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Quite a mess Survivor 43 made—and not just because of its muddy tunnel of love

Quite a mess Survivor 43 made—and not just because of its muddy tunnel of love
Survivor 43's players return from a muddy immunity challenge: (from left to right) James Jones, Karla Cruz Godoy, Cassidy Clark, Sami Layadi, Dwight Moore, Noelle Lambert, Jesse Lopez, Jeanine Zheng, Mike Gabler, Cody Assenmacher, Owen Knight, and Ryan Medrano. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

“What happened?” Jeanine asked Noelle while Jeff Probst snuffed Dwight’s torch on Survivor 43. Noelle responded, “I have no idea.” That’s kind of how I felt after watching this weird mess of an episode.

Dwight ended his season with the indignity not only of being voted out with (someone else’s) idol in his pocket, but also by not getting to be on the jury, despite earning his way into the merge, because none of earn-your-spot stuff makes any actual sense.

Survivor 43 episode 7’s first half-hour—44 percent of the episode!—was entirely consumed by a challenge, except for a brief opening scene when we learned Jeanine was “reeling,” “completely blindsided,” and “confused and alone,” which did not have any payoff this week except that she was yet again completely blindsided.

Half the episode was an extended challenge/talk show, the other half was all of the tribe running around announcing their strategies and stuffing each other’s advantages into their pants. In-between was Gabler’s PSA about veterans.

Let’s start with the last part. “I’m playing Survivor for veterans who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries, who are suffering from PTSD,” Gabler said in a confessional, taking about his family’s military service, and also his work in ERs. “Trauma’s trauma,” he said.

I’m glad he’s bringing attention to trauma and PTSD, especially because we treat veterans like shit in America, having been somehow convinced that just saying “Thank you for your service” and having mattress sales on Veterans Day are enough.

But I’m not sure that segment did much, because what does it mean that Gabler is playing for veterans? He’s going to donate anything he wins? He’s using their struggles as inspiration in a game?

This was the problem with this episode: the connective tissue was lost.

The episode was called “Bull in a China Shop,” which was one of the cliches Owen used to describe Gabler, but why title the episode that when Gabler is 1) not the target, 2) his lack of gracefulness did not come into play at all, and 3) there’s no other person behaving that way?

Individual immunity starts with pairs

Jeff Probst starts the Survivor 43 episode 7 immunity challenge, which began in pairs, including Sami and Noelle, and Gabler and Owen
Jeff Probst starts the Survivor 43 episode 7 immunity challenge, which began in pairs, including Sami and Noelle, and Gabler and Owen. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

Because there wasn’t enough talking at the challenge itself, Jeff Probst explained, at Tribal Council, that “the challenge was designed to really illustrate this idea of earning it every step of the way,” because last week’s merge not-a-merge didn’t make that point clearly to everyone who had to live through it.

What Probst was referring to is that the challenge had three stages, but I guess he couldn’t just describe it that way because it would have made sense.

In tree mail, the players were told to pair off, and after what Jeanine perfectly described as a “really interesting five-second social experiment,” they decided to do that randomly. Yes, given the choice to control their own fates, they drew rocks. Jeff Probst was so proud.

So, so many of Survivor’s post-merge challenges lately have been stand-and-hold challenges—which are kinda tough for me to endure even right here, with my ass planted on a couch—and thus I was thrilled, along with the rest of the Survivor-watching world, that only one-third of this challenge was stand-and-endure.

I also think having a pair-based immunity challenge is really interesting, and far better than making half the tribe immune.

Alas, there was only one immunity necklace available. For the first two stages, the players competed in their pairs, with two pairs being eliminated after each stage, and then the final two pairs competed individually.

The first round was a crawl through mud inside a twisted net. Jeanine and Noelle were essentially left lying in the mud, stuck in their nets in mud.

After the challenge ended, the players helped the Noelle and Jean out, and Jeff Probst used the opportunity to say the words he knows (“love the love”) and learn about things he doesn’t understand: treating other people as humans while playing a game.

That last part is new to me; I cannot even count the number of family members I don’t even speak to any more after playing a spirited game of Rummikub with them.

“I’m noticing this more and more in this game,” Probst said. “That you all are obviously fighting for a million dollars—everybody here wants it—yet you still have the capacity and the empathy to say: But we gotta help Noelle.”

The camera operators gave us several shots of Noelle’s mud-caked prosthetic leg, in case we missed why she needed help.

Then we went to a commercial just to let the gravity of that moment sink in: PEOPLE HELPED PEOPLE!!

Honestly, not a bad message, but it loses its impact when we’re hit over the head with it repeatedly. Show, don’t tell.

Gabler holds on and tells stories during the final stage of the Survivor 43, episode 7 immunity challenge
Gabler holds on and tells stories during the final stage of the Survivor 43, episode 7 immunity challenge. (Photo by Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

The final four—Cody, Dwight, Gabler, and Owen—had to stand and hold 25 percent of their pre-game weight. I was a bit confused, though: Was the endurance part holding a bucket, or listening to Jeff Probst’s non-stop babble? Or was that added just so we’d feel pain, too?

During asked Gabler, Owen, and Cody, “What are you using for inspiration?” and what will “give you what you need.” Never forget: other people’s stories are there to inspire us.

Gabler mentioned a family member who had heart surgery; Cody said “I lost a wrestling match in my senior year of high school”; I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh. Also Gabler kept listing new things, and went from telling a story about being inspired by a POW to “this is for my dog.”

The endurance challenge lasted longer than it ever has, and Gabler beat Cody, winning immunity and keeping him safe.

Producers put something in the water

The Knowledge is Power advantage was voted out with Geo—and then, to make sure it was back in play, the producers put it in the fucking water.

