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To create drama, Survivor 43 tries something new: two tribes, standing still—and it worked!

To create drama, Survivor 43 tries something new: two tribes, standing still—and it worked!
Survivor 43's Sami, Noelle, Karla, and James competing for immunity in their new five-person team (Image from Survivor via CBS)

Before Survivor 43’s episode 9, I wrote about why this season is so boring, and while I know the production plans its major twists in advance, it seems like the production was really trying to make something happen this episode.

Not only did they creatively split the tribe in half—just three episodes since the merge—but Jeff Probst also talked in a British/Mark Burnett/pirate accent to introduce it all, saying, “Feast your eyes on what awaits you on day 17 of Survivor 43!” he said.

Yes, the producers are really trying hard to give us the entertainment we’re craving.

It’s certainly not coming from one of the advantages: The Knowledge is Power Advantage continues to have the distinction of never being used successfully: 41 and 42 had unsuccessful guesses; this season, it’s not yet even been attempted, as the players who’ve held it this season, Geo and James, were voted out.

But another advantage did get used to aid in a blindside, and considering the tribe split resulted in two blindsides, rather than two easy votes, I suppose this was a wild success!

Karla won one of two immunity idols during Survivor 43 episode 9's double episode
Karla won one of two immunity idols during Survivor 43 episode 9’s double episode (Image from Survivor via CBS)

Three minutes into the episode, we were at the immunity challenge, which immediately signaled that the producers weren’t going to try THAT hard to change things up, because this week’s challenge was once again standing and holding a thing.

Jeff Probst seemed to address criticism of these challenges, saying “it doesn’t look like much until you’re the one holding the handle.” I’m not sure anyone has ever denied that they’re challenging or difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s also interesting to watch.

Maybe I’m just not seeing the entertainment in watching people stand and not move. Of course, theunless there are huge stakes, and there were not.

I mean, just watch this TikTok video—now there’s a challenge that’s visually interesting! It’s also competitive, and results in some twists and turns. You’re welcome, Survivor challenge producers.

Okay, yes, there were huge stakes for the stand-and-hold challenge: a reward of peanut butter and jelly that’d been sitting in the hot Fiji sun for the winning team of five, and a few seconds during which we got to watch them all chew.

The tribe split into two random teams of five, effectively two tribes for this episode: two immunities, two Tribal Councils, two boots.

“A lot going on day 17 of Survivor 43,” Jeff Probst said. I do like this version of one episode, two Tribals better than two full episodes smashed into one hour—though that can work if those two episodes truly have very little strategy or movement, and we’re just trying to fast-forward to the good stuff.

Karla, who we learned has stitches in her finger, struggled, but ended up winning immunity on her team. While she was trying to win the whole challenge by outlasting everyone on the other team, Gabler yelled, “Way to go big boys! Stay in there—focus!”

Karla replied, “What about the big girls, huh?” which is much nicer than what I was thinking, which was: “Fuck right off, Gabler!”

The first Tribal Council

James before being voted out during one of Survivor 43 episode 9's two eliminations
James before being voted out during one of Survivor 43 episode 9’s two eliminations (Image from Survivor via CBS)

At the start of Survivor 43, Sami said, “We’ve gotta start picking off the people who are at the top,” and that kind of happened, except I’m not convinced the season’s arc has made the case that either James or Ryan were at the top. They’ve both had their names floated as potential votes recently, too.

Owen was mad at James for lying to him about the Justine vote, leading to some overwrought language: “James is dangerous”; “Who the fuck does he thinks he is? He’s not the fucking Godfather.” Dangerous, really? Even in the game? Even on Survivor where the word “dangerous” no longer has any real meaning?

That led to an actual argument that started on a walk back from the water well and continued into camp, where Noelle tried to cut the tension by asking, “Anybody want a papaya?” (Noelle! Something is happening!! Please don’t make it stop!!)

What was clear was that James was very confident in his position (“I have no sympathy for the guy, and I have the numbers, so he can go home”). It’s remarkable that James was voted out with such a powerful advantage, but that shows how truly comfortable he felt, and thus how truly blindsided he was.

But it was not Owen who really went after James: it was Noelle.

Noelle told James she would steal Owen’s vote, but revealed that was just “to make James feel comfortable.” She said, “I’m hoping I can pull off a major blindside on James.”

Because the best strategy is always to tell the blindside’s number-one ally about the blindside plan, Sami told Karla. “How bad would it be if James is not here?” Sami asked Karla. “I don’t think it’s going to be that bad.”

The entire mini-tribe eventually voted for James, so either Karla realized she couldn’t change what was happening, or realized that this was the best opportunity to get rid of him and his advantage.

