By Dalton Ross
September 26, 2018 at 09:30 PM EDT
David M. Russell/CBS
S37 E1
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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.

Last thing I’ll say about the intro before we head to the beaches: Survivor editors have been on fire lately, and they hit a home run again with the time-lapse montage of Christian obsessing over the wrong moves he made in the puzzle. Freakin’ hilarious. Yes, ever since Cochran, the Survivor Nerd has become an overused archetype, but this guy is money. Okay, let’s head to the beaches.

The Goliath Tribe
The rain is already coming as the Goliaths make their way to their tribe beach, and in case you don’t know who Mike White is, he’s here to tell you! He explains that he wrote School of Rock, Nacho Libre, “and then some indie movies and TV too.” Some indie movies and TV too?!? You mean like Chuck & Buck? And Enlightened? And Freaks & Geeks? Those aren’t just “some indie movies and TV too,” Mike White. Those are works of genius. Take ownership of all your writing prowess! Not only that, but need I remind you that you were FREAKIN’ NED SCHNEEBLY?!? Dude, you made it! In Hollywood! Do you know how hard that is? You’re a Goliath, for chrissakes. Start acting like it!

Also, stop looking for idols. Or, at least stop being so obvious you are searching for idols. Especially when you’re not in any trouble. That’s an easy way to put a target right on your back, which is exactly what Mike does. It also leads to a flurry of other people searching for the idol. Angelina even asks the question that I have asked many times before in my recaps: Why don’t women find hidden immunity idols? She and Alison want to break that trend. But they can’t, because said idol is in Dan’s pants — which, frankly seems like a weird and inappropriate place for producers to hide it. Maybe they were hoping Kara would find it in there?

Those two were certainly looking pretty damn flirty and a shoo-in for a season-long showmance. Which greatly confuses me thanks to this infamous Instagram post in which Kara seems to be romantically linked with another contestant from her tribe. Perhaps Dan reverted back to “Fat Dan” after the season and she was Audi 5000? I have no idea. REALITY COUPLE ROMANCES! WHO CAN KEEP TRACK?!

But enough of the most confusing island-set love triangle since Jack, Kate, and Sawyer — because Natalie seems to have annoyed people with her deadly combination of complaining about the way everyone else is doing stuff coupled with her not actually doing anything. Other than John Morrison taking 10 minutes to rattle off all of his nicknames, that’s about it from the Goliaths.

The David Tribe
Wow, this Pat guy is coming in hot! It’s almost as if he knows his time is limited so he wants to cram in as many left nut and butt crack jokes as possible. (Speaking of which: Why does a duck have feathers? To cover his butt quack. BOOM! I’m here all week. Please tip your waitress.) While Pat may be rubbing people the wrong way with his aggressiveness, the guy is at least getting results, building a kick-ass shelter for the others to enjoy without him.

But while one of the oldest members of the tribe is working hard on that, the youngest is working hard on the game. 19-year-old Jessica is telling everyone she is 22, because we have never, ever, ever seen teenagers lie about their age before on this show. She makes an alliance with Bi. She makes an alliance with Elizabeth. She makes an alliance with Carl. Hell, I’m pretty sure she made one with the octopus before Davie killed it. And she’s not the only one working it. Lyrsa and Elizabeth form an alliance while a storm rages overhead, and if they don’t call it the Thunder & Lightning alliance then they are doing something seriously wrong.

Meanwhile, Christian and Gabby pair up, with the latter branding herself the “nerd-whisperer,” which I can only assume means talking about Tribbles and Pythagorean Theorems and Jennifer Love Hewitt. I know I am forcing myself not to root for the David tribe, but there are some great characters on this team, and these two may be at the top of the list.

Nick has its own list, and it’s a list on how to get out of doing any manual labor. Nick thinks he’s being all crafty and nobody will notice that instead of helping out around camp, he is spending all his time coming up with terrible alliance names. (Why will nobody adopt Thunder & Lightning?!? It’s right there people!) But notice they have. Maybe Nick started to realize he was not fitting in, or maybe he just felt comfortable opening up. Either way, he decides to share his story about losing his mother three years ago to an overdose. It’s hard to tell how much of this was him wanting to get this off his chest in a form of tribal therapy and how much was him simply trying to undo any social damage he felt he may have already done. I also can’t help but wonder — especially after Pat thanked him for not saving it to the end —  if his original plan was to strategically unleash it at the final Tribal Council like Adam did with his sick mother in Millennials vs. Gen X.

