Tribal Lines Are Blurred
The cast of 'Survivor: David vs. Goliath'
| Credit: CBS

So, I’ve got a deal I’d like to make you. And it’s a pretty sweet deal, if I do say so myself. Now, don’t be intimidated by the fact that I took an Advance Negotiations class at the University of Hard Knocks and got my Masters degree in Pointless Scheming. I promise this will be fair. What I’m thinking is something along the lines of this: I give you my Sisqó doll I obtained at an EW Toy Sale because nobody even bothered to bid on it, and you give me… ummm, I don’t know, let’s say everything you own in exchange.

I know! I know! It seems like a lot I’m giving up. Collectors are likely to pay MILLIONS for a pint-sized recreation of the guy who sang the “Thong Song,” so I’m clearly giving up more than I am getting in this deal, but that’s just the type of person I am, always trying to improve the lives of others.

What’s that? You have a counter-offer? You’d prefer if I sat out a recap instead? Well, first of all, I assure you that you are far from the first Survivor fan to wish that. Also, if I sit out, who can step in and make sure there are an adequate number of typos and references to low-budget syndicated action series like Baywatch Nights and Cleopatra 2525? Sit out? Never! The only people that sit things out are Survivor contestants with million-dollar prizes on the line.

Speaking of which, I suppose we should get into that because there was a lot of sitting out going on in this double-shot of episodes. Let’s start with the first immunity challenge. That devious bastard Jeff Probst once again gave the contestants a choice: compete for immunity or enjoy a plate of nachos along with alcohol. Carl, Angelina, and Nick all opted for the food and booze rather than the competition.

Now, before I continue, I would like to stress that I have never starved in my entire life. Sure, there was that time I was down to one slice of bread so had to eat only half of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich for lunch. That was pretty harrowing and I occasionally do wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat just thinking about it, but the point is, I’ve never been deprived of food for long. (The longest was probably when I spent the night alone on Exile Island the night before season 12 started filming.)

So as someone that has never truly been without food for long, it would be unfair for me to say to Carl and Angelina — who have been on zero food rewards since the merge — what the hell were you thinking? And yet I say to them… WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!? And don’t even get me started on Nick, who has been on food rewards, although, in fairness, he may have been too busy coming up with dumb alliance names to eat while at them. But seriously, very disappointed in them.

This is a rant I go on seemingly every season, so I’ll try to keep it somewhat brief (remember, we’re grading on a curve here when I say that). You came to play Survivor. So play Survivor! Embrace the experience! And the challenges are a big part of that experience. That’s not the main reason to keep playing, however. That’s just my inner Survivor nerd making sure his voice is heard. There are better and smarter reasons to play rather than eat.

Chief among those reasons is that you never know when your neck is on the chopping block so you should be fighting for safety at all times. Look at Carl: He thought he was 100 percent safe at the following episode’s Tribal Council and look what happened. And by all appearances, it seems like forces were already starting to mobilize against him by the time he started stuffing nachos down his throat. You never know, so should always fight like hell for anything that can keep you immune from eviction. The only thing nachos keep you immune from is staying regular.

Then there is the second big reason to never sit out a challenge: It’s just a bad look, man. At some point, if you’re lucky, you will be asking the others to vote for you as the most deserving person for the million-dollar prize. You will sit there at the final Tribal Council and tell the jury how you gave it your all and fought tooth and nail throughout the game. While you do that, the image you probably don’t want to land in their minds is you belching while alternating between congealed cheese and watered-down margaritas as the others suffer through a grueling endurance competition. Fair or not, it just doesn’t match the narrative you are trying to present.

And we already saw how current and potential future jurors viewed this. Brochacho Dan and Brochacho John were aghast that players sat out to eat — although, to be fair, jury members tend to be aghast about a lot of things. Hell, you could tell them that Probst wore his blue hat at the challenge and they would probably be aghast, which is silly because I’m the only person lame enough to honestly give a crap about the color of Jeff Probst’s hat. But still-in-the-game Kara was one of the current players who also commented negatively about the decision, telling Carl, “You were comfortable enough to eat nachos. It is what it is.”

Perception is reality in Survivor and if you want to create the narrative that you were a true gamer then you can’t be perceived as someone that was content to sit out part of the game. Of course, this wasn’t the only challenge sit-out of the night. In the second episode, Angelina noticed that the tribe was perilously low on rice, but she thought she had the expert bargaining skills to remedy the situation. She would argue that she did. I would argue otherwise. Here’s why.

