Survivor 43 Cast Assessment

Let the new season commence!

Photo: CBS

With the season premiere of Survivor 43 almost upon us, the Inside Survivor team got together to draft its teams and assess the new crop of castaways about to battle it out for the $1 million prize and the title of Sole Survivor.

Taking turns in a snake draft, decided by random draw, the Inside Survivor contributors picked their winner candidates, big characters and personal favorites to assemble their teams. Read on to hear their first impressions and predictions for each castaway…

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GIA’S FIRST PICK
KARLA

All it took was one teaser trailer after the Survivor 42 finale for me to immediately claim Karla as my pre-season favorite. Is it a little soon? Perhaps. But I’m taking that to mean she’s just that powerful. Everything about her screams confidence, and rightfully so with all she has accomplished at just 28. She’s a first-generation high school and college grad who earned a full-ride scholarship, so I feel incredibly sorry for any fools on the island that right her off as all brawn and no brain.

I have no doubt she will be bringing the entertainment, but I do worry about how she is perceived by other players. She claims that no one will be able to tell that she is extremely competitive in all aspects of her life, but I think the audience caught on just by what we saw from the trailer. That doesn’t mean she won’t be able to hide it well outside of her confessionals, especially when she’s looking to players like the great Cirie Fields for inspiration.

Of course I’m concerned that her star presence is too good to be true, but I said the same thing about Maryanne last season and was overjoyed to have my worries squashed. One thing’s for sure, Karla is certainly one to watch.

MARTIN’S FIRST PICK
LINDSAY

As Lindsay says in her pre-game interview with Parade’s Mike Bloom, not since Denise Stapley in Season 25 has a woman over 40 won this game. So you might think choosing Lindsay as my first draft pick is a bold choice. But I don’t think so. Lindsay strikes me as a very self-aware person that knows her strengths and weaknesses and how to best utilize those in the game of Survivor.

She has big Chrissy Hofbeck upside, the “mom” archetype that will probably surprise people with her cutthroat gameplay and challenge ability. I think an advantage Lindsay has over Chrissy, however, is that she’s a nurse who was born and raised in the South. That will probably disarm players more quickly than an Actuary from New Jersey. It should make it easier for Linsday to gain trust. Of course, this could also backfire if people perceive Lindsay as the “mom” of the group and don’t accept her ruthless game style, similar to a Dawn Meehan situation.

That said, I believe Linsday has the skills to strike the perfect balance of Southern charm and cunning strategy. She’s a long-time Survivor fan who has been waiting for years to play, so I’m sure she will leave everything out on the island. And given that she’s spent the past couple of years on the frontline of the pandemic, I don’t think Survivor will pose any challenge that she won’t be willing to face head-on.

ROB’S FIRST PICK
JESSE

Jesse is a 30-year-old family man from Durham, NC. He also is a former gang member and current Political Science PHD student. He also hates personalized license plates, so we have that in common. Jesse seems to have everything you need to do well in Survivor. As he said, he’s got street smarts but also book smarts and is very well-rounded. He’s got the charm that you need to get far in the game but never comes across as fake.

I think he’ll be able to adapt to whatever twist or advantage in the game, whether he is the one in possession of it or if he’s aligned with whoever has it. He’s hoping his background in political science and voting strategies will help him navigate the game, and if he doesn’t overthink it too much, it’ll be a huge asset. I can see him getting along with almost everyone he comes across, and he won’t be someone at the top of the radar to get rid of early on. I’ve got high hopes for Jesse, he gave me the same #goodvibes I got from Drea last season, and while she didn’t make it to the end, she did great. He’s for sure my favorite going into the season, and I’m really excited to see how he plays!

CHRISTINE’S FIRST PICK
OWEN

Going into this pre-season, I knew I was going to root for Owen. He’s a superfan, RHAP patron, and has been in the casting process for a while. I can’t imagine how exciting this must be for him after just missing out on being cast on David vs. Goliath, so I’m hoping he makes a deep run. His pre-season press solidified how much I’m rooting for him, especially with the reference to Stacey Powell’s iconic “his name is Benjamin” speech from South Pacific in his Mike Bloom interview.

I think Owen is going to be able to get along with a lot of different people and thrive socially. He’s got the superfan knowledge to help him strategically, but he seems level-headed enough to not let his excitement get the better of him and cause him to overplay. He’s just physical enough, likable enough, and smart enough to thrive in the game without being the obvious threat in any of those categories.

