Finally, thankfully, Episode 11 of Survivor 43 departed from the already well-worn patterns of its two preceding seasons, and ditched the "Do or Die" twist, albeit replacing it with a new advantage. But at least that advantage was minimally destructive, and featured a humorous free-for-all camp search, which was mostly played for laughs.
The episode also featured the return (and breaking?) of a classic Survivor challenge, which ended in an unprecedented two-way tie for first, as production called the challenge after three hours, allegedly due to receding tides. All of that added up to three people having individual immunity, plus three live idols, which could have theoretically made all but one contestant immune, and sent the unlucky non-immune player home in a tragic Cirie-ing.
But at the last minute, another nearly forgotten advantage (Shot in the Dark), emerged at the last possible time, it failed once again, and the vote became a now-straightforward unanimous (6-0) one. All the idols were saved! A Christmas (season) miracle!
Despite the trinket-heavy mechanics, this ended up having enough links to Survivor seasons past — the absence of Do or Die, the presence of Last Gasp and an actual F7 vote (sort of), abundant comedic moments — that it felt like a step forward for the season. In the end, an extremely active player joined the jury, but the path to that happening was unexpected. Maybe there's still hope for an exciting finish here?
They hid the crap out of this one
The advantage search was hilarious, and edited explicitly for comedic purposes, as the "Choose Your Champion" package was tacked to a tree at eye level, yet multiple people walked right past it. This included basically everyone left, except Jesse or Karla.
While that's no doubt frustrating for the people who missed out on this advantage (especially Sami), it was fun for the audience. The search took up the space normally reserved for a reward challenge, and as such, was probably time better spent? Either way, it's nice to have light moments like this, especially at the end of the game, when tensions rise and fuses are short. Not to mention that "Choose Your Champion" is unquestionably a massive upgrade over "Do or Die,"" one of the most anti-Survivor twists ever created.
From a fan perspective, this also felt a bit like production gently pushing back on audience complaints that for some players, idols seem far too easy to find. Ever since Malcolm Freberg mused that he just needed one more idol in Caramoan, then lo and behold, one appeared along a path, in a tree, at near-eye-level, disgruntled fans have been 100% sure that whenever a production favorite finds an idol — Russell Hantz, Ben Driebergen, Rick Devens, etc. — it was not through that person's efforts, but because producers intentionally placed that idol right where that person was looking.
Here, we see the opposite: Producers announce to everyone that an advantage is available, everyone races off to find it, and it's there, tacked to a tree along a path, right at eye level. And multiple people wander right past it, obliviously. Even people who production might want to keep around (Sami). It's fascinating to see just how much people can blind themselves when their gaze is blinkered by an incorrect assumption (Gabler tells everyone it has to be below eye level, in an ironic reverse-Judd move; also, multiple people are looking for Gaia-colored string).
It doesn't completely excuse past transgressions, like Samoa-era Russell Hantz announcing right before the tribe leaves for a challenge that he's planning to hunt for idols by the bridge, then when he returns to camp, there's an idol under the bridge. But it does argue that maybe some non-Hantz finds might have been more legit than they seemed.
It's also a bit of an echo of last season's scene where Maryanne found an idol in a tree, right after Lindsay tried and failed to search for one in the exact same spot (with the idol visible to the audience the whole time). Survivor is hard, and so is finding idols/advantages. People make mistakes.
Speaking of not seeing things that are blatantly obvious: After the episode, I wondered why on earth Gabler had been awarded the title quote for his confessional where he stated — completely irrelevantly to the strategy of the episode — that he was "hiding in plain sight." It took me ... several ... days to realize that's not what the title was intended to refer to. Duh!
Writing about Survivor is also hard.
The Cody-Jesse mini dispute
One of the enlightening scenes this week, and the first crack in Jesse's otherwise flawless game, was the way he approached Cody as they discussed Sami vs. Cassidy as targets. To be fair, Cody's response also stepped on toes a bit, but it was a fascinating reminder that different types of players view the game — and their opponents – differently.
As a reminder, the conversation came about because Karla floated the idea of booting Cassidy. Jesse seized on that idea, and in a conversation with Owen, proposed instead targeting Sami, who had developed an untrustworthy reputation, while letting Karla vote for Cassidy anyway, driving a wedge between them that could be exploited at the next vote.
It was a clever plan, but in raising the topic with Cody (who had already heard the Cassidy plan), Jesse pitched the switch with, "because Cassidy isn't really much of a threat, anyway" (paraphrased). Jesse is, at his core, a strategic player. From Jesse's perspective, this was relatively true: Cassidy hasn't been a huge driver of vote decisions, so she's not a strategic threat to Jesse.