You might think I would disapprove of using personal tragedy as a strategic tool, but not in the least. It doesn’t mean the pain is fake. The pain is still real. But if you can use that pain to garner votes and sympathy, then why not? The potential strategic downside for Nick of revealing this now, however, is that it is just the type of reason someone might not want to bring him to the end. Fear of a sympathy vote is a powerful motivator — to vote against somebody. But seeing as how far Nick was veering towards being on the outs, he probably had no choice. Forging personal connections at this stage is key, and while playing the long game is certainly important, sometimes there are cards you have to play to even get there.

Rain of Terror
Check out my man Jeff Probst. Not only does he rock an #OrangeHatAlert once again for the marooning, but here he is again at the immunity challenge looking down at his feet and modeling only the finest in Survivor headgear. Well played, sir.

Listen, I could tell you all about what the challenge is — and I will — but this one was all about the weather. These people were competing in a freakin’ cyclone! How badass is that? I mean, terrible for them, sure — but great for us. This is where you realize how real Survivor is, and we get to watch from the safety and comfort of our climate-controlled living room. Man, did it look spectacular.

For this one, both teams had to go through an obstacle course and then each send one tribe-member to dig and get under a log. The first person to get under the log would use a machete to then chop ropes and release a ladder. The second person from the other tribe would have no machete and would, therefore, have to spend extra time undoing knots and ropes to get the ladder to fall. Then, both teams would do a Survivor pole vault, and the whole thing would end with a giant number puzzle.

Let me tell you, I was straight up shocked when I saw this twist of the second team through the dig being punished by having to undo knots to release their ladder — shocked because the last thing the producers usually want is to install anything that discourages a team from coming back to win a challenge. The producers love a comeback! (My theory is that this is why they allow teams to copy each other on puzzles instead of putting up partitions, because a team well behind can catch up by seeing what the other team has already done and then get quickly back in it.) So for them to put in a twist that would punish the tribe already losing and cause them to fall even further behind was fascinating. But I like it.

I also liked the pole vault section, which reminded me of the polecats from Mad Max: Fury Road, which, by the by, is the best action movie in the history of movies. (Proof or polecats and dominance of film presented below for your consideration.

I also liked the number puzzle. I liked it all! And having it take place in a downpour was the icing on the well-drenched cake. In any event, the Goliaths won, meaning the Davids had to go to Tribal Council. Or did they…?

Down Goes Pat
The fact that Survivor is still having things happen for the first time in its 37th season is remarkable, but this is the type of first that was unfortunate for all parties involved. We’ve had many contestants in many seasons have to be medically evacuated for a variety of reasons. Some have gotten hurt in challenges. Some have experienced intestinal issues or infection or dehydration or other maladies that have caused them to be pulled from the game. But never has someone been forced out due to a transportation issue between beaches.

It’s no secret that — contrary to what Survivor shows on screen — contestants do not actually walk or paddle themselves from place to place on this show. When tribes need to go to a challenge or Tribal Council or reward, they are transported in either a blacked out van or boat depending on the location. They are terrible rides for the contestants, if for no other reason than the seas are choppy, and without fresh air and a view, they can turn into vomitoriums. And the seas in Fiji can be very choppy. I’ve been in some downright terrible boat rides out there, and that was not in a cyclone, so I can only imagine how awful this ride back to the beach for the David tribe must have been.

There are no cameras when contestants are traveling back and forth between locations, which means the players are also on “lockdown.” (Essentially they are not allowed to talk or communicate in any way, so that any conversations strategic or otherwise are captured on camera back at the beach.) That’s why there were no cameras to capture exactly what happened to Pat, but the short version is this: The boat hit a massive wave and Pat got thrown, sending searing pain down his back.

