After last week’s episode turned an exciting round of play into a hot mess on the screen, Survivor 43 gifted us the inverse this week: a far less dynamic episode that did everything it could to convince you it wasn’t fairly ho-hum. But after two brain-melting rounds of twisty merge episodes, I’m grateful to finally crack open these dynamics to see where everyone sits in the hierarchy before the next big twist rises to the surface Alligabler style.
With Dwight out of the picture, Jeanine has found herself defeated yet again as she’s lost both an ally and her idol in one night. She’s managed to hit every branch as she falls from the proverbial tree, but she won’t be giving up just yet. As others assure her, without the idol hanging around her neck like a cursed albatross, she’s finally free to play her own game and skate under the radar. Granted, it’s the same exact sentiment fed to her after Elie’s blindside, so Jeanine isn’t buying into this so-called upside without a grain of salt.
But there’s a twist. Jeanine’s idol is still in the game because ,believe it or not, Jesse managed to swindle it out of Dwight’s hands just before Tribal Council, giving him control of both the Vesi and Baka idols for the time being. It’s an insanely impressive move boosted by insanely clever editing, proving Jesse’s here to cut throats in brutal yet brilliant fashion. Watching him let Cody have his way last week, I was concerned that Jesse was just following orders and caving to his ally’s whims. But knowing now that Dwight leaving secured Jesse safety and massive bragging rights, this was the move to make for his individual game.
There’s still one puzzle piece left in the Dwight boot: why the hell did Sami flip? Well, Cody doesn’t know either. He just showed up on the majority’s doorstep, asked for shelter from the impending storm, and found a home at the bottom of the new seven. But Sami’s not stupid. He can see the writing on the wall. The seven will inevitably cut him first as the lone Baka in the group, and he only flipped on Dwight to buy himself temporary wiggle room, so now’s the time to swing back and launch a counterattack.
As it stands, Jeanine, Gabler, Owen, and Noelle have been left out to dry. Sami’s plan is simple: rally those four, apologize for his last-second betrayal and pull in a sixth vote to secure a new alliance. Why Noelle wouldn’t just offer to use her Vote Steal here and save them the effort is a huge question mark, but regardless, there’s blood in the water, and sharks are swarming around the outsiders, namely Owen.
The majority identifies Owen as the biggest threat of the bunch (ironically overlooking the Alli-Gabler’s recent challenge domination), and Owen is finally hit with a somber realization that his game… kind of sucks. Coming from a background where he felt disconnected from his Korean culture and never quite fit in with the majority white community he grew up in, he’s found similar struggles in Fiji, falling to the bottom of the merge tribe with several blunders and bad reads to his name. But as a devoted comrade in the impending revolution against the majority seven, he’s ready to turn his game around and redeem himself, so don’t count him out yet.
But this is a “New Era” season where everything is allegedly so much harder according to production and the occasional player confessional, so the game is put on hold for a little pre-challenge bartering. Jeff has made this a permanent feature of the show since Season 41, offering a bag of rice if enough players sit out and give up their shot at immunity. Sami, Karla, James, Jesse, and Cassidy sacrifice their safety, leaving the remaining six (Cody and Ryan vs. the outsiders) to compete. And in a showdown between Cody and Owen, the underdog prevails, clearing his name from the board for another day and spoiling the majority’s plans.
With the obvious target safe, another outsider must hit the chopping block. Gabler worries his very visible and very messy reputation might take him down in spite of his attempts to fly under the radar, so he puts forth his best effort to bond with the majority and eventually finds a crack to jam himself into for at least one vote. The Alli-Gabler will remain submerged, leaving Noelle and Jeanine vulnerable in yet another episode of everyone’s favorite show, “Which Woman Will Go Home?” Between her lack of an idol and the majority being wary of her threat level down the road, Jeanine becomes the default easy vote, proving that hopeful sentiment from the previous night was a load of B.S.
But hope is not lost. Ryan, the camp’s major provider, has been on a massive winning streak when it comes to his fishing excursions. On the other hand, he’s spent a ton of time away from camp, excluding himself from the strategic dynamics. He’s nobody’s number one, the old Coco majority wanted him out once before, and his only budding relationship seems to be Gabler, if only because they’ve spent more time in the water than anyone else. And let’s be honest here, if your only potential ally at the final eleven is Mike Gabler, you’re in dangerous waters.
