So Smart They're Dumb
Gabby Pascuzzi and Christian Hubicki on 'Survivor: David vs. Goliath'
S37 E12

“That is some mom love right there!” —Jeff Probst

Now, see, in normal society that is just a weird thing to say. In many circles, that could get you into quite a bit of trouble. In fact, since I’m doing this on a work computer, just by typing those very words about “mom love” I’m pretty sure alarm bells started going off in the EW Human Resources department and there is a good chance this laptop will be impounded by the end of this recap. Because, once again, someone could get the wrong idea about a guy watching two women embrace and exclaiming “That is some mom love right there!”

They could very well get the wrong idea about several other things as well. “Kara, you look like you’re ready for some love” is the type of statement that would most likely be frowned upon if taken out of context, especially in today’s climate. And “Alright, give some last love, Josh,” could be interpreted in a few different ways, none of which I care to elaborate on at this time.

But here’s the thing: All these statements coming from Jeff Probst were totally normal… in the context of Survivor, of course. That’s because it was time for the Loved Ones visit! Where love is on the line! In the name of love! Because love is a many splendored thing! And all you need is love! Even though love is a battlefield! And… okay, I’ll stop.

I used to make fun of the Loved Ones challenge, and, truth be told, I still kinda do. But I also totally get it now! I used to scoff and — being the emotionless cyborg that I am — wonder why these people were crying like Fishbachs over having not seen their siblings or parents for a month even though they most likely had not seen them for just as long back home in the States. But now, age has made me soft. I put myself in their position, and if my mom or wife or kid ran out there, I’m sure I’d lose it too. I mean, not Gabby levels of losing it or anything. Let’s not get ridiculous. But yeah, I could see myself having to wipe away a stray tear or two. What? It could happen! (Although my wife would probably only visit me as a Loved One after using the opportunity of me going away as an excuse to toss out all of my junk, many items of which — including a Survivor goodie! — can be seen right here.)

Of course, what’s more important than the reunions is sizing up the actual loved ones visiting. Who would take the title of the David vs. Goliath Loved Ones MVP. The most obvious early contender had to be Nick’s dad Jim, who I guarantee you has been called “Big Jim” or “Jimbo” at some point in his life. I also bet he makes a killing as a seasonal Santa. Big Jim just seemed like a stand-up guy with that goofy smile plastered all over his face. And you couldn’t help but appreciate Nick’s story about Jimbo donating blood to buy milk for his kids. (The other option would have been to turn them into vampires and just skip the middleman, but I digress.) “It don’t matter about what you have or what you don’t have. It’s about what you give,” said Jimbo in his NBC Saturday morning One to Grow On moment, and that only made him more endearing.

And then there was Mike’s boyfriend Josh. Josh didn’t say a whole lot. In fact, I don’t remember if he said a single word, but he was a pretty hot dude, which in Survivor always puts you in the running. Kudos to you, Josh! But the true Loved Ones MVP would not be revealed until after the challenge. For when Angelina and Nick won said reward challenge, there was Angelina’s mom Anna pumping her fists and yelling “THAT’S IT!” over and over like a crazy person after her daughter’s victory. And God bless her for it.

If you ever wondered where Angelina got her tenacity, wonder no more! Why was Anna so damn excited? Mom Love! This is exactly what Jeff Probst was talking about! That is some Mom Love right there! For all we know, Anna was so excited she then went over to Jeff Probst and negotiated another bag of rice for the tribe in exchange for her just being awesome. And Jeff said yes! Because you don’t say no to Anna. And you don’t say no to Mom Love. When it takes place on Survivor, that is. Okay, let’s run through the other big points this week.

Short and Sweet
“Previously on Survivor… aw, screw it.”

That was pretty much the “Previously on Survivor…” clip this week. I’ve never seen a “previously on” segment that short. I even timed it. 20 seconds — tops. And keep in mind, they had two episodes to recap from last week! That’s straight up nuts. And perhaps a sign of things to come. First, we saw the opening credits go bye-bye for more episode screen time. Then they start ditching things like the goofy Rites of Passage (where contestants would wax nostalgic about voted-out players they never met or barely liked). Now the “previously on” recap could be on the endangered species list as well. Which is fine by me. If I can remember that time Leif slept in a box in Survivor: One World, I can certainly remember who got voted out last week, thanks.

You Can’t Spell Angelina Without Angel
We’ve been thanking the Survivor gods all season long for Christian, but I feel many viewers have not been fully appreciating the other Survivor savior sent from above that is Angelina. Not unlike Professor Hubicki, Angelina is the gift that keeps on giving. What’s so great about Angelina? Sometimes it is hard to properly define or explain. Let’s take that moment were Angelina told her mom “I got rice for the entire tribe yesterday by not playing immunity because I’m being who I am out here and staying true to myself.”

