Survivor 43 is a tale of ups and downs. We get a great episode, then hit a lull in the action, much like swells on the open ocean, ironically enough. It’s a bit disappointing when a challenge of all things is the highlight of the week, but at least the season’s doing what the last two couldn’t and giving us legitimately engaging competitions. That doesn’t mean production’s off the hook for the sheer messiness of Last Gasp’s long-awaited and dreaded return, but in an episode without much strategic payoff and some bonkers storytelling choices, I’ll take what I can get.
The post-Tribal recap is awkward, to say the least. Karla goes to work figuring out who voted for her, immediately and accurately blaming Sami. The pet cremator decides to cremate his corpse of a game by throwing the blame on Gabler, only to walk it back and admit his real vote once it’s obvious that nobody is buying it. If people thought he was shady before, he’s burned any hope of recovering his once impressive standing without a miracle.
Meanwhile, Gabler springs into action to recruit a frustrated Owen en route to the finals. While Gabler himself has been teasing us with a big move for the past four episodes and will continue to keep us on the edge of our seats about his master plan, he’s set himself up quite nicely. Hiding in plain sight is his game, and as much as we love to meme on the guy for his goofy antics, he’s actually pulling off the game he intended to play all along. The big concern, though, is that the Alli-Gabler is waiting too long to rise to the surface and take another bite, giving him a solid path to the end but not necessarily the jury votes.
Owen accepts Gabler’s deal and his own inevitable loss, turning himself into the resident Charlie Brown. The rest of the cast pulls the proverbial football away time and time again, sending him on a hot mess journey not unlike Michele Fitzgerald’s on her second season. Will Owen be able to drag himself to the end as a hopeless underdog in the same manner? Or will he eventually find himself on the receiving end of his own blindside? Only time will tell.
And speaking of telling (and not showing), did you know that Karla told Cassidy about her idol several days ago? No? Good, because we’re only learning this now via a poorly timed flashback ex machina. For context, Sami tries to stir chaos as his last-ditch effort to save himself, lying to Karla that Cassidy threw her name out in the previous round. Reflecting on their time together as the queens of Coco beach and beyond, Karla’s suddenly having second thoughts about their partnership. Cassidy knows about her idol, and as far as Karla believes, Cassidy’s willing to use that info against her when the time comes to make a power play.
But the potential fall of the season’s last women standing is put on hold. Production decides that since Do or Die is dead for the time being, it’s only fair to replace it with a less egregious twist: a hunt for a new advantage. I was about to lose it if they threw in a third Knowledge is Power this season, and I would’ve been greatly annoyed to see an Idol Nullifier pop up so close to the endgame. But in a pleasant surprise, it’s simply a betting slip for the immunity challenge, allowing its finder to be immune after the votes are cast should they pick the winner. After a fun compilation of people missing the package by mere inches, Cody snags the advantage and puts all his eggs in Owen’s basket.
And with that, it’s time for the return of Last Gasp, the infamous “waterboarding” challenge. Only this time, the challenge is way harder because it’s on the open sea with massive swells submerging the final seven right off the bat. Gabler, Sami, Jesse, Cody, and finally Cassidy drop out in the first couple of hours, leaving Owen and Karla to battle it out. But after almost three hours of enduring the sea’s wrath, Karla and Owen accomplish the unthinkable and beat the ocean itself. With the tide dropping and the challenge quickly losing its endurance element, Jeff calls it a draw and grants both of them immunity.
As cool as it is to see these two outlast a challenge in a massive first for the show, it’s made far less cool when three people are immune at the final seven. And with three idols and the Shot in the Dark still in play, it leaves room for an advantage-geddon situation or a Tribal where everyone has immunity of some kind. I’m glad we scraped by without some horribly unfair elimination, but it’s the kind of wonky game design that comes when you hand out immunity like candy. And it largely stifles interesting endgame moves when you take so many people off the board at a crucial vote. If anyone was considering a move against Cody and Jesse, learning that Cody had some kind of Schrodinger’s Immunity took him off the table whether he guessed correctly or not.
