Who the hell is Neil and why am I supposed to care about him? This episode was an absolute disaster — a low of the season for me and maybe a low of the “new era” too. I hated the hourglass twist but at least it was a two-part episode so we could follow the story? If your two favorite things about Survivor are watching one challenge take up over half the episode and Jeff Probst trying to wrap his head around human emotions, then you may feel differently, but this episode gave me NOTHING – no strategy, no conflict, no cohesive narrative to explain the vote – this place would NOT be one of Fiji’s hottest clubs. It’s best we just get piss-drunk, black out, and hope we can forget about it.
The first ~3 minutes weren’t too terrible. After getting blindsided at tribal council, Jeanine came back to camp and was reassured that Elie getting voted out was “great” for her game with which I still agree. Jeanine is so much less of a threat on her own than she was in a duo with Elie, who was not as great at making relationships as she thought she was. With Elie out (and Jeanine’s out ... ) despite Jeanine’s jaw dropping at two votes in a row, I think this is her “rock bottom” before a big climb.
Owen and Dwight then talked about a Baka/Vesi island marriage, if you will, that had been brewing since before the merge, but before we dug too much further into that, it was time to be interrupted with news of a challenge in which the players would compete in pairs. This resulted in a tremendously awkward silence since no one was bold enough to stand up and say who they wanted to be their partner. For any Survivor: South Africa fans, this was surely an “oh shit” moment, thinking we were about to see the Tied Destinies twist.
It wasn’t quite that, but the way the pairs were picked was equally as lame – drawing rocks. Jeanine had a funny line about it being “a really interesting 5 second social experiment” before everyone just decided to do a random draw. I feel like this speaks for the direction of the show lately – a compelling social experiment that turned stale. The premise of the show has always remained extremely interesting but over the years it just has gotten muddied with the show (Jeff) trying to appeal to ... I don’t even know who. I honestly think Jeff just goes through all this effort to produce a show that he enjoys watching and he doesn’t actually care about anyone’s else enjoyment anymore. He’s gone full Elon Musk in taking over and thinking he knows what’s best when all he’s doing is just making everything worse.
MINUTE BY MINUTE
Cassidy crushed that.
This challenge at least had something fun that we’d never seen before, a twisted rope crawl – or “the butthole” as Karla clarified it was called by the cast. Thinking about it, with the tight hole and all the mud ... yeah, that’s an image.
From there, things just got messier for the episode. After heat one of the challenge, Jeff stopped all the action to have everyone help Noelle and Jeanine out of the twisted, muddy holes they were stuck inside – that was fine, but what followed was just a total waste of time. The episode should’ve led with “Tonight, on a very special Survivor ...” with how stupidly sentimental this got.
You’d think 43 seasons in, Jeff would understand that Survivor isn’t “just a game” and that even though its players are competitive, they’re still human, so no shit they’re going to help someone who’s in some serious need of physical help? For whatever reason, that blew Jeff’s mind and his reaction made me want to blow out my own. That was just the cake, though, on this shitty night – the icing dumped on top was the Gabler show that proceeded.
I just don’t understand why we needed to spend SO much time on this last part of the challenge that only focused on three people once Dwight dropped. Jeff asked the remaining players what inspired them in that moment – Gabler said he was thinking about his uncle who had just underwent some surgery, Owen said he was playing for the kid in him that always wanted to wear that immunity necklace, and Cody said he was thinking about…that one time he lost a wresting match in high school. What a perfect “rule of three” joke: heartfelt answer, heartfelt answer, total campy answer.
Ending there would’ve been the standard stupid Jeff fare of just annoying people when they’re trying to focus, but he was on fire for some reason, fueling Gabler to give us a MINUTE BY MINUTE update of who he was thinking about during this challenge. Gabler proceeded to give special shoutouts to his dog, the state of Idaho, the state of Alaska, some guy named Lester – this started sounding like a Stefon skit which how much of EVERYTHING it had. We were past the halfway point of the episode and this challenge was STILL GOING.