I have no doubt that Angelina is a strong negotiator. She is smart and tenacious and anal retentive and all the things you need to succeed in that field. But she really botched it here. That’s because Survivor is not a normal negotiation. Here’s the real deal: Jeff Probst and the producers do not want the contestants to starve. For one thing, death tends to put a bit of a crimp in things. For another, hungry contestants make for boring contestants. They just sit in the shelter all day and don’t really do anything.

I’m not implying the producers supply the contestants with an unlimited amount of food, nor even a healthy amount — but they give them enough to keep them moving and grooving. And if the contestants eat too much, the producers will give them more. This also has been proven. Now, they can’t just give them more for nothing. Because then why did they limit the amount in the first place? That would be a bad look. So, as Probst likes to say, there has to be an invoice.

This brings us back to Angelina’s flawed negotiating tactics. With Probst, you NEVER, EVER, EVER make the first offer. Because it will automatically be turned down. Now, Angelina would tell you that the first offer is supposed to be turned down and that is normal negotiating. True, but again, this is not a normal negotiation. The fact is, I have seen Probst offer more food for less than Angelina’s initial offer. LESS! But by making the absurdly generous opening offer of all their fishing gear, the majority of cooking sets, comfort items, tea, and coffee, all Angelina was doing was increasing that invoice.

But here’s where things got interesting. Instead of asking for a tribe invoice to receive more food, Probst demanded an individual sacrifice. To receive more rice, one person would have to agree not to compete in the individual immunity competition. Angelina volunteered and sat out, the tribe got their rice while keeping all their gear and comfort, and she was not voted out. So huge win, right? Wrong.

Because look at what Angelina sitting out does in terms of her narrative in the game. First off, she just sat out two immunity competitions in a row for food. That’s not good and could be spun against her at final Tribal Council. Now, you may say to that, “But the second time she was sacrificing herself for the good of the tribe!” I’m not sure it will be seen that way and we’ll get back to that in a second. But let’s say for a second that it is seen that way, as some sort of huge goodwill gesture on her part. The new Mother Theresa, if you will! People that make such grand selfless acts in this game are almost always punished for them. Would you want to sit in the end next to someone that was believed to be that good a person? Of course not. By putting yourself up on a pedestal, you are merely incentivizing others to get rid of you. And that’s if they believe the gesture is genuine.

Now ask yourself this: Do you think the people playing this game honestly believe Angelina’s gesture was genuine? Of course not. Remember how I awkwardly gave myself a shout-out last week for predicting how the Goliaths could guarantee Dan’s exit? Now I’m about to give myself another super-annoying shout-out, but it fits so perfectly into what I am trying to explain that I can’t help myself. Here’s what I wrote right after the merge when Angelina got caught trying to jury manage Elizabeth on her way out:

“Here’s why this move is a death knell for Angelina.… Here’s what it ultimately comes down to: The other people both in and out of the game will not trust anything Angelina says. And I’m not talking about strategy and flipping and backstabbing and all that nonsense. I’m talking about any attempt to make what Angelina described as ‘a raw human moment.’ People in the game will not trust her, and even more devastatingly, anyone out of the game who could be voting either for or against her at Tribal Council as a member of the jury will now view any potential moment of kindness through a cloud of doubt, and wonder if it’s all phony baloney sincerity.

“It now doesn’t matter if Angelina is sincere in what she says or does because not unlike poor Pig Pen, that cloud will now follow her wherever she goes. Perception is reality in this game, and the perception clearly appears to be that Angelina was not being genuine by trying to get in good with the first jury member before sending her to her torch-snuffing executioner with the dimples. Again, it doesn’t matter if that is true or not. Whether people playing think it is true is all that matters, which is why now Angelina can’t win.”

And that’s pretty much it right there. It doesn’t matter if this was a true selfless move by Angelina or not. That’s irrelevant. What matters is how the others view the move, and because of Angelina’s past transgressions, she will not be given the benefit of the doubt. So even though they got their rice and Angelina did not get voted out, I would argue sitting out was actually worse for her game than had she played.

