They did it. I don't know how, but they did it. Those bastards somehow figured it out and I love them for it. I'm referring, of course, to John Kirhoffer, Chris "Milhouse" Marchand, and the Survivor challenge team. I've been bugging them for years to go back to the best Survivor challenge in the history of Survivor challenges: Last Gasp.
The challenge lives in Survivor infamy, but has actually only been run three times heading into this season. They staged it twice in Palau (for seasons 10 and 16) and once on Survivor: Caramoan, and there's a reason for that — you need just the right conditions. Considering we had made it through 10 seasons in Survivor's current Fiji location heading into Survivor 43, the Mamanuca Islands did not appear to possess those conditions. Or so they thought.
Let's call it as we see it: This particular Fiji-set edition of Last Gasp was not as hard as the previous editions. IT WAS HARDER! At least that's the way it looked. As opposed to the calm waters of Palau that gradually rose like a horror movie, the lagoon here in Fiji featured huge swells that even at low tide would submerge the contestants for prolonged periods of time to enhance the already considerable feeling of claustrophobia.
CBS The cast of 'Survivor 43'
I spoke with Kirhoffer about this challenge a few years ago. "That one fully advantages people who are just comfortable in the water," he said then. "If you're not comfortable in the water, you're not gonna get hurt 'cause you just bail out the back two feet behind you. You just get out and you're fine. But being underwater and in the ocean is completely different than swimming in the pool. We see it every season."
And we saw it again here. But there was no shame in the game of folks like Sami, Jesse, and the Aligabler, who bailed out early. I didn't see any panicking. I just saw folks who literally couldn't breathe. I also saw people freezing their butts off. I've been in those Fijian waters quite a bit and yes, the water is quite warm… WHEN YOU'RE MOVING! Try lying relatively motionless in water for an hour, or two, or two-and-a-half. You'd be cooler than Kool Moe Dee (and certainly cooler than me for making a Kool Moe Dee reference).
Honestly, for someone who wears thermals on a sunny 50-degree day (not an exaggeration), dealing with the frigid temperature is almost more impressive to me than having water constantly shoot up your nose while trying to breathe through it. That would have been my undoing.
I want to come clean on something else besides my creepy addiction to long underwear. If I, like Cody, had the opportunity to predict the winner in this comp, the last person I would have picked would have been Karla. I may have picked Gabler, figuring he had approximately 347 other people to dedicate minutes to, but probably would have gone with Cassidy as my guess. And did you see how solid Cassidy looked in that thing? She had her legs wrapped around that grate like she was Xenia Onatopp about to crush it with her thighs. Impressive.
But not impressive enough. Because there was another warrior in those waters. Next to Xenia was Xena herself. And not since the Warrior Princess straight up told Poseidon to get lost when he granted her safe passage from the ship of Cecrops has there been a more dominant marine-based performance.
CBS The cast of 'Survivor 43'
Yes! Karla! She went almost three hours long, until she was told to go no more! And so did that guy who has been on the wrong side of every single vote since they started the act of voting! They went so long and so strong that the tide actually started going down again. With no end in sight, and no conceivable tiebreaker to put in place, Probst just pulled another immunity necklace out of his butt and gave then both immunity. I don't know, I'm guessing 2005-era Dalton would have found some reason to complain about that if I was cranky because I was out of Milwaukee's Best or something, but no complaints here. That's either because I've gone soft, or because I am well aware that the era of nine-hour challenges are over if producers can do anything to avoid it.
Plus, this is exactly what I was asking for! Not just this particular challenge, which is my favorite ever, but a brutal endurance contest where contestants are pushed to the absolute limit over and over again. Here's what I wrote two weeks ago after that super quick ball-clamping competition: "Give me an endurance challenge that is an epic battle of wills; one that goes on so long that people are passing out and Christian Hubicki is rambling on and on about God knows what, not one in which 60 percent of the contestants are already out after just a few minutes. That just doesn't pay dramatic dividends for me."
This one did. I mean, just take everything else out of it. Take out Karla and Owen's insanely impressive performance. Take out that awesome Probst squatting pose as the host looked like a Major League Baseball umpire getting ready to call balls and strikes. And take out the fantastic slow-mo images of water gushing in and out of people's nostrils. Take away all those incredible elements and this challenge still would have ruled just for the one shot of Cody submerging underwater, almost bailing, going back up to the grate, then diving down again, then trying to wait out the swell, and then bailing for good.
