Jeff Pitman's Survivor 43 recaps
From many, two
By Jeff Pitman | Published: November 22, 2022
Survivor 43 Episode 9 recap/ analysis

From many, two

This week, despite production sticking to a well-trodden pattern, Survivor 43's contestants managed to pull off both a surprising power shift, and the show's editors put together two solid stories that concretely explained what was going on, despite convoluted plotting, while still mixing in surprise reveals at the end. Two Tribals rife with tension, two well-earned payoffs.

It also marked a potential turning point in the game, as two members of the previous majority seven alliance were picked off separately, creating more opportunities for the people on the bottom (in theory), and as the show highlighted, also creating some explaining to do when the two Gaia tribe halves reunite after the second Tribal.

The storytelling in particular was a standout this week, as the episode opened with key conflicts between Owen and James, then carried that narrative thread over to one of the two votes, while the other picked up on last week's almost-boot discussions around Ryan. Importantly, the first, more complicated boot (James) was told straight-up, with most of the details clearly explained. The second vote was much more straightforward, and was handled with the more traditional editing sleight of hand, as the key decision-makers (Cody and Jesse) were shown debating between two targets (Cassidy and Ryan), deciding on particular contingencies that depended on the how the first vote played out, then promptly ignored their own plans and took out Ryan instead. Which was fun! Surprises are nice. (Less so for Ryan, presumably.)

The contrast between the presentation of those two votes helped make the second one more of a surprise. Because the James vote played out exactly as it appeared to have been decided in camp, the audience expected the second to also follow that pattern, but the editors zigged when the viewers expected them to zag, and a surprise ending was achieved. This was possible because of the inherent tension in the first Tribal over whether the stated plan would be thwarted by James catching on and using his Knowledge is Power advantage to hobble the move against him. In the end he didn't, and the plan worked.

The other vote's outcome was told with a heavy dose of obfuscation, with the editors leaning heavily on past editing patterns to hint that Cassidy would be joining the jury. Cassidy finally received her full backstory, talking about thinking about her late sister, and kissing the necklace she wears that contains her sister's ashes, in times where she feels overwhelmed out there. There was an even a flashback to her doing so at a past Tribal. Coupled with Cody and Jesse deciding they would vote for Cassidy if the other team took out James (because it would leave Karla looking for allies), this seemed like as much of a slam dunk as the just-presented James boot. Except, of course, it wasn't. All in all, great work by everyone on both sides of the camera.

Having said that, to get back to last week's predictability argument: if the contestants are now planning ahead that there will be a split Tribal at Final 10, why not defuse that by moving it up or down by one round? It would work best at Final 9, because the players will be expecting it at 10, and will let their guard down when it doesn't happen, perhaps foolishly taking out a challenge threat in the majority (like Ryan). Then spring the split challenge/split Tribal twist on them the next round, at Final 9. It would be sad to lose an odd-numbered Tribal, but that happens regardless with this split-Tribal format, and ... we get a five-person Tribal and a four-person Tribal (rocks?), AND fast-forward to Final 7 the next episode.

The even-more-complicated James vote

The even-more-complicated James vote

There's no denying the James vote was difficult to explain, it had a lot of moving parts. The plan was: Noelle used her vote steal advantage to take Owen's vote. The idea there (as told to James) was to guarantee Owen would be out, because without a vote, he can't use his Shot in the Dark. James liked that, because (1) he could keep his Knowledge is Power advantage for another round, (2) Owen is out, and (3) Noelle burns her advantage, for what seems on the surface a pretty underwhelming reason. Still, James builds trust with Noelle, Owen joins the jury, so what's not to like?

Getting that part across was done well, as was the basic story structure of Owen feeling wronged by James, and vice versa. But the exact details of that conflict were glossed over quite a bit, which made the version presented on the show confusing if you had paid attention to voting history.

In the episode, Owen was angry that James had "lied to my face" and told him to vote for Ryan right before everyone left for the prior Tribal, even though (as shown in Ep8), Owen told James he was fine voting for Jeanine, he just wanted to vote with the majority. But James told him to vote for Ryan. But here's the thing: Owen actually voted for Jeanine. This week's episode did flash back to Gabler — Gabler! — tipping Owen off that the vote was actually for Jeanine, but did not really remind us that Owen actually voted that way. There was a fun secret scene (YouTube link) in which Cassidy admitted to doing it, just to get back at Ryan, and then blamed Owen for the stray vote after Tribal.

Despite the murky storytelling, Owen's ire at being told the wrong name at the last minute made sense. That was an incredibly dismissive move by James, one that moved Owen's status from the "just a number" one he was hoping for, all the way down to "a guy we don't trust at all." It's the flipside of Jesse's treatment of Cody in that episode: Jesse let Cody call the shot, to give him a feeling of agency in the game. In contrast, Owen is not only not in the shot-calling discussion, he's not even trusted enough to know what the shot actually is. James did have a reason for wanting a second Ryan vote (making sure Ryan went home if Jeanine played an idol or Shot in the Dark), but he hadn't bothered to tell Owen that part.

