There is just no comparison to what Survivor brings to the screen, with the simplicity of its game, its dynamic cast, and the absolutely outstanding production values.
Those drone shots during the challenges, gliding through trees, dipping and diving! The attention to detail in the challenges, from camera placement to paint! The overhead shot of the waves gently lapping on the beach!
Even the opening sequence, zooming in to the players riding in boats, was thrilling, as was the zoom-out from just Jeff Probst standing on a beach (instead of risking his life).
I don’t need to continue to crap on The Challenge: USA, considering the stink from its explosive diarrhea is still all over CBS, and I did enjoy some of it, but that show is just all-around trash compared to Survivor.
I also think Survivor 43 was a step forward from 41 and 42. Last year’s seasons were produced back-to-back mid-pandemic, and with no sense of how the changes would work, either for the players or viewers. The production seemed to adjust the editing for 42, but regrettable decisions like the hourglass twist stayed. (Thankfully, it will not return this season.)
Survivor 43’s two-hour premiere, which was a single episode, seemed to also put the brakes on the twist-a-palooza that was introduced last year. I’m probably jinxing things here, but it only brought back two twists—the vote-risking summit and the shot in the dark—but the players expected both. There was no secret twist in the opening reward challenge, and nothing hidden at the immunity challenge.
“I like the enthusiasm,” Jeff Probst said at the start of the first immunity challenge, and I do, too. There was a lot of joy from all three tribes, even the two that lost. And I was enthusiastic about having a high-quality reality TV show back on Wednesday nights.
Survivor’s attention to detail is everywhere, and I so appreciate it. I may disagree with and/or strongly dislike some of Survivor’s decisions, but that’s because I know how good the show can be, and I hold it to the high standard it set for itself and all of reality TV.
For example, would it have been my choice to spend the first 10 minutes talking about Survivor instead of, um, starting Survivor, since all of us watching already know how great Survivor is? Probably not.
“Survivor is a lot of things,” Jeff Probst told the players as they arrived. “First and foremost, it’s a game—it’s a great game, and one of the things that makes it so great is anybody can play, because there really aren’t many rules.” (Eek, no kidding.)
I honestly don’t mind the bio packages, but I do mind so many of them so soon, especially with so many players to get to know (and no cheat sheet, since CBS has not yet updated its website with the new cast).
I’d rather get to know players in the game before seeing some backstory—or just hear them share stories, like we used to. A good example was Geo and Karla discovering that they’re both married, gay, and Latino, and that led to a bonding conversation during which Geo shared that his family rejects his husband.
On another tribe, it was great to hear Jesse talking about getting his face tattoo removed. But then why did the editing have to cut away to photos and then literally slow-motion footage of leaves? Couldn’t we just hear that conversation?
Elie bonded with Jeannine and Morriah after sharing that her sister died of an overdose, which was another powerful moment. How much more powerful would that moment be if we just saw Elie telling them the story instead of cutting away to a confessional and images from outside the game?
Two challenges, a bizarre conclusion
The opening reward challenge sent players into the brush and into the ocean to retrieve large containers, and then use those to build a giant cube, onto which they climbed and tried to slide flint off a bamboo pole.
While it seemed uneven at first, it came down to a dramatic end, with all three tribes struggling to get their flint. Dwight got his flint first, after the red tribe suggested he use the bamboo to grab the flint, not push the ring it was dangling from.
Even though they had flint, the red tribe—Vesi—struggled because no one knew how to build a shelter. Oops.
But they do have Cody Assenmacher, whose last name projected two things: his social game and the actual episode’s title.
Cody told Nneka and Jesse that they shouldn’t trust Justine, because, as a salesperson, she’s a dangerous player. Guess who else is a salesperson? Cody! He sells elevators, and I think there’s a shaft joke here that I’m missing. But thinking his profession is most dangerous kind of player is a fascinating kind of delusion!
Meanwhile, I thought the title of this premiere, “Livin,” was a little odd. Then we learned that it came from Cody. And to be specific, Cody’s ass, where that word is tattooed. I hoped all the focus on Cody meant that he’d be voted out first, but no; his tribe was safe in the immunity challenge.
The other two tribes had options to get their flint and basic supplies: everyone solves a brain-teaser together, or two players dig holes to get supplies.
Owen did not want to choose the digging, for both “the physical exertion and being away from everyone,” which makes a lot of sense. So the yellow tribe, Baka, chose the puzzle. It was a brain teaser I remembered from my childhood: Remove two lines from a digital version of the number 5080 to make the largest number possible. The trick is to take the two lines from the top of the 0 and create additional 1s with them, creating 511810.
Pet cremator Sami, who’s lying about his age because “19’s just not a good sound and it’s not a good look,” wanted to do the physical challenge so everyone would think he’s the muscle. But his tribe didn’t agree, and then he couldn’t stand around and watch everyone get the puzzle wrong, so he solved it for them.
Sami’s very good at elements of this game, but not as good at concealing his strength, as he also started the fire. And he’s definitely not as good with metaphors, comparing his fire-starting to “the shitzu I put in the incinerator.”
The blue tribe, Coco, had the opposite idea. “None of us are geniuses here,” Geo said, so the non-geniuses decided to do the dig instead. Someone said “it’ll be quick; you guys got it” as they walked away, leaving two people to spend four hours digging. Easy for you to say!