Survivor is so freaking good. Even on a season that has not provided a ton of punch or spark, moments like this, and challenges like this, and camerawork like this, and play-by-play announcing like this (something Probst does not get nearly enough credit for because people don't realize how difficult that is), and efforts like Karla and Owen's where they have to END THE CHALLENGE because the players were simply too good is what makes this the best television show on the planet.
And to make it even better, after Karla and Owen spent almost three hours in the water freezing their chakrams off, Probst made them jump… back in the water! For no reason! They contestants don't actually swim back to their beach. A boat takes them. Probst knows that. The players know that. Viewers know that. But he made them jump back into the water anyway to preserve the illusion, and I love him for it. By the way, I connected with the Hostmaster General, who gave us all the behind-the-scenes scoop on how the unprecedented decision went down, so make sure to check that out.)
Ahhh, good times, people. And let's keep the good times rolling as we hit on a few other things from episode 11 of Survivor 43.
CBS The cast of 'Survivor 43'
Odd Man Out
If you think I am not going to sit here and waste both your time and mine taking about two contestants failing to connect on some sort of awkward fist bump/high five/handshake situation, then you have not been reading these recaps for very long. Awkward, aborted, and ignored fist bumps and high-fives are the fuel on which these recaps run. Nothing will ever top Ryan Ulrich being on the receiving end of an unreciprocated high-five.
And while your tribe not allowing you to touch an immunity idol is not really the same thing at all, if you think I am going to pass up an opportunity to link to an embarrassing Stephen Fishbach clip, then you also have not been reading these recaps for very long.
So the awkward Gabler and Owen fist-bump miscue was not quite as glorious as that, but I do wonder if I should add points for the Owen bag slam onto the ground that directly followed it. Was Owen angry at being left out of the vote for the 517th time in a row, or that he got caught on camera not knowing how to properly exchange hand gestures with a fellow tribe member? Possibly both. But what I really don't understand about Owen is how he can know about such tertiary Peanuts characters as Pig Pen and Peppermint Patty and have no idea who Schroeder is. "Stupid kid playing the piano"?????? Show a little respect, mister.
Hiding in Plain Sight (Not Gabler)
Often, I try to give advice to future Survivor players, but nobody ever listens to me. They still go around telling everyone all about their idols and advantages no matter how many times I beg them not to (with Karla being the latest example). But I am going to say this for the millionth time, and if you do plan to sign your life (and likeness) away to reality TV producers, then you really should listen to me on this one: If you want to find an idol or advantage on Survivor and are having trouble, follow the camera. And, specifically, where the camera is pointing.
If you're looking for an idol and no camera person is following you, then you're not close because they NEED to capture that on film. And if you constantly see a camera pointing at a specific place… well, then you should probably check that out. I have never seen a more extreme example of that than on this week's episode as the tribe was scrambling to find an advantage.
This may have been the funniest montage of the season as we saw player after player walking right next to the advantage hanging from a tree and often looking straight at it while muttering unintentionally hilarious things like "They hid the crap out of this one." At one point, folks like Sami and Gabler were literally circling the tree and couldn't see it. Finally, Cody — while staring directly at the advantage from approximately three centimeters away as if in a trance — noticed it while in mid-sentence talking about how impossible it was to find. Classic.
As for the advantage itself, it certainly sounded cool. Choose Your Champion. That sounds like some serious Game of Thrones s--- right there and I am here for it. Unfortunately, if you thought it meant the Mountain was going to suddenly show up and poke Gabler's eyeballs out of his face — "Survive this, buddy!!!!" — that was not the case. Instead, Cody got to predict who the winner of the challenge would be, and if that person emerged victorious, he too would receive immunity. The interesting twist is that whether he was correct and had the immunity would not be revealed until after the votes were cast. Hmmmm…
So here are my thoughts on that. First off, I like the twist. Fun. Clever. Everyone had the same opportunity to procure it, and, in theory, there was no automatic advantage given. You had to guess the correct person to win it. All good in my book. As for when Cody's pick and immunity was revealed, I totally get why producers did it that way. It's a much more dramatic reveal to do it there and then. However, it also made Cody's pick irrelevant in that he was pretty much guaranteed of not being voted for due to the lingering threat of immunity. No way anyone on the tribe even considers voting for Cody in that scenario, thereby making the advantage automatic immunity and rendering his pick somewhat meaningless.
Which is why I think revealing his pick right before the vote would have been a better move. That way, you still get all the mystery back at the beach as to whether Cody will have immunity, and also have the big reveal at Tribal, but then you leave the door open for players to then scramble and change their vote if they want at the last minute. It's just better.
