After the strongest season premieres in recent memory, Survivor David vs. Goliath delivered a second episode that dropped nearly all references to the arbitrary theme and replaced it with survival—and surviving each other’s annoyingness.
Some Survivor viewers have complained that the show is no longer about survival, and this episode’s cold open was for them.
As episode two cut back and forth between nighttime shots of the two tribes shivering and suffering under their leaky shelters as a storm raged, and then showed us their futile attempts to make fire with wet materials, there was clear evidence that survival is a key part of this show, even if it’s not always included in episodes.
And just when I was sure that those disappointed by the lack of suffering would be satiated, Jeff Probst took the tribes to Target and Home Depot.
At least, he did the Survivor equivalent, sending boxes with supplies and a note that said, in part,
“Surviving the elements is a part of the Survivor adventure. But this unrelenting storm has prohibited you to make the fire you earned. This fire making kit should help.”
Also, he added, “as a gesture of goodwill, I’m offering this tarp as protection.”
“A gesture of goodwill?” What have you done with Jeff Probst?! Is this the same Jeff Probst who took away half the tribes’ rice rations last season and, four years ago, made a huge shame show out of a tribe’s need for more rice.
Seriously, the emergency supplies demonstrated how serious this was.
And it was serious: Based on True Dork Times’ calendar, I think they experienced part of Cyclone Josie, which brushed past the southern part of Fiji—which is where Survivor is filmed—and caused flooding that killed several people.
And ultimately, Survivor doesn’t want the cast members suffering so much that they’re in danger—or in danger of not playing the game. Once the cyclone and the shivering passed, they could go back to getting on each other’s nerves.
Alliances are formed, people are annoyed
After the rain stopped, the strategizing began. This felt a little like episode four or five, at least in terms of how quickly we were immersed in the strategizing—at least, there was far less getting to know each other than there was last week.
Quite a bit of time was spent at the Goliath camp, where Natalie is beloved by everyone, at least in her own mind. In reality, no.
She actually said one of the most loaded Survivor foreshadowing sentences that I’ve heard: “Strategically, my game is to lay low, get along with everybody, and I think it’s working out—unless they’re all lying to me, which I doubt.”
Note to future players: If you find yourself predicting the future or talking about how others feel with certainty and confidence, you are probably in trouble.
It wasn’t working, except with John, who thought she’d be a good ally since no one would expect it, in the same way no one would expect you to use a cactus as a pillow.
Jeremy—who found Dan’s idol in his super-secret hiding place of a box that said “Dan’s Hidden Immunity Idol”—tried to help her, because he’s clued in to what’s happening at his tribe.
“The lack of self-awareness is that you sometimes think that an idea is action.” (He also made a crack in an interview about how her being married for 24 years meant that she would never change, which is yet another example of the casual sexism that’s become part of the fabric of Survivor.)
Natalie responded to Jeremy’s advice in a totally calm, easy-going, get-along-with-everyone way: She confronted a bunch of people: “Why would you want to take out the old lady?” she asked.
She even threatened to “drop a little Natalie napalm,” which is what friends do.
Far too often a season opens like this, and a player with potential sabotages their own game, which Natalie certainly did. But let’s not forget that the early targets on Survivor have increasingly been people of color.
(This is why diversity matters: Survivor’s cast is much more diverse than other reality show casts, but the bulk of the cast is still white straight people, so people of color and LGBTQ stand out immediately as different and other. In one positive change, this season does have a bisexual man, a gay man, and a lesbian.)
But Natalie wasn’t at risk this episode, because the Goliath tribe easily won the challenge, and so we switched back to the David tribe, where the target was—Lyrsa, the only lesbian. Sigh.
The challenge, by the way, was another blow-out—even though the Goliath tribe’s early lead didn’t seem to matter too much since the puzzle was so difficult, especially with the extreme heat. If you’re keeping score, the Goliath tribe has won every challenge except the one in which the Davids were allowed to rig it to their advantage. This is not promising.
I’m was here for Lyrsa’s eye roll—or at least her strong glance upward—when Probst talked about the tribe becoming a family in the storm. A group that huddles together is not a family.
And I was also here for her defense: “I’m the weakest person? Who the fuck won the first challenge? Me!”
But the tribe ended up sending Jessica home instead—this is the Jessica who became well-known over the summer because of her tweets that casually used the n-word.
Christian and Nick’s alliance, which is one of the many fun friendships/pairs this season, became the swing vote after Elizabeth did a thing we rarely see in early Survivor: she pushed against the tribe’s easy vote in order to defend her ally, Lyrsa.
They banded together and blindsided half of their tribe.
Elizabeth found an ally in Gabby, who found an ally in Christian, though this wonderful alliance-forming conversation:
Gabby: “Do you want to play with me?”
Christian: “Play with you? Oh, in the sand?”