Thankfully, Coco does have a genius: Ryan, who joined Geo in digging, and decided they should attempt an X pattern. They found the supplies in a half-hour, and all three tribes now had reason to celebrate and bond.
Cue Jeff Probst and his twist-carrying ferrymen, who arrived in their boats to carry one person to twist hell, i.e. the summit. It’s interesting that two of the three tribes did essentially random selection, although Dwight volunteered on his tribe.
Instead of hiking up a mountain, Dwight, Karla, and Gabler hiked to a giant rock, including through waist-deep water with a slippery rock bottom. There, they found a new version of the vote-risking twist.
They each decided whether to risk, revealing that choice right then and there. I appreciated Karla’s reason for not risking her vote: “Honey, your vote is your life right now.”
Those who risked—Gabler and Dwight—drew their 50/50 shot later, in private. It wasn’t really private, though, as Gabler screamed and hollered when he discovered he’d won immunity. Gabler showed them, all, saying “it builds goodwill and trust,” and his tribe all celebrated as if they’d won something, instead of seem something that could screw up their game. Maybe they were secretly celebrating knowledge of an idol?
Meanwhile, our LIVIN friend Cody doubted Dwight’s story—but the wrong part of the story. Dwight revealed to everyone that he’d lost his vote. I think everyone being honest about what happened is a good strategy, especially since these players had likely seen all of season 41, and the start of season 42.
At the immunity challenge, the first tribe to arrive at the end of the obstacle course had its choice of ball maze puzzles. I like the idea of a choice, though I’m not sure I love all three tribes having a different maze to navigate, since once again it came down to the puzzle portion of the challenge.
While a variation of things we’ve seen before, it was a solid challenge, from the thick mud to the wood chips that stayed glued to some players’ faces long after the challenge was over.
James lost his pants—twice!—while trying to climb up the wall. Ryan, meanwhile, just darted up the wall and across a narrow balance beam with some American Ninja Warrior-level dexterity.
Blue/Coco won, and while Red/Vesi was way behind but Jesse and Noel caught up at the puzzle, placing second and keeping Cody safe ugh.
Yellow/Baka lost at the puzzle, where teamwork just wasn’t happening. “I need your help right there,” Sami told Gabler, and said things like, “Gabler stop! Gabler stop!” while won immunity for their tribe.
When Baka lost, Morriah was in tears, and it turned out for good reason: somehow, she became the person blamed for their tribe’s lack of strength.
First, Gabler shocked everyone by telling his tribe, “I’m not going to take the easy road out, so tonight I’m going to take a shot in the dark.”
Predicting my skepticism, Gabler told us that “everybody at home is going to have a hard time understanding why I wouldn’t automatically play my immunity idol, but I was part of the loss,” he said, so “I should be at risk tonight.”
If I was playing—and it’s easy for me to say since I’m sitting in air conditioning right now, sipping on some tea—I would have been like, Great! It’s Gabler. He screwed up, but more importantly, 1) he volunteered, 2) he has an idol, and 3) he’s going to blow his shot in the dark. Convince him everyone’s voting out Morriah or Owen; flush an idol; win win.
Worst case, he blows his shot in the dark. Best case, he’s voted out with an idol.
Elie, however, didn’t like that plan. “What?! What are you doing right now?” she asked. She told us, “my skill as a therapist is to talk people out of things,” and she did manage to talk him out of playing his shot in the dark. That’s amazing—and an ideal scenario for voting him out.
But then Elie decided that the target would be Morriah. “We need all the guys,” she said, after two of the three guys just failed and sent them to Tribal Council.
Jeanine wasn’t thrilled with this, because on a tribe of six, voting out Morriah would make it instantly possible for the guys to vote out the rest of the women. Sami floated the idea of voting out Owen, who is “a lot smarter than he seems.” So there’s the plan, right? It’s Gabler, with some votes on Owen in case of an idol play.
Alas, no. “I have my girls,” Morriah said, remembering the bond they’d created. But she did not.
The obsession with physical strength being the deciding factor is fascinating and frustrating, when two of the “strongest”—Sami and Gabler—were the ones who fucked up the ball maze, which didn’t require a bit of strength.
Let’s unpack Elie’s logic here:
- Morriah darts across a thin balance beam, and does great overall = WEAK
- Sami and Gabler fail to work together to get their balls in holes = STRONG
What? Major props to Elie for running her tribe, but also I have no idea why that was her choice. Did we miss some key conversations or interactions? Were they worried Morriah had an idol or something?
“It’s heartbreaking to be going,” Morriah said in her exit interview, and I couldn’t agree more.
To leave with so little understanding of why she left, never mind who she even is, is unfortunate—especially with Survivor’s history of women of color being voted off first. Maybe the editing could have given a little less time to Cody and more time to Morriah?
Based on what we saw, and this focus on MUST STAY STRONG is the kind head-bangingly frustrating game play that makes Survivor, well, so much fun!
We can discuss and debate the logic of Elie’s choice, and play Monday-morning quarterback from the comfort of our couches, and also question the editing and twists.
Even as I do those things, I’m still appreciative to have Survivor back. It’s still the best at what it does.