Jeff Pitman's Survivor 43 recaps
This has never happened before! (Except for the parts that have)
By Jeff Pitman | Published: October 11, 2022
Survivor 43 Episode 3 recap/ analysis

This has never happened before! (Except for the parts that have)

This was a true table-setting episode, where there were two big, time-consuming non-challenge events that were both idol- or advantage-related, and neither of those items affected the short-term outcome of the episode in any detectable way. (Noelle's advantage may have helped keep the Vesi vote target away from her, to be fair, but Karla's idol, and the lengthy segment showing her activating it, certainly didn't pay off yet.)

It's a pattern that closely resembles last season's story structure, where after the first two episodes focused heavily on character, Episode 3 skewed so heavily in the opposite direction that my recap title ended up being, "Oops, all twists!"

That's not to say character moments were missing here, and while a lot of time was spent on Karla's idol, we did finally get to learn a bit more about the Coco tribe, and we saw first-hand Karla working her social skills within that group, via her bead-collecting odyssey.

Even if the process seemed overly familiar, it was the best possible outcome for this (increasingly less fresh) Beware idol mechanism.

The Bead Sharps

(Thank you, Frinkiac)

Over at Baka, we saw a lot of idol-related "shenanigans" going on, moves that promise a fireworks-laden Tribal Council for them the next time they visit. And of course, on the losing Vesi tribe, the time spent thus far on alliances and relationships paid off nicely in illustrating the emotional weight of the decision Cody and Jesse had to make in agreeing to vote out their close friend and ally, Nneka, in order to improve the tribe's challenge performance.

Overall, it was an hour that balanced challenges, trinkets, and relationships fairly well, and one that managed to maintain the dramatic tension, despite ending in a fairly straightforward, unanimous vote. But it also exposed a few vulnerabilities that may drag things down in the future. (Particularly in Survivor 44, if it follows the 41/42 pattern of being Survivor 43, The Sequel.)

Still, "new era" Survivor's biggest problem is repetition: Of always three tribes of six to start. Of the same set of twists (dilemmas, Beware idols) that are repetitive for the players, the audience, or both.

In theory, these things shouldn't matter, because in the end, the players are what make the season, and they're different each time. But US Survivor never seems to feel comfortable letting that happen, and labors mightily to shift the attention to its twists and trinkets and challenges. And when those are all the same, or mostly the same, that's when tedium starts to prevail. What follows are a  couple of examples from an exceptionally idol- and advantage-focused episode (neither of which was new).

The unbearable bleakness of being on Survivor 43

The unbearable bleakness of being on Survivor 43

On the whole, the storytelling addition of contestant backstories to the early-episode editing repertoire has been overwhelmingly positive. It's served as an efficient way to add depth and dimension to the early characterization of the new contestants on seasons 41-43. This has also helped to remind the audience that these are real people, with real life experiences, not just a bunch of "gamebots." (Which maybe helped tone down "fans" making vitriolic attacks on social media? Maybe a little? Nah, probably not, because people are assholes.)

While this was obviously plucked from SurvivorAU's format, it's also a bit of a throwback to the "hometown intros" the show used in its first handful or so of seasons, where Jeff Probst (in voiceover) would introduce each new contestant, accompanied some B-roll shots of that contestant back home, re-enacting some version of their daily life. (It's not clear why this ended, actually.) So in a way, this is Survivor coming full circle. Still minus the actual intro, of course.

This season, however, a growing fan resistance to the backstories has started to emerge, in part because this cast has a particularly heartbreak-heavy set of stories to tell. That's not an unreasonable response from the audience, as it does all start feeling a bit heavy when it feels like the show is ping-ponging back and forth between a few scenes of the game itself, sandwiched in between segment after segment of familial loss and personal tragedy.

The solution here is obvious: Just space things out more, and/or also include lighter fare. On SurvivorAU, they show contestants hanging out with their spouse and kids, or working at their job. Here, Jesse talks about his wife and kids all the time, including in his bio, but thus far, his backstory segments have only covered his inspiring climb out of juvenile hall, and losing his mom.

It would also help to avoid repetition. We've heard Noelle talk about losing her leg twice now. To be sure, it's an inspiring, grit- and determination-filled story. But we also see Noelle right in front of us in the game itself, dropping her prosthesis off, swimming, diving, hopping through a challenge, just as well as, if not better than, her competitors with two legs. She's fantastic! But we don't really need to be told again, at length, that she's an amputee. It's "show, don't tell," not "show, tell, tell some more, and then tell again."

When in doubt, maybe toss in pets! They're always fun. On The Great British Bake Off, they show the contestants doing things like walking their dogs in the park (which, to be fair, is also bleak, because there's nice weather in the UK about one week a year, and it's never while they're filming these shots). It doesn't all have to be death or dismemberment! This isn't House of the Dragon.

Showing the extended pathos of contestants in a grueling competition also feels uncomfortably like Jeff Probst's 2010 documentary show/special, "Live for the Moment," which gave what it hoped was an inspirational, uplifting tale about a family man determined to get the most out of his time left, after being diagnosed with ALS. It was a theme/message very in line with Cody's "LIVIN" mantra this season. It seemed to mean well, and encouraged the audience to live life to its fullest. But at the same time, you also couldn't help thinking it felt a bit exploitative, in mining one family's personal tragedy for ratings and/or critical acclaim.

When Survivor focuses almost exclusively on the dark corners of its contestants' pasts, those concerns also rise to the foreground. Which is a problem, because Survivor creates its own traumas in its players, as it occasionally allows itself to remember (see Cambodia - Second Chance).

Survivor is not generally a feel-good story of personal triumph. 17 of the 18 contestants are going to lose, despite having already overcome heartbreak in their regular lives. Some might come out of this with a new perspective on life, but they'll probably also leave the game with new demons — paranoia, lack of trust, not to mention injuries, parasites, and other maladies. (Along with a deep, obsessive need for a second chance, despite all that.)

So maybe remember to present their fun sides, as well? To remind them of when their life was simpler and less public, and they had fewer worries on their plate?

The beads again vs. the beads? Again?

The beads again

As mentioned at the top, Karla's acquisition of the beads she needed to recover her vote and activate her Beware idol aptly demonstrated her social skills, which appears to be exactly what this reconfigured idol mechanism was intended to illuminate. So, despite our misgivings elsewhere (which we'll get to), this part of the beadstravaganza actually worked really well. Congrats to the show for pulling it off, and to Karla, for having the skills to complete the task with seeming ease.

Karla smoothly leaned into her friendships with and knowledge of her tribemates, bartering exactly what she knew those people needed in exchange for their beads, all with a better cover story that Cody's slapped-together, last-minute scramble (and peer-pressure strong-arming from Nneka) in the last episode.

Karla's quest was probably the peak of the bead saga. It's unlikely to pay off that well again. We know Baka also has an as-yet-unopened package, so some kind of attempt is coming. But it's great that this season, the status of Cody's and Karla's idols are completely independent of Baka's activation success, because the yellow tribe's bead-hunting expedition is sure to be a shitshow.

The rules, again

But a lot of the bead segment felt unnecessarily repetitive, especially forcing Karla to read the entire set of instructions out loud again. This wouldn't be so bad if Survivor could manage to trust its audience to remember basic details of how the show works. It was fine to explain the complete bead-gathering rules in the last episode, when it was brand-new. We then got a blow-by-blow demonstration of how it works in real time, as Cody obtained each bead. That should have been sufficient. In case people forgot during the intervening week, we were reminded of all this in a flashback at the top of the episode. Okay, fair.

So why was it then necessary to have Karla read the entire set of bead instructions out loud again this time? Elie may think Gabler is a bit slow ... does Survivor's production team really think the audience is as well? This isn't overly complicated. Do we really have to slow it down this much to cater to the people who skipped the first two weeks, and decided to just start the season on Episode 3? Even when they had a Cliff's Notes version anyway at the top of the episode?

