A Journey Through “New School” Survivor — Season 37, Survivor: David vs. Goliath
While there is no “official” start to the New School era, I consider its beginning to be after Heroes vs. Villains, the twentieth season of Survivor; often considered one of the best, if not the best season in Survivor history. This season has always seemed to be the “opening of the gates” to how everyone could play things strategically, even when odds are against you and numbers aren’t on your side. Nobody was simply “happy to be here” or “just wanted the experience”, everyone wanted to win and do it in a way that could put them in the pantheon of Survivor legend status. And with that, the old school survival and social experiences of the show took a back seat to hardcore and fast paced strategy that defines the new school era.
And with that, I continue my journey with Survivor: David vs Goliath. Since I took a break from watching Survivor when it aired pretty much after HvV, I’m coming into most of the seasons completely fresh without knowledge of what happens (with the exception that I do have knowledge of who the winner is already). I will start each article with a spoiler-free review of the season for people who stumble upon my little write-up here and haven’t seen the season yet and want to watch still. After that, I will go into an in-depth analysis of the season’s strategy and entertainment through the vessel of awards and superlatives.
Survivor: David vs Goliath — The Spoiler Free Review
Survivor’s 37th Season plays out excitingly with one of the most competitive seasons in quite a while. The theme is based on the well-known biblical story; pitting “Davids”, or people who come from humble beginnings who had to grind for their successes, against “Goliaths”, people who have garnered accolades and successes naturally from talent or circumstances. Because of the unique theme, the season doesn’t feel like one that has to rely on new twists to catalyze the game or justify the season’s existence, which is good for people who don’t like the complicated or game-shaking twists (a la Redemption Island). It’s a creative theme that allows you to cast a wide net to bring in plenty of interesting people. And it is the casting for the season that makes Season 37 a memorable one.
I feel comfortable saying that David vs. Goliath has the competitively strongest all-new cast in Survivor history. From the winner to first boot, from top to bottom, from 1 to 20, every player shows a level of strategic competence and if they don’t, there is the desire. It makes for a season where every episode is interesting at the most base level because there is a mystery in the air as to who will be voted out. On top of that many cast members are simply interesting people, from their personality to their actions to their confessionals, that takes the enjoyment of the season beyond being just a strategic playground. At the end of the day it is a reality TV show and personalities shine, so having people like Angelina or Natalie or Christian or Nick is what makes Survivor great, beyond the intense strategy of the new-school iteration of the show.
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS
The front to back most competitive season of Survivor by new players in the show’s history.
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AWARDS AND SUPERLATIVES
(Here on out it’s spoilers)
Ten Best Moments from the Season
10. Alec Flips on Hotheaded Natalia
A tribe swap turns the tribe count from two to three, and each tribe had more Goliaths than Davids, so it could have been easy for the Goliaths to stay strong and just pick off a David every vote until the merge. Alec wasn’t so keen to follow suit in the hours before tribal council as his distaste for the aggressively bossy Goliath ally Natalia grew. He chooses in the moment to whisper in Elizabeth’s ear at tribal council to confirm to the Davids that he was on their side, and he sends a pissed off Natalia home and opens the floodgates for every other Goliath in the game to make their play.
9. Nick and Carl Combine Advantages to Nullify Dan
While Goliaths flirted with the idea of breaking the tribal lines and truly turning the post-merge game individual, easy numbers reigned supreme as they planned to vote out Davids. But while the Goliaths had the numbers, the Davids had the advantages. Nick and Carl put their advantage together: Nick steals a Goliath vote to flip the numbers, and Carl uses the brand-new Nullifier advantage to cancel out Dan’s idol and send a strong player home. While many can complain that going home to a previously unknown and (dare I say) overpowered advantage feels kinda icky, it was a huge turning point in the season and threw the power of the game into chaos.
