Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere Episode Recap: A Bad Break

What’s up my Survivor people? It’s so great to be back covering the show that I love, and what an explosive, promising start to Season 37! The early buzz is that people are loving the potential of this cast, and if nothing else, the “David vs. Goliath” theme of the season has created some early players to root for, and some to root against, simply by how they were categorized out of the gate. So much to get to, so – as seems to be the main slogan on Big Brother 20 this season – LET’S GOOOOO!

I bring up Big Brother not just because its 20th Season Finale followed the Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere (and that I’m a huge fan of that show as well), but Survivor managed to steal Big Brother’s motto during the first episode: Expect the unexpected. We’re used to hearing Julie Chen, er, Julie Chen Moonves utter this phrase, but we’re not quite accustomed to hearing Jeff Probst say it. Well he did by the end of the episode, because the way this one ended was one of the most shocking right-turns the game has ever seen, so much so that the biggest event of the night didn’t even occur on camera…and that’s pretty hard to pull off considering the number of cameras this show uses 24/7. But “the unexpected” ending, in the words of contestant Gabby Pascuzzi: “Fits so perfectly, in the worst way,” with the “underdogs vs. favorites” theme of this season. Expect more of the unexpected in the weeks to come.

One thing you CAN expect though is this little disclaimer before we dive in: As I do at the beginning of every Recap, please heed the following: Remember that this recap assumes that you have already seen this week’s Premiere Episode of Survivor: David vs. Goliath, so if you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later! It’s important to add too that while we WILL hit on all of the important developments of the episode, this is not a linear “blow-by-blow” recap, and is more of a discussion and reaction of what we just witnessed together.


Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere Episode Recap: A Bad Break

So how are you all doing? For some reason, I feel like this Summer flew by, but yet it feels like forever ago since the last season of Survivor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still as excited as ever when a new season of Survivor is rolled out, but for whatever reason, I had some level of hesitation about this season. Was it the theme I wasn’t loving? Was I finally getting “Survivor fatigue” after 36 seasons? I usually am all over all of the pre-season interviews and clips that are released, but this is the first season in many seasons that I sort of avoided most of the pre-game hoopla. Just wasn’t all that interested. Like most viewers, I came into tonight’s episode fresh, not knowing who any of these players were or having any preconceived notions as to who I thought was a favorite. The result I must say, worked wonders because even about half-way through tonight’s episode I was thinking: Wow I really like this cast! And to my surprise, I even found myself liking the David vs. Goliath twist.

Yes, it’s sort of corny that it is called  “David vs. Goliath,” and like a bunch of geeks we find grown men and women walking around saying to each other “Are you a David?” “Are you a Goliath?” But the unexpected (there’s that word again) result of this tribe separation was that it immediately gave the audience some players to cheer for. It’s not uncommon for a tribe label to begin affecting a player’s approach to the game (being put on a “villain” or a “hero” or a “brawn” or a “brains” tribe immediately leans you into a certain mindset). But this is the first distinction that Survivor has made right from the start that has told the audience: Here is the group of advantaged players, and here are the underdogs. Even Heroes vs. Villains was different because many of us like rooting for the villain. But who in their right mind is going to want a David to fail?

Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere Episode Recap: A Bad Break

I like that Probst perfectly encapsulated the idea of the season in his speech towards the beginning. This whole David vs. Goliath thing has nothing to do with work ethic…even privileged people are capable of hard work (or so I’m told). No, Probst said that you are a David or a Goliath based on “how you look at life, and how life started for you.” That really put this season in focus, and it also made me realize that this might be the most topical theme of Survivor in the show’s history.

Were there some stand-outs in Episode 1? For sure, and none bigger for me than the uber-nerd, Christian. Christian is so nerdy, that after about 30-seconds of screen-time, he took the crown away from resident Survivor nerd (and winner of Season 26) John Cochran. Christian makes Cochran look like The Fonz. This dude is an expert in something that I didn’t even know was a thing: “sliding puzzle algorithms.” Are there really people in this world studying sliding puzzles? The producers didn’t have to do much to showcase his eccentricities, but editing that one testimonial to show him blabbing on and on and on about slide puzzles definitely helped drive home the fact that this guy probably wasn’t picked first in gym class.

The 90-minute, extended episode definitely helped us get to spend some more time with these new faces, which is important to retain viewership over the course of the season. Let’s take a look at what we saw from each of the two tribes:

Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere Episode Recap: A Bad Break

The Goliaths. Overflowing with big personalities, if we see any dram at all pre-merge, my vote is that the majority of it will come from this tribe…and we already see the early signs of it developing. I love me some Natalie Cole, but I also find it completely unfair that they cast a 56-year-old among a cast of mostly 30-and-unders. Survivor, of course, has cast many “more experienced” people over the years, but usually there are more than a few spread around. The age gap will be nearly impossible for Natalie to overcome, but I hope she does because she seems like an interesting character. As does John Hennigan, the pro wrestler who apparently has gone by the name John Insert-any-word-in-the-English-language after his first name. If there is anybody who knows how to entertain on TV, it’s a pro wrestler, so I’m really looking forward to seeing more of John.

Dan, the SWAT Officer and former fatty (I say this in the most loving of ways) stole a lot of the tribe screen-time and even found himself an Idol. I was a bit annoyed that he did, right after we heard the amazing stat from Angelina and Alison that throughout the history of Survivor, women have only found hidden Idols about 15% of the time. That’s something I’ve never noticed, but it sounds very true. Then how crappy is it that Dan finds the Idol while helping the two girls search? Oy. Dan also seems to have started the season’s first showmance, with Kara, which is probably not a great idea on Day One.

Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere Episode Recap: A Bad Break

Mike White looks to be a hoot as well. The writer/director/actor gave me my favorite line of the night when he said that most of his colleagues are losers because they want to win an Oscar. Not Mike, he wants to win Survivor. But does he, really? His first order of business was to put a target on his back by searching for hidden idols while his tribe built the shelter. His excuse? He is wide-eyed and on Survivor, it’s always been a dream to look and find an idol! What an exciting experience! There was no bigger “Goliath-esque” dick move of the night, in my humble opinion, than to get out there and get caught up in the moment, rather than focus from Day One on how to play and win this game.

As for Natalia and Alec? We didn’t get to see much from them.

The Davids. In addition to Christian, we got more than a few glimpses of fellow, self-proclaimed “Nerd Whisperer,” Gabby. And how cute was it that these two seemed to hit it off in the most awkward and adorably-sweet way? Then there was the cowboy-hat-wearing Carl (not to be confused with the cowboy-hat-wearing Carl from The Walking Dead), who I felt was given perhaps the most subtly strategic edit on the show. He was aware of what was going on at his tribe (always a must for a good Survivor player) and he connected instantly with Davie.

Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere Episode Recap: A Bad Break

If we were told anything coming into Season 37, it was that this season will feature some intense storms, and we sure got a feel for that tonight too. The rain was relentless, but it led to some great, intimate moments with the David tribe all huddled up in their shelter. Being in that close of proximity with a group of strangers, we got to hear some heartfelt stories from some of the castaways, like Bi (pronounced “Bee”), who shared her story of domestic abuse, or Jessica‘s close relationship with her mom. Even Nick – who was struggling to appear to have any human emotions up until that point – shared a devastating detail of his personal life, about his mom succumbed to drug abuse just three years earlier. These are the moments that allow these characters to take shape over the course of a 13 or 14 episode season, and we were granted with several of them during the Premiere.

Elsewhere, we got some glimpses from the lesbian punk-rocker (her words!), Lyrsa, and the cowboy-hat-wearing Elizabeth (what’s with the cowboy hats???), and their unlikely friendship. We saw Davie only in a few instances, once bonding with Carl and then as he caught an octopus for his tribe (he seemed great even in this one scene, so I look forward to seeing more from him). Then there’s Pat Cusack…I’ve purposely been saving him for last.

Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere Episode Recap: A Bad Break

Poor, poor Pat. There have been medical evacuations on Survivor many times before (14 times to be exact), but none that I remember were this devastating and downright scary. For me, it is the worst evacuation ever, because it is the first that has occurred by complete accident, and dare I say, caused by production. Every other evacuation – from Michael Skupin falling into the fire, Shamar getting sand in his eye, Colton‘s appendicitis, or Russell Swan‘s severe dehydration – was due to unfortunate circumstances caused by that player. I’m not saying that they did anything wrong, or purposely made decisions that led to their exit, but never has a player been pulled from the game due to something that was COMPLETELY out of their hands like Pat. Even if you find this to be an arguable point, we can agree that this is for sure the first injury/illness/issue to occur off-camera. It was handled well on the episode, and kudos to the medical staff and Doctor Joe for their expert care. 37 seasons in, and we’re still seeing things happen that have never happened before. But what a terrible way to go. And despite the very generic end graphic that assured us that Pat is OK and has made a full recovery, you can be certain that I will be asking him all about the incident on this week’s Podcast.

Episode Take-Away: From a show perspective, this evacuation was an absolute jolt…a hard-right turn that caused me to rewind my DVR thinking I had missed something. In a weird way, it also took a lot of steam out of an episode that was very promising and that I was getting into. You know, we’ve all been away from Survivor for a few months, then we get a bit excited as it approaches, then we finally sit down and begin dedicating our time and our lives to this show and these people. You slowly let yourself attach to it. For it to end the way it did – in horrific fashion where we weren’t even sure of the severity of Pat‘s injury – was a bit of an unfortunate way to close out the Premiere. We waited all this time, and we don’t even get Tribal Council or the iconic “The Tribe Has Spoken.” By the end, my concern was all about Pat…it made what I had watched for the previous 90 minutes seem unimportant and small…not exactly the takeaway that producers probably wanted. But that is the nature of reality television. And it’s also a stark reminder to us and these players that this is real life, despite the fact that it’s also a TV show being made for our entertainment.

Voted out this week: Pat Cusack (medically evacuated due to a back injury)

Won Immunity: Goliath Tribe

No vote due to evacuation.

Survivor: David vs. Goliath Premiere Episode Recap: A Bad Break

Next Week’s Episode: It’s “Nicole Napalm” over at an increasingly testy Goliath beach, and why are the nerds targeting Lyrsa? Even crazier, just how in the heck is Christian in a leadership position with them? We’ll find out next week!

Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this Recap! But all season long, remember to return right here to Reality Tea for my FilmSurvivor Podcast on Thursday, where you can listen to my full exit interview with the eliminated contestant. This week I will have my exclusive interview with Pat Cusack. Those that have followed me also know that I am a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic, and I encourage you to check out my weekly movie reviews (like Smallfoot,” “Night School” and “Hellfest” this week) as I am also the national film critic for and am a movie critic/TV personality in the Detroit area. As always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.


Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell