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All talk, no play makes a dull Survivor 43

All talk, no play makes a dull Survivor 43
Survivor 43's jury, final three, and winner, i.e. the final 11: Mike "Gabler" Gabler, James Jones, Ryan Medrano, Sami Layadi, Owen Knight, Jesse Lopez, Cassidy Clark, Cody Assenmacher, Karla Cruz Godoy, Jeanine Zheng, and Noelle Lambert at Survivor 43 episode 8's immunity challenge. (Image from Survivor via CBS)

Survivor 43’s eighth episode, “Proposterous,” could have been half of a two-part, one-hour episode. At the very least, it desperately needed a reward challenge, a dictionary, and something to happen.

At Tribal Council, Sami said there could be a “damn civil war” and “crazy chaos,” but there were none of those things: just talk that went nowhere.

There’s now a large alliance of seven, and there is no reason for any of them to do anything except pick off the other four, and maybe then have their civil war. While it makes for dull television—just ask anyone who watched a season of Big Brother dominated by a large alliance—it’s smart game play.

“That would be awesome if we could just skip-to-our-lou to the end of the game,” Jesse said, and that may happen.

The editing strained to make something happen this episode, but over and over, nothing actually did.

At Tribal Council, Jeff Probst started by asking them to talk about this season’s “established social contract,” which immediately made me slip into a light coma, especially when Gabler described this as “a relationship game.” Wait, what? Survivor? Based on relationships?!

I thought the scene when players were talking about food—which began with Karla recounting a dream in which Jeff Probst made ramen and then took selfies while crowd surfing—would have led perfectly into a reward challenge with food as a reward. Alas, no.

Instead, once the challenge rolled around, we got the return of the excruciatingly boring immunity challenge: stand and hold.

Jeff Probst gets ready for the rice negotiation, something no one asked for
Jeff Probst gets ready for the rice negotiation, something no one asked for. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

At the challenge, Probst said, “For today’s challenge, you’re going to balance a ball on a pole.” The simplicity of that actually made me laugh, or maybe it was how much he was straining to make it sound interesting. (Even the balls thrown in front of the logo in slow motion were like, eh.)

And then I burst into tears when Jeff Probst decided to play Shark Tank. Yes, the rice negotiation has somehow become a thing, while the title sequence has gone away.

Probst wanted “established price for this rice, in this new era, is five players,” which is just so dumb that I can’t even continue writing a sentence about it.

“All you have to do is keep your ball on your pole, that’s it,” Jeff Probst said during the challenge, and missed both the opportunity for juvenile double entendre and that simplicity is one thing, while boredom is another.

The real problem is that there were absolutely no stakes going into the challenge, between almost half of the tribe sitting out, and the lack of a clear sense that someone was at risk and this was their only way to save themselves.

Plus, there are so many idols and advantages floating around—Jesse has two!—that immunity alone is just another thing.

Speaking of Jesse’s second idol: I was quite impressed that Survivor did not reveal to us until this episode that Dwight did not leave the game with Jeanine’s idol nestled in his crotch, because Dwight gave it instead to Jesse.

So Jeanine had no idea her idol was still in play—though I guess also had no idea it was also no longer her idol. (I would have loved to see what would have happened if she’d found out and asked for it back.)

Survivor 43's Jesse, perhaps with Dwight's idol, which was Jeanine's idol, in his crotch
Survivor 43’s Jesse, perhaps with Dwight’s idol, which was Jeanine’s idol, in his crotch (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

Considering how much people talk this season, I’m surprised Jeanine didn’t find out. Alas, before being voted out, she had to suffer through a lecture from Sami, who told her and Owen, “I want you to listen to me at least for a little bit, because this is the second time in a row you had no idea what was happening.”

Despite Sami’s cockiness, he just voted with everyone else, though he might not be to thrilled with it: Sami also said “it would be stupid” for the seven to stick together, and said in a confessional, “I’m trying to set myself up at 19 to win this game.”

Is there anything notable about Sami being 19 except how much being 19 makes Sami insecure about being 19?

Owen shared his own insecurity, talking about being adopted and feeling isolated as a kid, and feeling that again now. “This game reminds me of my childhood. Being left out of the vote two Tribal Councils in a row,” he said.

Owen, like Sami, wanted to start “a little uprising” with the people at the bottom. But he—and everyone except Cassidy—voted for Jeanine collectively. Even the four are resigned to what’s happening, joining the party.

Gabler’s game is literally: just tell me who to vote for. “I’m truly looking for safe harbor,” he actually told other players.

Elie Scott and Jeanine Zheng during Survivor 43, episode 6
Jeanine (right) with Elie during Survivor 43, episode 6, because CBS had no new photos of the person voted out. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

There was a fascinating moment of Cassidy trying to convince James to stop voting out women (five of the seven players voted out so far are women), or at least consider another option.

“I’m tired of seeing women go home. I know that’s nobody’s intention, but it’s frustrating to me,” she said in a confessional.

But James was immediately dismissive, claiming Jeanine was also a physical threat. Cassidy quickly gave up, despite being frustrated, and I thought that moment was a great glimpse into how dicy it is to rock the boat.

For all the talk about “big moves,” Survivor is not just a game of numbers, but of momentum, and trying to stop the car once everyone’s driving in one direction is quite dangerous. How many players over the years have wanted to call out bad votes, poor strategy, shitty behavior—anything!—and don’t because it’ll screw up their game?

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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!


Friday 11th of November 2022

This cast seemed so promising at the start of the season, but man, none of them seem to want to play the game! It's shaping up to be a very dull season, unfortunately.


Saturday 12th of November 2022

@AK, Agreed! I don't even know who to root for because they're all so uninspiring. Maybe it's the player, or maybe it's the editing that seems to bend over backwards to mislead the viewership? Then again, as Andy pointed out - maybe there just isn't anything worthwhile going on so they have to manufacture something that just isn't there? The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I usually try and root for the underdogs, but with this block coalition going on it seems frivolous to do so considering they're just going to dwindle down and then we get to witness the feeding frenzy as they cannibalize each other, but by then I could care less because not one of the remaining block has engaged me. More like enraged and I want to see them gone!