Like, literally, it was placed in the player’s drinking water, so it’d be impossible to miss. The only thing less subtle would be for a producer to hand a player an advantage and say, Here, please play this; we desperately need something to happen.

James, Sami, Dwight, and Owen went to get water, and James pulled it out. He told them, “I’m not going to touch it until after Tribal.” But then he told us, in an interview, “It’s Survivor. Fuck that.”

He read the advantage to the others, so they all knew it was under the shelter. And then somehow James was able to go to the shelter when it was completely abandoned!

How did the rest of them just stay away, or not even look? Something was missing from the edit. But James got the Knowledge is Power Advantage.

Survivor 43's Jesse Lopez and Sami Layadi in wet shorts because why not
Survivor 43’s Jesse Lopez and Sami Layadi in wet shorts because why not. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

Meanwhile, a group of old Vesi and Baka tribe members, Cody, Jesse, Jeanine, Owen, and Noelle, decided to split their votes between James, because of his social game, and Ryan, because of his physical game.

Dwight told Noelle about James’ advantage clue, so Noelle decided to target James, and made sure everyone knew by running around camp screaming “JAMES HAS A THING VOTE FOR JAMES.” Okay not really, but it was just about that subtle.

Jesse, however, had a different idea, telling Karla they needed to “get Noelle by surprise.” He explained to us that they were just letting her “accumulate this power” unchecked, and too often players are allowed to get powerful while not being voted out.

When Jesse told Cody, Cody said they should instead vote for Dwight, because the best way to target a completely vulnerable player is to not vote for them but to pick one of the people they know.

Jesse decided to defer to Cody, suggesting that Cody will feel like he has agency. I’m not sure how that benefits Jesse’s game.

That’s the reason we’re losing Dwight? Because Cody decided? Can we have some other reason, please? Anything?

Because the players (correctly) suspected James had the Knowledge is Power advantage, some players started swapping advantages:

  • Noelle gave her steal-a-vote to Owen.
  • Jeanine gave her idol to Dwight, sure it would be “safer in Dwight’s hands,” though he actually put it the front of his shorts, which the camera operator captured with a shot that tried to get a look at where that idol was going

So, yes, with Gabler safe, the 11 players needed someone to vote out, and they decided on all three Black men as the only available threats at this stage in the game.

At Tribal Council, James did not play his advantage, and the editing showed him uncovering his eyes with his buff, and then recovering them, and then uncovering them when he got his first vote.

But the funniest physical move was Jeanine subtly trying to get back her idol from Dwight while the votes for Dwight piled up. She put her hand back, palm up, but stayed empty-handed. (Can someone give back an idol as they’re being voted out?)

Ultimately, Gabler, Jeanine, Noelle, Owen, and Dwight split votes between James and Ryan, thinking it’d be one of them, but other seven all voted for Dwight.

Hopefully, Noelle feels sufficiently punished now that they voted out her ally.

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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!


Thursday 3rd of November 2022

As usual, I agree with your review. Just wanted to thank you for the Rummikub reference! I haven't played that in forever! And now I want to. That and Skip-Bo were big in my family. 😊


Thursday 3rd of November 2022

During Gabler's talk I was expecting CBS to give us a PSA about where to get help if you're suffering from PTSD.

Bad Mitten

Thursday 3rd of November 2022

"Yes, Geo won the Knowledge is Power advantage (here’s its full text) and then was voted out with it in his pocket. If anything, I’m glad to see an advantage flushed so fast, though I’m sure it’ll be back soon." - You actually predicted this after episode 5

Bad Mitten

Thursday 3rd of November 2022

"The Knowledge is Power advantage was voted out with Elie last week" - This is unequivocally false... The Knowledge is Power advantage was voted out with Geo two weeks ago. So generally your point about them thrusting it very quickly back into the game is true, but your statement/link are wrong.

"So, yes, with Gabler safe, the 11 players needed someone to vote out, and they decided on all three Black men as the only available threats at this stage in the game." - Was it really necessary to conflate the vote to being about race? What purpose did that statement serve your article? There are only 4 white players left in the game... One of which you've pointed out was safe... Just very odd that you seem to be trying to imply racism/bigotry when the there's a majority of BIPOC contestants left.

Bad Mitten

Thursday 10th of November 2022

@Antonio, “all about race”… say whatever you want, but I imagine it must get quite exhausting inventing/blaming race as being the influential factor in a vote when there’s literally not a single shred of evidence that race even played a remote factor in why those particular people were on the proverbial chopping block.


Tuesday 8th of November 2022

@Bad Mitten, as a LATINO! I notice things like: The castaways have narrowed down the vote to the three remaining black men.

When amazes me is when people/viewers dismiss this as not being about race.

I think some people don't want to see the obvious. It is easier for people to sit back and say race has nothing to do with it when it is all about race.

Bad Mitten

Friday 4th of November 2022

@Andy Dehnart, 4 of your 7 survivor 43 episode recaps have pointed out race being a potential factor in the vote. This seems to be a bit of a crutch for you when anyone not white gets voted out. I think it’s great that the show instituted the diversity initiative. However, despite that change hasn’t seemed to have any impact on your recaps/analysis. Just seems a little irresponsible to be intimating that race played a factor in the majority of votes when your rebuttal is basically, well they didn’t explicitly say/show us that the vote wasn’t race related. Bordering on conspiracy level thinking/rationale there.

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 3rd of November 2022

1. Oops, got my advantages mixed up! Thanks.

2. Yes. Besides just being a fact, it's notable—especially when we were given no real reasons why they were targeted. Social game? Physical game? Those are so generic they could apply to almost everyone.


Thursday 3rd of November 2022

Jeff Probst apparently confirmed once he gives folks a chance to play idols, wherever an idol is, it's locked there. So an idol given to a player on his way out can't be transferred mid-vote-read.