After a two-hour premiere with only one boot, Survivor 43 has opted for back-to-back experiments with a 90-minute second episode. It’s something the fans have been hungry for over the years, and they finally delivered. So was the outcome worth the hype? We got more camp life, more backstories, more game content, more comedy, and more, well, Survivor. Of course it was worth it, but not without its unfortunate downsides. So let’s break it down piece by piece, or bead by bead, so to speak.
Let’s start with the Coco Tribe, only because they received a single scene this week, albeit a great one. The strategic dynamics haven’t shifted. Karla is still in the middle between Lindsay’s girls+James alliance and the digging duo of Geo and Ryan. Should Coco lose a challenge, she’ll need to show her cards and potentially break some hearts. But not before said hearts are filled with joy as Geo and Ryan grow closer as the bromance of the season.
Geo’s had a difficult life to say the least. Being disowned by family over his LGBT identity, he was forced to live a homeless life and seek acceptance and compassion elsewhere, all while grappling with suicidal thoughts at a young age. But Ryan, the sweet, lovable teddy bear of the Coco Tribe, is more than willing to be Geo’s heartfelt friend and ally while celebrating their differences.
While these scenes aren’t the fast-paced game content everyone’s here for, they represent what the show was intended to be at its core: people from different walks of life coming together and learning about unique experiences. And with an extended episode, why not give more weight to these character moments? When the game is afoot and random advantages are flying every which way, these moments will give each elimination that added impact you wouldn’t get otherwise. It’s a slow burn for sure, but the payoff will be all the more powerful.
Meanwhile, the Baka Tribe takes the blunt force of a brutal Fijian storm head-on, leaving them weary and miserable after their first Tribal. Gabler, older than the others by a significant margin, isn’t holding up in the elements nearly as well as he’d imagined. Discussions inevitably fly about voting him out for tribal strength when his idol expires, but Elie and Jeanine are left out of the loop when their fears of an all-guys alliance bear fruit.
Sami, Owen, and Gabler all agree on one thing: the women are underestimating them and treating them like children, so why not unite as a power trio? There’s no guarantee it isn’t cheap lip service to some degree, given Elie’s strong social game and Sami’s continued frustrations with Gabler, but Elie and Jeanine should be worried heading into a second loss.
Though Baka will win immunity and reward this week, their story doesn’t end at the challenge. The extended episode gives us a peek into the post-challenge action on Baka, which is largely an excuse to shoehorn in as much goofy Gabler content as possible, not that I’m complaining. But this extra bit of content lights a fire under some impending drama, setting it on a course towards boiling over.
While Gabler humiliates himself with Baka’s newly won Hawaiian sling, the rest of the tribe searches his bag to confirm the idol’s expiration date. Much to their dismay, they’re stuck with Gabler for at least one more Tribal unless they can seriously outfox him. And much to Gabler’s dismay, he’s set to learn about the latest edition of Survivor Bag-gate in the next episode and seek revenge.
But the meat of the episode is the Vesi Tribe and their insane journey to an otherwise mundane elimination. To kick things off, Jesse and Dwight go idol hunting and form a new power duo, aiming to be the swing votes between Cody/Nneka and Justine/Noelle. Even though Dwight’s without his vote, he’s not without his social game. Having had no serious game talk with Cody, the grad student tries roping in Jesse on an anti-Cody scheme. Jesse won’t be on the same page, though, viewing Cody as more of a fun, eccentric character rather than a threatening strategist. Instead, he sets his cross-hairs on Justine. He can’t relate to her at all; she’s annoyed him from day one; she’s in an obvious duo… The list goes on.
Facing a messy loss in an immunity challenge involving “400 pounds of Survivor snake,” to quote Jeff Probst himself, Vesi is forced to get even messier as a new target arrives on the scene. Nneka makes blunder after blunder in the challenge, offering little help in the more physical sections and missing a bag of puzzle pieces on the ground to put the nail in their coffin. But she’s got allies ready to back her up and reward her loyalty regardless of her sloppy performance, and Justine is totally exposed as easy pickings for the majority trio, so it should be smooth sailing.
And then Cody decides to channel too much of that LIVIN energy and throws the entire episode into a last-second tailspin. Not that this cast hasn’t been prone to making weird, scatterbrained moves so far, as Gabler and Dwight showcased in the premiere. But Cody taking a Beware Advantage right before Tribal, knowing how the twist worked last year, while his alliance faces a 3-2 vote… has already set the bar high for hilariously bad decisions. And I love it. Not just the bad play, but the actual twist that comes with it too.
