10-2|
|6-t||S34 - Game Changers||Ciera Eastin||9||8||9-1|
|6-t||S21 - Nicaragua||Wendy Jo DeSmidt-Kohlhoff||9||8||9-1|
|6-t||S20 - Heroes vs. Villains||Randy Bailey||9||8||9-1|
|6-t||S20 - Heroes vs. Villains||Sugar Kiper||9||8||9-1|
|6-t||S16 - Micronesia||Jonny Fairplay||9||8||9-1|
|6-t||S37 - David vs. Goliath||Jeremy Crawford||9||8||9-1|
|12||S23 - South Pacific||Ozzy Lusth||9||7||9-2|
|13||S33 - Millennials vs. Gen X||Michelle Schubert||9||5||Merge, 9-4|
(In the interest of space, 17 players are tied with 8 votes against, another 50 players received 7 votes at one sitting.)
It makes sense that the top 5 totals (10 or more) are from merge votes. The worst total anyone who's the first boot from an initial tribe is 9-1, and that's with a massive 10-person tribe (that covers everyone tied for the number six spot, by the way). Because of that, unless Survivor starts merging with 14 or more players left (please don't), Elizabeth's total can never be topped. So while it's a bit of a letdown that she's out this early, at least she set some records on her way out.
Speaking of which, combined with her one previous vote, this result also vaults Elizabeth nearly into the top 10 all-time for votes received in a single season. Better luck next time? (Or at least a spot on the career chart?)
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 7 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Elizabeth Olson