The finale of Survivor 43 ended with a win that I never saw coming. I appreciate a good surprise, but the person who won Survivor 43 came so out of left field that I found myself reeling, as if I’d crossed over into a different universe.
In their exit interviews, the final five—Gabler, Cassidy, Owen, Jesse, and Karla—have provided some additional context to the events of the finale and the season, and why and how Gabler actually won.
Some of their insights mirror or add to what we already knew, while others were almost as surprising as Gabler’s win.
I am still shocked, for example, that members of the jury—Karla and Jesse, the season’s two biggest strategists!—thought the dumb fire-making challenge was a significant resume item, instead of a dumb twist created by the production to keep physical threats in the game/finale.
Gabler’s win surprised Cassidy, Owen, and the jury
Owen, to EW: “I was flabbergasted. I really thought Cassidy had it in the bag going in.”
Cassidy, to EW: “I was pretty shocked as well. I just felt like I had set myself up for the win. And I think even — between me and Owen — we were in awe. Good for Gabler — obviously I never want to take away from somebody’s win. He really pulled that out. But yeah, I got to say I was a little surprised.”
Owen, to Parade: “I thought I was going to lose to Cassidy in a landslide. I did not anticipate this outcome.”
Cassidy, to Parade: “I think one of my mistakes in the game was underestimating Gabler and how much people liked him. And I think going in, me and Owen were both under the impression that it was going to be potentially between me and him, which obviously was our fatal mistake. […] I thought at the beginning I had a really great shot of winning. And by the end it was like, ‘I honestly don’t know what’s gonna happen here.’ But seeing it be such a landslide for Gabler, that definitely hurt.”
Gabler, too, was surprised—but that he didn’t win unanimously!
Gabler, to EW: “The only vote that surprised me at Final Tribal Council was James, because I thought James — with our relationship — would’ve voted for me, because I’d never voted for James”
Gabler also thought he might have beaten Jesse:
Gabler, to TV Line: “even if I was up against that savage Jesse, I think I could have gone toe-to-toe with him, if need be. I think Cody’s vote was probably in play. I’m not sure who he would have voted for after we gave our pitch. It could have been Jesse, it could have been me, but I think I would have had a good shot.”
Karla says she didn’t turn the jury against Cassidy
Karla, to Parade: “with Cass, I feel like people are gonna say that it’s me. But it’s really not. Because I don’t have that power to sway the jury. We literally all deliberated.”
Cassidy, to EW: “…after I got out of the game, I can’t remember who, but somebody mentioned to me that she had been speaking against me. And I’m not saying it’s 100 percent true, but that was what I had heard from somebody who was at Ponderosa.”
Karla, to Parade: “Gabler was able to talk it out and say, ‘This is the stuff that I did.’ And that’s that’s really what it came down to at that time. We did not know at that final Tribal Council what was going to happen.”
Cassidy, to EW: ” I feel like they had already made up their decision before they even came in the final Tribal is what I felt like. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it was like fighting against this tide that was already turning”
Jurors gave weight to the dumb fire-making challenge
Karla, to Parade: “[Gabler] had that Elie vote, and then unfortunately, he took Jesse out on fire. And that was it. For me, that was it, actually. (Laughs.) Selling Elie out at the merge feast and taking Jesse out at the fire were very, very big moves for me.”
Jessie, to Parade: “He smoked me on that fire! (Laughs.) Set a record, man. I don’t think that I was locked in for anybody when I walked out of that game. […] I had a checklist for who and what I wanted to see. And I think Gabler—surprisingly, I will be honest with you—checked the boxes for me.”
Cassidy, to EW: “That [not giving up immunity and competing in the fire-making challenge] was definitely held against me, which it was just offensive honestly, because I earned that last challenge. […] it hurt that they really felt like I had played such a bad game that I needed to Chris Underwood it, who wasn’t even playing. He wasn’t even in the game!”
Jessie, to Parade: “if she would have taken me in fire and she would have beaten me, I feel like she would have swept the jury and she would have won the game. I think at that point in the game, it was like whoever takes me out is probably going to be the person that wins the game.”
‘Fuck the after-show’
Owen, to EW: “Fuck the after-show. I am not a fan. Just do it the next day. Let me take a shower. I’m just chugging champagne out of the bottle. And I’m trying to tell myself, ‘Don’t look as sad as Xander. Don’t look as sad as Xander.’ … I know it’s more raw and it’s drawing this raw emotion out of me now, but I don’t see why it has to be that way.”
Cassidy, to EW: “I honestly drank way too much champagne just trying to deal with the shock, the pain and the loss of it. And then the next day, I remember I was at Ponderosa, I had a really bad panic attack, because it was just so much to go through within 24 hours, and there really was no time to process it. And so it was difficult. I wish that we had had that time to be able to come back and come together and discuss it. But it is what it is.”
Jeff Probst, to EW: “I love doing the after-show in the jungle immediately following the announcement of the winner. It’s so raw and so much more authentic. I know some fans miss the pomp and circumstance of bringing the players back months after the show ended. I fully appreciate that there is something very exciting about a live audience and seeing the players clean and all dressed up. But in terms of the conversations, there is no comparison. The jungle is where it’s at! Now that we have a couple of the after-shows under our belt, we’re getting better. The Survivor 43 after-show is very emotional and entertaining!”
The finalists didn’t like the edit, either
Cassidy, to EW: “I had planned to go to the end with Owen and Gabler the last, I want to say, 8 to 10 days. And we had worked together to slowly make that happen.”
Gabler, to EW: “My game the entire time was a relationship game. And the edit showed a lot of it, but also left out a lot of it. I actually thought the season’s edit was fantastic because it left everybody guessing. No one knew exactly who was gonna go into it.”
Cassidy, to Parade: “It was tough to see very little of my gameplay, my strategic gameplay and my relationships, shown, because that was such a huge part of my game. And I feel like I had agency on a lot of the votes. And I never sat back once and said, ‘Just tell me who to vote.’ Gabler did that so often. He’s like, ‘Just tell me who to vote for.'”