6:00pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Survivor David vs Goliath' Merge Launches with Explosive Tribal Council
[This story contains spoilers for the latest episode of CBS' Survivor: David vs. Goliath, "There's Gonna Be Tears Shed."]
Entering the season, Texas' very own Elizabeth Olson busted out a bold prediction about her future in Survivor: David vs. Goliath. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in Fiji with less than 48 hours before her Survivor journey began in earnest, Elizabeth claimed: "I'm going to win because I'll fight harder than anyone else. … I wouldn't show up unless I knew I could win. I'm the most well-rounded person here, socially and strategically."
During her first two Tribal Councils, Elizabeth put those qualities to the test, between her driving role in ousting Jessica Peet, or the social ingenuity she displayed when she improbably outlasted Natalia Azoqa two votes later. Sadly, the third time was not the charm for Elizabeth: She became the eighth player eliminated from David vs. Goliath, in a unanimous vote at the top of the merge — but not without a hard fight.
The first episode of the merge phase of the game, "There's Gonna Be Tears Shed," largely focused on one of the people who was instrumental in Elizabeth's fate a few weeks earlier: Alec Merlino, the surfer bro who flipped on Natalia and, by extension, his loyalty to the Goliath tribe. Despite publicly playing it up that he was still "Goliath strong," Alec hit the merge with plans to organize a secret cross-tribe partnership between the old Goliaths and Davids. The group: the David tribe's Christian Hubicki, Gabby Pascuzzi and Nick Wilson, combined with Alec's old Goliath friends Alison Raybould and Mike White. In the episode, Christian describes the six-person alliance as a "Strike Force," waiting to activate until the dominating Goliaths least expect it — not for another couple of votes, in other words.
Whatever future missions await the Strike Force, this week's vote came down to which of the Davids the Goliaths could comfortably agree upon to send home as the first juror. Some debate occurred in that regard, as the majority of the ex-Goliaths wanted to send Elizabeth home, before Angelina Keeley tossed out Christian's name, invoking military tactics as part of her pitch. For a time, Christian was the likely target. Eventually, Dan Rengering's fury over rumors that he was the person in Elizabeth's sights helped swing the target back to the first, preferred plan.
Unsatisfied with not getting her way, Angelina summoned Elizabeth for a clandestine meeting in the jungle, with words of warning about the coming vote. With little time left to maneuver, Elizabeth and Gabby huddled together and determined they should reveal Angelina as a leak in Goliath's ship at Tribal Council that evening. The result: an incredibly heated exchange at Tribal, with Angelina firmly in the line of fire, as Elizabeth fought tooth and nail to sway the 11 other players to vote against the would-be jacket thief.
Despite her best efforts (including accusing Angelina of "jury management," insofar as her decision to warn Elizabeth was a move designed to curry a vote to win at the end of the game), and even after causing Alec to once again stand up in the middle of Tribal in order to deliberate with others via whispering, Elizabeth's plan did not work. She was sent home in a 12-1 vote, making her the latest player eliminated, as well as the first member of the jury.
Before the season, executive producer and host Jeff Probst told THR that Elizabeth was an instant favorite among producers during the casting process. What's more, he viewed her as a serious contender for the title: "I think Elizabeth is a real threat to win. She has all of the right qualities. I think she's going to work hard at camp, and she's going to be more physically able than people might think. She's like a country song. I would love to see her go deep."
As for Angelina's preseason assessment of the woman who nearly blew up her game, here's what she told THR about Elizabeth: "She's one I'm very curious about. She seems deadly, like she could do really well in this game. And let me back up and tell you that from what I've seen at Ponderosa, this cast is going to be fierce. I think there's a lot of competition here. My vibe across the board is that people are pretty smart. She's included in that." Can't say she didn't see Elizabeth's threat level coming, right?
