Survivor Recap: Double, Double Toil and Trouble
Season 43 Episode 9 Editor’s Rating4 stars ****
Photo: CBS Two votes brought former Vesi and Coco members together into what seemed like a strong alliance. They were interested in playing the same way, a “subtle” game, and for the first 17 days, the game simmered. Each of the three original tribes focused only on getting to the merge. No explosions, no fights, no big risks. But when ten players drop down to eight in a single night, the game is getting expedited whether they like it or not. Finally, this season is starting to shift, but is it too little too late?
Things are tense at the Gaia beach immediately following the Jeanine vote. Owen, who wore an immunity necklace around his neck, was safe from being sent home, but that Tribal Council was messy. He’s frustrated, not just at Jeanine going home but because his back is up against the wall. However, according to Sami, there’s only one person who didn’t want to let Owen in on the fact that Jeanine’s fate was already sealed: James. There’s nowhere for Owen to go unless Sami wants to change up his game and abandon James and his Coco alliance. Luckily for Owen, he finally does. Gabler is along for the ride, too, as the final three Baka members reteam in the hopes of flipping the game upside down for the last week in Fiji.
In the immunity challenge, the ten castaways pide into randomly chosen groups of five for an endurance challenge. Cassidy, Jesse, Gabler, Ryan, and Cody compete against one another, leaving Owen, Sami, Noelle, Karla, and James to duke it out. It’s a deceptively hard challenge with high stakes: hold up a bar that keeps a ball above your head longer than the other four people in your group and you earn a spot in the final eight. But if two people earn immunity, two torches must be snuffed. There’s a simple exchange rate here on Survivor. In addition to winning immunity, the final person standing will earn peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for their group as well as the right to vote second after seeing who was already sent to the jury.
A random pision of players like this is super-dangerous for the players, especially when it results in only five votes cast at Tribal. Each side has a pretty solid duo, and just three votes make a majority tonight. On the red side, Jesse and Cody will likely take control, and on the blue side, Karla and James have the chance to do the same. These duos make tonight’s immunity the most important of the season so far. As the players drop out one by one, it’s down to Karla for blue and Cody and Ryan for red. Karla has won inpidual immunity already, but they’re all holding on tight with blistered and bashed-up hands to try to score a simple PB&J. Karla eventually stumbles, leaving Cody and Ryan to battle it out. Cody is completely still and statuesque, while Ryan’s ball inches closer and closer to the ground. His forearms give out, and Cody joins Karla in the bliss of immunity.
Because Cody outlasted Karla and the rest of the blue team, they will not only eat PB&Js and vote second — they also get to head back to their own beach. The blue team, on the other hand, gets sent to the old Vesi beach, where there’s no rice and barely any shelter. And even worse, according to Owen, “Cody’s peed all over that camp.” There’s lots of talk about the stench of Survivor’s players, but never have I ever considered the smell of the camp itself, especially when there’s literally an ocean right there! In any case, the terrible smell and lack of food aren’t the only problems at Vesi. James and Owen’s relationship was tense when there were ten people on the beach, but that’s nothing compared to the hostility coming out now that there are just five of them.
And I, for the record, welcome this hostility wholeheartedly! Finally, we see a little direct rivalry, a little vicious energy rising to the surface. James and Owen head out to the water well as soon as they get back to camp, and immediately they’re raising their voices. Owen asks a simple question, wondering who the vote is going to be. James responds with a vague, “It is what it is,” but also claims he hasn’t decided who it will be yet. Owen has no choice but to laugh, exasperated at the situation and frustrated that he can’t do anything to earn James’s trust. There’s a fascinating dynamic playing out between these two men. James wanted Owen on the wrong side of the last vote, so he told him to vote for Ryan. Owen did end up voting for Jeanine, but Cassidy cast a second vote for Ryan. Now Owen is using this to say, I did vote for Ryan — who you told me to vote for — how else can I prove my trust to you? But this is the moment he finally realizes there’s nothing he can do. James and Owen are not allies and will never be allies.
Meanwhile, Noelle is planting the seeds for the play of the season so far. She tells Karla and Sami they should all vote for Owen, another easy vote. Karla is obviously onboard, especially considering her ally James is the second option, but when Noelle gets Sami alone, she reveals her true plan. If she uses her advantage to steal Owen’s vote, James and Karla will believe she’s using the vote to ensure Owen goes home. Instead, she’s doing the very opposite. She’s been holding on to her Steal-a-Vote until she can guarantee it will be used correctly, and with only five votes, tonight’s the night. Sami has decided (correctly) that Karla is an important person to have on his side, so he fills her in and tries to convince her to vote for James and finally cut their tie.
At the first Tribal Council of the evening, Noelle’s plan goes perfectly. You can tell she’s nervous, and her voice is shaking as she pulls out her advantage. Even if Karla had not already known about the plan to get James out, she wouldn’t have been suspicious. With Noelle casting Owen’s vote for James, James is sent out in a fiery blind side. He is absolutely seething as Noelle sits with a smile on her face.
On the Gaia beach, things aren’t looking great for Cassidy. She’s the only woman, and given the pattern that emerged in the first eight votes, she’s justifiably concerned. As soon as she starts telling her story and opening up about her relationship with her sister who recently passed, I was sure she was done for. The curse of the backstory is legit! As to be expected, Jesse and Cody are running the show over here. They are debating back and forth between Ryan and Cass, knowing they have it out for each other. Gabler is simply their third vote; he has no impact on the decision, and they’re correct in assuming he’ll go along with whatever his boys say. They say, “Jump,” he says, “How high?” Ryan is a physical competitor, but Jesse doesn’t see him as a strategic threat, which might be my favorite backhanded way to call someone kinda dumb. On the other hand, Cass is smart and fit. Although there was a contingency plan for this exact scenario, after seeing James on the jury, the red team still chooses to vote out Ryan.
James and Ryan were a part of the alliance that has controlled the vote since the merge, yet both saw their torches snuffed out tonight. The split into smaller voting blocks was risky but really played out well for everyone who remains in the game. It’s unfortunate for Ryan and James, but clearly this alliance was ready to break down. As the final eight players move closer to the Final Tribal Council, hopefully, the gas pedal is stuck at full throttle.
• Noelle continues to be the necessary comic relief! A bunch of great moments this week, and as much as we needed the James-Owen blowup, I loved her trying to break up the tension with a papaya peace offering. And her face while she tries to walk away — and instead stares down two separate camera crews — is giving Sandra. I love it.
• The preview for next week’s episode teases a possible Karla-and-Gabler alliance, and if this is accurate, I think there’s very little chance Gabler does not end up in the Final Three. At this point, he’s a perfect goat to take to slaughter, and I think everyone sees it.
• There are worse ways a double elimination could have played out, and we should definitely celebrate the victories tonight. My hope for this season stays smoldering for yet another week …
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