But what about the rice, you ask? They needed the rice! To that, I say: THEY WERE GOING TO GET THE DAMN RICE ANYWAY!!! Yes, another deal may have had to been struck a day later at the next reward challenge, but again, the producers will not let the players starve. The producers want to give them the food and in this sense, the players are actually coming into the negotiation not from a position of weakness, but from a position of power. To put this in negotiating parlance that Angelina can understand — she should have walked away from the table. She should have left the room and waited for that call that says, “Okay, let’s talk.” But she didn’t, and I believe it cost her.

Okay, so there’s 2000 words about people sitting out challenges. Sorry about that! Especially considering there are two episodes to get through, that was probably a bit unnecessary. My bad. Let’s hit up the other necessary kibbles and bits from this two-hour block.

Sleeping on the Job
According to what we’ve seen, the Davids are just working harder out there than the Goliaths. We saw that last week when they were all out at the crack of dawn looking for idols as the others slept in, and then here it happened again as Nick and Davie went out in the dark to go idol hunting as the others stacked Zs.

And once again it paid off as they found an idol clue telling Nick to sneak out of camp and head to the farthest point of the island at night to retrieve his idol. A big deal was made about how difficult it would be for him to sneak away, which I do not understand at all. Seems pretty simple to me. A few hours before bedtime just make like my man Fishbach and start complaining about #SevereGastrointestinalDistress. Then, if anyone notices you were gone, tell them you were having digestion issues in the middle of the night. Better yet, strike up a fake conversation with Davie over the campfire the next morning that can be clearly overheard about how you had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Again, seems pretty simple.

Anyway, I’ve been surprised at the lack of urgency from the Goliaths, especially after watching the two Brochachos get blindsided. Again, we can only go on the edit, but based on that, the Davids are just trying harder.

The Toes Know
I’m just going to offer some free advice right now. If you are not either a super-duper Survivor nerd or insanely indecisive and neurotic, then just skip this item right now. Head straight to the one about the letters from home. Trust me, you’ll be happier that way. Because if you just stumbled here by accident due to some Google link… well, then what the hell are you still doing here? But seriously, I’m about to geek out in a big way and you probably will not want any part of it. That said, let’s talk about reward challenge footwear!!! Anybody? Bueller? Anybody?

I found myself mesmerized during the first reward challenge. Not by the challenge itself, which had the players race out in water to a rope bridge, cross it, and then try to land three rungs on a ladder target. But rather by the contestants’ feet. Don’t worry, I don’t have a weird foot fetish or anything (just a knee socks fetish, which is totally NOT weird in the least). No, I was interested in the fact that some people did the challenge barefooted, while some wore shoes.

As a viewer, it is more than likely you never noticed, cared, or thought about this in the least. I think about it all the time. During my visit to Fiji for Ghost Island, I did a challenge out in the water where you had to climb a big ladder, slide down, and then swim over to release buoys that then would be shot into a net. (It was the challenge where James could not dive down deep enough so Donathan came in to save the day… if you want to call being blown out in a challenge “saving the day”).

Anyhoodle, I spent a good TWENTY MINUTES before the challenge obsessing over whether to wear water shoes or not. Obviously, I would swim better without the shoes, but would I need them for climbing the ladder? To make matters even worse, some of the Dream Teamers testing out the challenge were wearing shoes and some were not. Confusing! Ultimately, I went barefoot, unlocked the buoys, won the challenge and had a great time, but I’m telling you I drove everyone in the press pool INSANE with all my back-and-forth dithering beforehand on what to do about my feet. (Sorry, Andrea, Mara, Gordon, and Josh!)

So, like the loser I am, I was curious to see what happened here in what was another hybrid challenge. Going across the rope bridge would seem to favor shoes while swimming to get there would not. What would they do? The excitement was palpable! Here’s what was interesting. Davie, Carl, Nick, and Angelina all wore shoes for the purple team. The only one who went barefoot for them was Kara. Conversely, all five orange team members (Mike, Gabby Christian, Alison, Alec) all went barefoot. Wait, it gets even more intriguing (read: boring).

The shoes-wearing purple team then ran in the water to the rope bridge, while the barefoot orange team swam over. That different strategy may have guided the footwear decisions for each tribe. The funny thing is that it ended up being even (with both teams arriving at the same time), but what happened on the rope bridge was decidedly not. The shoes-wearing purple team SMOKED the barefoot orange one, lapping them en route to the ladder target, and there is no doubt the shoes offered more support. I can pretty much guarantee you I am the only idiot who noticed or cared about this, but I do think it shows you another important level to the game that is rarely remarked upon.

