Survivor is at its best and its most entertaining when the game is unpredictable, when there is a villain you love to hate, when tribes are swapped, when the underdog you love succeeds, when alliances are broken, big moves shake everything up and blindsides are afoot. Episode 4 of Season 37, Time to Bring About the Charmpocalypse, checked all those boxes.
So much was packed into that hour, I bet you already forgot Bi tapped out of the game at the very top of the show. Disappointing, only because I think she could’ve been fun to watch in the challenges, given her MMA background.
Drop Your Buffs
Thirty-seven seasons into Survivor, the #DropYourBuffs moment no longer shocks players or fans. The only stunner about this last night is it broke into three tribes of five and Truckdriver Carl walked buffless to Exile Island. The trio of new tribes, chosen randomly by the players themselves, put three Goliaths and two Davids on each tribe, eliciting Christian to astutely refer to the exercise as “gerrymandering.” He was right, since the David Tribe got cracked-and-packed into permanent minorities alongside their Goliath competitors. But Survivor is rarely so tidy, is it? Just because Goliath maintained majorities doesn’t mean the alliances carry over. There are always fissures to be exposed and the one thing a majority alliance needs the most in these tenuous times—patience—is usually washed away by torrential rainfall, sleep deprivation and personality clashes.
For those of you scoring at home (or if you’re alone*), here are the new tribe rosters:
Vuku (Orange): Alec (Goliath), Davie (David), Elizabeth (David), Kara (Goliath), Natalia (Goliath).
Jabini (Purple): Angelina (Goliath), Lyrsa (David), Mike (Goliath), Natalie (Goliath), Nick (David).
Tiva (Green): Alison (Goliath), Wrestler John (Goliath), SWAT Dan (Goliath), Christian (David), Gabby (David).
Tiva: Will Dan’s Heart Go On Without Kara?
While SWAT Dan initially fretted over losing his schmoopy, Kara, in the tribe swap, this is actually the best thing that could happen to him. Their two-headed monster strategy has a chance to lie dormant and be forgotten while they build reinforcements. If I’m a former Goliath, I would be working hard to get rid of whomever is nearest Dan or Kara right now. If Dan and Kara make it to the merge, they become a much stronger alliance to defeat. Mark my words.
The best thing for the viewing audience to come of this switch is Christian and Gabby remained together. Honestly, I love everything about these two and love watching their interactions together. Both are easily fan favorites because we all can relate to feeling like an outsider. Christian is able to channel it and make it work for himself by finding commonality with everyone. Gabby, on the other hand, still struggles with it. And who can’t relate to that? Like she said, it’s like she’s trying to ask for a seat at the cool kids’ table.
But the divisions aren’t as stark and concrete as it might seem. John, a professional wrestler, is clearly a good performer, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously and seems like a sincere and nice person. In fact, all the players at the so-called “cool kids” table are like that. Nevertheless, it was a readymade awesome moment of reckoning for Gabby in the Immunity Challenge when she cooly and calmly directed her tribe to a first-place finish. She is this season’s Little Engine That Could and, thus far, has succeeded with flying colors.
Jabini: Natalie Being Natalie
Over on Jabini, everyone seems to be getting along just fine. Well, almost everyone. Natalie is still Natalie and, in all honesty, I’ll give her a lot of credit for not flexing her personality. She is who she is and she’s going to ride that pony as far as it’ll take her. Perhaps it’s stragery to be a prickly pear carried to the end of the game to make someone else look better to the jury, but I doubt it. I think Natalie is at a stage in her life where she doesn’t feel the compunction to apologize or change for anyone. On some level, I respect that. But as a Survivor player, it must be a challenge to not confront her more about it. After all, “bossy” players (women, especially) usually don’t fare too well in Survivor. But if Natalie can white-knuckle her way through one or two more votes, she could be a dark horse in this game. It remains to be seen if her tribemates are willing to continue putting up with her, though.
Tribe chemistry aside, School of Rock Mike rightfully identified Jabini as the tribe of misfits, at this stage of Survivor. But he found a quick and easy alliance with Nick, who had to act fast after his Mason-Dixon Alliance with Christian got separated. This was a smart move for Nick. Similar to Dan and Kara, Nick and Christian have a strong alliance. If Nick brings in Mike after the merge—you know Gabby will be there, too—and suddenly, this foursome could become a power alliance.
