Survivor 43’s endgame is upon us as the final eight contend for numbers, immunity, and routes to the final three. While this round wasn’t as electric as the last, it was still a fun hour of television between an epic come-from-behind victory and a complex vote that might set the Gaia Tribe en route to another meltdown despite its straightforward nature.
As always, the episode kicks off with a short explanation of the previous vote and its repercussions. Cassidy is finally free of her nemesis and ready to play a new game. Karla has finally felt the shock of being out of the loop after dominating the social sphere for over two weeks. Sami, her loyal informant, is finally facing some heat for his transparent flipping and double-dealing as Noelle drags his name through the mud, a trend that will carry on throughout the rest of the episode.
And then there’s Jesse. After finding himself in a power position with two idols in his pocket, knowledge of Karla’s idol through his detective work regarding her collection of beads (something we just… never saw), and alliances in every corner ready to do his bidding, he is feeling on top of the world.
In a battle for the biggest reward of the season, Noelle’s struggle on the balance beam only makes her insane comeback victory that much sweeter. But her glorious win comes with a big responsibility: splitting the tribe in two by picking three players to share her reward at the Sanctuary. Jesse, Owen, and Sami come along for the ride, happy to feast on pizza and read their letters from home as Gabler, Cassidy, Cody, and Karla suffer back at camp and plot the day away.
At the Sanctuary, Jesse’s letter drives him to tears but also invigorates him with a renewed drive to win for his family. But he won’t be driving the strategic chatter just yet. Sami breaks up the wholesome vibes to pitch a vote against Cassidy, vowing to never flip again and become a straight shooter. Little does he know that he’s played into Noelle’s hands, as she took him along specifically to quell his flip-happy nature and lock him in as a dedicated ally. Owen buys into the Cassidy plan, suggesting a 3-3 split between her and Karla. And so it seems Noelle’s found a solid alliance and maintained her power. Until we cut back to camp.
Cody’s keen to throw Noelle under the bus immediately, citing her long-running habit of picking up new number-one allies no matter how many times they get voted out. First came Justine, then Dwight, and now Owen’s in her pocket, so why not go for the common denominator? No matter how often Noelle takes a hit in the game, she always comes back stronger, armed with a new ally, a new strategy, and a new move ready to be made.
Cassidy agrees with Cody’s assessment and scouts the beach for potential short-term allies, but Gabler’s wildcard nature might be an issue. She’s not sure where his head is at, and Gabler himself is wary of locking down a plan before the immunity challenge. But he eventually agrees to send Noelle packing, happy that he’s finally found options in the game after biding his time and building a stable reputation.
In the classic House of Cards immunity challenge, Cassidy stacks her way to a win with an outside-the-box strategy and throws a wrench into Noelle’s plans, a situation made even worse when Gabler tells her the Coco girls are throwing her name around. But she’s not about to spiral out of control because Sami’s still available as an easy split-vote option, with most of the tribe annoyed by his scheming.
Unfortunately for Noelle, Jesse’s eyeing his own power move, aiming to take her out before she can amass even more momentum. With Cody locked in, the bromance has all the power once again, and Jesse gets to work on his masterclass thesis on blindsides, laid out on screen in the form of a literal checklist.
Step one is simple: Feed Noelle a cover story to keep her feeling secure. That chat with Cody a few minutes earlier? No big deal. The guy just wanted his idol back, so there was no need to worry. Definitely nothing shady going on behind her back. And so Noelle suggests that Jesse talk with Sami next, unknowingly playing right into his hands.
Step two: Throw Sami under the bus as the fall guy. Sami makes it clear to Jesse that his cold turkey approach towards flipping is already failing, offering up a plan to vote for Noelle just a day after swearing he’d vote with her. And with that little suggestion carried back to Noelle, Jesse sets up two targets to be gunning for each other and not him. As it stands, the Baka guys will vote for Karla while the Vesi trio will vote for Sami… but behind the smokescreen, Jesse’s got four votes lined up to blindside Noelle: himself, Cody, Cassidy, and Karla. But Karla doesn’t like the sound of that, fearing a flipped vote could be her demise. So Jesse adds another item to the list…
Step three: Let Gabler in on the real plan as part of his alliance with the Vesi guys, flip his vote to Noelle, and stay the course until Tribal. Gabler’s not sure how his relationships with Owen and Sami will fare after such a sudden betrayal, so Jesse frames his argument from Gabler’s perspective, putting him in the prospective power position moving forward. The pitch works like a charm, so Jesse takes the rest of the day off to watch his dominoes fall one by one and brag about how great he’s playing.
However, there’s a wrinkle Jesse didn’t account for: the ever-unpredictable Alli-Gabler is getting hungry again. The last-second change of plans sets off alarms for Gabler, who puts the pieces together and realizes Cody & Jesse are running the game and need to be knocked down a peg before they steamroll to the end. Karla agrees, and the two promise to regroup after Tribal to work something out. It’s not a plan they can throw together at the last minute, but it proves two things. One: Gabler’s actually got game and anyone who underestimates him does so at their own risk. And two: Jesse’s master plan isn’t as foolproof as he expects, leaving him as a dragon to slay in the coming days.
But after a series of forced metaphors at Tribal Council, Noelle is blindsided according to plan. Though she was predictably not allowed anywhere near the final three on account of her incredible story and underdog run, she still played a great game with the hand she was dealt. She lost her allies repeatedly, but she kept fighting for a spot in the next round, eventually using her Vote Steal to fracture the majority alliance and blow the game wide open.
However, the tallest trees tend to catch the most wind, and after her insane reward win added yet another reason to give her the money at the end, her threat level was too obvious to ignore any longer. While her presence on the show was fairly understated outside of her handful of huge moments, she was still a wonderful representation of her community and always made the season more interesting on so many levels when she was able to shine.
And then there were seven. We have three solid pairs (Cody and Jesse, Cassidy and Karla, Sami and Owen) and one lone wildcard in Gabler who’s playing all sides. With the Alli-Gabler ready to chomp down on another meal, Karla finally facing some opposition after dominating the first half of the game, Sami exposed as a shifty double agent, Cody and Jesse due for a wake-up call, Cassidy gaining momentum at the perfect time, and Owen hanging in there day by day on the bottom, we could be in for an insane and unpredictable final seven and beyond with several major threats left in play.
This season may have stumbled and lost its momentum at times, but I’m hopeful the rest of this journey will be a fun, proper, and messy conclusion to the season.