Little things like this can make a huge difference. Do you wear shoes when you have to balance on something? (Some wondered if Woo had an unfair advantage in Cagayan for wearing those creepy toe slipper-type water shoes because they helped him balance on the triangle platform. Maybe he did. But other times shoes can be a hindrance, especially with limited space.) Do you go barefoot when you have elements that also involve swimming? It’s up to each individual contestant and you often get very different answers.

Of course, the first punchline to this is that the barefoot orange team that made the wrong footwear decision won the challenge anyway after Alec dominated the rung-throwing portion. (Although considering they were puking their guts out after from eating too many wraps, “winning” is a term that should be used loosely.) The second punchline is that due to reading this you will now be staring at the feet of contestants in every challenge from here on out and for that I humbly say… you’re welcome.

Letters from Home
All the reward winners from that contest got letters from home that made them cry. I could write about it, but won’t. Hey, I’m saving all my sap up for the loved ones visit next week. Plus, I kinda like the fact that I just wrote 800 fewer words about the emotional apex of the evening in favor of rambling on and on and challenge footwear decisions. It’s literally the most Dalton recap decision I have ever made.

In Defense of Alec
This was an awesome first immunity challenge. I mean, not for Nick, Carl, or Angelina, who sat out. And probably not for anybody taking part because they were in so much pain they looked like they were each having years of their lives shaved off like poor Westley being strapped into Count Rugen’s The Machine from The Princess Bride. But it was awesome to watch.

In this one, payers had to balance on a narrow perch while holding a handle behind their head. Seems simple, but it turned into an epic five-hour battle of wills between Christian and Alec. And the approaches the final two took could not have been more different. While Christian talked on and on to his captive audience of Jeff Probst about all manner of things, Alec talked to himself. While the affable Christian projected whimsy and good sportsmanship, Alec came off as cocky and brooding, announcing things like “I won’t step off” and answering a Probst question of “How long you think this is gonna go, Alec?” with “Till I win.”

No doubt viewers were also probably turned off when he told a crying Gabby “You’re gonna drop. You’re going to step off. Bye, Gabby,” or responded to Christian’s complement of “You are a beast, by the way. You’re amazing” with “You’re not gonna win.” But I’m here to say not only did that not turn me off one bit, but I actually respected it. First things first, I am relatively confident those last two examples cited (and many others) were actually said under his breath and unheard by the other players. The editing (and audio amplification of his responses) made it seem like he was saying it to them, but I highly doubt that was the case.

Rather, this was Alec mumbling to himself as motivation to keep himself going… and it worked! For five hours at least, until his body shut down on him and he started feeling dizzy and finally stepped-off. You do whatever you have to do to motivate yourself to continue on, and everyone has a different method. For Christian, it was rambling on and on to take his mind off the pain; for Alec it was pumping himself up and telling himself he could and WOULD win so he did not even think about giving up. I have no problem with that whatsoever.

And what a huge win for Christian, proving his worth both mentally and physically in challenges this season. The resume building continues!

Sorry, Bro
Alec didn’t want to go unanimously. But he did. The guy showed flashes, especially right after the merge, but never made a huge move (outside of eliminating Natalie Napalm, which probably wasn’t the smartest at that time). He was super impressive in challenges but never fulfilled the strategic promise he showed at times. All in all, a solid addition to the season. I got no hate for the guy. Although he should probably stop flashing the hang loose sign on the jury. That could get old reeeeeeeeal fast.

Yes, Even MORE Sitting Out!
God, you thought we were done with the sitting out topic and so did I, but this is a bit different. Because there was an odd number of people for the second reward challenge, the unpicked person (in this case, Christian) had to sit out with no chance of reward. That’s too bad for him because the challenge (which involved leaping off a ladder, releasing buoys, and slam dunking those buoys into nets) seemed like a blast. It was also too bad for him because, as previously mentioned, it offered him no chance for reward.