Vuku: Goliath’s Self-Inflicted Wound
After losing the Immunity Challenge, Vuku predictably went into scramble mode. More accurately, Davie and Elizabeth went into scramble mode. For Davie, this had to be the most stressful of Tribal Councils yet. He’s sitting on an Immunity Idol that no one even knows about. Given the numbers, he knew his name would come up tonight. The blessing and curse of an idol is you don’t want to play it when you don’t have to and you don’t want to go home with it in your pocket. Fortunately for Davie, some Goliath members had big moves on their minds.
Sure, this resulted in one of the most entertaining early-game Tribal Councils I’ve seen in awhile. As a fan, it was fun and exciting to watch. But if I put on my Survivor Strategy Hat, it was really dumb game play on the part of the Goliaths: Alec, Kara and Natalia. In a vote that, at its easiest, could’ve been a slam-dunk, turned into a self-inflicted wound borne out of emotion, paranoia and overzealousness.
Think about it. Early on, Natalia got paranoid over Kara and Elizabeth bonding over horses. Horses! She immediately hit the panic button and branded Elizabeth her Public Enemy No. 1. By pushing everyone at camp so hard—Davie included—to vote her out, she got branded as bossy and rude; the one thing that happens too often to competitive women in Survivor. Even her bestie, Kara, could see it. That was all it took for Davie to expose a crack in the armor. He smartly played it up to Alec. By the time they got to Tribal Council, Natalia was already on the spit and didn’t even know it. I don’t know if Alec planned it this way all along, but his whispering campaign at Tribal led to a big, loud blindside of Natalia that completely changed the dynamic of this tiny little tribe.
The #CluelessKass Moment of This Season
Alec’s blindside of Natalia was a shock, especially to Kara. It was big. And it was completely unnecessary. Voting out Natalia falls into a category I call #CluelessKassMoments (I refuse to call that amateur player “Chaos Kass.” She was a self-absorbed moron). Yes, it was a big, bold move. But did it really improve Alec’s lot in the game? Not even a little. If anything, it hurts him both in the short-term and the long-term. Had he, Kara and Natalia stayed the course, Elizabeth would’ve been voted out and Carl would’ve joined. The numbers woudln’t have changed. They’d still be in control. And if this trio could make it to the merge along with Dan, they become a powerful alliance of four.
As it stands, though, Alec has lost the trust of Kara, the numbers to David and, if he makes it to a merge, his former Goliaths will regard him as a Benedict Arnold who can’t be trusted. Alec will be on an island. And for what? A big move on Night 11? Please.
Natalia’s Heart > Natalia’s Head
Natalia also has only herself to blame. I loved her competitive spirit and wish she could’ve tempered her paranoia about Elizabeth, but she just couldn’t get out of her own way. Instead of feeling threatened by the bond between Kara and Elizabeth, Natalia should’ve made it work to her advantage. She was already tight with Kara and Dan. The smarter move would’ve been to embrace Elizabeth and, along with Kara, pick off Alec or Davie and seize control of the tribe. If there’s a lesson to be learned here: don’t let emotions guide your strategy. It’ll get your torch snuffed out.
I can’t say I blame her for her grumpy exit from the game. I’d probably be just as pissed off, too. Sometimes, I wish more players stared daggers into their blindsiders while Probst snuffs their torches. It was an honest reaction. By now, though, I’m sure Natalia recognizes where she went wrong. And it wasn’t trusting Alec. It was making Elizabeth a vendetta.
Meanwhile, on Exile Island
Carl comes into Vuku with a whole lot of power. He can rejoin Davie and Elizabeth and also has the sweet-ass new Survivor advantage: Idol Kryptonite! It’s a tricky, risky advantage to play and I can’t wait until the night he plays it. If Carl is smart, he’ll keep his mouth shut until it’s time to play the advantage. Mostly, I just want to see the looks on everyone’s faces when it gets played. It will be better than Russell Hantz and his plethora of idols.
Survivor Employee of the Week
Even though I give Davie credit for quietly orchestrating Natalia’s ouster, the Employee of the Week is Gabby. If anyone needed a victory for purely personal reasons, it was her. And it wasn’t an artificial win at all.
She was literally and figuratively in the driver’s seat of that Immunity Challenge. In a do-or-die challenge, Gabby calmly and deftly guided her blindfolded teammates through a maze and a puzzle to win the challenge like she does this for a living. You don’t have to be a Gabby fan to appreciate that.
Predictions for Next Week
Natalie continues to drive her tribemates to the brink. Alec gets too big for his britches and Christian continues to say things that make me love him.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The line, “for those of you scoring at home (or if you’re alone),” belongs to Keith Olbermann. It was one of his signature lines when he was a Sportscenter anchor on ESPN. It always made me laugh, back in the day.