Breadth-First Search
Credit: CBS
S37 E9

I’m going to start this week’s special Thanksgiving edition of the Survivor recap by giving myself a shout-out. It’s going to come off as kinda self-serving and gross, but maybe the fact that I recognize it is gross to give myself a shout-out makes it slightly better because it at least shows a modicum of self-awareness due to the fact that I am in full recognition of the grossness in which I am about to engage. Or, come to think of it, maybe it makes it that much worse because only a narcissistic a-hole would continue with the shout-out even while demonstrating a capacity to understand the aforementioned grossness. I can’t decide.

Anyway, there is a (slight, albeit tangential) point to all of this, which we’ll get to in a minute. But first, since Survivor can have its “Previously on…” segment, why can’t I? So here, ladies and gentlemen, to refresh our memories as to what I wrote last week after the Davids got John out, is our first ever “Previously on… Dalton’s Survivor recap.”

“If the alliances continue under opening tribal lines, can the Davids do it again even though they are still down 6-5? The answer is yes. In fact, if they want, the Davids are assured of controlling the next vote. How so? Through the following: First off, Nick uses his vote steal. That flips the advantage to the Davids at 6-5 their way. Then all the Davids put their vote on someone — let’s say Dan — and Carl uses his idol nullifier to nullify any idol played on Dan. Then Dan is guaranteed to go home. Episode over. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!”

That’s what I wrote last week. I point this out not to seem like an annoying know it all (or, in the case of Rob Cesternino and Stephen Fishbach, a perfectly pleasant and trademarked Know It All™), but rather to… actually, who am I kidding? I totally want credit for figuring out this exact scenario mere moments after the previous Tribal. But that’s not why I’m bringing this whole order of events at Trial Council up. Nor am I bringing it up to needlessly delay you from gorging on cranberry sauce and stuffing. Rather, I think it is possible that we may be seeing a fundamental change in the game happening before our very eyes. Allow me to explain.

IDIOT! NUMBSKULL! MORON! SON OF A MOTHERLESS GOAT! We’ve all yelled things at our TV before while watching Survivor. Regrettable things. Things of which we are not proud. Four out of five doctors agree that one of the leading causes of Survivoryellitis is when someone on TV finds an idol or advantage and then starts telling people about it. How many times have we seen this backfire over the years? Forget about over the years, how about over the weeks? Look at Dan. (Seriously, he wants you to look at him. He lost a lot of weight and now is just waiting to appear on some sort of “Hot S.W.A.T. Cops” calendar.) Anyway, Dan told the person he considered his strongest ally in the game in Kara about his two idols and then she went and used that information against him by telling the enemy.

The point is, you can’t trust anyone in this game. And even if you think you can trust them on day 3, how do you know you’ll be able to trust them on day 23 — after tribe swaps, and merges, and all number of other factors? Information is power in this game, so keep it to yourself. That is Survivor 101.

But is that changing? The only way the Davids pull off what they did the last two weeks was by sharing information and pooling their resources. While we didn’t see it on the show, we have to assume Davie told others he was using his idol last week, because otherwise, they would not have split the vote between John and Angelina.

Then, this week, every secret was shared. Nick told the Davids he had a steal-a-vote. Christian told the Davids he had an idol. Carl told the Davids he had an idol nullifier. Gabby started to tell the Davids something but then started crying instead. Anyway, everything was laid out on the proverbial table. It was the most brazen display of terrible Survivor strategy I have ever seen. And yet it made all the sense in the world. Only by working together and combining certain powers — and making sure everybody knew about them so they stayed strong as one unified voting bloc — could the Davids pull this off.

And yes, it was glorious to watch. Observing the transformation on Dan’s face from supreme satisfaction and confidence after playing his idol to learning about the Idol Nullifer played against him was akin to Bart Simpson putting Krusty the Clown’s Anniversary Special in slow motion to pinpoint the exact moment at which Lisa broke poor Ralph Wiggum’s heart on national television.

That’s not a diss on Dan. I took no particular satisfaction in watching his game be summarily destroyed due to a brand new twist he had no reason to even know existed. This facial transformation is electric no matter who the subject. However, as amazing as this moment was, I’m almost more focused on what it means for the future. Not the future of this season, but how the game gets played in season 39 or 43.

Not to channel my inner Hubicki, but has the calculus on how to win now changed? Survivor is a never-ending game of cat and mouse between producers and players. As soon as the contestants catch up to the way the game is being run and how to act and play accordingly, the producers add a new wrinkle. And now, by adding in different advantages which can be used in conjunction with each other — kind of like the two-part super idol in Kaoh Rong — the producers are almost encouraging contestants to share information, which goes counter to everything we have thought.