I can’t put into words why that was so spectacular and put such a smile on my face, but it was and it did. It was just so…Angelina. And by extension, perfect. Was it braggy? Of course! But she was also so genuinely excited to share her success (or alleged success, because I have already outlined the faults in her negotiation) with her mother that it was also oddly endearing. I couldn’t tell if Alison and company were laughing at Angelina for bragging or smiling because they were getting caught up in the Mom Love, but it really doesn’t matter. However you want to look at that moment, it was great. And another example of why Angelina should automatically be brought back for another season.

The Fearsome Foursome
There is nothing I love more than armchair critiquing reward challenge winners and the decisions they make as to whom they bring with them on said reward. Well, that’s not entirely true. I probably love it more when Probst starts talking about “poles” and “balls” at challenges, but that’s just because I am an idiot with the maturity of a second grader. But we all know I’ve done my fair share of calling people out for ruining their games just to have a few brews or burgers with their island BFF as opposed to making the best strategic play on a reward outing.

However, I have no problem with what Nick and Angelina did here in inviting Davie and Mike to the Loved Ones reward (which was on some floating dock that probably would have had me barfing over the side in no time). The funny thing is that they actually did bring their island BFFs, or at least the people they are closest to still in the game. That’s usually a big no-no. But this game has been so fluid that I thought it made sense to try to forge a final four plan that was most likely to stick. Now, Davie did not seem down with it, because he felt he would be the low person on the totem pole since the other three were all on Jebeni together, but the foursome made strategic sense, so I am not going to endlessly second-guess their decision — which I realize is drastically out of character for me.

Of course, my strategy in Loved Ones reward challenges has always been to avoid winning at all. Because usually if you lose you still have about a 50% chance of going on the reward anyway! Plus, by not winning you have a 100% chance of not pissing anyone off by not selecting them to join you and have more time with their loved one. How many times on this show have we seen a pissed off person who was not picked to go then make it their mission to oust the winner? (The answer: too many times.) I would always avoid winning this challenge just to avoid having to make that decision. That said, it didn’t seem to burn Nick and Angelina here.

It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again
As if on cue, this week’s two challenges involved balls and poles. In the immunity contest, everyone had to balance on a narrow perch while holding a pole connected to a bucket of water. If the bucket fell or the player fell, he/she was out. I have both good and bad things to note about this challenge. They say to always deliver bad news first, but I am a natural contrarian so will start with the good.

On its own, this was a cool challenge. I have said before how the importance of an individual endurance competition is being able to track contestants’ progress throughout. That’s why I didn’t like the one where people had to swing the pendulum in a circle until they lost momentum. That one was a dud because there was no way to keep track of who was looking strong and who was starting to struggle. Instead, people were just in until they were out, and therefore it didn’t make for a very compelling viewing experience.

This one, however, was different. You could tell from the very beginning that Kara was locked in. The fun then became seeing if she could stay that way or not. You also could see the points where others began to waver. Watching those first twitches as players begin to struggle is super dramatic. So in that sense, I liked this challenge.

Now, here is my issue. There have been a LOT of just standing at a station and doing something until you can’t do it anymore challenges. How many? Four out of the six individual immunity challenges so far have been ones where people are lined up and holding something for as long as possible. That is way too many. So while I liked this week’s, and last week’s duel between Alec and Christian was epic, we need more variety. Get the contestants moving! Get them in the water, for crying out loud! It just starts to feel way too samey-samey when you have them all lined up and holding stuff.

There, hopefully, I made up for my lack of ranting in the reward decisions making department with my diatribe about the lack of diversity in immunity challenges. But am I alone in this? Hit the message boards to weigh in. Oh, and congrats to Kara, who won.

Power Gab… I Mean, Power Grab
Have you ever had malt liquor? For your sake, I hope not. It’s absolutely disgusting. But for some reason, there was a period in my life where I became mildly obsessed with the stuff. (You can even see a picture of me in a St. Ides malt liquor t-shirt if you want, but you will probably be far too distracted by my dyed-orange hair, which, not unlike malt liquor, I also thought was a good idea at the time.)

Anyway, my malt liquor fascination ended abruptly after trying something called Cool Colt, which was a menthol-flavored malt liquor — the taste of which I have never completely gotten out of my mouth since. But during the malt liquor phase of my life (also known quaintly as “college”) I became similarly obsessed with the advertising jingle for a product called King Cobra. King Cobra was endorsed by former football star Fred “the Hammer” Williamson. The Hammer played before my time, so I just knew him as the dude who would walk up to street signs and magically change them from saying “Same Old Malt Liquor St.” (which, frankly, sounds like a pretty unwieldy address) to the much cooler “King Cobra Boulevard.” His powers also included glancing over to women on pay phones, thereby putting them in some sort of trance that would force them to start breaking into a choreographed dance routine in the middle of the street. So what I’m getting at is that the powers of someone drinking King Cobra appear to be roughly on par with those of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet.

