'Survivor David vs Goliath': The Secret Origin of That Emotional Elimination

The family visit leads to the most personal blindside of the season, albeit one that was weeks and weeks in the making.
Courtesy of CBS

[This story contains spoilers for the Dec. 5 episode of CBS' Survivor: David vs. Goliath, "So Smart They're Dumb."]

Christian Hubicki's latest Survivor stunt gives all-new meaning to giving someone the boot. Pulling his hidden immunity idol out of his shoe (where it stayed hidden for four Tribal Councils in a row), the David tribe's robot scientist successfully sussed out a blindside attempt, negating five fatal votes and guaranteeing the demise of his closest ally, technical writer Gabby Pascuzzi.

At least Gabby was Christian's closest ally, having spent virtually every hour of the game together through 33 days in Fiji. Over the course of the most recent episode, however, Gabby set the wheels in motion to blindside Christian, reasoning that their games were too tightly intertwined. As she looked toward the future, she figured Christian was likely to earn credit for their mutual moves if they made it to the end. 

"I'm excited, nervous and sad," Gabby revealed in confessional at one point, "but I need to remember Christian doesn't want me to win. Christian wants Christian to win. I have to do it if I want to win the game."

In order to execute the plan, Gabby approached the various remaining players with her thoughts, and all were on board — including public defender Nick Wilson, all too pleased at the idea of voting out Christian, the man who used to be one of his tightest partners. In Nick's eyes, Christian crossed the so-called Mason-Dixon line in blindsiding Carl Boudreaux one week earlier. As Nick explained it to us: "When I get the chance, I won't hesitate to blindside Christian."

On the other hand, Nick and Christian's mutual ally, Davie Rickenbacker, wasn't comfortable with blindsiding the bespectacled David — not yet, at least — leading Davie to clue Christian into Gabby's plan, which in turn paved the way for the successful Tribal Council idol play. While Christian cast his vote for Reddit darling Alison Raybould, a backup plan targeting Gabby with two votes from Angelina Keeley and Mike White was enough to seal the deal, sending Gabby packing.

"You're so smart," Gabby whispered to Christian after his idol play, gamely tipping her hat to her old friend after her plan was foiled. "How'd you get that big brain?"

It's a question that's been on the minds of many Survivor fans and prognosticators all season long, even if recent focus has centered on Christian's seemingly baffling move to vote for Carl — a move that required lying to his closest allies in the game and surrendering the David majority. On the surface, it would seem those questions held merit, as Christian very nearly lost his life in the game this week. In truth? It's possible this was all part of Christian's long-simmering plan. 

One day before the season began, speaking with The Hollywood Reporter on location in Fiji, Christian opined about what it would take to win the game. Acknowledging that there's "a bit of a glass ceiling" when it comes to success for his perceived character archetype, Christian offered a hypothesis for how he could break through the million-dollar barrier: "By making the game crazy enough where people don't know what the hell is going on. As a consequence, if I have just a little bit more information than everybody else, and nobody can see that I'm in the position to win, then my hyper-adaptivity will be what allows me to get to the finals and win."

Listen to Christian's preseason hypothesis in the player below.

Asked what it means to make the game "crazy," Christian was happy to elaborate: "It means making a move at some point that appears like it's not in my best interest.

"I wonder if there's sometimes some strategy to strategically putting yourself on the bottom at a very important point in the game," he continued, adding that he views Survivor as a game revolving around "a cycle of power," rather than one group seizing a majority and running the table. "I think there's some value to recognizing there's a cycle to the game, and it will eventually come back around."

By making a move that was apparently against his own best interests in voting out Carl, followed by successfully playing an idol for himself, did Christian make the game crazy enough to seize power once again? The answer lies somewhere in the near future, as David vs. Goliath closes shop in the next two weeks.

For now, it's bon voyage to Gabby, Christian's right-hand ally up until her botched attempt on his Survivor life. A huge fan of the series heading into the season, Gabby recently joined The Hollywood Reporter for an extensive and candid conversation about her journey through Survivor, both on and off the island. In particular, Gabby addressed the many times she was depicted crying on the show, and specifically called out fans who railed against her outward emotionality. Those comments are reprinted below, but first, here are some fresh quotes from Gabby, from our exit interview conducted the morning after her final episode aired.

How are you feeling, having rewatched the episode? 

I feel good. I still feel confident in the move I made. It would be way too easy to sit here and second guess myself and say, "Oh, it was too soon." Well, duh! You're going to say it's too soon, because I got voted out. Who's the genius saying that? Clearly if the move doesn't work, it seems like it's too soon. But hearing back my rationale about how I didn't want to be seen as having been taken care of by Christian the whole game … that's the promise I made in my mind at that time in the game. I knew I had to make that move. I'm proud of myself for going out trying to make a move that would potentially win me the game, because I don't think I could have won sitting next to Christian. I'm happy with that, rather than getting dragged to the end and getting no votes because no one respected my game.

When did you first start thinking about voting out Christian?

From the first day I met him. (Laughs.) When I'm allies with someone, I'm loyal to them. But he was so likable from minute one of the game, when he was picked to do the challenge, and he went on to win the slide puzzle. It was like, "Holy crap. This guy is going to win the game." I allied with him because I wanted him to be a shield. I called him my nerd shield. I knew the time was coming [all season long], and that when we got to the final eight, it would have to happen in the next four votes. We have the fire making challenge at the final four now, so you only have until the final five to vote somebody out. Knowing there were only four votes left and feeling the end-game creeping up on me — there was only a week left in the game — I started feeling that itch: "If I don't cut him now, he could go on an immunity run, he could find a bunch of idols… I might not get another shot to take Christian out."