If the opportunity to pool resources is potentially there, do you still stay silent about whatever idol or advantage you may have? It’s an interesting question to consider, and one which future contestants will have to contend with moving forward. Once again, the game evolves.

Okay, I’m going to do my best to keep this on the shorter side this week since it is the holidays and we all have belt buckles to loosen and family members to avoid and Dallas Cowboys to root against. I also realize I say almost every single week that I am on a quest for brevity and almost every single week that quest fails spectacularly, but this time I’m serious about it, so let’s hit some other odds and ends before we wrap up.

• Poor Angelina. First off, she has to keep seeing votes against her at Tribal Council, which can’t be fun. But even worse, somehow DAVIE GOT THE MAYOR OF SLAMTOWN’S JACKET!!! Here Angelina has been all season concocting elaborate ruses to scam people for their coats, and then Davie walks away with Johnny Mundo’s jacket?!? Of all the indignities! This is like the last can of Milwaukee’s Best going to Josh Wigler. It’s like Stephen Fishbach showing up in a previously unearthed scene crying yet again about #SevereGastrointestinalDistress, yet only Gordon Holmes gets to see it. It’s like Sally’s autographed knee socks being sent express mail… to someone from ET Canada!!!! What the hell?!?

• And poor Dan. Yes, he got voted off thanks to an unforeseen twist he never could have planned for, but almost as bad was the way he got dissed and dismissed by Kara on national television. Watching that episode playback and hearing her talk about how he was “coming loose at the seams” and how “I had a feeling this day would come when I had to cut ties with him at some point” is a double whammy.

Yes, Dan was a little too mopey back at the beach after he wasted his idol on someone he didn’t want to waste his idol on, only to watch a much bigger ally in the Shaman of Sexy go home instead, but he’s far from the first person to have a mood and a moment. Maybe it was more than just a moment. Whatever the reality, I actually felt bad for the guy. I know we’re not supposed to feel bad for Goliaths because Goliaths are Goliaths and we have been conditioned — and not so subtly led by the editing — from the very first second of this season to root for the designated underdog, but I still feel sorry for him anyway.

Did you see his face as he had his torch snuffed? His tribe was yelling how much they loved him but he couldn’t even turn around to acknowledge them he was so bummed. Wait, why am I feeling sorry for this guy again? He’s, like, a million times better looking than I am and probably far more charismatic as well. Still… I do.

• The only thing more indecisive than me during the annual Open Enrollment for benefits window (which mercifully just closed after me staring at various health care options for approximately 12 billion hours) are the Goliaths, who keep changing their mind on whether to flip to the Davids or not. First, it was Mike who told us all how excited he was to be aligned with Christian… only to then change his mind and set his sights on the robotics scientist with a ferocity that only Angelina could fully appreciate. He also became the unlikely poster child for Goliath Strong, imploring the others how “We need to stay together like true Goliaths. We can’t be little bitches. I know we all hate each other but let’s get through that.”

Alec has likewise sent mixed messages on how, when, and where he would like to shake up the game. And this week, Alison — I know what you’re thinking: Who???? — jumped into the schizophrenic fray. She went on and on (I mean, as much as the editors let Alison go on and on about anything) talking of how she needed to build her resume and would have safety aligning with the Davids because of her connection with Gabby. But then, one day later, due to absolutely nothing whatsoever, she completely reversed course, worried that the Davids were going to take them all out once they got the numbers.

Here’s the thing: She may very well be right. But why can’t these Goliaths figure it out before they make this huge point about shaking up the game with a big, bold move and then slinking back to the comfort of their majority alliance? Why one could even say they are slingshotting back and forth. Eh, that doesn’t really make sense. A boomerang would have been better. Dammit, why couldn’t David have slain Goliath with a boomerang! Then this paragraph would be far less regrettable than it is as it stands now. Jesus, I’m aborting this entire item and moving on.

• I love the way all the Davids got up early to go idol hunting. Sometimes you can simply out-effort the competition and (according to the edit, at least) that’s what they did here by forcing their sleep-deprived bodies out of the shelter to go locate another thing to help them in the game. The one nice thing about being in the minority is that you can pretty much search with impunity and not have people get all pissy about you looking for an idol because WHAT THE HELL ELSE ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO?!? In the end, it was Brochacho comptroller Christian who found the idol and God bless him for it.