It ended up going under an hour, even though Jeff made a point to make it sound like breaking the 25-minute record was some monumental achievement in the show’s history, so Gabler’s list of heroes was cut short at around 40, but I couldn’t help but wonder how this sort of thing would’ve gone in one of those real endurance challenges in old school Survivor.
I just do not care for most of this “hero” shit, especially when you compare this challenge to the one in Palau or any other that was measured in hours instead of minutes. Everyone had to pretend like they were so proud of and happy for Gabler when he won, but I was just happy it was finally over.
I guess this is technically “drama” but the inspirational/overly emotional spectacle the show tries to make these moments into is far too much. I’m completely unmoved. Maybe I’m just numb and dead inside, or Survivor in its current state just needs to die instead (the answer is probably a little of both). There was nothing exciting about this long, drawn-out “battle” between Gabler and his own willpower. Survivor needs to stop putting us to sleep with this stuff and bring back real battles like some of these to get us jumping up and down again:
Some of the best fights of the franchise were dominated by women, SHOCKER! Sadly, we’ll never see anything like this again because casting just doesn’t cast major “villains” anymore. I’m not asking for evil jackasses, but just give us SOMEONE who isn’t afraid to get in their and stir shit up. Elie vs. Gabler last week was the best confrontation we’ve probably had since Reem, but even that was tame compared to some of those earlier clashes that were talked about at every water cooler in America.
I do wonder if part of the problem is the new length of the game – it’s so accelerated that it sort of is turning into “just a game.” Back in Borneo, The Australian Outback, and other early seasons, those 39 days were life – your political position in the game be damned if someone was just pissing you the hell off. I recognize the complexity of the game naturally evolved, and when it becomes more of a game it becomes a little less personal, but when was the last time we had anyone close to the level of raw emotion as seen above? There are some little personality conflicts, but for the most part it’s a series of “good game” handshakes at the end of the day from what we’ve seen.
Jeff wants to remind us that this experience is still full of plenty of emotion, and it is, but it’s less full of is that fiery passion that really made Survivor such a hit. It may be there, but that just means we aren’t seeing it because of everything else that takes priority. As a result, we get a jumbled, shitshow mess of a story that this episode tried (and failed) to tell.
WHO’S GOING WITH WHO
See? Cody thinks it stinks too.
Sami said that now with everyone (except Gabler) vulnerable at this vote, they’d really get to see who was playing with who, but ... that’s not exactly what we got. Let me try to recap what we did see as best as I possibly can.
First, it was back to Baka and Vesi together voting for Coco with James and Ryan as the target, leaning a little more James’s way for being the bigger social threat. Then, Owen, Sami, Dwight, and James found a bottle floating in pointing them toward a hidden power underneath their shelter. James apparently was then just left alone to go grab it for himself (?????) and proceeded to tell literally everyone what the power was – Knowledge is Power, to be exact, because, “IT’S GOING TO GET PLAYED RIGHT ONE OF THESE DAYS, GODDAMMIT!” – Jeff Probst, Production tent circa April 2022.
So while Karla remained the only person in this game who can still keep a secret, James sealed himself as the target with the knowledge he put out there about himself. Speaking of Karla, out of nowhere, Jesse told us he trusted her more than he trusted some of his original tribe. Um, okay? Jesse then suggested to Cody that they should make a move against Noelle to which Cody countered with Dwight because he just had an “eerie” feeling about him. THIS WAS LITERALLY THE ONLY MENTION OF WHY DWIGHT WAS THE TARGET.
After Cody found out about James’s advantage, he thought about switching from Dwight to James, so I guess this was the “who will it be?” story of the week, hinged on Cody and Jesse’s votes. While all that was happening, everyone was exchanging their idols and advantages with each other like it was Valentine’s Day in 2nd grade, all to avoid James’s Knowledge is Power having any actual any power.
Did we all follow that? No? Awesome!
