Survivor David vs. Goliath: Why did _____ finish in 2nd place?

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

It was a lot closer than many expected, as the second-place finisher of Survivor: David vs. Goliath also had an uphill battle that they overcame from Day 1.

Though they were discounted from the beginning due to elements outside of the game, it was kind of surprising to see Mike White on the outs at the beginning of Survivor: David vs. Goliath. We were instantly reminded that he’s the writer behind School of Rock, and were it not for the Rockstars alliance, it would never be mentioned again.

That’s because we were slowly, but surely, seeing Mike White’s game blossom before our eyes, owing his longevity to hiding his power level and work well with small groups in an ever-shifting game in a season filled with players, slayers and challenge threats. Mike White became the Goliath of the Goliaths, even though he was taken out by David’s slingshot, finishing in second place.

Here’s a closer look at why Mike White finished in second place during his run in Survivor: David vs. Goliath.

Delegitimizing a known commodity

It became clear immediately that Mike White would have an uphill battle to climb due to his status as a celebrity. He’s written, acted, and directed in stuff such as The School of Rock, Enlightened and other projects that made him instantly recognizable to his fellow castaways, and his eagerness to play hard and find an idol early painted a target on his back.

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Both David and Goliath’s first targets would slowly, but surely, reverse fates, but Mike’s mitigating celebrity meant the need to downplay his skill and prowess. He became tribe confidant and provider of opinions as an outsider rather than dictating the flow of the game, which proved well on as egotistical a starting tribe as Goliath.

Even though he saw Jeremy and Natalie as people who would come to him early with information, both times on Goliath and Jabeni he saw himself voting out early partners in order to move up and align with someone else. His first crucial partnership of the game was with the eventual winner, Nick Wilson, forming The Rockstars as the two tribes swapped into three.

Forming a give and take strategy

Mike and Nick became strong partners in the mid-to-late stages of the pre-merge Survivor: David vs. Goliath phase because of their well-reasoned, dynamic styles. Both were content to make a move that made sense for the game at large and getting rid of Natalie who was bad at challenges and made camp life hell made sense for both parties.

However, Mike knew as the tribe numbers drew closer to even numbers for David and Goliath, he had to put his foot down at the final pre-merge boot, convincing Nick in off and on-screen conversations that Lyrsa had to go to benefit his game. He gave Nick the vote against Goliath taking out Natalie; now it was his turn to return the favor.

That was the basis of the Strike Force alliance as the Survivor David vs. Goliath merge came around; form a Final Six group of three Davids and three Goliaths, ready to pounce at the Final 11 vote. The Davids would need to give in first, although Gabby’s outbursts at the Goliath majority descended upon Elizabeth gave him pause.

It was then when Mike relented once more, falling back on the basic Survivor strategy that Goliath had been holding onto; Pagonging the Davids into oblivion, starting with the underdog hero of Christian. Sure, this was Angelina’s strategy from the start, but he did relent and went with the flow.

Mike was sure to never put all his eggs in one basket, and having the ability to come to players and remain open shows a level of game dynamism that few embody in Survivor.

Taking control of Goliath

Mike put himself in a good position early by working with the Davids, even as he posed himself to vote them out. By reaching out to Nick and others about how the vote would be headed, he provided the opportunity to return later down the road and work on other strategies, never burning any bridges.

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This proved crucial as the Davids pooled their advantages together to take out the Goliath brochachos one by one, voting out challenge beasts such as John, Dan and Alec one after another. Instead of placing it in the prism of David vs. Goliath, Mike presented himself as open for anything, which allowed Christian and Gabby to make their move against Carl, the Godfather.

By doing so, Mike (along with Kara, Angelina and to a lesser extent Alison as she outlasted several votes) would throw their votes in strategic ways. For example, when splitting votes in Gabby’s plan to take out Christian, Mike and Angelina didn’t stick with the plan and divert votes to taking out their ally, Alison. Instead, they redirected votes toward Gabby to ensure a 4-3 Goliath majority.

Mike would hide behind the threats, work with the Davids and strike when the iron was hot, stepping up at the exact right time.

Why couldn’t Mike White win Survivor: David vs. Goliath?

There are a number of reasons why Mike White’s route to victory stumbled off the past. For starters, most of Mike’s moves were subtle social interactions that the Goliaths could see. It’s hard for Mike to lay low to ensure long-term safety while also being present and accounted for in the minds of the Davids.

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Concerning the Final Tribal Council, he also happened to have less control of the game than Nick did. He knew at Final 12 that having a David hero that the audience can root for would be disastrous to Goliath’s game, and Nick securing immunity three-straight times in the finale made things a bit anti-climatic.

Not only was Mike sitting beside someone who had one of the more impressive resumes in the game (three immunities, used a Vote Steal correctly, split the minority vote correctly, etc.), but Mike’s sarcastic wit started to do him in. Even in post-finale exit interviews, Alison remarked just how harsh and personal Mike’s attack on her character was at that Final Five Tribal Council, showing how far his social game had come. Had she seen more of Nick’s game, he would have easily had her vote over Mike.

More from David vs. Goliath

There is the mitigating factor of David vs. Goliath as a general theme to this Survivor season that did make it hard for Mike to garner sympathy. His under-the-radar social game did weave strategy, but he was foiled in the vote plenty of times. He never had a Hidden Immunity Idol or advantage in the game and was only safe after winning the weakest challenge of the season; balancing balls on a tray.

Him downplaying his financial motivations and making it about the journey did come into play a little bit, especially considering just how much Nick’s story resonated with the jury. His goal of staying local to Kentucky and fighting as a public defender for those done in by society’s ills in honor of his departed mother is a much more sympathetic story than a Hollywood writer who has dozens and hundreds of people working for him.

Mike White entered Survivor: David vs. Goliath on the outs, worked his way back to safety through tight alliances, betrayed them down the road and worked with the Jabeni three to secure his route to the end. It was a path of a Goliath which inverted that of an underdog, as Mike White secured just three out of ten votes needed to become the Sole Survivor.

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Mike White deserves more credit than he received leading up to the finale, as even getting three votes is a huge accomplishment considering the resume of the winner.