• A quick note about the challenges. The reward challenge involved teams racing through obstacles and collecting tiles and then solving a snake puzzle. This challenge was notable for two things: Jeff Probst once again sounding like he wanted to have sex with the food being offered for reward (“Baaaaaaaaaacon burrrrrrrrrrrger”) and for Mike forgetting to cover his completed number tiles combo, which then led to Alison copying and yelling the numbers to teammate Christian while trying not to be drowned out by Davie, Alec, and Dan, who were yelling out fake numbers.

This was magnificent. I loved everything about it: the fact that Mike forgot to cover his numbers, the blatant copying by Alison (which she absolutely should be doing since it is within the rules), and then the misinformation warfare initiated by the dopey dudes yelling out things randomly as if they were hoping to make Danny Noonan miss a crucial putt and lose the caddy golf tournament to Tony D’Annunzio.

As for the immunity challenge, it involved the players balancing a ball on a disc while crossing a beam and then maneuvering three balls across a snake-shaped track, which leads me to ask: What’s up with all the snakes in challenges? I once had to haul some 300-pound snake out of a cage in the water while testing out a Game Changers challenge and let me tell you, that sucked. Anyway, this episode was especially snake heavy, and that’s not even counting any scary shots of snakes slithering around Tribal Council as the players arrive. (Actually, this week we got a giant beetle, which seems to alternate weeks with the snake and tarantula, usually moving around menacingly on a leaf or through the eye of a skull or something.)

I guess the highlight of this challenge was Christian wiping out and “crunching something hard” (Probst’s words, not mine) as Alec won in a blowout. Good for Alec. He should post on Instagram about it.

• At the risk of repeating myself (now when have I EVER done that?!), it’s worth pointing out just what great theater this was at Tribal Council. It started with Nick stealing Alison’s vote. (God, first they steal all her airtime and now her vote?!? This poor woman!) You then had Alec and Kara adjusting on the fly and voting for Angelina. You had Dan thinking he had guaranteed his safety: “They’re trying to pull a fast one. I’m gonna make sure it ain’t me going home.” Then the announcement of the Idol Nullifier, which also sounds like the name of a Nordic death metal band. You even had Carl showing off his Idol Nullifier note, which was indeed a bit thirsty, but best to make sure the jury and future jury members knew exactly who was responsible.

It was all as delicious as the copious amount of gravy-slathered stuffing I plan to shove in my mouth over the next 24 hours. But as I sit here and write about how thankful I am for Survivor, I should warn you that things are about to get so cheesy in the next paragraph that you may actually see a pool of Velveeta begin to congeal on the edges of your phone or computer.

But here goes: I am thankful for anyone who takes the time to read this nonsense. I have been writing about this show in one form or another since before it even went on the air. I have been doing these way-too-long recaps since season 4 (Marquesas). The fact that people still spend their time reading my musings when there are so many other things to do and ways to waste your time out there is sometimes overwhelming. I really appreciate it and thank you for lending me your eyes each and every week. And the kind words that come my way every now and then are appreciated as well. So thanks!

And thank you as well to all Survivor players past, present, and future. First off, you are all insane. Seriously, there is clearly some sort of screw loose to make you want to want to suffer on national television for our enjoyment. You should all see a therapist immediately. Obviously, I have a lot of fun at your collective expense in these here recaps, but you are all tremendous sports about it and I appreciate the fact that you allow those of us that watch and comment on the show to laugh at and second guess everything you do out there. It’s all in good fun. I mean, fun for us at least. Again, you are all insane for opening yourselves up this kind of scrutiny. I cannot stress that enough. But I do sincerely appreciate you all having such a great attitude about it. Especially Stephen Fishbach. I mean, if you’ve ever been upset about anything I’ve ever written about you, just imagine how much worse it could be. You could be THAT guy!

But wait, I’M NOT DONE THANKING PEOPLE! Thanks to the show Survivor for sending me another exclusive deleted scene this week that you can see right here. And thanks to Hostmaster General Jeff Probst for taking the time during the holidays to answer my questions about the episode for this week’s Q&A. And thanks to anyone who follows me on Twitter @DaltonRoss or Instagram @thedaltonross.

Our exit interview with Dan will be coming your way on Monday, but in the meantime, you can weigh in on the message boards. Did the Davids make the right move in burning two of their advantages simultaneously to turn the tide? Should Alison, Alec, and Kara have flipped when they had the chance? Do you feel bad for Dan? And finally, do you go for canned or homemade cranberry sauce? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with a Tryptophan-laced leftovers-worthy scoop of the crispy!

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