8. Elizabeth Sabotages Angelina’s Game at Tribal Council
As Davids and Goliaths united at the merge, the first vote was looking like an easy one, which everyone agreeing to vote out country girl Elizabeth first. Angelina wanted to go after a threat like Christian first but couldn’t find support in her own alliance, so out of spite she decides to secretly go to Elizabeth and tell her the bad news. This all backfires on Angelina at tribal council, where Elizabeth goes on the offensive to try to throw Angelina underthe bus to everyone. While it didn’t change the outcome of the vote, it was an entertainingly explosive tribal council with the drama of “Why was Angelina Doing This?” and it had real impact on her reputation in the near future.
7. Angelina’s Ladder Adventures
Angelina fake crying about falling out of a tree to hide the fact that she had to use a ladder to try to find an idol is some top tier on-the-fly acting. Because of how desired immunity idols were this season, everyone went idol searching after every tribal council where one was played. Angelina’s proved to be the toughest to find, because it required digging up a large ladder to reach an idol on a rock wall. Angelina of course screws everything up by losing the clue so she scales the treacherous rock wall looking everywhere for this idol without luck. In the end she recruits her allies at a dinner reward to search for the clue and secure the idol. It gives us a great screengrab of Mike holding a glass of wine with the best “idgaf” face.
6. Carl, Drunk on Power and Brewskis, Digs His Own Grave
After using his idol nullifier successfully to vote out a power player, Carl began to revel in the in-game power he had accrued as the “Godfather” of the Davids. He leads the voteout against Alec and prepares to lead the charge against Alison next. On top of that, he got a little too drunk at reward which lead to some “unsafe’ strategizing, go as far as to exclude Gabby as a David alliance member from the Alison vote because of a friendship the two women had. Gabby gets back at Carl with Christian and teams up with Goliaths to get Carl out by blindside.
5. Davie Reveals His Idol to Save Christian and the Mayor of Slamtown Goes Home
The first big blindside of the merge is enacted by Davie, as a rare player who finds an idol and keeps it completely secret from people until playing it. The Goliaths wanted to get Christian out of the game as a social threat, but Davie saw an opportunity to protect an ally and shift the numbers which his hidden immunity idol. Because the Goliath target was protected, Angelina felt nervous about going home (given her name was floating around already) and pressured Dan into making a split decision to counter-protect her with his idol, but little did they know the Davids had voted for John instead. Davie comes out looking really good in this play, and it sets up the next tribal council where the Davids use more advantages to take control of the numbers.
4. Napalm Natalie
It has been a long time that a castaway had made quite as much a stir as Natalie did coming into the season. The successful CEO got on everyone’s bad side immediately with her commanding, demeaning, and bossy nature. Every Goliath could not stand her, but Natalie wasn’t going down without a fight. And thankfully for her, Jeremy the lawyer rose to the occasion. Jeremy not only was playing an incredible aggressive strategic game right off the bat, but also picked arguments with Natalie about her abrasive social skills. While Natalie seemed like a shoo-in to go home first, Jeremy ended up getting the boot before her. What’s funny about Natalie is that while she was clearly an intense pain to live with, I would by no means call her an idiot: she is clearly intelligent and players like John were willing to play strategy and collaborate with her.
3. Angelina Really Wants a Jacket
Speaking of Natalie, her exit was front and center when it comes to Jacketgate. Freezing cold was desperate for a nice, warm, wooly jacket, preferably from a soon to be eliminated contestant like Lyrsa. So of course, you get Natalie to do all the dirty work because her reputation already precedes her. The conflict is used to unite both David and Goliath together in an effort to blindside Natalie at tribal council, and Angelina who “voted with her” hopes Natalie would be so kind as to let her have a jacket. Angelina gets the cold shoulder but gets plenty of laughs from it back at camp, because the pure audacity it takes to try to fleece someone out of their coat after blindsiding them is peak entertainment.