There was a time when Survivor allowed the person forced to sit out a chance to bet on the winning team, and if that team won, the non-participant got to go on reward with them. But that time has apparently long passed. Why? I have no idea. Maybe the thought is that it offers an unfair competitive advantage to give a food reward to someone that did not exert themselves physically in the challenge, thus allowing them to refuel at a higher rate. Or maybe one of the producers got burned in daily fantasy football so does not want to encourage gambling of any kind. Beats me. Anyway, I have asked Jeff Probst about his before, but it’s been a while so I asked him again in this week’s Q&A and you can look for his answer there.

Too Much of a Good Thing
Thank you, Carl! I don’t care how bossy and entitled you were out there. You have done the one thing I want from every single Survivor contestant: You got wasted on a reward challenge. In the grand tradition of such Survivor heavyweights (and heavyweight drinkers) as Jan Gentry, Jonny Fairplay, Tom Westman, and Bret Labelle you recognized the incalculable inherent entertainment value in watching someone slur and stumble around a tropical island… at least a tropical island not populated by Sandals resorts and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville chain restaurants. I have a feeling you may find more than a few drunks around those parts.

Of course, strategically speaking, getting drunk is a terrible idea because I’m sure we’ve all said and done things we have regretted while drunk. Like, I may or may not have dialed the number 627-8452 once after a bender because it spelled out M-A-R-T-I-K-A and I wanted to tell the woman on the other end of the line what a kick-ass ballad “Toy Soldiers” was. It may have happened. Just sayin’. The point is, you can’t afford any slip-ups, and let’s say that Carl — who apparently also now goes by the nickname “Slimmy Sly” — strikes me as something of a sloppy drunk. I deduced this from the fact that he was still attempting to drink while half-passed out on the beach — an activity with which, once again, I may or may not be familiar.

Speak and Spell
Speaking of Carl, I gotta say it: I kinda think he got jobbed a bit in the immunity challenge. The goal was to do a bunch of obstacle course nonsense and then solve an 11-letter word puzzle. And that’s exactly what Carl did with “Perceptions.” But that wasn’t the word producers had in mind. The word they were looking for was “Perspective.”

First off, let’s be clear. Had anyone else come up with “Perceptions” first, they also would have been told they were wrong, so there was no cheating or producer interference or anything else us junior conspiracy theorists can drag up. But it’s still super duper sucks for Carl. He was told to solve an 11-letter word and he did… WHILE STILL HALF DRUNK, NO LESS!

I don’t know. I kinda think you have to give it to him. He was given 13 tiles and told to come up with an 11-letter word and he did. Sounds like a winner to me! That said, I totally get why he was not. They were looking for a specific word and that wasn’t the word. Still, if I were Probst — and you should all be thanking your lucky stars every day I am not — I would have thrown both my arms in the air and declared Carl the winner. He did what I told him to do, so that’s that. And that’s also how close Carl was to still being in this game. (Davie and Alison, clearly helped by Carl’s close-to-the-right-answer-but-not-close-enough, then raced to the end, with Davie winning.)

Carl’s Last Stand
In the end, Carl’s lack of diplomacy and — ahem — perspective cost him as Gabby and Christian flipped to form a new alliance with Mike, Alison, and Kara. That means I can breathe a sigh of relief as my episode 1 pick to win it all (Alison) is still in the game, even if the edit eliminated her a long time ago.

I’ve written a lot about Carl in this recap, but I don’t have a ton to say about his overall game. I never really got a great feel for it. I know the guy worked hard, liked beer, and could have shown a little more empathy and accommodation. Like so many before (and after) him, he got too comfortable in his position of power. Sucks for him.

The other two notable moments at this second Tribal that merit mention were Angelina dropping an awesome nod to Friday Night Lights (“There are clear eyes and full hearts for certain people here”) and Kara, Alison, and Gabby mocking Carl’s “Ding!” when he used the Idol Nullifier by providing their own “Ding!” upon his exit. Definitely not a smart way to woo his jury vote, but it made for a nice punctuation mark for these two hours of glory.

And holy moly we are almost done here! Of course, you still have an exclusive deleted scene to watch, and my exclusive weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst to read. (Also, if you missed it, check out my post with Jeff clarifying the Idol Nullifier rules right here.) Plus we have my exit interviews with Alec and Carl ready for your consumption. And for more Survivor scoop, you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. Was Carl jobbed in the second immunity contest? Would you ever skip an immunity challenge for food? And did Angelina make a good deal for rice or not? Weigh in below in the comments section and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy! (Thanks to Angelina, that is, who got some more crispy rice from Jeff Probst.)

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