But Cody is a mostly physical player (with some strategic and social chops for good measure). For Cody, Cassidy's been a consistent challenge performer (finishing ahead of Cody in the last two challenges), and as such, she's someone Cody wants out, because she reduces his own chances of winning immunity. Cody then rebuts this poorly, asking why they should target Sami, because he's a "challenge loser," always one of the first few out. This wasn't ideal phrasing, because the only person consistently worse than Sami in individual challenges (and the only other person left who hasn't won one) is ... Jesse.
As Cody asserts in confessional, this dispute is maybe not a big deal. These two trust each other, they bounce ideas off of each other all the time. But at least in their chats as a pair, it appears they are starting to forget to see the game from the other person's perspective, rather than their own.
The preview hints they may finally turn on each other next episode, which would be a bit disappointing. But as numbers dwindle, it's not surprising that any remaining potential target will make more sense for only one of Jesse or Cody, and not for the other. Perhaps there's one person who's a threat to both of them, who could be an easier, more consensus-building choice? Karla certainly is, but she has an idol. Owen, maybe?
The surprisingly balanced final six
Despite all the grudges and vendettas that have played out this season, we're entering the final six with the original tribe numbers exactly the way they were at final 12, after the non-merge Elie boot: Perfectly balanced, except now with two people from each tribe instead of four.
That's relevant, because in this group of six, those original tribe connections are still each person's closest alliance member (at least to the extent we've been shown): Cody-Jesse; Owen-Gabler; Karla-Cassidy. Obviously, some of these bonds are a little stronger than others, but all were shown working with their original tribe "ally" this week.
That means how these three pairs arrange themselves at the next vote is really important. On paper, it's easy: Any pair joining with either of the other two can gang up on the third. But it's also complicated, because there are also still three active idols out there. (So far no idol nullifier, but given that Omar had an unaired one last season, our confidence in that absence is minimal.) Sure, Gabler and Owen could simply link up with Karla/Cassidy and split their votes between Jesse and Cody. But Jesse and Cody each have idols! Of course, they would have to actually play them to stay in, but this is absolutely the time to be doing that.
Because of the uncertainty, it's really hard to predict who will emrge in the aftermath, and whether current alliances will hold. With the possible exception of Gabler (is he taken seriously by the others?), just about everyone left could conceivably win, which should make for an exciting final two episodes.
- Immunity inflation: The decision to let "Last Gasp" end in a tie after three hours was in isolation a good one. Cody was already freezing when he came out, somewhere between the 1- and 2-hour mark. Karla said on twitter that she felt like she was hallucinating when she was getting her necklace, and on the TV version, Probst reacted audibly to how cold her body was. It would have been nine hours until the tides were back at the starting level, and Karla or Owen would probably have had hypothermia by then, if they weren't already verging on it. That said, maybe it wasn't the *best* idea to also have an extra immunity (and three live idols) at this particular spot in the game. Sure, it ended up in a simple 6-0 vote, but come on, Survivor, everyone on the show — except apparently the producers — recognizes that Final Seven is historically one of the most important votes of the season. This was less worrisome than Do or Die, but please: Stop messing with the F7 vote!
- One fewer finale distraction? Let's hope that the advantage search in this episode means there won't be one before the F5 IC in the finale (as there was in 41 and 42). While this search was fun, those were tedious, and at best were time-filling exercises with sketchy payoffs. Erika's in 41 seemed overpowered, which helped her win immunity (and perhaps the game), whereas Lindsay's search in 42 mostly seemed to tire her out right before a semi-physical challenge, one in which the alleged "advantage" was virtually useless. Rather than trying to continuing to fine-tune this, why not just dump it, and instead have a clean IC before the final vote-out at final five? The last vote is kind of an important one! (Or you could, you know, dump forced F4 firemaking. Your choice.)
- So long, loved ones visit? Dalton Ross posted a video at EW.com of the contestants talking about their loved ones who would have flown out, if not for COVID restrictions. Is that really still a thing in the post-vaccine era, even in Fiji? This was filmed just seven months ago, back in May, 2022. Everyone in the cast should have been double-boosted by then. It sounds more like CBS took an axe to the budget, then left Probst/Survivor to blame the change in format on nebulous foreign "regulations." You could certainly argue that flying 7-9 people out from different places in the US, just to appear for part of one episode, is hugely expensive and a massive logistical undertaking, especially when the contestants only just left home three weeks ago in real time, and will be headed back in five more days. But again, the shortening of the season is also a budgetary decision made by Survivor/CBS, not some high-minded evolution of the format. Guess the loved ones-palooza in Winners at War really was the grand finale of an era.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes