SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.
It's time for some tough love for the Survivor production team. This is a team that has been the standard-bearer of the reality TV genre for decades now. But this season has been rough sledding for a lot of reasons, and tonight's episode highlights a sloppiness and vague story editing that has been present throughout Season 43.
Let's start with the immunity challenge, which is preceded by the announcement of a new advantage that's hiding in the jungle. The advantage hunt makes for cheekily fun television, as the thing is basically taped to a random tree at eye level, but with packaging so drab that nobody notices it, even as they're mere inches from it. Cody has to basically turn directly into the tree before he sees it. The advantage itself is a fun bit of strategy: Cody has to make a bet on who is going to win the immunity challenge, and if he picks the person who wins, he will also win immunity. So Cody now has a two-in-seven chance of being immune at the next tribal. This is all good and fine.
What's not so good and fine is how the challenge shakes out. It's a callback to an old challenge where the players go into the water and under a grate. As the tide rises, they have to put their mouth up through the grate as much as they can to keep breathing. Sometimes the tide surges so much that they're underwater for a while and have to hold their breath. For anyone with a fear of drowning, it's terrifying, and I mean just to watch it. I can't imagine what it's like to play it. The fact that the competition lasts over two hours is mind-boggling, impressive, and more than a little terrifying. So when it gets down to just Karla and Owen, and Jeff Probst makes the executive decision to call it a tie and grant both of them immunity, it's a relief for the viewer and a well-earned immunity for the winners. But it's also wildly unfair and creates the kind of power shift in the game that you never want to see come from a production decision.
This is complicated by the fact that Owen was Cody's pick to win. So essentially by making this call to grant double immunity to Karla and Owen, they've made the decision to make three people out of seven immune from the vote. Now, I don't think the producers were trying to influence the vote here. For one thing, while making the call for a double immunity win makes producers' darlings Karla and Cody safe, it also makes fellow producers' darlings Sami and Jesse incredibly un safe. I really don't think that was the intention. But because Survivor didn't have a contingency in place for how to do a run-off version of this competition — which seems like it would've been easy; just have Karla and Owen fully submerge and the last one to come up for air wins — the show looks incredibly sketchy.
After that moment of sloppiness, we move on to tribal council, where the vote is either going to be for Cassidy or Sami. Cassidy is a target because Sami lied to Karla that Cassidy (Karla's #1 ally) was targeting her, and Karla, being a proud alumna of Coco tribe, the most paranoid tribe that's ever existed, believed him. So now Karla is worried that Cassidy is going to tell the others about Karla's immunity idol. But when the plan to blindside Cassidy filters down to Jesse, he's less enamored of it, since it puts Sami and Karla into a potentially very powerful sub-alliance. Jesse wants to eliminate Sami, who is a threat, and he begins working on Owen and Cody to convince them. Part of his plan is to not tell Karla they're changing the plan, so Karla will still vote for Cassidy, driving a wedge between them. It's a good plan!
But when we get to tribal council, Sami is talking openly about being paranoid enough to sacrifice his vote and roll his shot-in-the-dark. It doesn't work out, and when the votes are read, it's unanimous for Sami. What changed that so spooked Sami? What changed that led Karla to vote out Sami over Cassidy? We can make assumptions that Karla was weirded out by Sami's lack of trust in her, and that's why she changed her vote, but there's nothing from earlier in the episode to support it.
Unfortunately, that's been a problem all season. Alliances that have seemingly been building for weeks are sprung on the audience as a surprise. Players's voting decisions are kept secret to preserve a shocking tribal council result, but the strategic through lines end up making less sense. It really seems like nobody on this season is any good at Survivor strategy, but that might just be because the editing hasn't shown us. Why did Sami get eliminated so resoundingly this week? It seems like we didn't get more than half of the story.
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Jesse. Based on what we saw, Jesse's plan to get rid of Sami was the one that won the day. He didn't get Karla to vote for Cassidy like he wanted, but based on the previews, it seems like the message that Karla was targeting her gets to Cassidy anyway.
Honorable Mention(s): At some point we have to recognize that Gabler is still hanging around and finding himself on the right side of the numbers more often than not. Is he playing a better game than we want to give him credit for?
Sketchy Strategy: Not a great Karla week. She was too willing to turn on Cassidy, all to protect the "secret" of her immunity idol, which is a) not that secret anyway, and b) getting to the point in the game where letting people know you have an idol could keep them voting for you anyway.
Alliance Report: Jesse and Cody have the only unbreakable bond at this point, which makes them a big target. It'd be a huge surprise if the other four don't make a move on them next week.
Coming Next Week: Allies are turning on each other!
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.