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At the merge threshold, a Survivor player got pushed out the door

At the merge threshold, a Survivor player got pushed out the door
Jeff Probst has Survivor 43 players draw rocks during the "Mergatory" episode (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

Survivor 43’s merge arriving on episode six feels about right for a normal 13-episode season, but I am not yet used to the idea of the merge occurring on day 12, after less than two weeks of Survivor game play.

Then again, this was not the real merge! This is Jeff Probst’s merge threshold, where everyone who has arrived at the merge has to earn their way to the merge, the thing they’ve arrived at, because arriving there is not earning, duh.

Before the challenge, Jeff Probst whispered some sweet nothings into my ears, telling the players that the winning, immune team would face “no twist, no player going to take it away,” i.e. he finally realized how dumb the hourglass twist was, albeit after subjecting everyone to it again even after being told it was dumb.

I’m very glad that’s gone, but I also don’t know why Survivor is persisting with this fake merge thing.

Probst told the players who’d merged that they “still have to get to the merge,” and called this the “threshold,” which is in apparently in front of the merge mud room. After earning their way there, the players can go into the merge coatroom, where they can get their buffs but not take them off their hangers, because they first have to earn their way into the foyer, after which they need to be invited into the house, because they’ve been bitten by advantage bats while they were sleeping. I may have gotten some of that wrong.

Jeff Probst during Survivor 43 episode 6, "Mergatory"
Jeff Probst during Survivor 43 episode 6, “Mergatory” (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

At the start of the episode, when the players got notes to drop their buffs and gather at one tribe camp, they all knew that this wasn’t the actual merge. Karla pointed out that, “the last two seasons, we’ve seen the merge hasn’t been easy,” which is a generous way of saying the game has been unnecessarily complicated.

Noelle said “I want to know what’s happening,” and told us, “I’m just scared to death at what’s coming next.” I understand, Noelle; I’m scared of the monster, too.

They soon found out: a challenge, with immunity at stake for one of the randomly selected teams.

Alas, because the producers decided the merge should happen with an uneven number of players, one person would draw a gray rock, and then have to choose which team to align with, but still have to sit out.

That person was Noelle, and she chose Gabler, Jesse, Ryan, Jeanine, Dwight, and Karla.

It was a good choice, because they eventually won, giving them immunity and making only Cassidy, Cody, Elie, James, Owen, and Sami vulnerable of being voted out and—you guessed it—not making the merge. The one they’d arrived at.

The challenge, with its two puzzles and “biggest ramp in Survivor history,” produced some fun moments, starting with Jeanine joining the wrong team and celebrating with them until they sent her away.

At one point, Ryan hung “upside down like Spider-Man!” to help get Karla up the ramp, which was necessary in part because Karla got her hand smashed at the first puzzle, a five-cube staircase, and it was dripping blood in addition to being, you know, smashed.

Jeff Probst responded with some considerable empathy: “You know you’re on Survivor when you got blood!” (Someone please get Jeff Probst some help.)

As tends to be the case with obstacle course challenges, it came down to the final puzzle, a honeycomb with words.

“Red has been in the lead since the beginning, basically,” Probst said, which was not exactly true, and even though they arrived at the puzzle earlier, they were not in the lead because they basically had nothing at that point.

Eventually, the blue team—not to be confused with the former blue tribe, Coco, or the new blue merged tribe—won.

I’m glad Karla and her one usable hand won immunity and food. Some medical attention would be nice, too, but she had to stand there, bleeding, while Probst talked. Her injury wasn’t mentioned after that, which was definitely a bigger cliffhanger than seeing which rock each player was holding.

Elie Scott and Jeanine Zheng during Survivor 43, episode 6
Elie Scott and Jeanine Zheng during Survivor 43, episode 6. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

The winning team received immunity and the merge feast, though the feast was effectively just a reward, because I’m not going to call it a merge feast when just half the tribe gets it.

