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An uneven tribe swap on Survivor leads to an unexpected outcome, and a new advantage

An uneven tribe swap on Survivor leads to an unexpected outcome, and a new advantage

I like to be surprised by reality TV, and this episode of Survivor David vs. Goliath did surprise me in its final moments, with a vote that may not have made any logical sense but was definitely unpredictable and exciting.

The tribe swap spoiled by last week’s preview was preceded by something foreshadowed in last week’s episode: Bi left the game. As if coached by a lawyer, Bi announced to the tribe, “I sprained my MCL yesterday, and I’m an athlete so, I made the decision to leave the game.”

Probst literally ignored Bi and her tears, asked Angelina a question, and then went back to the theme, which had blessedly been left behind previously and I assumed would be dead. But no: “It’s not the Goliaths that have somebody evacuated, it’s not the Goliaths that have somebody quit,” he said.

Probst referred to her exit as quitting twice, so it seems like it’s very very important for Survivor to note that she wasn’t forced to leave the game by medical. (EW, which is your source for whatever CBS wants you to know about Survivor, made extra sure that we knew that.)

Thankfully, Probst didn’t shame Bi like he used to shame quitters, but considering how loaded the q-word is from past quits and shamings, is Bi really quitting, or leaving because of an injury?

With Bi gone, the tribes drew new buffs, and two tribes became four: purple, green, orange, and Carl.

Okay, Carl wasn’t actually a tribe, but he was sent to Exile Island, which remerged from the shallows (“WATCH AS I DIVE IN/I’M OFF THE DEEP END!” sorry that song is stuck in my head).

Exile offered a sewn-up coconut with a brand-new twist: an idol-nullifying advantage. Carl has to play it while voting, meaning before someone plays an idol. As he said, that means it works “if I guess correctly who’s playing an idol.”

Still, it’s a great addition—and I’d so much rather an idol nullifier than another hidden immunity idol, or a super-duper idol.

Uneven tribes lead to an unexpected outcome

Was this actually a random swap? Jeff Probst appeared to have had separate baskets for David and Goliath, but it’s not clear how they chose new buffs, because only a second or two of that was on TV.

However, Christian pointed out that the new tribes had been “gerrymandered” (bravo for bringing a very real real-world problem into Survivor!) and “evenly distributed into a minority.”

Davie said, “This is really messed up. Every single tribe has Goliath as a majority.” And that means very little chance for anything truly interesting to happen.

Oh sure, Natalie was annoying everyone on her new tribe by issuing commands and edicts, which Nick called “sweet music to my ears” because he thinks she represented a chance to break the Goliath majority: “I saw a crack and its name was Natalie,” he said. (He should turn that into a song.)

And Mike White bonded with Nick, going so far as to share that Dan had an idol.

But here’s the problem: With Carl at Exile, there seemed to be not just no incentive for Goliaths to flip on each other. Instead, there’s actually a disincentive: a 3-2 Goliath tribe that lost a Goliath wouldn’t become 2-2, it’d become 2-3 with Carl joining that tribe and flipping the balance of power.

Probst reminded them of that at the immunity challenge: the losing tribe would vote someone out “and immediately get Carl as their new tribe member.”

Once Alec reiterated that same point—making it clear that he understood that consequence—the editing seemed to be tipping its hand, indicating that could actually happen. At least, that’s what I started to think, since I’m so used to the editing working overtime to convince us that something may happen, even if it’s not even close to a possibility.

But yep, Alec flipped, voting against Natalia with Davie and Elizabeth. He even seemed to make the final decision at Tribal Council, as he promised. He stood up and whispered something to Elizabeth, rattling Natalia.

I’m glad for Goliath to lose someone—super-uneven seasons of Survivor tend to be less entertaining, if it’s just a dominant tribe/alliance picking off the smaller one—and it was really fun to watch.

Yet I’m not sure how this benefits Alec in any way. Resume-building was mentioned, but it’s so early in the game, and this was such an inconsequential vote, that I actually think betraying his tribe could hurt him with other Goliaths once the merge arrives.

But he did contribute to an entertaining exit. Natalia was rather annoyed, and didn’t hide it, and the editors showed it.

“Don’t be sorry. Shut up,” she told Alec, when he tried to apologize, and then, torch in hand, asked Probst, “Where do I put this?”

She turned to look at everyone and said, “Why are you smiling? Oh my god I can’t handle you right now.”

Then the editors included Natalia tripping on the path on her way out of tribal, compete with a sound effect, the kind of editing move that is certainly clue as to how the production feels about a player. (With so many hours of footage, they probably have an endless supply of embarrassing moments, but they’re rare.)

Speaking of embarrassing moments: The immunity/reward challenge was an interesting twist on that classic challenge that produces endless footage of blindfolded people smashing into things, and smashing their crotches into things.

This time, however, the caller wasn’t on a platform, but on a cart being pushed by two blindfolded tribemates. That put the caller in actual danger.

However, it also removed one of the biggest obstacles—being able to hear the caller, because the caller was right there, and all three tribes seemed to navigate that with relative ease. Having to also guide two blindfolded tribe members through a ball-in-a-hole puzzle was an extra challenge.

Gabby won it for the green tribe, perhaps helping to make her feel a little less like the kid who wasn’t allowed to sit at the cool kids table. Then again, Goliath still dominates her tribe, and if they go to Tribal Council, I wouldn’t expect another vote like this week’s. At least there is now one David-majority tribe, though, giving some hope of evenness as the game moves forward.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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