For anyone feeling brokenhearted over Elizabeth's departure, she would be the first to ask you to hold your tears, assuming her preseason feelings held true through her elimination. Back then, Elizabeth famously said about her future competitors' inevitable exits: "My heart doesn't go out to anyone. We're the luckiest sons of bitches ever. We're on fucking Survivor."
Luckily for Elizabeth, she's still on Survivor, now that she's the first member of the jury, ensuring her appearance in every single episode of the season, not to mention her crucial role in crowning the winner. Read on for Elizabeth's exit interview, including her full thoughts on what happened to her at the merge.
Welcome to the exit interview process, Elizabeth. I'm thrilled to be speaking with you today, and very sorry to be speaking with you today.
Me too! (Laughs.) I think I was one person away from winning the game. I think if I had won that immunity challenge... and I was hanging onto it by a thread there. In my head, I was ready to go for five more hours, man. I told myself when it started: "I'm going to be out here for five hours. I'm going to win this thing, man! All these little losers are gonna be crying and I'm going to keep going! I'm in this to win it!" It didn't end up happening, which is a bummer. I've relived that moments so many times in my head, gonging that thing. Too much banging happened in this episode!
Talk me through your elimination last night, from the moment Angelina pulls you aside through the moment your torch is snuffed — assuming the story starts with the Angelina conversation. If it starts earlier, please, by all means!
Well, one thing to note is that it was devastating to get to the merge and not see Lyrsa there. It was literally like, "Damn. My best buddy! The person I worked so hard to save isn't here." That was tough.
But as far as the Angelina thing goes, we had a connection. Her husband is in the military, and I have brothers in the military. We had individual soul-to-soul conversations, thanking each other for our loved ones' sacrifices. There was common ground there, for sure. I think that played a factor in whether or not she was going to come and talk to me. But Angelina is playing the game of Survivor, dude. There's no doubt in my mind that there was more to it than just meeting up with me on the trail because she wanted me to know it was supposed to be me. She did tell me, "I hope you have an idol you could play!" And I said, "I don't!" And she said, "Pretend you do!" And I said, "I can't lie! I'm the worst liar!" It's not that I'm not willing to, but for me, it's worse to pretend to lie than to be honest. People would be able to call my bluff.
There was no doubt in my mind that she was playing me and trying to be like, "I love you!" As I'm walking out the door, so that I would hopefully vote for her at some point. I was so relieved that I didn't have to be the one who said that. Alison totally saw through Angelina at Tribal: "You're working the jury already, bro?" Yes! That's what I needed. I just needed one Goliath to jump ship, and then we would have an Angelina vote-out, because it really was live. There was way too much whispering going on for it not to be something the Goliaths were considering... or so I thought.
Here's the problem, and they didn't really show it: Carl. The whispering was going around, and when I got to Carl, he said, "I don't want to hear it, Elizabeth! I don't want to hear it." Carl sealed my fate. At that point, if I couldn't even convince my own David tribe to keep me around? Everyone but Carl was on board, but he was so adamant and so dogmatic about it, that it really bit me in the butt. It's really unfortunate. Even though we're kind of like oil and water and don't mesh well, I was totally willing to work with him. I was never not willing to work with him. I felt like he didn't understand the game real well. Even on Vuku when the David tribe had the numbers? I should have seen the writing on the wall. I tried so hard, gently, to convince Davie and Carl to throw the challenge, and they were both like, "No way, man!" I said, "We could lose both of these challenges and stay David strong, and protect all of our other allies." And they said, "No way, man. We can't do that." It didn't make sense. When something doesn't makes sense and you explain it logically but it doesn't start tracking, there's no point in trying to make it happen. Then it would have been me. I didn't push it too hard, but it was frustrating, because we were the only ones in the game in the right position... but clearly, Carl didn't like me. He wanted to see me out of there. Good for him for playing Survivor.
You turned on Angelina at Tribal Council, which seemed like a difficult thing for you to do...