Sami puts his master plan into action, pitching a unanimous Ryan blindside to the rest of the tribe as Ryan himself waxes poetic about his desire for a unanimous, easy vote. It seems we’re in for Ryan’s evolution from Drew “Basically a Badass” Christy to Kat “Blindsides are Fun” Edorsson, as most of the tribe is receptive to the idea at first. It won’t be long, though, until James has second thoughts and pitches a return to the original plan, leaving the vote back up in the air as a dumbfounded Cassidy loses her patience.
From day one, Cassidy has preached about playing her own game, so as the votes slowly inch away from her long-time nemesis Ryan, she’s digging her heels into the sand to finally get her way and stop another woman from going home. But as sound as her arguments are, they fall on deaf ears as the plan to cut Ryan falls apart, and Jeanine is unfortunately sent packing in one last wave of awful luck. Cassidy is the sole vote to save her, whether that’s because she was legitimately out of the loop or tasked with doing so in case Jeanine managed to secure immunity through other means.
It’s a remarkably anticlimactic ending after all this hype about an underdog uprising, and much like last week’s result, I’m left scratching my head at the results. I wondered why Sami joined the majority last time, and this time I’m confused as to why he didn’t flip on them. We saw why Gabler would join them for the sake of finding safe harbor, or “anyone but me” as one Survivor Queen would say, but Noelle and Owen though? Why did they abandon the plan when the numbers were right there? Noelle’s Vote Steal was all they needed, even with Gabler potentially flipping, so what gives?
We probably won’t get conclusive answers until next week, but I believe it all comes down to Sami’s goal with this vote. He wasn’t exactly looking to pull in just one flipper and make a new alliance, but to turn the entire tribe against an easy target to avoid blindsiding the majority he had just pledged allegiance to. Cutting Ryan and taking a stand with the outsiders was possible, but where would that leave him in the upcoming and likely expected double-boot round? He’d be the visible mastermind with a solid group of people ready to cut his throat in retribution, and he wouldn’t have any safety nets to fall back on beyond the immunity challenge and luck of the draw. So I do get the logic here, and he probably told Owen and Noelle to jump ship to the easy vote and wait for another shot.
And on the other side of the battle lines, this was a solid showing for James, who’s managed to seize control of the game even with that Knowledge is Power burning a hole in his bag. While his transparent attempt to trick Owen into sitting out royally backfired and only earned him an enemy, the rest of his plays were commendable. He’s kept his majority intact, secured Ryan as a loyal, non-threatening ally, and managed to prevent a takeover by the underdogs or a women’s alliance by cutting their crucial number.
However, James still has a rough road ahead. Everyone’s clocked his game for what it is; Owen’s gunning for him next, and unless he burns his advantage to lower his threat level, it probably won’t be long before he’ll have to look beyond his majority alliance for a secure path to the end.
As for Jeanine, her journey was absolutely heartbreaking. She came in playing for her dad and found a solid women’s alliance, so things were looking up… until they weren’t. Her alliance fell apart despite her protests, and her worst fears came to fruition when the Baka men teamed up and left her out of the loop. She made the merge only to lose two allies and an idol in back-to-back Tribals, the major target in Owen won immunity in this last round, and the plan to save her fell apart at the last minute because she was so clearly vulnerable. Now she sits as the Mayor of Ponderosa, watching on the sidelines as the season either recovers from its sudden loss of momentum or becomes a snoozefest of a steamroll.
And about that loss of momentum, the season really has hit rough waters. The chaotic, messy nature of the last few weeks took a rain check, resulting in an episode packed with manufactured suspense for a boot that ultimately didn’t shake things up. It’s frustrating, especially when this cast seemed to be stocked with reckless, bold players in weeks prior. But after the last two episodes moved at lightning-fast speed and refused to breathe, I don’t mind a slower week to show where the dynamics stand… provided this was just a one-time deal and not the start of a predictable steamroll to the endgame.