2. Alec and Christian Duel for Five Hours in the Torture Device Challenge
In an all out battle for immunity where Alec went into the challenge with not only the stakes of having to win to move forward in the game, but also the confidence that he would not lose to anyone today, he is beaten out by the diminutive Christian after over five hours of torture. It was Survivor competition in its purest form: a true duel of grit. Christian also went hours talking about random crap to Jeff Probst to keep himself focused, and Alec was on the verge of fainting before finally deciding to step off, despite saying multiple times about how there was no way he was going to lose or step off. Alec would go on to be voted out that night.
1. The Final Tribal Council
Is this a bit of a copout answer? Maybe. But I think the final tribal council perfectly sums up what was good about the season as a whole: as three strong players in Nick, Mike, and Angelina made three compelling cases for their victory in a tightly contested and strategically top class season. This season was great not because it was a moment heavy season, but because it was a front to back entertaining watch.
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All-Survivor Teams: Outwit and Outplay
Similar to the All-NBA teams, the section awards five contestants who did the best in the season, separated by Outwit (for best strategic play) and Outplay (most entertaining to watch)
2 men, 2 women, and a wildcard spot for each team
Davie — In a season filled with big gameplay, Davie’s performance felt like the best combination of big-game player with tempered social skill. Davie had his big strategic moments, highlighted by playing his immunity idol on Christian to save him from going home and idol out John. Yet, Davie also had smaller political and social game moments that helped him build a complete resume. He mainly ran with his fellow Davids but had positive relationships with his non-allies, he maneuvered politically to protect his allies like leaking Gabby’s plan to blindside Christian to protect his ally, and he grinded for advantages by securing two different idols.
Mike — Christian had called Mike’s season performance “revolutionary”, and I can see where he was coming from as Mike had played an excellent under the radar game. The only time he ever felt threatened as the target was at the very start, only due to being to obvious with his idol search. Once he found his rhythm in the game he worked really well within his own alliances. He was part of a theoretical David-Goliath cross tribe alliance at the merge, but was able to pivot really well and get the Goliaths to target Christian when Angelina was unable to the vote before. Mike found his stride at the very end, connecting with former tribe-swapped tribemates Nick and Angelina to secure a final three, while having his fingers on the Christian vote (despite feeling like he couldn’t make any waves on that vote the afternoon before) and orchestrating the Davie vote out.
Kara — While Mike got a lot more credit for his under-the-radar gameplay in the edit (probably because he made it to the very end), Kara essentially played the same game to similar success. She found an early ally in Dan with a showmance as the brains of the duo, but once the heat fell on Dan for his threat level, she was well-prepared to turn away from that alliance and focus more on building solid social bonds with people to keep her in the loop on big moves in the final third of the season. While she never was the orchestrator of a big move, she was also never in danger of going home given she didn’t receive a single vote against her all season.Nick felt much safer taking Angelina to the end rather than running the risk of letting Kara walk to the final.
Nick — The first two thirds of the season was especially great from Nick, which was enough for him to secure the victory despite falling off at the home stretch. After surviving being a possible first boot because Pat was medically DQed, Nick found his footing in the David tribe and secured strong alliances with people using nicknames to establish the alliance (most notably the Mason-Dixon alliance with Christian), a game move common in Big Brother but rarer for Survivor. When the tribe swap put him and Lyrsa in a minority position against three Goliaths, Nick found an inroad with Mike and Angelina to vote out Natalie, then Lyrsa later on. At the merge Nick kept his options open, but eventually committed to the Davids. With the Davids he was a key voice in two big vote outs of Goliaths John and Dan. His impact on the Dan blindside was especially key, as he properly used an extra vote advantage to pair with Carl’s idol nullifier to guarantee success. While he got blindsided by the exits of Carl and Davie, he was able to grind his way to the end with a real idol and a fake idol (which he fake found to throw people off the idol scent) and by winning the final three immunities got him a spot in the end.
