The pre-merge of Survivor 43 has been a slow burn, to say the least, and that comes with the usual pros and cons. While this stretch of episodes might not be showing off insane blindsides and chaotic game moves, we know more about this cast as human beings than a majority of players in recent years, so should the game heat up down the line, we’ll be rewarded for sticking with it. But we still have to deal with the slower-paced segments like this episode, which unfortunately fell into old production traps and became the story of the advantages rather than the players for the most part.
Having survived their first Tribal Council, the five remaining Vesi members have solidified some dynamics and thrown others for a loop. Cody, Jesse, and Nneka are still a tight trio and have Cody’s hat-turned-bracelet idol to protect them. But Dwight’s been burned hard by Jesse’s double-dealing and joins Noelle in fearing for their survival. But Jesse won’t be losing much sleep over the fallout.
Dwight didn’t have a vote to begin with, so his bargaining held little weight. Their island marriage alliance has the divorce papers ready to go, as Jesse’s fine with giving Dwight the boot. But they won’t commit to a total separation just yet, opting to keep that door open in case Vesi turns back into Mesi and they find each other with aligned interests.
On Baka, we pick up where we left off, as Gabler’s idol is the talk of the tribe. I don’t know if it’s just desperation to get him off their beach or if they actually think Gabler’s this illiterate, but Elie suggests Gabler himself might believe his idol expired if he read the note wrong, leaving him vulnerable for the dumbest blindside in ages. Although he’s eccentric and gives trainwreck energy everywhere he goes, he’s certainly no fool, so Elie’s scheme will crash before it even gets off the ground.
Sami, wanting to get ahead of the women who’ve underestimated him from the jump, goes to Gabler with bad news: Elie searched his bag, read his idol note, and wants to pull off the ultimate con. Of course, Gabler’s annoyed, and so the cold war between the clinical psychologist and the heart valve specialist is underway as their sights are set firmly on one another with Jeanine and Sami as their respective second in command. And on the sidelines, Owen sits as a neutral third party. Having taken part in the bag search, he’s keeping his role a secret and his options open should either side emerge victorious in the impending showdown.
After a very low-key episode, the Coco Tribe is back in business. And by business, I mean being totally chill and enjoying Fiji without the stress of Tribal weighing them down. James celebrates his island birthday with some makeshift accessories, Cassidy’s living her best life on the kumbaya tribe, Lindsay’s casually daydreaming about where idols might be hidden. It’s a simple life for a simple tribe… until Karla finds the Coco Beware Advantage.
You might as well rename this group the Karla Tribe because she’s the bonafide star of this beach. Opting to leave the advantage behind for fear of an impossible task, she soon changes her mind for the sake of leaving it all on the field, hoping to leave with no regrets. And so Karla’s bead-centric fetch quest begins, leading to her opening what I can only describe as a Survivor Swap-Meet, where she trades away her personal belongings for the required beads. James’ birthday bracelet gives her the idea to cover her tracks with a story of making her wife an island necklace, and apart from Ryan humorously suggesting to trade their socks instead, her plan goes off without a hitch. Idol: acquired. Vote: saved. Karla: the boss.
With immunity and reward on the line, Baka and Coco demolish Vesi in yet another puzzle, sending them back to Tribal for an encore performance. But there’s a twist! Baka can select a member of each tribe to visit Advantage Island, and they go with a trio of Noelle, James, and Owen. Waiting for them on the summit is the same twist the last trio faced, a game of Risk or No Risk. Noelle is straightforward in asking for the advantage, so the two men oblige and let her take a Vote Steal back to camp free of charge under the assumption she’d work with them at the merge and use her power to knock out a massive player on Vesi.
But given Vesi’s back-to-back losses boil down to one person’s lack of puzzle prowess, it might not be the time to go for broke and shake things up. Nneka, who’s quickly become the tribe’s insanely likable mother figure despite her mistakes in challenges, has all eyes on her for a consensus elimination. But what she lacks in the challenges, she more than makes up for with incredible stories and positive energy. Telling the tale of her overseas mission experience in Africa warms Vesi’s hearts to the point where Jesse, seeing his own late mother in Nneka, can’t bring himself to write her name down without serious consideration.
With Noelle’s return, she whips her Vote Steal out of her prosthetic leg and reveals it to Dwight, hoping they can work together as bottom-feeders to turn the tables on the majority. Suddenly, the Nneka vote might be derailed if this is their night to strike. Unfortunately, it won’t be. Nneka, as sweet as she is, is just too much of a challenge liability for a soon-to-be four-person tribe to keep around. Jesse and Cody decide to cannibalize their alliance and choose the proven competitor Noelle over the dedicated ally Nneka, sparing the outcasts for another day and unknowingly putting themselves in a deadly position should they return to Tribal before the merge.
Without question, this was the breakout episode Noelle needed. She secured a Vote Steal on a small tribe, gained a potential number one in Dwigh, has two competent allies in solid positions waiting to work with her across tribal lines, and above all else, proved her disability isn’t a limitation in the game. Coming in, I feared Noelle would be given the Kelly Bruno treatment: labeled as a too-threatening and potential liability in one fell swoop and sent packing sooner rather than later. But she’s found herself on equal footing (no pun intended) with her tribe and dodged two eliminations with her name on the block, sticking around to continue proving herself and promising more leg jokes along the way. Hopefully this wasn’t a one-off bottle episode for the Paralympian, because I’m loving the great underdog story she’s bringing to the table.
But unfortunately for Nneka, this was her swan song episode. After being largely ignored for the first two weeks, the editors went all out to give her… somewhat more airtime than before. Just enough to give you a sense of her role in the tribe, her goals in life, and her play style. But once they gave her that inspirational home video package, I sensed those death flags, and even the editors couldn’t hide how clear-cut her boot was once Vesi lost immunity.
Nneka seemed like a lovely, charming person with great stories to tell, but between her lack of a killer instinct for the game and her poor challenge performances, she never had much of a shot. Had she found herself on a winning tribe like Coco, where her highly loyal play style carried more weight than the tribe’s need for a victory, she probably would’ve been a solid number and been able to make a deep run. But at that point, you don’t let a player as likable as her sit at the end unless you’re happy to lose in a landslide. And Nneka herself probably wouldn’t have that gamer’s edge to make the moves required to get there herself.
But if she had an enjoyable experience out there, nobody can take that away from her, and I’m glad we were able to see her unique story, even if her time in the season was short-lived.
Heading into next week, we’ve got Vesi on the ropes, Coco and Baka scrambling, and an old-school camp raid reward, which has historically delivered iconic moments. Despite its slow start, the season has serious potential waiting to be unleashed, and it’s only a matter of time before someone takes a big shot and all hell breaks loose with a cast this hungry for chaos.