Look, I signed up for Survivor. I'm a pretty good person, but I love the game and I'm super competitive. I did not realize how hard it was going to be to vote for someone like Angelina. She's not on my side — she had nothing to do with my side — but she's a human. She has a good heart. I thought I would see someone who is against me and scream, "They're out for my blood! I'm coming for them first!" I thought it would be easy, but it was much harder on my psyche than I thought it would be, voting out a human who is invested in this game, who outside of the game would be a great friend. That was really hard.
Another note on that: Angelina came to me, and because she's a smart player, she did not give me time to go talk to all the Goliaths. She came to me right before we left for Tribal. I had a confessional, and then it was time to go. I didn't have time to blow it up at camp. Duh, I would have if I had time! But I didn't have time. That was a bummer.
And you didn't have any sense you were the target before she pulled you aside?
No, I'm a smart person, so I knew. I heard misdirection that they were going for Davie, and I knew it was a bunch of misdirection. There was no reason for them to go after Davie. I knew they were going for me or Christian. I spent time talking with Christian one-on-one in the woods: "Christian, they're either coming for you or me. They aren't stupid. The Goliaths are smart. You or I are the only ones who make any sense." I wasn't aware there was the Strike Force thing with the three Davids and three Goliaths, which was genius, by the way! I wish I could have been a part of it, too. I knew there was a good chance it could have been me, but I was trying to rally the troops to get Dan out, which made the most logical sense to me. People were nodding and saying, "Yeah, that sounds good." Sometimes what people aren't saying should be more telling than what they are saying.
Alec didn't invite you along for the Strike Force party, even though you were close from Vuku...
I was surprised about that! We had had good heart-to-hearts on our beach. We worked together really well. I had good vibes from Alec. I promised him final two. I was legitimately like, "Man, let's go to the very end together." I was all for staying strong. I was the one who pushed him getting together with Christian, because Christian and I were close. He was thinking about working instead with a couple of us, that he should get six people together, which is what I should have been doing. I was more focused on convincing one person that I had their back to the very end, instead of thinking, "Let's get the numbers for a little while." I was thinking end game, but I should have been thinking about the first part of the merge.
Is this a testament to Alec's social game, that he seems so well-liked by people that he really has his pick of the litter when assembling something like the Strike Force?
Yeah. I definitely think he had the pick of the litter, and I definitely think people were underestimating him because he's a surfer bro who doesn't think things through, when in reality, he actually was thinking things through, and it was all intentional. You're going to want to trust the people you think aren't quite as aggressive in the game, people who are all about, "Peace, bro!" That's who you want to work with, because they're not thinking hard. But Alec was playing us. Alec was playing the game, dude.
John Hennigan is the Mayor of Slamtown, but you're the Mayor of Ponderosa. Tell me how your thinking shifted once you started inhabiting this new role. How did you view your responsibility as one of the people who would be awarding a million dollars at the end of the game?
I took my job extremely seriously. I respect and value the game of Survivor, both as a player and as a fan of the show. Nothing pisses me off more than a freaking jury that's bitter and won't vote for the best player, because they got their feelings hurt or their panties in a wad. Dude, suck it up. Vote for the best person. Get over yourself. Vote for the right person. I was on mission number one in finding out who was playing the best game, gathering as much intel as possible from these Tribal Councils, and trying to be very objective about it. Not who's my best friend, but getting all the information and trying to think about it almost mathematically. I think you'll get to see that play out.
David vs. Goliath has resonated deeply with the Survivor fan base. Seven episodes, it's one of the most enjoyable seasons in a long time. You had a front row seat for how the rest of it played out. Do you think the season is going to hold up through the finish?
Dude, David vs. Goliath does not disappoint from the beginning to the end. It's an epic tale, both in the bible, and as it plays out on Survivor. It's not going to disappoint anybody. I think all the fans are in for a treat. I'm so glad the producers have done us justice. When we all got back on that plane heading back to America, we were all like, "What the eff just happened? Whatever it was, it was legendary." (Laughs.) I am so honored to be a part of one of the best seasons in Survivor history.