SPOILERS FOR SURVIVOR 43 FINALE
Shock, awe, and excitement. That’s all I have to say about this finale.
I posted my predictions yesterday, and to my own credit I sniffed out the Final Five like a champ. After that, I was on the wrong side of a 50-50 at fire making but I did not see at all what transpired at Final Tribal Council playing out the way it did.
Let’s start from the top:
My prediction played out to a T on this one. As viewers, we knew Jesse was safe because of Jeanine’s idol that he successfully managed to keep a secret until the last night possible that he could play it. Other than that this vote was a toss up between Cassidy and Karla, the show did a great job of acknowledging this. After Karla gained an advantage in the challenge by a literal arm’s length against Owen, a microcosm of his game, she earned herself an advantage in the final immunity challenge that gave her less puzzle pieces to move in the immunity challenge. This advantage didn’t seem as great as it had in previous seasons but I actually enjoyed that it wasn’t a complete game changer like we’ve seen in past seasons. The advantage was nullified though when Owen was able to figure out his puzzle first and win immunity.
After she lost, as I predicted, she was grasping at straws to try and convince everyone to put votes on her number one ally, Cassidy. The logic was there. Cassidy had won two immunities and the potential of Cassidy winning at four was too great to risk.
However, everyone seemed to agree that Karla was the biggest threat. To her credit, she tried EVERYTHING. She tried to convince everyone that Jesse was better than her and even tried to diminish the moves that her and Cassidy made together. Owen said it best: “Karla can talk!” Knowing this, the tribe ultimately played it safe, despite productions best efforts to make it an interesting vote, including the first time that players stood up at Tribal this season. I hated this moment as we as viewers know there was no way Jesse would be dumb enough to play his idol on someone else and it really felt like production had finally gotten control over these Tribal Councils where players had gone off the rails.
It didn’t pay off for Karla as she was wisely voted out. All I have to say about Karla is this: she’s this season’s Shan. Amazing pre-merge game, great edit, but when her game didn’t play out the way she envisioned she had a really hard time recovering. Plus, her putting a vote on Jesse just to mess with his perfect game is an all-time dick move.
We didn’t see any fallout after the Karla vote and went straight to the final immunity challenge. I was a little underwhelmed to see it be that challenge where players have to navigated a bowl through a vertical maze on a spring and stack them up. While production has certainly stuck to their tried and true formulas throughout the season it did feel like a lot of their recycled challenges had at least some type of new angle. To not get this for the finals was a bit of a disappointment.
Anywho, the challenge was fairly uneventful. Cassidy, Gabler, and Owen were all doing well with Jesse far behind. Quick note about Jesse: For someone who is going to go down as one of the all-time greats he’s got to be one of the worst challenge performers ever. Like, he’s almost Sandra bad. It was surprising since the edit made it feel like he was due for at least one and what better one that the final, but it never happened. Gabler’s stack fell first, opening the door for a showdown between Owen and Cassidy. As they got closer and closer to the finish, Owen, as we’ve seen so many times with him this season, had his stack fall over just as he was about to take the lead. From there Cassidy was able to close it out and win the challenge, cementing her spot in the final three.
Back at camp it was an interesting dynamic. Instead of people trying to plead their case to Cassidy to take them with her to the finals, all three players asked her to send them to make fire. Everybody knew Jesse was going to have to make fire, himself included, but that didn’t stop him from throwing up a Hail Mary to try and convince Cassidy to forfeit immunity and go against him in fire in order to pick up some respect from the jury. Wisely, she was having none of this. Gabler was convinced that he could beat Jesse in fire but Cassidy was concerned if he was physically up to the task as he has spoken constantly about how he didn’t have any energy. Owen also tried to convince her by telling her he was confident he could beat Jesse. The conflict for Cassidy was figuring out who had more to gain by winning at fire.
Ultimately she elected to keep Owen safe and sent Gabler to take out Jesse. What always amazes me about the fire making challenge is how often great players just have no idea how to build a fire after however many days they’ve been in the game. Gabler absolutely smoked Jesse in this, setting a record for the fastest fire in show history. The fire making challenge is one of the most debated plot points on the show and while I certainly hated it at first, mostly because it felt like the show was giving Ben in Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers one more chance to make it to the end, there’s no denying it’s become one of the more exciting moments of each season.
Jesse’s elimination was heart breaking. Not because I had him as my winner pick, but because knowing his background and seeing how great a game he had played you knew he was going to sweep the jury at Final Tribal Council. Out of any player this season you have to imagine that Jesse will be the first one Jeff calls the next time they do a returning players season.