“I can’t see,” was the first thing we heard as he was carted by Survivor medical onto the beach while moaning. “My back… I can’t focus… I’m scared,” he says as his left-hand shakes. Someone holds his head still while Dr. Joe does his thing. Probst runs over. Dr. Joe talked about a possible fracture to the back. It was over. “You can’t take me. I can’t leave. I can’t leave,” wailed Pat, but he knew. Probst knew. We all knew.

“Not this way. This can’t be the way it goes. I don’t want to quit.” But Pat didn’t quit. Pat just became the latest casualty of the cruelest game on the planet, and his fate may just have been the cruelest of all. He didn’t get eliminated due to strategy. He didn’t get eliminated for rubbing people the wrong way (although that may have come later). He didn’t even get eliminated due to an injury from playing the game. He got eliminated due to a boat ride on day 3. Brutal. Positively brutal. Even more brutal than poor Jonathan and Wanda back in Palau.

Listen, I wasn’t on that boat, but I have been on a lot of Survivor boats in a lot of different Survivor locations (Panama, Cook Islands, Palau, Cagayan, Caramoan, Cambodia, Fiji, etc…). As I mentioned, there have been some really rough rides. But I can also tell you this: The boat captains are extraordinary. I have watched people vomit off the side while the captains have navigated choppy waters. I have seen rides that should take 20 minutes last well over an hour due to their caution and precaution. I have applauded a captain who sent me to Survivor medical after he slammed on the breaks causing our entire boatful of people to topple on top of each other because it would have been so much worse had he not done so. Again, I wasn’t on the boat, but I’ve been on many like them in those exact same waters. Throw in a cyclone and let’s all be thankful it was not worse. (Of course, you can get much more insight to the event and its aftermath from Jeff Probst in our weekly Q&A and I highly recommend that you do just that.)

So after all that drama and Pat is airlifted to a hospital, the Davids are told there’s no need for Tribal Council and that flint is waiting for them back at camp. (Yay?) And that pretty much does it for our supersized premiere. So what do we think? Personally, I was into it. As much fun as I made about the opening and how we were being subliminally directed to root for the David tribe, I still love a marooning challenge. I think the casting looks good so far. The cyclone challenge was epic to watch. And while it positively sucks what happened to Pat, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge the fact that it made for pretty riveting television. And it certainly made the Davids even easier to root for… which means I guess I have to dig in my heels that much more on the Goliaths.

Tradition dictates that this is the part of the premiere recap where I reveal my episode 1 pick to win it all, but really, what’s the point? Seriously, I haven’t been right in over 20 seasons so what’s the point in continuing this futile exercise other than the obvious one, which is to give you all more fodder with which to mock me. That’s fine. I dish it out so I have to be able to take it. I can handle your mockery of my predictive ineptitude. The only problem is, as much as I like the cast so far, nobody has really stood out on a strategic level at all.

I guess I find myself gravitating a little towards Angelina and Alison. They were working together to find the idol so maybe they’re working together in that tribe? I like the way Angelina wanted to flip the script on the narrative that women never find idols, but I wonder if she might come on a little strong. Alison, on the other hand, was picked by her tribe to compete in the marooning competition and also as the caller in the puzzle challenge. That means the tribe must trust and respect her. It’s not a lot to go on, granted, but there it is: Alison Raybould is my pick to win Survivor: David vs. Goliath. Write it down now and feel free to make fun of me once she gets voted out or skunked at the final Tribal Council.

Okay, that pretty much does things. But a few reminders. We have my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst that you are definitely going to want to check out. And if you missed my look at why Survivor has lasted so long and if it will ever go away, please read that here. Do you like exclusive deleted scenes? Good! Because we have one every week that you can always find right here on the last page of the recap (along with other video goodies throughout). And if you want to find the first place to hear from the eliminated contestant each and every week, it’s every Thursday morning at 9:40amET on EW Morning Live (SiriusXM, channel 105). You can also read that raw and emotional interview right here. And for all the Survivor scoop you can handle, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

And now, finally, it’s your turn. Hit the message boards to weigh in with your thoughts on the premiere and feel free to lock in your episode 1 pick as well. Thanks, as always, for bothering to read this nonsense, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

Jeff Probst leads adventures in the ultimate (and original) reality series.
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