My biggest question mark about Owen is how others will perceive him, which is something he mentions in his pre-season press. Regardless of what impressions the other players get from him, Owen seems well-equipped to make it far and adapt to whatever the game throws at him.

STEPH’S FIRST PICK
JUSTINE

I’ll be honest, Justine’s my first pick really because I related to her pet peeve of people walking slowly in front of you. The 29-year-old working in Cyber Security Sales feels she’ll be underestimated because of her petite size and girly girl demeanour, when she’s actually pretty athletic and competitive. While this isn’t all that new to the show, what I found interesting about Justine is that she wants to play in a “lawful-enough way.”

She recognises the performative nature of social strategy and the need to blindside to make it in the game but draws boundaries at manipulating other players. I find that the show often has players confidently declaring they are willing to do anything it takes to win, so this restraint is rather refreshing.

AUSTIN’S FIRST PICK
MORRIAH

If there was a season perfectly timed for Morriah, this would be it. I’m far from the first to note the echoes of reigning Sole Survivor Maryanne Oketch in Morriah’s overall energy—her positivity, brightness, and joyful spirit are just as bright as her rainbow appearance. Even Morriah herself notes the similarity! So with Season 42 only partway through its airing when 43 filmed, these players have seen Maryanne the character but not the winner, and that distinction will certainly help lower Morriah’s profile. That said, will it mean she has what it takes to win the crown? It would certainly be lightning striking twice for something of a new Survivor archetype!

That said, Morriah has a lot of her own pros to rely on. Her experience as a teacher gives her a practical knowledge of how to funnel her expansive positivity into an encouraging and fulfilling environment. And especially with the intensity of camp life in the new era, a nurturing buoyancy may be crucial for tribe morale. Morriah is also playing with a lot of motivation to fulfill her late mother’s dream of playing Survivor, and that sort of drive may also help her lock into game-mode when she needs to. Coming at the experience as a lifelong fan isn’t necessarily unique on a modern cast, but it’s still a great boon, and her eagerness to embrace the necessary adaptability of the new era could serve her well.

That said, she also cited James Clement’s “don’t bite the apple” approach of steadfast loyalty as a game she’d want to emulate, so it will be crucial for her that she doesn’t put all her paint on one brush. Nevertheless, I’m optimistic that Morriah will be able to be a social force and will paint with all the colours to craft a masterpiece.

AUSTIN’S SECOND PICK
GEO

I’ll be honest, I feel like Geo’s far from a slam-dunk winner pick based on his pre-game mindset. He plans to play hard from the jump, preferring to ease up on the gas if needed rather than ramp up. With the small tribe format and fan-heavy, game-centric cast of the new era, over-players have become easy marks early. The Boston Rob aggressive stranglehold approach doesn’t seem to cut it these days. So if he sticks to his plan, he could very easily hit the road pre-merge. However, despite this glaring reservation, I really like a lot of Geo’s vibe.

A former ‘shy kid’ who’s found his voice and confidence as a gay Latino immigrant, Geo has an energy of determination to make the most of his Survivor experience. Having had to quit his job to be able to play certainly adds financial motivation, but it reads to me that the fire of personal competitiveness and proving his mettle is the bigger drive. I could see Geo becoming one of the scrappier players of the season, especially if his smaller stature and quieter first impression lead him to be underestimated—not unlike his cited Idols Sandra & Cochran. But if he can put his analytical mind to good use, he could prove a formidable opponent. As he says, he’s “not coming to play, but to slay.”

STEPH’S SECOND PICK
JAMES

When asked which past player he will play the game most like, James first answered Sandra, citing her “anyone but me” strategy, and then pivoted to Russell, the agent of chaos. And how could I say no to this answer? As an event planner, unpredictable mayhem, last-minute curveballs, and clashing personalities will not be new to James. So, I’m trusting that his problem-solving skills from work will help him on the island with multiple other people, each with their own separate agendas. All in all, I think James will be an entertaining player to root for!

CHRISTINE’S SECOND PICK
ELIE

I could easily see Elie taking it home this season. She’s the kind of player who I think is going to thrive in this era of Survivor. I see her playing a social game where she’s never the biggest threat but still well-connected enough to make a deep run with an endgame similar to Erika’s. She, like a lot of players this season, compares herself to Cirie in her pre-game press. These are huge shoes to fill, and I’m not convinced Elie will quite be able to reach the highs of Cirie’s gameplay.

