WARNING: This whole thing is basically spoilers.
Well, Survivor 43 is in the books and the last few weeks really built to a crescendo at the right time, though I’m finding it difficult to be satisfied with how the season ultimately played out.
Let’s recap: This was a season with all the new advantages and was populated almost exclusively by Survivor superfans.
Because of the shorter format and thus the lack of time to really dissect the camp game, 43 didn’t really hit a true emotional moment until Noelle’s amazing comeback win on Day 18.
After that, a Survivor first: Two players beat a drowning challenge and the producers had to just give up and award two immunities.
Following that, one after another, the jury began to be populated with sharks. Almost all of them could have made a case to win except for Jeanine, who was generally fighting for her life. But James was a player and a threat when he got blindsided. Cody was beloved, a physical threat, and always on the right side of votes.
Karla was an ingenious, Sandra-level manipulator. Noelle was a goddamned inspiration, a fierce competitor, and taught my youngest the many colorful, situational uses of the term “frickin’.”
Ryan was a physical force as well as a genuinely nice person, which is rare to see. And Sami was only 19 years old, full of jukes and a lifetime of watching other people play the game. Thanks to the impertinence of youth, Sami flamed out in royal fashion, but Survivor needs beats like that to keep it fun. My favorite Sami moment is still when he was a talking head and said his job is to cremate dead animals, and then he quickly offered a defense in anticipation of blowback: “I don’t kill people’s pets!” If Sami gets invited back in a decade? Look out.
But then we came to the finale. Five players left. Jesse had come from nobody to mastermind and used a hidden immunity idol that no one knew he had to get into the final four. I haven’t watched every season of Survivor, but in my experience it’s extremely rare for someone to keep an idol a secret for the whole game. Players always use info like that to build false trust, and it leaves them exposed.
In that vote, Karla, a titan of a player who was the second best player this season, has her torch snuffed out and heads to the Jury.
Now we get to the all-important final immunity challenge. Jesse is a lock to win the game if he gets to the final three and everyone knows it. I can’t remember when I saw a player more universally beloved, respected and admired by the other cast members even though he had engineered all of their respective downfalls.
If Jesse gets to the final three, he’s a millionaire. Plain and simple.
But he sucks at challenges. He truly is awful at them. Almost comically bad.
Cassidy wins immunity - god she’s a looker, by the way. Check out this shot from her insta with pink/blonde hair. Holy moly she’s pretty.
So she knows she has to eliminate Jesse, and to that end she chooses him to make fire against Gabler, who hails from the Lone Star state and has spent the whole series in a camouflage shirt. He never came off as a dyed-in-the-wool AOC fan to me, if you know what I mean. Anyhoo, he makes fire, breaking the all-time Survivor speed record (another first) and sends Jesse to the cheap seats.
If you’re a Jesse fan, (like me) this was a rough moment. Jesse broke down because he knew he had it and both the remaining players and the jury, (who were clearly rooting for him despite his Jason Mendoza level of competence in the final fire challenge), looked like they were going to cry. I think Karla actually did cry and he had just forced her out like eight minutes before.
Jeff tells Jesse to get his torch and fans like me who feel like we’ve been enduring a multiverse departure point since Hillary lost and we can’t seem to get back to normal, shake our heads in disbelief as Jeff extinguishes Jesse’s flame. Nothing is right in the world when a player this gifted doesn’t end up with a cool mil.
Something I hadn’t seen before but again, I haven’t watched every Survivor: when Jesse left, the remaining players and the whole Jury applauded him. Was that a first? I don’t know but it felt like one to me, bittersweet as it was.
Nevertheless, the show must limp on.
For the win, the Jury has to decide between three players in the FTC, the Final Tribal Council:
Cassidy: who won three immunity challenges out of nine total, was always on the right side of the vote, but wasn’t perceived to be a very skilled player.
Owen: who also won 3 of nine, was astute but always on the wrong side of the vote and was brought along because he was zero threat to win.
and Gabler: who was part of almost every alliance, won an immunity, was the oldest player in the season, and handily dispatched the dauphin himself with fire.
To my eye, this was a pretty weaksauce group of options. I’m not saying anyone did anything wrong, per se. In fact, I think all three of them played some version of their best games, but when you have players like Noelle, Karla and especially Jesse, the final three felt a bit tepid.
Lots of people have posited that the Jury should be sequestered, because a social force like Karla can have a disproportionate weight on the ultimate outcome. You had a sense of that during the FTC. Karla had it out for Cass, and based on the tenor and specificity of the questions, it appeared that Cassidy’s position went from hopeful to no chance. Gabler’s FTC went very well, and his answers were thorough and concise, illuminating parts of the game that were cloudy and also not exaggerating his own importance or doing that thing where you either try to leech onto someone else’s move or you’re too dumb to realize it was never your move in the first place. Cassidy had a moment when that happened and her response was “you got me” which is tantamount to surrender in the FTC. Owen had no game he could draw upon that would satisfy anyone’s rubric of a victor, and thus the vote went 7-1 for Gabler.
So. Mike Gabler wins.
The Gabler fans are, of course, thrilled. Especially because he immediately makes another Survivor first and donates all of his prize money to a Veteran Organization he works with in the name of his father, Robert Gabler, a former Green Beret.
That’s wonderful, prompting Jeff Probst to ask him “Gabler: are you rich?”
To answer the question I pose in the title, I guess Gabler stans are satisfied. He was the second oldest player ever to win Survivor at 51. Some people are a little miffed that a politically conservative white man won, but others point out that the jury that voted for him consisted of queer players, POC’s, a player with a prosthetic and women voters.
So, good for Mike Gabler.
Is it satisfying?
Because Jesse. And Karla. And Noelle. Hell, Sami has all the makings of a stellar bad-guy player in the future. I know Cassidy stans are livid with the outcome, especially the blowout nature of it, citing her superior voting record and ⅓ challenge victories. Are they right?
In the end, what began as a ho-hum season ended up being pretty memorable in certain ways. There were a number of key firsts and a bunch of worthy contestants, even though it took longer than usual to actually give two shits about any of them, weirdly.
So how do you feel about the season now that it’s over? Can you sleep with a twinkle in your eye knowing Gabler won, or are you still fuming at the ouster of players like Elie & Geo, whom fans thought should have made it further?
I don’t know if everyone will ever agree on anything Survivor-related, but at least we made it through a season without any reference to Boston Rob, who lives in Florida.
Where he belongs.