It’s a bit of a letdown, because there’s something fun and fascinating about watching everyone celebrate together on—oh shit—the threshold of the individual game, before the scrambling begins.

While there was a lot of scrambling, I thought the suspense was drained out of the episode the moment the editors showed us Elie saying this, which came just before the challenge:

“I feel like I was made for Survivor; I kind of figured out how to hack things. I don’t know, I just feel like this was my environment. The social element of the game, I knew I was going to be good at, but I’m way better than I even thought”

That’s the most foreshadowing, petard-hoisting quote imaginable, and I couldn’t see how she’d stay in the game past this episode.

Once everyone was back at camp, Owen ran down for us how many advantages were in the game, which the editors helpfully made a list of on screen, but Owen only knew about two idols; there were actually four idols, plus two people without votes, and one steal-a-vote.

When you need a spreadsheet to keep track of all this, maybe there’s too much? Nothing against spreadsheets, though.

Elie, who you will recall is better than she thought at the social game, decided Cody would be the decoy vote, and she’d get everyone else to vote out a Coco: Cassidy or James.

Meanwhile, at the reward meal, Ryan again demonstrated his awkward game play by just suggesting that the challenge team “could be the final seven.” I snorted when Jeanine replied, in an interview, “we’re going to become an alliance because you boosted me up a ladder?”

She rightfully pointed out that she has other alliances; Ryan, of course, does not, which is why he’s so eager.

Also at the meal, Gabler threw out Elie’s name, which quickly came back to her. Jeanine tried to talk Gabler out of voting against Elie, but he told us, “We’re not Baka strong, we’re Baka shitshow.”

Elie, to her credit, knew that he’d be coming for her: “Why would I ever trust him?”

Alas, while Jeanine said she’d give Elie her idol, which seemed like a possible twist, either Jeanine couldn’t be trusted or was genuinely blindsided. Jeanine didn’t give her idol to Elie, nor play it for her, though the editors dragged out that “will she or won’t she?” moment for several months.

Tribal Council was a lot of talk without much insight, which, come to think of it, has been most Tribal Councils this season. Perhaps these players are just good at saying nothing?

Even Probst’s valiant attempt to get them to talk about “all the things that could change or blow this Tribal up” went nowhere, because no one wanted to talk about what advantages they had and/or might play.

“Y’all see what trusting Gabler will get you?” Elie said before her torch was snuffed. But blowing up the game of someone who doesn’t really have all that much game, after your game has been blown up because you thought you had game you did not and causing you to have the merge door slammed in your face, is perhaps not quite the sickest of burns.

But as the merge door closed on her Survivor dreams, Elie did leave on a very high note, sharing with us that “I don’t have any hard feelings and I had so much fun” and called it “the best time of my life.”

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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Happy discussing!

Mikal S

Sunday 30th of October 2022

This season lacks a spark. It's just meh.


Friday 28th of October 2022

I believe the yellow tribe was Baka and not Vaca...

Andy Dehnart

Saturday 29th of October 2022

You're right—thanks for the correction!


Thursday 27th of October 2022

Yes, the editors have gotten really bad about spoiling who gets voted out. I kinda wish James had been voted out, his voice is like fingernails on a chalk board.


Thursday 27th of October 2022

@Christopher, When Ellie said what she said I thought, "she's going." I don't mind it though. When that happens I watch what the individual does during the episode more closely.


Thursday 27th of October 2022

@Christopher, Yep, I agree. As soon as Elie said what she said, I knew she was a goner.


Thursday 27th of October 2022

@Christopher, Agreed on the editors. When Elie had a confessional early in the episode where she said "Everything is going well, I'm doing great, I'm better at this game than I thought!" I immediately assumed she was going home. They love that kind of soundbite coming back to bite contestants immediately, and while it's not guaranteed (they do throw red herrings sometimes), it certainly felt like a foregone conclusion at that point.


Thursday 27th of October 2022

It seems like she did have some hard feelings.