Another option would be as follows: Cody reveals his pick right before the challenge even happens. Now, this is probably not the best because you lose the mystery back at camp and the big reveal at Tribal, but there could be a future circumstance where this would prove intriguing. Say there is a player everyone wants out. For the sake of the example, we'll call him… oh, I don't know… Ben Driebergen. And Ben finds the Choose Your Champion advantage (BEN BOMB!!!) and chooses… ummmm… let's call her Chrissy Hofbeck… to win the challenge. Is there a world where if Ben drops out of the competition, Chrissy then does not go for her own individual immunity because it is more important to make sure Ben does not also get immunity?
It could happen. And it would be pretty damn interesting. But I still think a pre-vote reveal is probably the way to go. (Also, I don't know what's up with all the Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers references this week. Next thing you know Alan Ball is going to be making me drop trou to prove I'm not hiding anything under there. Little does he know I have long underwear on! Ba-BAM!)
CBS Sami Layadi on 'Survivor 43'
Sometimes perception (on TV) does not necessarily match reality (on the island). Which brings us to Sami. The edit this season has portrayed Sami as smooth, social, and skillful. We've seen him work between alliances, convincing people he was on their side even while he was targeting them for ouster. It's been impressive.
But once Sami ended up on the wrong side of the vote for the first time, we started hearing other players referring to him as a flip-flopper and wishy-washy, with Sami even acknowledging that he was seen that way. And that is not the way you want to be seen in this game (whether it's accurate or not). I'm not saying Sami was getting a Xander edit — where his game looked super-solid to viewers while players were far less impressed — but there did seem to be a slight disconnect here as well.
That doesn't mean Sami wasn't playing a great game. Sometimes folks out on the island have no idea how well someone was playing until they get back and watch it all unfold on TV, and Jeanine and Elie both seemed much more impressed with Sami's game in their exit interviews than they did while playing with him. But it's always interesting to remember that what we see in a contestant on TV does not necessarily match what his or her tribemates may see while playing the game. And after Sami did all that work getting Karla on his side on the James vote-out, he undid it all one vote later when he thought Karla was a goner and wrote her name down.
The scene where Sami lied to Karla about voting for her, realized he was completely busted, and then came clean 10 seconds later while editors played goofy music over his painfully awkward confession was glorious, and something I am going to go back and watch on a continuous loop once I finish writing this stupid recap. And yet still Sami almost stayed. Because he got in Karla's head and got her doubt her alliance with Cassidy, especially because she blatantly and flagrantly went against Dalton's Law and told her island bestie about her idol.
And it appears as if Cassidy would have gone to the jury had Jesse not once again flipped the vote. The closest thing we have to a gameplay villain this season — and I mean that as a compliment — Jesse came up with a diabolical plan to have everyone but Karla vote out Sami, so that Karla would have to return tocamp and explain her one vote on Cassidy… to Cassidy. Diabolical. Whether word got back to Karla or she just figured it out, that part of the plan did not succeed, but it did take out Jesse's target when Sami's Shot in the Dark came up Not Safe.
Jesse has been getting a pretty heavy winner's edit for a while now. Whether he is going to data analyze his way to the million dollars remains to be seen, but I think he'd have to be considered the frontrunner at this point, with Cody and Karla nipping at his heels. Jeez Louise, we only have two episodes left! And updated season rankings next week! Time flies… at least when you're not holding on to a water grate for dear life.
But hold on yourself before you jet on out of here and go start accosting Sami's mom about why she hates electric cars so much, because we've got an exclusive deleted scene sitting at the top of this recap starting. We also have Jeff Probst talking about the decision to end the challenge as well as my exit interview with Sami, and if you missed my chat with Noelle (where she reveals she pulled the Steal-a-Vote out of Owen's sock at Tribal Council) then you should definitely hit that one hard as well. Oh, hey, and have you been wondering who the cast would have brought out for their Loved Ones if Loved Ones were still a thing? We asked them before the season and you can see their responses here. We also asked Hostmatser General Probst when they'll stage another returning players season, and you can see how he handled that one. And for all your Survivor news and views, you can follow me on Twitter, Mastodon, or Instagram. (I also signed up for Post but don't really understand what Post is.)
Okay, enough of this tomfoolery. Justice for Schroeder! And Franklin too, while we're at it. With that spirit in mind, go buy yourself the most pathetic Christmas tree you can find, and I'll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.