After a couple weeks where this season seemed to lose its way, Survivor 43 is back with a bang. While the polarizing post-merge Split Tribal twist has seen its ups and downs in previous seasons, this iteration of the twist gave us two blindsides for the price of one while delivering new developments to shake up the impending endgame. But first, we have to clear up the mess left by last week’s failed uprising.
As the Gaia Tribe returns to camp, Owen quickly pulls his Baka boys Sami and Gabler aside for a debriefing. As it turns out, Sami was onboard for the blindside but couldn’t get the numbers he wanted, leaving the outsiders to scramble aboard the Jeanine plan to save face. James, intending to keep Owen as the clear target, did his best to leave him out of the loop. Though Owen plays dumb and takes credit for the random second Ryan vote, he has Gabler to thank for letting him in on the plan at the last second and exposing James’ schemes.
But Owen’s already shaky position will only grow less stable as his frustrations with James reach a boiling point, resulting in a late-night confrontation that puts both men in a not-so-great light as the rest of the tribe watches from the sidelines. James is furious that Owen put his name down, claiming the theme of the season moving forward will be “Come for James? You go home!” Meanwhile, Owen’s fed up with James playing camp dictator, vowing to take the chess master down with him if he’s destined to go home.
The stage is set for a showdown, made even more intense by a Split Tribal twist. Karla, James, Owen, Sami, and Noelle end up on the Blue Team, while Gabler, Ryan, Cody, Jesse, and Cassidy end up on the Red Team. Karla defies the odds and pulls out her first immunity win, wounded hand be damned, but Cody ultimately wins both immunity and a PB&J reward for his team. And with nowhere to hide, it’s a scramble to find targets and lock down some plans.
On the Blue Team, the only options are Owen and James. They’ve been bickering, they’re both threats in some capacity, and they’re both refusing to back down from targeting each other. In fact, their quick confrontation the night before was only a precursor to an absolute meltdown. Deciding to have a cordial chat at the well, the two try to play nice, but when James refuses to give Owen a name, Owen clearly knows he’s getting strung along yet again. And so all hell breaks loose. The men return to camp arguing over past votes, personal slights, and everything under the Fijian sun as the others awkwardly wait for them to simmer down.
Noelle, in particular, fed up with the testosterone, humorously offers the tribe some papaya and leaves the scene to plot her own moves. And what a move she’s planning. As Owen appears to be the easy option, Noelle takes a look at the numbers and advantages in play and comes up with a scheme to outwit James, bypass his Knowledge is Power, and take control using her Vote Steal given to her all those days ago by the same men on the chopping block. At that time, James wished for it to be used against a big threat, and he might ironically get his wish as the Monkey’s Paw curls.
But Noelle’s plan isn’t secure just yet. It requires her to steal Owen’s vote and team up with Sami, who is more than happy to take James out… but only if Karla wants to cut his throat too. It’s another instance of something I’ve noticed in Sami’s game: his tendency to seek permission to make moves rather than boldly calling his own shots. He waited until Gabler sealed Elie’s fate to cut her, refused to cut Ryan because the majority wouldn’t budge even though workable numbers were available, and only cuts James here if his new close ally Karla is willing to take the shot with him.
On the one hand, I can understand wanting to keep allies placated and in the loop so as to not burn bridges for future votes, especially in a season so messy. But Sami really needs to make a move of his own and risk putting himself in the firing line if he wants this jury’s respect at his age, and giving Karla all the agency and credit here when she’s already one of the best-connected players is a massive missed opportunity.
As Karla decides between cutting her long-term ally and continuing the outsider steamroll, the Red Team has their own decisions to make, and it quickly boils down to resolving Cassidy and Ryan’s long-running rivalry. Fishing buddies Ryan and Gabler agree to target Cassidy, though not without Ryan randomly throwing out Cody’s name as a decoy as though he isn’t wearing the necklace. Meanwhile, Cody, Jesse, and Cassidy link up to finally take the shot against Ryan, but the Vesi pair will ultimately hold all the power tonight.