Final Tribal Council
Gabler said it best while the trio was enjoying their final breakfast: Cassidy was the favorite, Owen was the underdog, and he was the outsider. This was the final three I think most of us saw coming at the beginning of the episode, knowing Karla was the target at five and Jesse would have to win fire to get to three. Heading into Tribal I thought Cassidy had it in the bag and maybe Owen could make a run with a solid performance but boy was I wrong.
I thought all three players performed well in front of the jury. They all owned up to their games and nobody seemed delusional about how they were perceived by the jury. Owen was self-deprecating and was fully aware that he had a lot of holes in his game, but he owned that and tried to spin it as someone who never gave up and kept rolling with the punches until he finally got in the majority late in the game. Cassidy kept saying she voted correctly every time (even though this is false as she voted for Ryan when Jeanine was eliminated) but nobody seemed to call her out on thi. She did own up to all her moves that always seemed to keep her in the majority throughout the course of the game yet was never seen as the biggest threat. Gabler charmed everybody with his ‘Ali-Gabler’ schtick about how he managed to keep a low profile after the merge, built social relationships with everyone, and that he never received a single vote throughout the game. Cassidy even called him out at one point saying that the reason he never received votes was because nobody saw him as a threat which he countered was by design. In the end, it was enough to convince the jury to give him the million dollars with a 7-1-0 vote.
Stunned. I gave Gabler a 2% chance of winning this game and I thought the only way he could win was to win immunity at four, sacrifice it, and take out Jesse at fire. He didn’t even have to do that as Cassidy sent him to fire because she thought it wouldn’t be enough to swing the jury if he won. To his credit, he didn’t really boast about this to them. He focused on his social game and decision to keep a low profile. What’s nuts is that a lot of the narrative leading into this episode that Jesse was playing a perfect game, having received no votes against him and had a chance to sweep the jury vote in the final but ultimately it was Gabler who was one jury vote away from playing a perfect game. This has got to be one of the most shocking victories in the history of the game. The only other winner I can compare this to is probably Fabio from Nicaragua, the youngest player to ever win, who invented the strategy of playing the local idiot only to convince the jury that it was a rouse the whole time. Side bar, people forget that he beat megastar country singer Chase Rice in the finals.
And we’re back. So Gabler becomes the second oldest winner in Survivor history, only behind Bob Crowley from Gabon. Did he deserve to win? It’s tricky. The best thing he did all game was explain to the jury that his ‘hiding in plain sight’ strategy was by design and him getting to the end was hardly a fluke. It will go down as an all-time Final Tribal performance. But was he better than Cassidy? I’m torn because all season I’ve joked about how she was barely on the show and it feels like her winning wouldn’t be satisfying for viewers as it feels like we barely knew her yet she made a lot of great points at Tribal about her game. What I’m more puzzled by is the fact that Gabler won by the margin that he did. Karla really didn’t vote for Cassidy? Owen didn’t get any votes? It just felt so strange that for all the talk about resumes and making big moves that it was the guy who did none of that ultimately did enough to win.
I will say this about the show. If the last three seasons have taught us anything its that edgic is out the door. Erika was barely in the show, Maryanne was the token annoying player, and Gabler was the goofy old man. For every Shan, Ricard, Omar, Mike, and Lindsay its these under the radar players that keep winning in the new format. The biggest thing they all have in common is a great Final Tribal performance. Deshawn and Mike could have won if they just owned up to their games but they didn’t. Cassidy and Owen did that and yet somehow Gabler got seven votes. Its bananas and goes against everything the show has taught us over twenty years but dammit that’s exactly what Jeff Probst wants. Next season I’m going to wait until there’s 8 or 9 players remaining and then identify which one is doing the least and that will be the winner.
Overall, this was a solid season. Not a classic by any means, though it will certainly be memorable for how it ended. Not quite 42 but certainly better than 41. There were plenty of solid characters I would love to see again (Jesse, Cody, Karla, and Noelle come to mind) and despite its slow start it ended very strong. Jesse’s big move on Cody will probably be what’s most remembered from the season. It was also the first time players came into the game with knowledge of the new format and what to expect. The show did a great job of removing the worst parts of the previous two seasons, looking at you hour glass twist, and finding solutions for flawed advantages like bead-activated idols instead of waiting for people from the other tribe to say silly phrases. A step in the right direction for sure. Obviously 44 was filmed before 43 aired so I’m hoping we don’t see the same season play out the way 42 mirrored 41 (albeit at a much higher level) but at the end of the day it all comes down to casting.
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