Survivor: David vs. Goliath full season review: A top 5 season?

Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

From start to finish, Survivor: David vs. Goliath unexpectedly proved to be one of the best in the past 15 seasons of Survivor!

It’s not common in the modern era of Survivor to witness a season with all newcomers that is this entertaining! This group of castaways brought us so many dynamic characters that we haven’t seen before, and their social interactions alone made it fun to watch.

When you add in well-played idols and an epic new advantage in the Idol Nullifier, you have a season driven by both social and strategic gameplay. Not to mention, a slew of new challenge ideas that led to one of the most epic fights for the immunity necklace in Survivor history!

So where does David vs. Goliath rank amongst the other great Survivor seasons? Let’s first breakdown the elements that made this season top tier.

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The social game returns!

Over the past few seasons, many fans have complained about production using too many idols and advantages, which leads to a lack of social gameplay. However, in this season of Survivor, there were eight eliminations and six Tribal Councils before we saw any idols or advantages used! Throughout the entire pre-merge phase, it was a relief to watch the castaways rely on their social game to sway the votes.

For example, before the tribe swap, we saw Angelina change everyone’s vote from Natalie to Jeremy by just convincing her Goliath members that he was the bigger threat. When the castaways were split into three tribes, we watched Davie and Elizabeth slyly persuade Alec to flip against the Goliaths and vote out Natalia.

Even beyond the pre-merge phase, the latest Sole Survivor displayed an incredible social game! Nick foraged several close bonds within his David tribe, especially with Christian, Davie and Elizabeth. What was even more remarkable was Nick’s ability to gain the trust of several Goliath members.

Not only did he have a good relationship with Mike and Angelina, but even Alec felt so comfortable with him that he told Nick where the Goliaths were voting! Other than our season 37 winner, Mike, Christian and Davie also played great social games that made this season fun to watch.

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Post-merge dynamics

In a typical Survivor season, the tribe that has the majority heading into the merge basically picks off the other tribe one by one. We saw that in Ghost Island and it looked like that was going to happen in this season as well. After the Davids agreed to vote out Elizabeth, the Goliaths had a two-person advantage and it showed.

Instead of the David members deserting their tribe and working with the Goliaths, they stuck together and overcame the odds! It created a great minority vs. majority dynamic, where the Davids miraculously regained the numbers by means of thrilling Tribal Councils. It really gave us the feel of the Foa Foa Four in Samoa or the Aitu Four in Cook Islands, which are two great seasons because of an outnumbered tribe flipping the switch. What even makes this post-merge game even better is the fact we got a balance between tribe vs. tribe and voting blocs.

You could just tell that these strategic-minded players were itching to blur the original tribal lines. As soon as the Davids gained the majority, the knives came out. First, Gabby made her move to blindside Carl and dethrone the Godfather. Then Davie played his cards to save Christian from Gabby’s plan to get him out. And finally, Mike executed a brilliant plan to convince three people to vote out Christian and send two votes Davie’s way as a contingency plan.

All of these key votes utilized a different mixture of David and Goliath members each time! This fluid nature was unexpected from a season with newbies, bringing a high level of gameplay we usually only see in returning player seasons like Second Chance.

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A great cast who all made moves to win

The cast might have been the biggest strength of Survivor: David vs. Goliath. It wasn’t simply the contestants themselves but it was where they ended up. Let’s be honest, there wasn’t really any castaways voted out before the merge that you were dying to see more of. As entertaining as Natalie Cole was, she had no control over the game and you just knew she wasn’t going to get very far.

Even after the merge, the players who weren’t as strategically minded like Elizabeth, John and Dan were eliminated first. Their unique personalities made the first few episodes after the merge fun, but their departure paved the way for the exciting phase of voting blocs to take over. Davie cemented this point during a secret confessional; that the final eight castaways in the game were just the right people for shifting allegiances and voting blocs to take effect.

An added bonus was the lack of bitterness from the jury and the surprising transparency of aggressive gameplay. Situations like everyone looking for the idol at the same time, Kara and Mike taking turns to practice making fire, and Nick openly telling Angelina that he’s bringing her because he knows he can beat her just wouldn’t happen so smoothly on any other season. The fact that a majority of the castaways made decisions based on logic and not emotion proved that they came to play and have a fun time.

When you look over the list of this season’s contestants, there wasn’t a lot of duds. Even the people who got fewer confessionals like Alison and Kara had far better social games than castaways who received borderline purple edits in the past. Nick, Mike, Christian, Gabby, Davie, Alec and even Angelina all had at last one Tribal Council where they held the power and orchestrated a blindside. This just goes to show the overall talent of the players from this season.

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Is it the best season ever?

Throughout the past couple of months, fans and even former contestants have been hailing David vs. Goliath as a top five all-time Survivor season, some even calling it the best ever! As great as this season is, I do think it’s a little presumptuous to place this season that high. It did suffer from a rather predictable finale that didn’t have the same entertainment value as the rest of the merge game.

Yes, there were several castaways that played great games, but we didn’t have those two or three phenomenal standouts to the degree of three other superior newbie seasons. They are Cook Islands (Ozzy, Yul, Penner), Pearl Islands (Sandra, Fairplay, Rupert) and Cagayan (Spencer, Tony), as they all had a few castaways that dominated their season in one aspect or another. There was such a balanced playing field in this season that a castaway never really had control over multiple votes in a row.

In terms of returning player seasons, Heroes vs. Villains had a pre-merge that was far more superior in strategy and character than David vs. Goliath. It’s hard to compare with a season that had several of the greatest all-time Survivors on the same island.

The same could be said about Micronesia which featured a dangerous women’s alliance led by three of the greatest females to ever play this game. Watching blindside after blindside in several legendary Tribal Councils is enough to give this Fans vs. Favorites season the edge over David vs. Goliath. And we can’t forget about Second Chance that pioneered this voting bloc philosophy as it kept allegiances shifting for a far longer time than in season 37.

That would put Survivor: David vs. Goliath in the same territory of classic seasons like Tocantins, China, Borneo, Amazon and more recently Millennials vs. Gen X. So no, I wouldn’t call it a top three or a top five season, but it does have a strong case to be top ten.

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The great mix of strategic and social characters, historic moments at tribal and in challenges, the transformative gameplay from tribal lines to voting blocs, and a completely deserving winner are all factors that made us thoroughly enjoy this amazing season of Survivor.