Weighing their options, Cody and Jesse are more concerned with how this vote will impact the other team, particularly their relationship with Karla. Nobody would be particularly upset if Ryan is voted out because almost everyone was down to send him packing just a day earlier, but Ryan’s still a loyal number for their majority and won’t be a strategic force. But cutting Cassidy is a whole other can of worms. She’s a strategic threat, but she’s also one of Karla’s close allies, and Karla has enough influence to punish anyone who fires even a warning shot her way.
The pair ultimately leave it up in the air, waiting to see who the other team sends to the jury before finalizing their choice. If James leaves, suddenly Cassidy is a safer vote as Karla would be down two allies and come running to them for strategic opportunities. If Owen leaves, a Ryan vote would be safe and avoid incurring the wrath of both Karla and James.
But there’s still one piece of the puzzle here left to sort: Gabler. Color me impressed because, somehow, this man’s post-merge plans have paid off. I thought he’d burned his social capital for good, but he employed his wacky Alli-Gabler strategy, focusing more on building bonds and laying low until his next move, and it actually worked. Gabler’s got people like Cody coming to him for a ride-or-die alliance, putting him in a key position without a target on his back.
Does this mean Gabler is suddenly a frontrunner to win the game? No. But it does present him with a few more paths to the end than he was looking at before, and if he can pull a couple fast ones against the power players and find a competitive final three, he might have a half-decent case for a few jury votes.
The Blue Team visits Tribal first, and it quickly devolves into another verbal slap fight between James and Owen as Sami asks Karla for her vote-deciding answer in the background. Noelle carries out her part of the plan to steal Owen’s vote, leaving it up to the two king-makers to come to a decision. Karla opts for the risky and almost baffling move, sealing James’ fate in a unanimous 4-1 vote, shattering the majority seven, and hoping her other Coco ally survives the next round.
As for the Red Team’s Tribal, it’s nowhere near as eventful. Aside from Cassidy forcing an awkward metaphor about the figurative monster’s figurative hunger to Jeff’s delight, it’s a pretty cut and dry wrap-up. Cody and Jesse decide to cut Ryan, going against their initial plan in the event James ends up on the jury. A bit of a strange move, but like many before it, we’ll likely be waiting until next week to see the real logic behind this vote.
Our two boots had radically different journeys through this season but ultimately found themselves in the same boat. James wanted to play as a king disguised as a pawn, only to crown himself as a top player too early and find himself in checkmate as his ironic prophecies came full circle. He teased that advantages could turn people into villains, only for his own KIP to corrupt him with too much power for his own good. And then he asked Noelle to knock out a big threat with her Vote Steal, only to become said big threat. His game was great up to a certain point as he largely controlled Coco, but the merge brought him into the firing line where a bad draw at the final ten left him totally vulnerable.
On the other hand, Ryan came in wanting to play an old-school game like his hero Rupert Boneham, only to meet the same fate as many a provider in Survivor history. Once his lack of strategic sense reared its head with his absurd challenge-throwing ploy costing him his only real ally, he fell back on fishing his way to the end in an era where players value strong relationships with strategic potential over eating a couple fish a day. While he wasn’t a great player, he was still a fun, old-school personality who provided some great comedic moments and a compelling, inspirational story about overcoming adversity and living his best life.
Just as the game seemed to be growing stale, we got back-to-back blindsides, two majority members going home, and an open endgame. But what does the field look like in the wake of this episode? Well, a lot of eyes should be on Karla, given her power impacted the decisions of a team she wasn’t even on. She seems to be the best-connected player left, and nobody has dared to target her or her allies without explicit permission. But will cutting James cost her all that accumulated power and leave Cassidy as her only ally?
Cody and Jesse certainly have their reasons to keep her around, but with the ever-unpredictable Gabler as an ally, they might be in hot water if the Alli-Gabler rises back to the surface hungry for big players. Likewise, Owen, Sami, and Noelle have worked together as outsiders, giving them new options in the wake of the majority seven’s downfall. But Sami’s proven himself to be flaky with making moves, so their uprising might be short-lived. Regardless, I’m just relieved the season’s found itself back in messy, unpredictable territory where anyone could feasibly carve a path to the end and secure a win with the right circumstances.