Gabby — Gabby felt like the perception around her was one of a follower, but given the resume moves she was a part of she found it to be false. While she did come off as overly-emotional in moments throughout the season, she also absolutely had her fingers on a couple key moves and proved herself to be a big game player. Early on in the David tribe she made a tight alliance with Christian as a self-proclaimed “nerd whisperer” and played a key part in voting out Jessica in the first blindside of the season. A tribe swap put her in a precarious position as the guys bonded and made her feel socially insecure, but the new tribe never had to vote anyone out. In the post merge she was the driving force in blindsiding Carl with Christian and the remaining Goliaths, and she had a blindside on ally Christian completely set up but was thwarted by an idol play. So while she felt others didn’t acknowledge her gameplay, statistically leading two blindsides in one season is fairly impressive.
Angelina — There was a flair that Angelina brought to her game of Survivor this season that makes for excellent TV and excellent debate on whether she was a good player or not. She was constantly involved in the season’s drama with Natalie, Elizabeth, and Goliaths and she loved to pursue after the “Made for TV” type plays, whether it was asking for Natalie’s jacket or trying to sabotage Goliaths out of spite for ignoring her strategic input or trying to fake idol Alison out of the game in some hair-brained scheme. You have to have a level of appreciation for players who are clearly smart people (just listen to how she talks in tribal council situations) yet don’t keep themselves shackled strategically by just trying to make the mathematically best move in every situation. It really felt like Angelina was having fun and trying to live out her Survivor dreams, and I get on board with that a lot more as a fan over great players who do everything by the book.
Christian — This season’s supernerd brought his own little twist to the classic Survivor archetype. He loved to wax poetry about whatever was going on in the game with a robust vocabulary, which helped set him apart from other Survivor supernerds. He found fun ways to connect with people (like being the Mayor of Slamtown’s comptroller) and he played a fun game with a fair share of big moments in the season (none more iconic than beating Alec in the torture device challenge), dodging the vote multiple times despite being labeled a big threat to win early on.
Natalie — Very few players can act so incredulously on the island that you have to ask yourself: is she doing this on purpose or is she really that socially unaware? It has been a long time since there has been a true “camp disruptor” who could get the streets talking like Natalie, as she did none of the work but all of the delegating, while leaning into conflict at every turn. I guess I can only dream of how the season would play out if Natalie made the merge.
Davie — Gotta give a shout out to the positive ray of sunshines in confessionals, and this season it was Davie. He just seems like a guy that would be fun to chill and play video games with and chat about whatever.
Alec — Strategically, Alec played the most aggressive game which translated into enjoyable television, as he was out in front of the curve when it came to breaking tribal lines.
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The Wallflower Award for Most Forgettable Player: Kara
Realistically, there was no true character that was forgotten in the edit (which is what signals a good season). I’ll put Kara in here because of the players who made it far, Kara saw the least screen time. A lot of that was due to the way she was playing the game by staying low, and because she didn’t make the final three there wasn’t a necessity to highlight her gameplay as much as like a Mike or a Nick.
Foulest Move: Angelina Trying to Fake Idol Alison Out of the Game
Fouler things have happened in Survivor than this game move Angelina was trying to pull, but the way she went about it was too much “kicking someone while they were down”. Alison had been labeled as a threat for many days now and final five was the perfect time for the vote to finally happen. Angelina, with an idol in her pocket, decided that she wanted to fake an idol for Alison to find, then have her alliance fake work with Alison to blindside her, but then Angelina can have the last laugh with her real idol in order to give herself a “resume defining move”. It only worked to shame Alison and the inauthenticity of the whole plot (while admittedly creative from Angelina) wouldn’t look good to the jury.
The Idiot Award: Jeremy
Everyone on the Goliath tribe hated Natalie, and yet Jeremy found a way to get himself voted out before her. He overplayed his hand by trying to get the tribe together and “stop the side conversations” hence painting himself as a gamer, and then out of shared racial kinship went for a failed endeavor to call out and fix Natalie on her bossy behavior, which Natalie was having no part of.