PLAN A, PLAN B, PLAN C, AND PLAN D
Going into this tribal council, then, we had kind of an idea that Dwight and James’s names would be written down, but we didn’t actually get an answer to the question, “who’s going with who?” or why exactly Dwight’s name was on the chopping block. Noelle was sort of a target, so to “weaken” her they wanted to vote out Dwight? Why not just vote for Noelle if she’s the threat? I am NEVER able to understand that strategy we’ve seen several times – the best way to prevent someone from winning the game is voting them out of the game. What a concept!
When the votes were revealed, Noelle and Dwight ended up voting for James, Baka minus Sami voted for Ryan, and Coco plus Sami plus Cody plus Jesse voted for Dwight, so Dwight was blindsided with Jeanine’s idol on him, making this another terrible night for Jeanine and, therefore, the world.
For the record, I’m pretty sure the rule is that you can’t give someone else an idol or advantage once voting starts, so I don’t think Jeanine was reaching back to Dwight to give her idol back. I think she was just trying to comfort him in that moment, making this even more tragic.
So how did all those votes for Dwight come to be? Are Jesse and Karla the links between a Vesi and Coco alliance secretly running the game, and who the hell has Sami saddled up with to leave Baka in the dust? Ryan? Cassidy? Cody?? We’re left to completely interpret all these things on our own which means the editors did a shittastic job at telling the story and crafting any sort of comprehensible narrative this week. But at least we got introduced so Gabler’s uncle Neil and some dead guy named Lester. What an eye-opening evening.
This poor kid. He lived out his wild Survivor dream but his boot episode was a chaotic nightmare. From what I gather, he was a little too close to Noelle who was already a target (for I guess just being a strong woman?), so by proxy, he was punished and sent packing. Did he do anything on his own to put him in that predicament or was Cody simply saying he was “eerie” enough to sway the majority to vote that way? I’ve never seen someone voted out for being “too spooky” but it’s Halloween week, so here we are. We can only hope Dwight’s exit press sheds some light on this dark, confusing, disappointing night of Survivor. I never thought I’d say this, but maybe we need the hourglass back because this episode needs a do-over.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR ...
Sami’s doing something different with his hands, so shit’s about to go down! Talk of the “seven” is back, but whether that still includes Ryan, we’ll find out. Baka is having to pick itself up from being on the bottom of another vote except for Sami who seems to be flying solo from them, but he keeps delivering these lines about winning the game, and despite his masterful gameplay of pawning himself off as a 22-year-old when he’s actually 19, the more he talks about winning, the more I think he’ll lose. That said, who the hell knows? I should stop trying to make predictions each week when each week we’re given next-to-nothing to go off about what’s actually going on in this game.
Cody – I guess? He was the ultimate axe-man in Dwight’s demise and weren’t we all just moved to tears by his tale of a high schooler in Iowa missing out on the state wrestling tournament by a single match that’s now haunted him all his life? If this week is the best of what we’ve got left for these “inspirational” backstories then I pray we neither see nor hear any more of them. What next? Sami telling us about the time he gave himself a paper cut in kindergarten and his mommy had to kiss the boo-boo? SUCH TRAUMA.
Jesse – Aside from Owen talking about what to do with Gabler, then just doubling down and staying on the sinking ship with him, Jesse was the main source of strategy I guess to give us a glimpse (if that) into what was going on this episode. I found it interesting that he and Cody both were SO fast to flip on Noelle and Dwight, but knowing where things stood at Vesi, perhaps they thought to jump on them before they got jumped on themselves. With 3 tribes merging into 1, I do think there’s an advantage to eating your own at first, so my gut says this will be a good thing for Jesse especially. His name’s not coming out of anyone’s mouth, and he looks to be teaming up with Karla who’s in a similar situation – I think these two will work wonders together!
Karla – Karla had the right idea to just stay the fuck out of this episode. I think she only had about one answer at tribal council to contribute to the hour? Wise woman, I tell you. She knew this episode would be trash and she didn’t want her name getting dragged through the mud with it.
Once was enough.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser