Thirty-seven seasons in, and Survivor is still the best reality competition show TV has to offer.
Somehow, the CBS series is still managing to find new challenges, new twists, and new idols with which to torment its tired, hungry, and determined castaways week after week, year after year, and still giving us moments that literally make us clap and cheer from our couches. That was especially true in last week’s episode, where this season’s extremely divided David vs. Goliath dynamic came to a dramatic head in an incredible Tribal Council. We are not kidding or exaggerating when we tell you we actually gave the show a round of applause.
The contestants this season were originally divided into Davids—the underdogs, the nerds, and the people who weren’t born into privilege, and the Goliaths—the rich and famous people, the doctors, the people who didn’t have to work all that hard for what they have. While the Davids have stuck together for the most part, the Goliaths have stuck together through the merge to the point of insanity and paranoia. They’ve all considered flipping to the other side, but then they keep changing their minds at the last minute, suddenly fearing that the Davids are out to get them.
That’s what happened last week, beginning with the deteriorating showmance between Goliaths Kara and Dan. Kara realized Dan was bringing her down and ruining her game, so she got some fellow Goliaths together and told the Davids she wanted to vote Dan out.
Then, Goliath Allison suddenly started panicking. The Davids agreed to vote out Dan (with split votes for Angelina, in case Dan had an idol, which he did) way too quickly, so clearly they must be trying to pull a fast one, so obviously the Goliaths had to stick together and go back to the constant plan of voting out Christian, the David they all perceived to be the biggest threat. Kara was annoyed by this change of plan, but she agreed.
What none of the Goliaths knew was that the Davids had pretty much every possible advantage on their side. Nick had the ability to steal a vote from someone else. Christian had an immunity idol, and Carl had an idol nullifier, which allowed him to specify a player whose idol would be null and void. Basically, they couldn’t lose, and the best part was watching the Goliaths discover how screwed they were.
First, Nick stole Allison’s vote, clearly sensing that she had switched back to the Goliath side. Then after the votes were cast, Dan played his immunity idol for himself. Christian, who knew he was a Goliath target, stayed suspiciously quiet because he knew that Carl had played the idol nullifer for Dan, and that with Allison’s stolen vote, the Davids had the numbers to get rid of Dan once and for all. Dan’s face was priceless, and the whole thing will probably go down in Survivor history.
Even Jeff Probst called the moment “historic” in an interview with EW, because essentially the game has changed.
“It was the first time a Nullifier was played and Carl played it correctly,” Probst said. “That’s all we could have ever dared dream when we put the Nullifier into this season. The other side of the moment was the confusion shared by Dan and the Goliaths. They had no idea there was even such a thing as a Nullifier so their shock was compounded by a lack of information. And that lack of information connects to the third and perhaps most important element in all of this—the reminder that the Survivor gods are the ones who are truly in control of the game.”
Changes like that and the new quicker, funnier editing are made possible, Probst said, because of how long the show has been on, and how well the show’s viewers know it.
“I think it’s a luxury that we get because we have one of these rarities where you have a show that actually has a relationship with the audience where they know us, we know them,” he told EW. “I talk to them all the time on the street and I feel like there’s a give and take, like, yeah, we’ll watch, try something, and we’ll definitely let you know if we don’t like it.”
The fact that the Survivor gods are even still able to come up with such simple concepts that can completely change the game in that way is the reason that this show is still working after all these years, helped by the fact that casting is still incredible. We’ll never forget Brochados John, the famous wrestler, and Christian, the socially awkward algorithm genius, or the no-nonsense Natalie coming up against every single other person on either of her tribes over things like eggs and beds and jackets.
We rarely don’t enjoy a season of Survivor, but every element of season 37—from the perfectly divided cast to the brand new twists to the insane evacuation-causing weather—has created this perfect storm of a TV show, filled with moments too good to have even been scripted. Luckily, it doesn’t look like the storm is slowing down any time soon.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.