At Tribal Council, after a recap of James and Owen’s argument, and more arguing, Noelle declared, “Too much testosterone! I’m done with it.”

Then Jeff Probst moved on by rolling around in the testosterone, asking James and Owen more about their conflict.

Noelle ended up stealing Owen’s vote—which, of course, kept James comfortable—but used those two to vote for James. Ultimately, the steal-a-vote was just a decoy, and completely unnecessary for actual numbers.

“Cool beans,” James said after Probst read the third vote, clearly annoyed as he joined Jeanine on the jury, though in his final confessional he was more demure, and then said, “I wasn’t a big fish to fry.”

Tribal Council #2

Ryan was the second player voted out during Survivor 43 episode 9
Ryan was the second player voted out during Survivor 43 episode 9 (Image from Survivor via CBS)

The second tribal had the unfortunate distinction of being considerably less interesting, having no substantive discussion, and a less-interesting vote. But still a blindside, so there’s that!

To the second group, Probst was like: LOOK THERE IS JAMES! NOW WILL YOU DO SOMETHING UNEXPECTED TOO?!?

Earlier, Ryan told Gabler to vote out Cassidy, because “I can’t really trust her,” and that’d break up Coco. But Cassidy pointed out to the others no one on the other mini-tribe would care if Ryan went home, which was a subtle way of letting them break up Coco while saving herself—and getting rid of Ryan was, Cassidy told us, “the final part of my revenge plan.”

Cody, Jesse, Gabler were “driving” the vote, Cody said. So why did Cody and Jesse decide to vote for Ryan and not Cassidy? Why am I expecting the editing to explain these decisions? It did, however, have time for Cassidy to share a story about her sister’s death, which included the revelation that she has her sister’s ashes in the necklace she’s wearing.

The end result of this episode was that the two mini-tribes separately voted the two remaining Black men off.

The pattern of the boot order this season has been harder and harder not to notice, especially when two Black men were voted out in one episode, and especially with Survivor’s past history of people of color being the early targets. As I’ve written before, more racial diversity in the cast means that more people of color are going to be voted off, but it also doesn’t necessarily mean that implicit bias has evaporated from Survivor or its production. We don’t have any evidence of that, but we also do not have great explanations for so many of these votes, which is a failure on Survivor’s part.

That a season of Survivor has more than two Black cast members is remarkable, but it is also remarkable that all the Black cast members were half of the first 10 people voted out.

That said, individual votes are individual votes, and even though the editing frequently fails to explain the rationale, that doesn’t mean the players don’t have perfectly logical reasons for their game play, or for those individual votes.

So what should we make of this? I think Survivor 42’s Hai Giang summed up the complexity very well, writing on Twitter,

As disappointing as the current boot order pattern is, let me ask, at what point are women and BIPOC players allowed to act out of self-interest? Solidarity is important in the real world, but much more complicated given the design of the game. Give these players grace.

We hold women and BIPOC players to higher standards than “others” based on our real world expectations of ‘community’, but this isn’t the real world. Your values and intentions don’t always align with the strategy.

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About the author

  • 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!

Alex

Friday 25th of November 2022

I know that you don't like the endurance challenges, but those have been some of my favorite and most memorable ones over the various seasons. I like how they push people to the limits over what can be a long period of time (remember that one that went on for 12 hours at the very end of the game?). You may want to check out a great documentary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hands_on_a_Hardbody:_The_Documentary) about a contest where people have to keep their hands on a pickup truck continuously for as long as they can, and the last person standing wins the truck (they are allowed a 5-minute break each hour).

Andy Dehnart

Friday 25th of November 2022

I agree—there have been some amazing moments! It's not that I dislike endurance challenges, I dislike the reliance on them as the only kind of individual immunity. I miss the range of challenges from over the years, and especially from early seasons.

And thanks for the recommendation about the documentary, Alex! I have a vague memory of that contest (or maybe something similar?) but have never heard of the documentary.

Raph

Monday 21st of November 2022

in simple probability and statistics the women being voted out and people of color being voted out as they were will happen.. its not an anomaly.

My argument against the fact that racism was part of the votes, is because its not as if only the white folks were voting out blacks, and men voting out women. Each group is responsible for voting out themselves as well. Retrospectively, hindsight it looks like something, but it isnt when people of their same culture, race, gender, etc are voting out eachother as well.

Casey

Sunday 20th of November 2022

I completely agree with your diagnoses this season. I loved the season until the merge, then it became the most boring and honestly jumbled season in a while. This split episode worked for me only because it was easier to follow the social dynamics in the smaller groups. I’m hoping the end game becomes more interesting when there are fewer players to track.

Gen X Jeff

Sunday 20th of November 2022

You really think James and Ryan were voted out due to racial bias?