Anyways, only Jesse, Gabler, Cassidy, and Sami are vulnerable. Jesse and Gabler are well-connected players with multiple allies in all corners, so naturally, the votes will fall on Cassidy and Sami. The former has been targeted many times before, and her only close ally is quickly losing faith in their partnership, while the latter has burned bridges and been outcast as a shady flip-flopper. Cassidy’s go-to plan is, like usual, playing defensively and hoping she’s overlooked in favor of a bigger threat. It’s not flashy, but it’s functional and fox-like as she intended. After all, why shoot the sneaky little fox when you have a big bad wolf prowling around?
Figuring his crumbling game needs a miracle at this point, Sami contemplates using the Shot in the Dark of the season, but his miracle might come in the form of a payoff from his clever lies. Karla and Cassidy sit down to chat, agreeing on Sami as the easy vote. But Karla, to the tune of sinister background music straight out of a horror film, is ready to vote her number one ally out of the game before Cassidy can turn against her. She speaks with Sami about her vote, who spreads the word to Cody, who links up with Jesse to seal the deal.
But as always, Jesse has his own goals to tend to before he just goes with the flow on an easy vote. Gabler, Cody, Karla, and Sami want Cassidy out, but Jesse reads between the lines and argues that keeping Cassidy in the game will only benefit him. If Cassidy stays and learns that Karla is coming for her, that’s two people going head to head at the final six instead of gunning for Jesse. Cassidy will be a free agent for Jesse to scoop up, Karla looks like a fool in front of the jury just in case he has to sit with her at the end, and he can remove Sami from the board to cut a potential fire-making threat ahead of time.
There’s really no hole in his logic, but he’ll have to run the plan by Cody first. And for the first time in a while, Cody and Jesse struggle to get on the same page. To Cody, booting Cassidy would break up a major duo in time for the final six. It would also get rid of a strong challenge competitor as opposed to someone who usually drops out early and leave big threat Karla on an island of her own as easy pickings in the next vote. Regardless of which way the guys vote, though, Cody assures us he and Jesse will be on the same page and finish the game just as they started: together.
At Tribal Council, Sami is open and honest about playing his Shot in the Dark, aggravating Cody and Jesse, breaking Cassidy’s spirit, and delighting the jury. Others try to mock him for throwing away their trust, but Sami takes a stand, arguing that if the plan he was told comes to fruition, his vote won’t matter and his Shot in the Dark is just a precaution. And he will be correct in assuming his vote wouldn’t have mattered… because it’s a slam dunk 6-0 vote with his name on it. The Shot in the Dark fails once again, and Sami joins the jury with no regrets.
As far as teenage players go, Sami certainly fits the mold we’ve come to expect from his age group. He was super confident and had big plans to conquer his limitations, but he didn’t have the life experience or strategic chops to pull it off. Covering up his true age was only a band-aid on a gaping wound as nobody respected him regardless, especially after his poorly handled double dealing brought his game crashing down.
Sami did make a valiant effort to survive by throwing out some lies that nearly saved his skin, so he clearly had some game sense to him. It was just a case of too little too late, and in a cast of players who love landslide votes and sticking with the numbers, he was never going to gain much traction in his position. But still, I have to give props for making the power players sweat, if only for a few minutes.
And then there were six. We have three duos battling for a spot in the finale: Cody and Jesse, Karla and Cassidy, and Gabler and Owen. But with the Coco women on thin ice and the Baka men having a troubled history together, it seems like Cody and Jesse will remain the shot callers with their idols as back-up in a worst-case scenario. But aside from Owen, who’s fully accepted his comical goat status, the other five have decent to great cases should they survive the endgame gauntlet.
Will Cody and Jesse finally face opposition to their control? Will the Alli-Gabler eventually rise to the surface as he prophecized? Will Karla have the guts to cut her number one, or will Cassidy manage to outfox yet another enemy? It’s a wide-open game, and as flawed as this season might be, I’m hopeful for an intense, competitive endgame as the penultimate episode approaches.