You have no regrets on the move, but is there any aspect of it you wish you would have handled differently, with the benefit of hindsight?

I assumed Angelina and Mike were voting Alison. I talked to them and lied to them and said I was voting for Alison, too. I should not have assumed they would want to take her out over me. I wonder what would have happened if I suggested someone else. There are so many permutations. I also wonder if I should have just totally flipped to the Goliaths and not used Nick and Davie, and just used Mike and Angelina instead. I don't know. It could be that I was dead in the water as soon as I said Christian's name, because it tends to be in Survivor that when you throw out somebody's name, people start looking at you. Maybe there's nothing I could have done once I decided I wanted to take Christian out. But I felt it was me who had to take him out. What I was worried about is he would get taken out by the general flow of the game, and I would look even more helpless: "Now my number one ally has been taken out, and now I'm really alone, and now I have no agency in this game." I knew if Christian was taken out, I needed to be a part of it, if not the one leading it. Another reason: I knew I had been pegged as emotional during the game. I thought this was the most logical and rational thing to do in a vacuum, getting rid of Christian, because he's the biggest threat to win the game. I thought this would help that perception of me as emotional, and actually show me as the stone cold killer I wish I could be. 

If all went according to plan and Christian, with his big brain, didn't figure out your play, what's next? What's your path to the end?

I saw there were three big threats ahead of me that people were always talking about: Alison (who we've seen get voted for before), Davie and Christian. That's three people, with only four votes left. For me, it didn't matter what order they went home in. I figured we just needed to get rid of the people who are not me! I didn't think I would be looked at as a threat. To me, it didn't really matter who I went to the final three with. I really didn't want to go with any other Davids. I just wanted to be a part of several moves to get out the threats, of which I thought there were many ahead of me, and that suddenly they would blink and go, "Holy crap! Gabby's in the final four!" And by then, you don't even see me and I'm the last David standing in the final three. It's kind of a stupid answer; I don't feel like I had to target this person then this person and then this person. I thought the game was more fluid than it was. I thought people were going to be on board with voting blocs to take out the biggest threats. Our season was so competitive that I felt like everyone left in the game was a big threat in some form or another, that I thought everyone would do the best move for them: not sit next to any threats in the end.

Tribal Council culminates in that epic stare-down between you and Christian, before he plays his idol. How much has that replayed in your mind over the last few months?

Let me tell you, in the days after the stare-down, I was thinking about it constantly. "Am I not a good actor? What should I have done? Should I have smiled at him? Should I have said not to play the idol? Should I have said he should play the idol for me? What could I have done?" But watching it back and seeing he was tipped off that people were coming for him, it was actually really reassuring. I don't think there's anything I could have done. Christian was going to Tribal Council playing the idol, no matter what. I think when he was looking at me, it was a little bit of an act. It was terrifying in the moment, though. What are you going to do, though? If someone's going to play an idol, they're going to play an idol. Nobody expects to be idol-ed out by their best friend, but it happened to me! 

That's it for our exit interview with Gabby. Now, for posterity, here's a reprint of what Gabby told THR earlier this week about all the times she was portrayed crying on the show, and the reaction from fans to her tears:

"First of all, let me say I did not cry in episodes three, five, eight, nine or 11 … and yes, I think I deserve a gold medal for that! In all seriousness, I want to debunk the notion that my tears are fake. As flattered as I am by all the fans who think that I have such magnificent acting chops, I assure you that I did high school theater and am not a great actor, and also, I believe being able to cry that convincingly on demand would actually make me a psychopath.

"Instead, I want to propose another way to frame my tears: They can be both genuine and strategic. I knew going into the game that I am a person who cries easily — when I'm sad, angry or even happy. I even joked about it in my preseason self-comparison to Dawn, and in my interview with you for First One Out. I think in Survivor, you have to figure out how to work with your own natural personality quirks. So if I know I'm going to cry because I can't control my body's natural reaction, what can I do? I can use it as a way to connect with people. Vulnerability is a powerful bonding mechanism.

"Would Christian have wanted to protect me on Tiva had I not been vulnerable with him in telling him I'm worried about my place on the tribe? He could have easily thrown me under the bus to the Goliaths if I was just a number to him and we didn't have that human connection. Additionally, pathos is a powerful rhetorical device. Would Alison have considered flipping on Dan had I not said, 'I'm scared, and I need you to help me'? That emotional plea was purposeful. I knew Alison was an extremely empathetic person and would feel bonded to me if I opened up, which was confirmed in her confessional where she said as a doctor she feels the need to protect people.

"Sometimes, the tears don't serve a real purpose and I just have to remind the fans that I'm human. When I cried at the Elizabeth Tribal, people speculated I was some kind of mastermind with crocodile tears, since I knew she was going home. Sorry to disappoint, but those tears were born out of real frustration. Those tears weren't fake, or me trying to cover up the Strike Force. It was a real human moment wanting to defend someone that I cared about. You can love or hate me for it, but I think people in my real life appreciate that I am an empathetic friend who will always stand up for them. Let me also clarify that I never cried or complained about the elements, how the game was too hard or whatever ridiculous thing I've seen people claim I am "whining" about. I love Survivor, would never quit, found the rain exhilarating (though challenging) and for people to say that I am mentally weak is flat-out wrong.

"Lastly, I want to ask the people who are so incensed by my crying why it bothers them so much. If you've been told in your life that it's weak to cry, I have compassion for you and hope you can find a healthy way to express your emotions that works for you. Emotions are powerful and wonderful and make us human. I hope that people who have walls up can someday find the strength to be vulnerable, as I think you'll find it brings love, joy and deep relationships into your life."

Follow THR.com/Survivor for more coverage.