What's more, the conflict was even more confusing in the other direction, because James was angry that Owen had voted for him twice. Except that Owen hadn't! Owen had voted for James alongside Elie at the Ep6 merge vote, as part of Elie's plan to have Vesi + Baka split their votes between James and Cassidy. As part of that vote, Noelle also voted for Cassidy. The two votes James received at the next vote (the Dwight boot) were from Dwight and Noelle. Technically, this was part of another Vesi + Baka split vote, with all three remaining Bakas voting for Ryan. Still, Noelle, the person James was putting his faith in this round, was the last person still in the game to have voted against him. James was perfectly within his rights to believe it was Owen, and to hold a grudge over it, but it's weird that Owen didn't try to set the record straight. Obviously, it's hard for the players to ever really know who voted for whom until they see it on TV, but this series of miscommunications really spun out of control here.

In the end, it doesn't really matter that the argument was based on false assumptions. They were both arguing based on what they believed to be true, and since James didn't trust Owen, he was unlikely to be persuaded by any fact-checking by Owen. It was also difficult for the show to correct the record on what had actually happened without a ton of flashbacks, so maybe that's also fine. But it was, again, a bit confusing for those in the audience actually keeping track of this stuff.

Who arranged this vote for me?

Who arranged this vote for me?

The other mystery of the week is who the show was really crediting with James's boot. Clearly, a big part of the story is that Owen was pushing for it, and Noelle's steal-a-vote decoy scheme was a key component of the eventual plan, and Noelle herself pitched it in confessional as making "a big move" (as did Owen in confessional, about her plan). But it was surprising in rewatch to see that the very first confessional of the episode was from Sami, frustrated that he didn't have the numbers to save Jeanine, and pledging to do "something" to shake up the game and "start picking off the people that are at the top." Since that is what eventually happened, was this all supposed to be Sami's Big Move? Owen's Big Move? Noelle's Big Move?

That's one of the funny things about Survivor. Clearly there were at least three key players involved in this choice, as was — resignedly — Karla. Sami was also critical in bringing Karla's *all-important* fourth vote (in a 4-1 majority) over the line, and the show took the time to show that. Let's also note that Sami's opening confessional about wanting to "do something" was predicated on his belief that "Owen was left out of the vote again."

It's odd that the editors keep showing Sami believing he's running things, while not really contributing that much (except in telling plans to people he probably shouldn't). Still, player after player have had exit interviews (Elie, Jeanine, and James, at least) swearing they thought Sami was with them, and expressing shock that he was in fact working against them. He's clearly doing something right in the game, even if in his edit, he's coming across as way out over his skis. (Then again, the same could be said for Cody, who is getting the same Big Player treatment, even though Jesse is clearly doing a lot of the heavy lifting there.)

Is it possible Sami is being set up for another Xander-like finish, where the audience sees his plotting and hears his perspective throughout the game, only to discover that the jury didn't notice (or credit) the gameplay in real time? Being recognized for moves can be a problem for younger players, even when they're claiming to be super old, like 22 or something.

Either way, it's great that the we have enough contestants actively playing the game that we can have multiple plausible "winner's edits." We're not just watching Jesse or Karla sitting back, quietly running things, having options, and so on. Heck, even Gabler has confessionals where he talks about having options. Gabler! The guy who won the first individual IC in fairly commanding fashion, yet has not even been mentioned as a target in the two votes that followed, where he was not immune. That includes even this week, where Cody and Jesse had just three potential vote targets in Cassidy, Ryan, and Gabler: Gabler was the only one not mentioned as a possibility. Gabler, who again, had actually won an individual challenge — beating Cody, even — as opposed to actual target "challenge beast" Ryan, who hadn't.

Maybe the problem is less that Sami's edit is confusing, and more that Survivor is just a confusing game, both to play and to watch. Also, regardless of who eventually receives the "credit," Noelle's play was the best use of the steal-a-vote advantage we've yet seen. Some real creative gameplay there. Not what you might expect from a player previously presented mostly as a former high school/college athlete. Again, surprises are great!

Shorter takes

Shorter takes

- That is not a reward: Probst did the hard sell on the alleged "reward" portion of the challenge this time, claiming that attending Tribal second "so you can see what happened" at the first one was part of the winning team's massive victory spoils (along with deconstructed PB&J sandwiches). Um, the jurors are not invisible, and have to attend Tribal. Whoever goes second is always going to see who the new juror is. That is not some hard-won "advantage," even if Jesse dutifully says it is.

- More in-game foreshadowing: Just as happened with Lindsay's boot, there's a chilling vision of things to come for James in the challenge, as he is knocked out of contention when his ball rolls out of its chute undetected by him, much as his game slips through his fingers later at Tribal. (Foreshadowing can be cruel. Sorry, James.)

- Speaking of James: In his exit interviews, James comes across as the chess-playing prodigy he was sold as in the premiere, well-versed in the game, and at peace with how he went out. A good sport, but also a huge fan of the game. Still, as we saw this episode, he was clearly pissed when he was voted out. But that's good! While it's also fun see people who "take it well" in the moment, it's great to have players who are emotionally invested in trying to win, and aren't afraid to let that emotion out. People talk disparagingly about "gamebots," but James really wanted this, and you could tell. Give us more players like James, who understand there are real stakes and really care, not people who just blandly say, "thank you sir, may I have another?"

- Best moment: As Owen is going through the various inequities the RC-losing team had to suffer at old Vesi camp, he mentions that Cody has "peed all over the camp." And then Probst nods knowingly and smiles, as if to say, "Yeah, he'll do that."

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