These ads came on when I was a kid, and all I remember thinking was… Hell if I’m going to live on Same Old Malt Liquor St! I can’t wait to be old enough to drink King Cobra! Suffice it to say, I did not wait until I was old enough to begin consuming King Cobra, but that’s a different story. King Cobra also had a dope-ass jingle that culminated with a sultry woman crooning “Don’t let the smooth taste fool you… KING COBRA!”

I bring this up for two reasons. One: I’m starting to kinda jones for a King Cobra. And two: Don’t let the smooth taste fool you when it comes to Gabby. Yes, Gabby! The same Gabby who — by her own admission — has had to be reassured at almost every corner. The same Gabby who has been portrayed as riding the coattails of Christian all season long. The same Gabby who almost forced the contestants to be evacuated for a second time this season because of camp flooding due to all her excessive crying. That Gabby! No way that Gabby could have the bite to try something like turning on Christian, right? Wrong! Don’t let the smooth taste fool you! (And if that causes images of Gervase yelling “DON’T LET THAT FOOL YOU” after almost drowning in a challenge to start dancing in your head, then all the better.)

Gabby realized what I have preached all season — perception is reality. And the perception was that Christian was making all the moves and she was just along for the ride. So she needed to do something about it. And the biggest way to ensure that she was seen as a player in this game was to do the biggest move imaginable and take out the biggest threat… and her biggest partner.

“I want respect in this game. So what better way than to slay my number one ally,” reasoned Gabby. And therein lies the biggest question: Is it more important to have the respect if you get to the end, or the ally to help get you there? Christian would probably use some fancy-schmancy mathematical term to describe the calculus needed to determine the proper move here, but I drank too much King Cobra in my life to possibly understand all that mumbo-jumbo. Instead, I can only rely on my gut, and my gut tells me this was the right move for Gabby. It was aggressive, and perhaps a little too early because it would put a target right on her, but in a season in which everybody is making moves, you have to start resume building, and Gabby’s resume (whether justifiably so or not) was seen as a little thin compared to the others.

She needed to change this narrative and had she pulled it off, it would have done exactly that. No longer would Gabby be seen as a naïve, emotional mess pulled along by Christian. She would make the move so many others (Angelina, Mike, and several of the jurors) wanted to execute and couldn’t in getting Christian out. But she also couldn’t. Because of Davie. Davie wanted Christian to remain in as his shield so he wasn’t targeted next, so he blabbed about the plan, even though it screwed over what we at least assume to be his biggest ally in Nick.

Because of that tip-off, Christian played the idol. (He made a big show of studying people’s faces before playing it, but that could have been just that — a show.) And because Mike then came out with the deliciously dastardly plan to put votes on Gabby in case Christian played his idol, Gabby ended up going home.

On one hand, that sucks for her. On the other, can you think of a better way to go? She did not sit back and wait to be betrayed by others, which no doubt would have led to more tears. Instead, she did the betraying. Rather than be a passenger, she became the driver. Now, make no mistake, she drove the car off the road, causing it to explode, become engulfed in flames, and fly off a cliff where it exploded again upon impact below. BUT AT LEAST SHE WAS DRIVING THE DAMN CAR! You have to feel much better going out while trying to make a big move than just sitting back wishing you had done the striking before you got stuck. So good for Gabby.

Also interesting to note is that after turning the tide and getting the numbers advantage from the Goliaths, the Davids have now handed it right back. That might not seem like such a big deal, but I am not convinced the Goliaths won’t use that 4-3 numbers advantage at the next vote. After all, you could make the point that the biggest threats to win are all Davids: Christian, Nick, and Davie. The Goliaths could unite over that to send one of them home.

I would throw another name in there as a big threat to win: Mike. He has played a super-stealthy game — the kind that doesn’t leap off the screen at first, but will be respected should he make it to the end. And don’t forget, the guy is a professional writer and actor. Would you want to sit next to that at the final Tribal Council? This dude crafts great stories for a living. And then acts them out. No way I’m sitting next to Ned Freakin’ Schneebly. (Plus, did you see how hot his boyfriend is? This guy wins at everything!)

Anyway, food for thought. Food that could even be washed down with a 40 dog of King Cobra, should you desire. Or you could wash it down with our exclusive deleted scene. We also have our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. And you can now read our exit interview with the ousted Gabby, who addresses those who say she voted out Christian because she was jealous of his girlfriend. Plus, you can always follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. (Or on Instagram, for that matter, @thedaltonross.)

But now it’s your turn. Did Gabby make the right move trying to take out Christian? Did you cry during the Loved Ones visit? And who was your Loved One MVP? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week with a scoop of the penultimate crispy, complete with updated Survivor season rankings!

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