However, I could see Elie being able to succeed for similar reasons Cirie was successful if she’s able to subvert people’s expectations of her and be a silent assassin. Or, as she says, a “wolf in a Brené Brown suit.” The one thing that worries me about Elie’s pre-game press is her desire to be an “advantage queen.” I think it’s in Elie’s best interest to stay clear of the advantage hunt. If she’s got a great social game, as I expect her to have, hunting for those advantages is only going to put a target on her back.

ROB’S SECOND PICK
JEANINE

Jeanine is a 24-year-old UX designer from San Francisco, CA, originally from MA (yay!). I’ll admit, Jeanine was a bit of a blind pick for me, but I’m actually very happy with my choice. At first, she comes across as the small, sweet, unassuming young girl, but despite her age and stature, she’s got what it takes to make it very far in the game. As shown by the previous two season’s winners, a young unassuming person can easily win the game if they can navigate being pegged as “weak” at the beginning of the season. Jeanine actually has a lot of outdoors experience leading backpacking trips while studying at Harvard, and this experience and her athleticness could get rid of any possible misconceptions of her being a “weak” member of the tribe.

Just going by her interview with RHAP, she seems very personable and easy to talk to and get along with and also is super smart. She did mention that she might be pegged early on as being “smart and sneaky” due to her being Asian, but she’s also got another Asian player on the cast who has these same worries about his perception. She compares herself to Kim Spradlin and Andrea Boehlke, and I can definitely see her playing similar games to these two women. They’re both very personable and had great relationships with people on their seasons, and while Andrea has never won, she’s always been a standout character and a huge threat to possibly win in all three seasons she’s competed in.

I think Jeanine will be able to navigate the twists and turns of the game and adapt week to week with whatever’s going on, but also not get bogged down by all the changes.

MARTIN’S SECON DPICK
CASSIDY

After picking the “oldest” woman on the Coco tribe, I thought I’d balance it out by selecting the youngest Coco woman as my second pick. I actually think Cassidy and Lindsay share similar qualities; Cassidy is like Lindsay had she been cast on the show 20 years ago. Like Lindsay, she’s also from the South and has that charming and non-threatening personality, which should make it easy for her to form bonds.

Her approach to the game is to be a triple threat, paying attention to the social, strategic, and physical. That is often easier said than done, but it shows that Cassidy understands that Survivor encompasses all those things, and she isn’t entering the game one-track-minded. And, as she says herself, she doesn’t necessarily appear as the big physical threat or the archetypal strategic mastermind, which could mean she is underestimated by her fellow competitors.

She’s also a superfan who appears to understand the fast-paced nature of the modern game. Her approach is to form bonds quickly to ensure she is protected for a potential early Tribal Council visit. That’s smart, though it could also backfire. I like her attitude of “just say yes to everybody at the beginning” and figure it out later. But she’ll need to be careful about making too many promises and getting caught between alliances. As long as she can play it subtly and not be the one leading the discussions, she should be fine.

GIA’S SECOND PICK
DWIGHT

Dwight might be out of his element, but he’s not going to let that stop him from partaking in the adventure of a lifetime. To say he’s an overachiever is an understatement, as he pursued a career in journalism as a child and now has a resume that others in his career-field would kill for. I’m also particularly intrigued by his assessment of Wendell’s game, the former Survivor player he wants to play the most like.

He recognizes the importance of strong social bonds in the game and how to present himself as valuable to other players’ long-term strategies. His bio reminds me a lot of Swati from last season, an accomplished young college student who may possibly be in over their head outside of the academic sphere. So yes, winning Survivor in such a dominating fashion is an ambitious project, but Dwight is the literal definition of ambitious. If anyone has what it takes to play a Wendell game, it’s him.

GIA’S THIRD PICK
SAMI

Survivor is an ever-evolving game, so it makes sense that we went from a veterinarian last season to a pet cremator here. As the youngest castaway, Sami wants to implement the timeless strategy of using his young age to appear non-threatening to his competition. The problem is this approach has been used countless times (usually unsuccessfully) that it comes off as tired and expected.

That being said, I don’t think Sami needs to appear naive to do well in this game. He’ll be a physical asset to his tribe, and if he can prove to be a reliable ally too, the rest of the contestants won’t see his strategic prowess coming. Based on what we know about Sami so far, I expect he will bring an excitable presence to the season. It could really go either way for him, and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

MARTIN’S THIRD PICK
RYAN

It was at this point in the draft when I realized all my picks are from the Coco tribe. So, I hope the blue tribe is good at challenges! Fortunately, I think they will be. They look like a pretty strong tribe, and Ryan is a big part of that. With his background as a personal trainer, Ryan will likely be an asset in challenges and a great motivator for his tribe. Those are qualities that should make him an invaluable tribe member.