The Unfortunate Exit Award: John
He was a casualty of a great idol play by Davie to save fellow David tribemate Christian, and after setting himself up well within the Goliath tribe he was sent home without getting to use any of his power. Who knows if the Mayor of Slamtown could have made waves in the final third of the season, but it definitely felt like he was still building momentum as a player rather than already past his peak.
Best Moment of Unexpected Comedy: Jeff Probst Balls Joke
Risque Jeff Probst best Jeff Probst?
Best Day One Player: Jessica
The youngest player in the game this season had secured herself a good position at the start of season, setting up a couple alliances and being safe with Carl and Bi’s majority alliance, but a poorly handled conversation with Gabby put a target on her and Nick and Christian swung the vote against her. If Pat doesn’t DQ and Nick is sent home on the first vote, would Jessica have gone far in the game?
Best What-If Scenario: The “Strike Force” Alliance of Christian, Gabby, Nick, Mike, Alec, and Alison Truly Materializing at the Merge
At the merge we are teased with the formation of a David-Goliath cross tribe alliance that had a plan in place to take over the game once eleven players remained, but it seemed to just kinda disappear after the first vote. What happened to this secret alliance that made it fall apart? Other than Mike seeing Gabby react emotionally to the Elizabeth vote-out and deciding to stick Goliath, nothing really signaled the death of what would have been an intriguing endgame. You assume the group of six would vote together until one of the members feels another gets too powerful, and then all hell breaks loose as the tribal lines get so muddied that all alliance opportunities are out in the open to scramble for.
The Alison Raybould Award (Most Vague Threatening Player): Alison
What made Alison such an obvious threat to people? It became her entire storyline on the show, where she kept surviving votes despite always being a name people threw out as someone to send home. She went four votes feeling like a target, then getting at least one vote, before finally being sent home in a final five. Players like Nick and Angelina were especially vocal about wanting to send her home, but it’s not like she made a big move to garner being so targeted. Was it general competence? Did she just seem like a smart player to people in Fiji? Was it just a name to say over and over again? Whatever it was, it wasn’t clear on the TV screen.
Best Mood RN Moment: Mike with a Glass of Wine
The “Remember When?” Moment of the Season: Remember When Tribes Had to Canoe Themselves to Their Own Challenges?
Pat got DQed in the first episode because his spine snapped in half due to turbulent waves while on the speedboat returning to camp. It made me think how in old school seasons, people literally had to canoe everywhere to get places. When did they stop doing this? I feel like tribes don’t even get their own canoes anymore. Was it too tiring for the castaways, and production wants fresher minds for when the strategy of the game was at its peak. Or is everything just too far away for tribes to travel around by themselves now that Fiji is the only place where filming takes place?
On a scale of one to ten, how much did the winner deserve the win?
It’s funny because while Nick ended up winning the season, I didn’t really feel like he played the strongest front to back game of the season. But that’s what makes Survivor interesting: it’s a jury that votes for a winner, and members of the jury only get to see the game from their viewpoint. Nick’s midgame was what earned him this victory because he had a hand in the David alliance that made the flashiest moves: voting out John and voting out Dan (of which he was a key piece in its execution). He missed out on two votes as the game reached its conclusion (Carl and Davie) as the power shifted away from him towards players like Mike, who earned his votes from that late game. At the end of day the biggest macro-strategic accomplishment from David vs Goliath was breaking apart the Goliath majority and Nick was the key player in that move, and in final tribal council he was eloquent enough to convey his strength as a player.
Who should be back for a….
Heroes vs Villains Season
Heroes: Davie — Positive energy and underdog storyline translate perfectly to Survivor Hero energy.
Villians: Angelina — Super gamer with a controversial playstyle, yet clearly a smart person and strong Survivor player. Not afraid to ruffle feathers either.
All-Stars/Fans v Favorites Season
Christian — Even for the “Supernerd” archetype, he’s a bit unique. He also played quite well for being labeled as a threat so early, so he deserves another chance to play.