Survivor's biggest problem in the post-40 era is repetition, and repetition that assumes both the audience and the players are too dumb to figure out or remember basic things. The Survivor 41 players all figured out how the dilemma hike to the shipwheel worked after the first trip. The 42 players somehow managed to screw this up in their final trip (nice work, Chanelle and Omar), but otherwise, it was the same trip every time, and the players had broken the "dilemma" by the second visit.

Survivor still tried to play it off like it was a fascinating mystery how people would choose, but for example, in this same week of 41 (Episode 3), Brad, Sydney, and Tiffany coordinated their selections so that Brad could get the advantage, exactly as happened here for Noelle. It just wasn't shown, because ... *spooky noises* ... "suspense," or something.

The Beware idols in 41-42 were more of a surprise and an actual learning experience for the contestants, but they were the opposite for the audience. The repetition of the process with different dumb phrases in Survivor 42 was mostly just tedious. (Especially when in both seasons, it felt like the third tribe's idol just appeared out of nowhere as the clock ran out for their activation, and everyone involved had been heavily prodded to activate them.)

This season's rendition of the Beware idols is an improvement, and actually does seem to reflect social skills, as the note claims. But reading the complete set of rules each time is fairly insulting to the audience, and the entire sequence of bead collection will be getting pretty tiresome if it's repeated verbatim in Survivor 44. (Luckily, Inside Survivor has info suggesting that the idol system in 44 is something completely different. If true, that's a wise choice.)

Another problem with the repetition is that, in a show that claims it's adapting itself for streaming, this kind of redundancy is going to be even more irritating for anyone binge-watching episodes 2 & 3. Cody finds his idol, reads the rules, follows through on activation. Then there's 10-minutes at Tribal, then Ep3 starts off with a full rehash of what just happened, then 20 minutes later, Karla is reading the exact same rules again.

Jeff Probst tossed out "but people just hit the 'skip intro' button when they're streaming" as one of the show's many excuses for ditching the intro post-Winners at War (and in season 39). What's his hand-waving explanation here? There's no "skip annoying re-reading of the lengthy Beware Idol bead instructions" button to push.

But enough complaining, let's fix this. It's simple. Dalton Ross had an excellent suggestion: this would work best if each tribe had a different Beware idol activation mechanism — which would mean it's a surprise for both the contestants AND the audience. There would no doubt be some complaints that this is somehow unfair to one tribe or another, but come on. Whoever finds Baka's idol will only have to acquire 4 beads to activate it. How is that "fair"? (Actually, it could be even fewer, if it's not found until after their next vote.)

Again, signs point to something different having already been used for the next season (which filmed last summer). But it would still be a good idea for Survivor's production team to try to cut down on the in-season repetition.

As Gabler said, "I may not be a genius, but I'm also not a dummy." The same is true of the audience.

It's an idol bracelet, not an idol hat, Cody

Idol bracelet

One more idol-related item that kind of whizzed by without overly scripted explanation was the change in Cody's idol from last week to this episode. The instructions described the idol as a "bracelet," and it appears that in the light of Day 6, Cody indeed now has a bracelet with just the six beads needed, not random strings of beads woven into his hat.

This makes sense for when he needs to actually use it as an idol, of course. You can imagine the "Ew, no" face Probst might make if Cody took off his Day 5 hat on Day 21, and tried to hand it to the host as an idol. Much better a grimy bracelet!

You'll also note that Karla seems to have actually read the instructions and made a bracelet (image further up the page).

This serves no actual purpose but please keep doing it anyway

Idol bracelet

It's a throwaway two- or three-segment image at the top of each episode, but the random shot of a big season logo "in the wild" (above) is a fun touch that will never get tiring, as long as it's different each time. SurvivorSA has been doing something like this flanking its commercial breaks. (Or in the best iteration, as the contestants hike into a challenge.)

Sometimes it's okay for things to just be fun celebrations of the show. Keep doing those things, please and thank you.

Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff 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