Welcome one and welcome all to another season of Survivor recaps! I’m your host, Dalton Ross. Or, as some others know me, Dalton Dangerous. Or Dalton Dynamite. Also… Dalton Dashing, Dalton Disco, Mount St. Dalton, D Rock, Skinny D, Cash Rockwood, The Jester of Jersey, The Friday Night Letdown, The Embassy of Embarrassment, The Colonel of Cooltown, The Barack Obama of the Sauna, The Superintendent of Survivor, Mr. 50 Shades of Gray Hair. Or, you know… you can just call me Dalton.
I don’t have to impress you with my 50 nicknames, or flowing locks, or manly physique! Mostly because I have none of those things. But what I do have is a sad and pathetic history of spending the past 18 years of my life writing about a network reality show. So won’t you help me continue that sad and pathetic history by reading along? Yes, since Survivor started I have had a son that was born and gone off to college. I have had a daughter that was born who actually inspired a challenge twist in the game. I’ve had… well, that’s pretty much all I have had or done over the past 18 years. I mean, you all have read my recaps, they’re not exactly what one would call “short.” Or “good.” The point is, there’s not a lot of time for extra-curricular activities.
But my sad lack of a social life and any sort of hobby whatsoever has led me back to you. And to Survivor: David vs. Goliath. Season 37! What the hell? That is a ridiculous number. And, as I wrote earlier this week, it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon as long as a certain host/showrunner sticks around. (Really, please do click on that link if you have not read that article yet. I think any serious Survivor fan will enjoy.) So enough with the pleasantries and introductions. Let’s get into the premiere episode. Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it!
Jeff Probst begins the proceedings by throwing the theme of the season up in the air and then slamming it into our face like a John Isner serve. He tells us to prepare for “a modern take on one of the most intriguing match-ups of all time” — which, sadly is a not a retelling of the Geraldo Rivera vs. Frank Stallone boxing match of the 1990s. What the show is really doing is setting up one side (the Davids) as clear underdogs to root for, and the other (Goliaths) as the overwhelming favorites/villains to root against.
Just look at the introductions to tribes themselves. For the Davids, we get a confessional (first one of the season, in fact) from Christian, who talks about what a robot-obsessed nerd he is. For the Goliaths, we get Natalie boasting, “I’ve been amazing at business. Everything I touch turns to gold.” But that juxtaposition was nothing compared to the way they simply step onto the boat. When the Goliaths show up, we get confident booming music meant to translate their power and authority and dominance. When the Davids step on, we get the same goofy circus music they used to play whenever Stephen Fishbach would participate in a challenge. Through words, editing, and visuals, the show is hammering home the underdog theme hard. Hell, I’m half surprised they didn’t put all the Goliaths in New York Yankees uniforms and force the Davids to dress like the Bad News Bears.
I mean, OF COURSE the producers did all this. The theme is David vs. Goliath so they are going to keep hitting that theme and hitting it hard. But here’s the thing: We, as human beings, always have a natural inclination to root for the underdogs. Simply by affixing the labels “David” and “Goliath” to tribes, the producers have guided us to which team to root for, and that gravitational pull is pretty strong. Mike White even spoke to me about knowing he was a villain the second they revealed the theme.
But, at the same time, the emotional manipulation was so obvious in this introduction that while I went into this season assuming I would root for the Davids all the way, by the time they all stepped on the boat, the super-stubborn contrarian in me was refusing to do so. That’s right, I’m going against the grain! I’m totally rooting for the Goliath tribe! It doesn’t matter that Gabby and Christian are adorable together. It doesn’t matter that Lyrsa and Elizabeth could be the next great mismatched power duo. It doesn’t matter that one of the tribe members almost BROKE HIS BACK! I just don’t like being told whom to root for. The more you pull me one way, the more I push back to the other. It’s possibly my most annoying quality.
And I, of all people, should be rooting for the Davids. Not only am I a scrawny weakling, but my middle name is David. Not-so-fun fact: When everyone in the first grade started making fun and branding me Dalton the Dolphin (which, incidentally, is another wrestling stage name of mine now) I tried to convince them to call me David instead. Needless to say, it didn’t work. In fact, they really doubled down on the Dolphin thing as a result. But the point is, I am both a figurative and literal David. And I actually do like the David tribe members better. And yet I now feel like I need to root against them simply because the show is trying so hard to make me root for them! Does this make any sense whatsoever?
But the producers know we love an underdog. And what do audiences love even more than an underdog? An underdog who WINS! Which brings us to the opening challenge on the boat. It’s a bit confusing, but basically, the Goliath tribe is told they can pick their two strongest players (Allison and The Wrestler with A Million Names) to go against whom they deem to be David’s two weakest players (Purple Hair and Big Bang Theory). But the David tribe is then given an advantage of their own: Each of the three stages of the challenge has three different options, and the Davids get to pick which team does which on each. It is a MASSIVE advantage. Clearly the beam over the water is much, much faster than the plank option that they stick the Goliaths on, which ends up giving Purple Hair and Big Bang Theory a huge lead they never surrender, winning easily.
I want to be absolutely, 100% clear that I am not implying this challenge was rigged or unfair in any way whatsoever. The Goliaths got a choice and the Davids got a choice. And the Davids could have totally screwed theirs up or screwed up any of their stages. There was no funny business in terms of how this was executed or played out. But let’s just say that the conditions seemed pretty ideal for a David victory to launch the season. Every single challenge of every single season favors certain people or tribes. This one, and the way the advantages were distributed, seemed to tilt that balance to the Davids. But that’s just my take. I asked Probst who he thought had the better advantage before the competition ran and you can read his answer in our weekly Q&A.