“Survivor” is back! On Wednesday, Sept. 23, fans sprinted to their couches to witness the return of TV’s best social strategy game. Four months have passed since the legendary finale of “Survivor 42,” when Maryanne Oketch became the sole Survivor after starting the game on the outs of the Taku tribe. Oketch played a magnificent social game throughout, making timely strategic moves such as leading the charge to oust frontrunner Omar Zaheer. She was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and waited for the perfect time to strike. Maryanne is the second Black woman to win “Survivor,” the first since Vecepia Towery (“Survivor: Marquesas”) all the way back in the show’s fourth season. Because of Oketch’s historic victory, as well as strong gameplay from standouts Zaheer, Hai Giang, Drea Wheeler, and Lindsay Dolashewicz, fans were overjoyed with “Survivor 42.”
Because of this, anticipation was high for the premiere of “Survivor 43.” Wednesday’s episode was the first premiere since “Survivor: Season 20, Heroes vs. Villains” to feature only one elimination, allowing the show to devote more time than usual to introducing the castaways, which helped fans get invested in their backgrounds. I know more about these players after one episode than I have after any season premiere in recent memory. Some personal favorites are Owen Knight, Ryan Medrano, Sami Laydi, and Elie Scott.
Owen is a 29-year-old college admissions director and a “Survivor” superfan, which was evident from the moment he appeared on screen. He has a great handle on how to create bonds, and seems to be the most strategically minded person in his Baka tribe so far.
Ryan is a 24-year-old warehouse associate, and his story is one to hear. He was born prematurely, and was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy at birth. Doctors told his mother that he would likely never walk. Through dedication and physical therapy, though, he eventually did, going on to become a prolific athlete. Ryan has the potential to play an incredible social game because of how likable he is, although the early four-person majority on the Coco tribe seems to be Cassidy Clark, Karla Cruz Godoy, Lindsay Carmine, and James Jones. “Survivor” is a numbers game at its core, so a strong four will always have the upper hand against the other two in the votes. However, it is early, and tribal dynamics will likely fluctuate.
Sami is a 19-year old student and pet cremator on the Baka tribe. His outgoing personality jumps off the screen, but what really interested me about him were his early strategic decisions. Players under 20 have struggled in the past on “Survivor,” especially in recent years. Many attribute this to a lack of life experience, but it’s also true that other players assume the young ones are less responsible and trustworthy than their older counterparts.
Because of this, Sami decided to lie about his age, saying that he was 22. I thought this was a smart decision, and I’m really interested to see how it impacts his game in the future. He also held back in a logic puzzle that his tribe had to complete. He opted to hide his intelligence, which makes sense. Sami is a bigger guy, and he wants to downplay his threat level by feeding into the stereotype of strong men being unstrategic. This is another smart call in my opinion, and one that could pay dividends in the future.
Elie is a 31-year old clinical psychologist, and her “Survivor” fandom was born from her relationship with her late sister. The last conversation that Elie had with her sister was about “Survivor,” and her tragic passing inspired Elie to compete on the show. She seems to have made bonds with everyone on her Baka tribe, and orchestrated their first vote-out without having to take on an obvious leadership position. She’s starting off hot, and is someone to watch, for sure.
The new season seems to have kept some important things from the prior two seasons, one of which is the prisoner’s dilemma. Members of different tribes arrived at a separate beach from the rest of the contestants, and were given the option to either risk their vote at the next Tribal Council for an advantage, or play it safe and protect their vote. Dwight (Vesi), Gabler (Baka), and Karla (Coco) went this time. Karla decided to protect her vote, while Gabler and Dwight opted to risk theirs. The gamble worked out for Gabler, who received an idol that works for the first two Tribal Councils he attends. When played before the votes are read, idols allow a player to cancel all votes for a person of their choosing It didn’t work for Dwight, however, who was penalized and will not be able to vote at his first Tribal Council.
As previously mentioned, this episode was very light in the strategic department. Baka lost the immunity challenge, meaning that they had to vote someone out at Tribal Council that night. Led by Elie, the tribe opted to vote out Morriah Young. This was a simple, old school “Survivor” vote. They didn’t want to lose another immunity challenge, so they took out Morriah, who was perceived to be the physically weakest tribe member.
Seventeen castaways remain, and this season is shaping up to be fantastic. After 42 seasons, it’s comforting to know that the producers know what makes “Survivor” special — genuinely caring about the players. This episode’s focus on backstory will help fans get invested in the season even more than normal. Each successful move will feel more exhilarating, and each elimination more devastating. I personally can’t wait to see what fantastic moves the players will make to survive, and yes, even who will inevitably be sent home in the heart-wrenching vote-outs. Stay tuned!