SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 7 OF SURVIVOR 43
If you read the end of last week’s recap, you probably already know what I’m thinking. Well, fuck.
Okay, so my winner picks are cursed after one blog. Cool cool cool cool. As for the the rest of the episode, that was probably the best episode of the season to date. This one really had a lot of the core elements of what makes Survivor great. Great challenges, great characters, great gameplay, and a good ol’ fashioned blindside.
Let’s start at the top. Jeanine was naturally uneasy after the previous vote, her number one ally Elie, but the rest of the tribe assured her that it was actually a good thing Elie was gone because now she isn’t looked at as half of a pair. I can see the logic in this and long-term they’re probably right. However, I also agree with Jeanine where not being included in blindside vote could be indicative on where she stands in the game. After that it was a pretty quiet episode for her.
The following morning the tribe receives tree mail instructing them to pair up for the next challenge, though they receive no indication what the challenge consists of. The tribe unanimously agrees to draw rocks to pair up with one another, citing the awkwardness in choosing a partner out of a tribe of 12. Had they known it was a physical challenge everyone would have jumped at Cody, Sami, or Ryan. Or worse they would have just worked together. While I’m bummed we didn’t get to see the politics and fallout of players having to choose their partners, it’s hard not agree with the decision to draw rocks.
The challenge itself was far and away the highlight of this episode. Personally, challenges played a huge role in me falling in love with the show. Colby Donaldson was a childhood idol of mine and after seeing him go on the run he did in Australia I became absolutely obsessed with the show. The last few years, particularly seasons 41 and 42, feel like production has started to mail it in on the challenges. Now that every season is filmed in the same location they have essentially just been recycling the same set pieces season after season and frankly the challenges have become the least interesting segments of the show, especially the individual immunity challenges. Before the merge the challenges in recent seasons tend to follow a formula of (physical thing + unlock puzzle pieces + solve a puzzle = victory) and the individual challenges usually consist of who can balance on something the longest. Yes, the show has leveled the playing field but its de-valued physicality and strength in challenges, something that has produced many of the show’s most memorable characters and storylines.
This week was a great change of pace as we not only saw a new challenge format but we saw some great physical performances. The tribe was divided into six pairs and the challenge was broken into three waves. Wave one required players to crawl through a twisted net obstacle and then dig a set of pieces out of a sandpit. The first four tribes to complete this task moved on to the next heat. This net obstacle looked like pure nightmare fuel to me. As a bigger guy, I can only imagine how claustrophobic that must have felt, not to mention how exhausting it was. In the end everyone ended up looking like Frodo after getting stuck by Shelob.
Noelle struggled with this part of the challenge, even going as far as removing her leg to get through the net but it was to no avail as her and Sami, along with Jeanine and Jesse, were eliminated. After that the show chose to go with a heartwarming moment where everyone helped Noelle out of the net and Jeff got to do that thing where he highlighted how great and wonderful everyone is for wanting to help a woman with a prosthetic leg out of a fishing net after the challenge had already stopped. Really moving stuff. The show then oddly cut to a commercial in the middle of a challenge which I can’t remember them ever doing outside of a medical evacuation situation or Final Five challenge.
In the next wave the four remaining pairs had to use their puzzle pieces to cross a rope bridge. Cody and Dwight did so with ease and the race for second ultimately came down to James and Ryan dropping their piece off the bridge, allowing Gabler and Owen to move on to the final heat. Karla and Cassidy (who is definitely on the show) were also eliminated.
For the final wave the remaining for had to hold a bucket in the air as long as a they could via a pulley system. Dwight dropped first then Jeff decided to use the final wave of an immunity challenge to chat up each player and interview them about what was going through their mind like Joe Buck interviewing a mic’d up outfielder in the middle of a game. This quickly snowballed into Gabler dedicating each minute of the challenge to someone new. Including a former patient of his, the troops, Noelle, his old roommate, and of course, Idaho. All that talking must have worked though as Gabler was able to outlast Cody to win immunity. While all three phases of the challenge weren’t particularly new, the format was the first time I could remember them doing something like this which was a nice change of pace after production mailed it in the last few seasons. Hopefully this trend continues as the season goes on.
