On Nov. 16 and 23, “Survivor 43” released two more fantastic episodes. As the number of castaways dwindles, each vote becomes more important. The urgency was palpable, making for exciting television across a pair of episodes best characterized as “the rise and fall of Noelle Lambert.”
However, the episode began with Owen furious at James, who had intentionally left him out of the previous episode’s vote to take out Jeanine. Owen found out about this minutes beforehand, leading to a heated argument at camp. This wasn’t great gameplay by Owen, but I understand his frustration. James has grown incredibly cocky, and he has had it out for Owen for multiple votes.
At the immunity challenge, the remaining castaways were split into two groups (Cassidy, Cody, Ryan, Gabler, and Jesse in one, and Karla, Sami, Owen, James, and Noelle in the other). Both groups went to Tribal Council to vote someone out, with one person per group winning immunity. Karla and Cody won immunity, leaving the rest of the players vulnerable.
In Cody’s group, the initial plan was to vote Cassidy out. Ryan finally wanted to start playing the game, and her elimination would be his big move. Earlier in the season, I would have been fine with this outcome. However, we learned more about Cassidy’s backstory in this episode. Watching “Survivor” was a bonding experience between her and her late sister. She chose to play to fulfill not only her dreams, but her sister’s as well.
Because of this, I was happy to see that Cassidy had a counter-plan. She wanted Ryan gone, and made compelling arguments. Ryan is the biggest guy on the island, and is thus an intimidating challenge threat. He also fishes more than he strategizes, making him a sub-optimal ally. Jesse and Cody held the power and debated between Ryan and Cassidy. They ended up deciding that Cassidy was the better ally and eliminated the promising young fisherman.
The other group’s vote was a bit less straightforward. James’ mind was made up — he wanted Owen out — but Noelle decided to take over. The way she went about this vote was inventive and masterful. I gained a lot of respect for her strategic game in this episode. She told James that she’d use her “steal-a-vote” advantage to take Owen’s vote. This would make it impossible for him to take his one-in-six shot in the dark at safety. She actually did this at Tribal, making James feel comfortable. Then, along with Sami and Owen, she blindsided James in the vote. After 42 seasons, it is rare to see players break new ground. However, I can confidently say that no one has ever used a steal-a-vote this way. It was genius and (almost) worked to perfection.
The issue was that Sami wanted to turn a triple into a home run. He wanted James gone, but didn’t want to blindside Karla. He told her the plan before the vote. While it was impressive that he got Karla on board with taking out her closest ally, this choice made Sami seem less trustworthy to every player. He should have firmly gone with one side or the other — you can only play the middle for so long.
Owen won the feud, and James went home unanimously. Noelle made her statement move, ridding the game of its best villain and the “Knowledge Is Power” advantage he held. However, Sami significantly hurt his chances of winning.
Noelle carried her momentum into the next reward challenge. Part of the challenge was going across a balance beam, and she struggled mightily because of her prosthetic leg. Yet, in what is one of “Survivor’s” greatest challenge comebacks, she ended up winning. Tears streamed down her face as Jeff congratulated her.
This was a heartwarming moment, but it likely hurt Noelle more than it helped her. When three people remain in “Survivor,” they plead their case to a jury of the players voted out post-merge. Those eliminated castaways get to decide who wins the title of “Sole Survivor” and the million dollars that come along with it. These players tend to vote based on strategy, but they are human. Powerful stories, such as Noelle adapting to her prosthetic leg, will affect the jury on an emotional level.
Unfortunately, this also made Noelle a massive threat in the game, someone that every player should avoid sitting next to at the end. This challenge only reinforced this perception — it was a glimpse of the moving story she could tell. Couple that with the fact that Noelle was coming off the best strategic move of the game so far, and she was suddenly the biggest threat on the island. Therein lies a conundrum that all great “Survivor” players face: You have to make great moves to win in the final three, but making great moves too early makes it harder to get there.
The reward was a good one, though. Noelle chose to bring Sami, Jesse, and Owen along. They got to relax and read letters from their loved ones in a wholesome segment. I grew to like the four of them more after this, especially Jesse. He read letters from his wife and kids, and shed genuine tears. He missed them and said he was playing his cutthroat style for them. Tentatively strengthened by their shared experience, the group planned to take out Cassidy.
Back at the beach, Cassidy pitched targeting Noelle because of her increased threat level. Cody and Gabler were non-committal, but Cassidy then won immunity, which ruined the plan to vote her out.
Now, Jesse and Cody had to seriously consider taking out Noelle. The way Jesse went about the blindside was terrific. First, he gave Noelle a solid cover story for his extended talk with Cody. He told her that he was giving Cody his idol back, instead of plotting to take her out. He then used Noelle’s newfound distrust of Sami to throw him under the bus. Without much effort, he convinced her that Sami wanted to take her out in the future. He made both Noelle and Owen content with splitting the votes on Karla and Sami, while still sending Karla home.
Next, he told Karla about that plan, and pitched taking out Noelle as a way to overcome it. He came up with a solution to a problem he created — masterful work. All that was left was to convince Gabler to get on board, which he did — Gabler, Jesse, Cody, and Karla voted together to take out Noelle.
Only seven players remain. This pair of episodes saw Noelle rise to power and fall from grace; The next could see Jesse follow a similar trajectory. He is playing a fantastic game, basically in the position that Sami wants to be in. He is aligned with everyone, but still seems trustworthy. However, Gabler and Karla began to catch on to Jesse’s game in this episode. Just like with Sami, you can only stay in the middle for so long. Only two episodes remain before the finale. Tune in next Wednesday to find out who’ll make it one step closer to the million dollar prize!