Of course, there is always a risk that Ryan will slip into that leadership role, which comes with its own pitfalls. He says he wants to be the provider, which is fine, but there is a thin line between motivating and overbearing on Survivor. But I like to think that Ryan has the awareness and empathy to be a positive and likable presence around camp. If he can avoid falling into that “my way or the highway” type of leadership, he could be set up nicely in the pre-merge.

The post-merge will be the tricky part. Being one of the more physically imposing players will instantly make him a target, and if he’s a likable leader on top of that? People will see him as a juicy trophy to put up on their mantle. This is why it’s important for Ryan to also focus on building strong alliances and connections in the pre-merge. The relationships are more important than the physical aspects because it’s the other players Ryan will need to protect him come the merge.

ROB’S THIRD PICK
CODY

Cody is a 35-year-old Elevator salesman (whatever that means) from Honolulu, originally from Iowa, and an all -round good time guy. He gives me strong Jonathan Young vibes, but hopefully without the unnecessary misogyny. He does compare himself to Malcolm Freberg, and I definitely can picture him being the same type of player that Malcolm was. He’s even got some shades of Fabio in there, which could either benefit or hinder him. If people are too put off by the “surfer boy” personality, he won’t be long for the game. His three words to describe himself are optimistic, charismatic, and fearless, and I think he hit those right judging by how he comes across in his RHAP interview.

I think early on, he’ll be a huge asset to the tribe by being a provider and doing great at the challenges. Once the merge hits, I feel like he’ll be an easy target due to his social standings and challenge prowess. Just like the elevators he sells, I’m sure his game will have lots of ups and downs.
I also realized everyone on my fantasy team is a Saggitarius (Jesse= 11/29, Jeanine=12/19, Cody=12/9). It’s a fire sign, and in this game fire represents life, so do with that what you will. Either way, #teamrob #teamsaggitarius.

CHRISTINE’S THIRD PICK
NOELLE

Noelle is my “I hope they prove me wrong” draft pick this season, because my first impression of her was that she was destined to go late pre-merge or early merge. My initial read of her is that she’s going to be seen as a huge threat, hunt for advantages, and go hard in challenges, making herself into an even bigger threat. Her Mike Bloom interview confirmed my suspicions but also gave me some hope that she might prove me wrong.

She admits that she’s excited about finding advantages as a woman and that her first instinct is going to be to look for them the second she hits the beach, but she’s aware of how much of a target that will put on her back. I see her coasting through the early pre-merge as a challenge asset, but her longevity will depend on how well she balances her excitement for advantage hunting with keeping a low profile.

STEPH’S THIRD PICK
NNEKA

Nneka wishes to play hard but to downplay how hard she’s playing. Traditionally, older women are often dismissed and don’t fare as well on Survivor. However, despite being the oldest woman on the Season 43 cast, Nneka is only 43! I think she’ll be able to fit right in and connect with others on the Vesi tribe without much issue, especially with her positive and resilient attitude, wanting to give her 100% always.

As a pharmacist with three children during the pandemic, I’m completely confident of Nneka’s strength, flexibility, and determination in her everyday life. I hope that these essential traits will translate to the game!

AUSTIN’S THIRD PICK
MIKE

In the instantly iconic words of Gabler himself, “YES!!” While Gabler may have slouched onto my team by the default last pick, I’m honestly happy to welcome him into the mix. There’s a lot to like about the kooky doctor, and his patterns of speech alone make it seem likely that he’ll be, at the very least, a standout confessionalist. He’s very much the classic Rupert archetype—the gruff man on the exterior but bearing a gentle heart. He’s an outdoorsman in his spare time, which will prove crucial around camp, and I think his more relaxed tenor could see him be more of a Mike Turner, able to casually bond with his tribemates, than a Brad, whose overzealousness overpowered him.

That said, these kinds of character archetypes are a long shot to win, especially in the modern age where strategy is more front of mind for most juries. Gabler might be able to make a deep run as a loyal soldier, but he’s gonna need to get the blood pumping by pulling off some impressive plays along the way. I’m hopeful that his pause-and-discuss Survivor-watching approach may give him some strategic inspiration. Perhaps he can channel a bit of Jeremy Collins—another father who played a stalwart, sturdy game. But I do anticipate he’ll come out of the season known more for his warmth of personality and his (fittingly) big heart than for his gameplay. But I am more than ready for him to prove me wrong!


Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull. Martin is the owner and editor-in-chief of Insider Survivor.


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