Back at camp it was a total scramble. James and Ryan were early targets by the eight members of the old Baka and Vesi tribes. James, viewed as one of the biggest social threats in the game, made things worse for himself after finding the Knowledge is Power Advantage floating in the water well and was in the company of others when he did so. As a refresher, this advantage gives the player who has it the power to ask any player if they have an idol or advantage and the person being asked cannot lie. If the player asking is correct, the other player must give them their advantage. This set forth a series of moves in which Noelle declared James was the top target, which Jesse viewed as her taking control of the game. He quickly went to Cody and told him this was a great time to flip on Noelle, however Cody has his sights set on their other Vesi alum, Dwight. Jesse was skeptical of this, viewing Noelle as the bigger threat, but wisely acknowledged that he had to let Cody drive if they were going to ride together.
Elsewhere, the tribe started making moves in anticipation of what James got for an advantage. James told Cody what his advantage was, which scared him because he has an idol of his own. The others, led by Dwight, correctly assumed it was the K.I.P. advantage based on when this was introduced in the previous two seasons and began to counter attack by having everyone pass their idols and advantages around for Tribal Council so James would have no idea who had what. This was brilliant gameplay and will likely become a blueprint for how to counter this advantage moving forward. It will also likely lead to absolute chaos as it pertains to who has what when. It will likely be confusing at points for viewers but if executed well this could be a really cool variable to account for.
At Tribal it was relatively tame once more. Last week I noted how players haven’t been leaving their seats to talk strategy this season, which had become way too common in recent seasons. I’m starting to think that production has instructed them not to do so this season, which I am all for. Jeff polled everyone and of course they all felt confident in their votes. When it came time to read the votes James held onto his advantage. The votes then went two votes James, three votes Ryan, and seven votes for my winner pick, Dwight. This came as a blindside to many, but one key detail that wasn’t 100% clear to me was whether or not Dwight was able to give back the idol he was holding to Jeanine. I think they got it off, but I wasn’t able to confirm. Cody and James ultimately flipped on Noelle and Dwight, going along with the four Coco members and Sami.
I’m not sure I love this move from Cody and Jesse. For starters, by voting out one of their own Vesi members the old Coco and Baka tribes could pick them off easier. I don’t envision this being too much of an issue, but the bigger issue is they may have showed their hand too early. Cody and Jesse now look like they’re playing hard and have put a target on their backs. Cody has an idol and has done really well in challenges so he is probably in better shape than Jesse, but only time will tell.
Overall this episode was probably the most entertaining of the season to date. Loved what they did with the challenge, loved the countermove to wash out the Knowledge is Power advantage, Gabler provided some great entertainment as always, and seeing the fallout of this vote is going to be exciting to watch.
Now on to the Survivor Stock Market:
Stock Up: Jesse, Cody, Gabler
Jesse and Cody obviously made the big move by flipping on Noelle and Dwight. Time will tell how this will pay off but for the time being they are responsible for the biggest exit of the season. Should either of them make it to Final Tribal, that will be a move they can brag about changing the direction of the game. Gabler also had a solid episode aside from his immunity win. He had the self awareness to admit he needs to reel it in a little bit and lay low for a while after the Elie move. He also had a great background story about his family’s history with the military and how he has coped with is own P.T.S.D. as a heart surgeon. It was probably the first time we’ve seen him get away from ‘the local idiot’ edit he had been given. Hey, if Maryanne could win 42, who says Gabler can’t make a run at 43?
Stock Down: Noelle, James
Noelle is obviously going to be hurting following Dwight’s departure. Jesse seems to be gunning for her and seeing how she’ll handle the individual challenges will be something to watch. James on the other hand is being labeled as the biggest social threat in the game is pretty much the kiss of death for him. Yes, he has a powerful advantage, but the rest of the cast seems to have figured out how to counter this, rendering the advantage useless.
Who’s Next? One take away from the preview for next week is that there is talk of an alliance of seven taking over the game. Assuming that seven is the seven who voted out Dwight, that would consist of Cassidy (definitely on the show), Cody, Karla, James, Jesse, Ryan, and Sami. That leaves Gabler, Jeanine, Noelle, and Owen on the outs. Out of those four, Owen feels like the biggest threat at this point. While I’m not confident, I’m going with Owen.
Winner Pick: Well, my first pick for this didn’t go so hot. I still think Karla is playing the best game but that makes her more of a target than a safe bet to win. James is being targeted as a social threat early. Jesse and Cody may have just put targets on their back. Gabler will likely be seen as a goat. Nobody will want to go up against Noelle’s story at Final Tribal. So which player is keeping a low profile, has received a positive edit, has been on the right side of the votes, and fits a story arc the show will want to promote? I think we finally get a new youngest winner in show history so I’m putting my money on Sami.
Now here’s my favorite graphic that I put way too much stock in but shouldn’t:
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