The third episode of Survivor 41 focused nearly entirely on advantages, sidelining almost everything great about Survivor in exchange for focusing on producer manipulation. The message was clear: The cast is less-interesting than the wacky twists we created.
The third episode of Survivor 43 was oddly similar: almost every segment had an advantage at its center. That is still not my favorite! But at least this time the focus was more on the characters.
The best example was Karla, who went searching for an idol or advantage, and found one. “You never know,” she said, and then looked up and there it was, having been shown to us by the camera operator while Karla was looking the other direction.
But then she decided that losing her vote was not worth whatever annoying task she’d be asked to complete. “You don’t know what the task is,” she said. “What’s really there is the fear of jeopardizing kind of like a perfect game.” She tucked the advantage back into the tree, and I was so impressed by her rejection of Jeff Probst’s reindeer games.
After a commercial break, she had a change of heart. “What would my wife think that I left a freakin’ beware advantage? This game is all about overcoming fear,” she said. “That gave me the freakin’ confidence to say: Do it.“
So she did! Karla managed to convince everyone to give her their beads, in part by bartering her earrings. Somehow, she made this suspicious task seem natural—and she didn’t need two of her tribemates to do all the negotiating for her, ahem, Cody.
Speaking of Cody, the episode opened by repeating what happened at and before last week’s Tribal Council with his Beware Advantage. “This is an idol, baby!” Cody said, and yowled. I think it was a yowl. But beyond that, this was not a recap; it was the new episode.
Tell me again why Survivor just can’t spare the time for the theme song and title sequence?
It’d also really be nice to see all the players’ names on the screen, considering that, three weeks into the season, CBS hasn’t been bothered to update the show’s website. (It still has season 42’s cast.)
Starting with the Cody talking about Karla finding the Beware Advantage; Karla taking the Beware Advantage; Karla convincing her tribe to give her beads; Gabler’s idol; Noelle, James, and Owen
Over on yellow/Baka, Elie told us that “I’ve turned the table on my feelings toward Gabler, and I would like for him to go next.”
But she’s overplaying. Sami told us, “She thinks she’s running the show around here” and added, “We’ll see how that goes.”
He asked Gabler if he knew his idol was still good (Gabler did), and then told him that the others had looked in his bag, and Elie was coming for him.
I like this move from Sami; I don’t understand why he’s so insecure about being 19, or why he thinks fabricating three years makes him somehow immune to seeming young. He looks like he’s 19!
Gabler also knew what was going on: “They think I’m a little slow—which is fine,” he said, reminding us that he’s a heart valve specialist who works in ERs doing surgery. “I may not be a genius, but I’m not a dummy, either,” he said.
These two threads came together in a spectacular but brief scene, in which Elie (kind of clumsily) suggested making fake idols (why?) and told Gabler they could use his since it no longer worked.
Elie said she wanted to use its beads, and Gabler deferred in just a brilliant way. “I do want to give it to my daughter for graduation—it’s the ultimate souvenir,” he said.
Alas, Gabler vs. Elie will have to wait for another day, as they won the immunity challenge.
So, too, will the bloodbath on blue/Coco, which has not yet gone to Tribal Council, and sat around in bliss, celebrating James’ birthday. Cassidy told us, “it literally is like a community here, you know. We’re building it slowly—slowly until we slit each other’s throats.”
Those tribes won the immunity challenge, in no small part because red/Vesi blew another challenge, and at the puzzle stage, and with Nneka puzzling.
This “blown lead by Vesi,” as Jeff Probst put it, was curious because Jesse and Nneka just sort of seemed to freeze mid-puzzle.
Jesse explained at Tribal Council that puzzles are much harder on Survivor, because of the hunger and fatigue, but also “we’ve got people yelling at us, there’s you yelling at us,” he told Jeff Probst. “It just sort of slipped through our fingers.”
After the challenge, Noelle, James, and Owen went on a “journey,” removing Noelle from her camp for pre-Tribal Council.
That’s another thing that is not my favorite, especially with only five people on a tribe. Now there are just four around for the bulk of the strategizing afternoon.
“Y’all had the puzzle in your hands, and y’all weren’t able to clutch it out,” Dwight said. But Jesse and Nneka don’t need to do puzzles since they have what matters more on Survivor: a relationship.
Jesse told us that he has “a much stronger bond with Nneka” than with Noelle, which led to flashbacks about Jesse’s mom, and her work, and her death. “It feels like I’m voting out my mom,” he said. Earlier, he floated the idea of voting out Dwight.
Nneka was equally emotional. “I will not leave Cody, Jesse,” Nneka told Dwight, and cried about thus having to vote out Noelle. “That girl inspires the heck out of me,” she said, tipping the episode into inspiration porn territory, especially after the editors gave quite a bit of attention to Noelle removing her prosthesis before the challenge.
In case all of that wasn’t clear enough to Survivor’s viewers, Cody told Jesse Noelle was “was just as good as anybody” (Why wouldn’t she be? She’s an athlete!) and Cody told us, “The doubt of her having one leg is kinda gone.” (Whose doubt is that?)
Meanwhile, on her journey with James and Owen, Noelle had a very similar moment as Karla did. “I want to play this frickin’ game. I want to stop playing scared,” she told us.
That meant forming an alliance with James and Owen, and sharing with them how she was on the outs of the last vote.
When it was time to risk a vote, she risked—though it wasn’t as much of a risk, since Owen told her, “It sounds like you need [the advantage].” He and James did not, so Noelle received a steal-a-vote advantage.
Alas, like Elie and Gabler’s showdown, that advantage will have to wait, too. While Noelle told us, “I have a frickin’ lot more game left, I have a lot more leg jokes,” she did not play it.
In a funny exchange at Trbial Council, Probst polled people about their confidence, and only Noelle expressed a lack of confidence—curious since she had a lot of power. Was she bluffing or actually unsure how the vote would go?
There was no surprise: the entire tribe voted for Nneka except, of course, Nneka.
This brings us to the history-making moment: As Rob’s Fact Checker tweeted, “Survivor 43 is the first season ever to have three women of color be the first three players voted off.”
That is not good.
Of course, as I’ve written about before, individual votes are individual votes. Nneka sucked at the puzzles, yet kept volunteering for them. Even she acknowledged that. It was time for her to go.
What matters to me are patterns—things that keep happening, episode after episode, season after season, show after show.
Survivor has a history of people of color being targeted early in the game—and since the cast was mostly white people, that left mostly white people in the game.
CBS addressed this primarily by increasing the racial diversity of Survivor’s cast. Of course, having a broader range of players means there are more people of color who will be voted out throughout the course of the game.
At the same time, to go from two seasons won by women of color to the most women of color voted out in a row? That’s not a great turn, and one to keep an eye on—especially when the first vote just did not make sense.