Instead of saying a cheesy phrase at the next challenge, Cody has to go on what amounts to an RPG fetch quest mixed with a touch of Tony’s extortion debacle from Winners at War. Every tribe member has a unique bead on their bag, and if Cody can collect all six Infinity Stones on his gauntlet, I mean unique beads on his bracelet, they’ll function as a fully powered immunity idol. But he can’t just steal them. The other players have to willingly give them away, requiring Cody to use his social chops and whip out a clever ruse to save his vote and his alliance.
The quirky phrases twist was fun, but it’s not something production would nor should do again, and not just because the players from 43 and onward know what to listen for. Losing your vote until the merge because people on the other tribes haven’t found and activated an idol with a literal warning on the package? It’s brutally unfair to the finders. But the bead collecting twist is a brilliant evolution of the Beware concept.
While you still have to rely on others to activate the idol, at least you’re relying on people on your own tribe and have the ability to game the twist however you see fit. With the phrases version, you’d have to say something silly… and that was it. There was never any room for creative strategy outside of just leaving the package where you found it or refusing to say the phrase for the sake of secrecy. But with the beads twist, there’s a bit of wiggle room here for social strategy, as Cody will quickly prove.
Throughout the episode, there was an odd amount of focus on Cody’s palm frond visor. I assumed it was the editors having fun with what will surely become a meme of the season, but little did I know this tacky little hat would save Cody’s butt, tattoo and all. Going to his allies Jesse and Nneka with news of the twist, he sets a plan in motion. Because he’s already characterized himself as a quirky craftsman who builds random things for the fun of it, he’s able to convince the rest of the tribe to toss their beads at him like it’s Mardi Gras under cover of bedazzling his hat for Tribal. The only obstacle in his way? Noelle already turned her beads into pretty bracelets and grew attached. So heading into Vesi’s first Tribal, we might be looking at a tie vote, a stalemate, and even a rock draw. All because Cody had to embody his butt tattoo a little too hard.
But in one of the more clever (and to some degree, intrusive) editing tricks, it’s revealed that Noelle eventually gave Cody her beads in a mid-vote reveal flashback. And thus, Cody’s crucial vote is saved, the iconic Hat Idol is born, and the majority alliance takes Justine out of the game with three votes. But it’s not exactly a clean vote. Noelle and Justine, for reasons not explained, split their votes between Nneka and Cody which rendered the bead drama pointless in retrospect. Reading between the lines, I assume the rest of the tribe organized a fake split vote just in case Cody couldn’t get his vote back or a shot in the dark was played, but it would’ve been nice to see this strategy play out in the episode proper given the lack of time restraints.
As for Justine, I’m sad to see her go. She wasn’t the most electrifying strategist of the bunch, but she brought an old-school, positive energy to Vesi and served as a good foil for Cody in their one-sided rivalry. Her game mistakes are clear, though, so it’s no mystery why she was taken out so early. Starting off the game in an obvious duo on a tribe of six was precarious enough, but her openness about being a salesperson only boosted her threat level. And to make matters worse, she told Jesse, the swing vote of all people, that she didn’t fully trust him.
Weighing his options, of course Jesse would work with Cody over Justine here. Cody showed Jesse his idol when he needed help. Justine showed Jesse she couldn’t fit his game plans. Yeah, not a difficult choice. And to some degree, the new meta-game has rewarded these quirky, low-key, social butterfly women with victories, so it wasn’t exactly a shock to see a person like Justine targeted right away.
So, all things considered, was the first 90-minute regular episode worth the wait? I’d say yes, but it wasn’t a perfect episode by any means. On the one hand, we got a ton of fun camp life that wouldn’t make the air in a 60-minute episode, had more time to spend on telling the actual story of the week in full, and got to visit the winners of the immunity challenge for some usually unseen content that bridges the gap between this episode and the next. But for all its successes, the extended episode fell into a couple traps, notably the imbalanced editing akin to an Australian Survivor episode of similar length.
Instead of using the extra time to flesh out more players, they gave players who were already main characters such as Cody and Jesse even more airtime, leaving half of Coco totally ignored and barely giving the two boot options on Vesi time to shine. It was definitely an experiment with a lot of fun results, but should they attempt this type of episode again or make it a recurring staple, hopefully they can iron out the issues to create a more fulfilling experience.