SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.
Survivor 43 hasn't been a great season of Survivor. The strategy has been dull when it's not been outright poor; too few characters have really popped; and, as a result of both of those things, the conflicts haven't really popped. This week's episode — titled "What About the Big Girls" after Karla clapped back at Gabler for shouting out all the "big guys" at the immunity challenge — attempts to correct some of those deficiencies while also accelerating the game at a time when the audience is really hoping to get on with it.
When the 10 remaining players showed up for the reward/immunity challenge, Jeff Probst told them they'd be divided into two groups of five, with two immunity necklaces going to the player on each team to do the best in the challenge. Karla won immunity for the Blue team, in a strength-and-balance challenge that required a lot out of her stitched-up hand, while Cody won immunity for the Red team, not to mention a PB&J feast for lasting the longest. The teams were then sent to separate beaches to strategize, before heading to tribal council separately, and each voting out someone. So this episode takes us from 10 down to eight and into the home stretch of the season.
Post-challenge, tribal maneuverings centered on two showdowns, each holding some degree of personal animosity. On the Red team, it was Cassidy vs. Ryan, whose beef goes back to the Coco tribe. Each is gunning hard to get the other targeted. Meanwhile, on Blue, the Owen-James beef that was hinted at last week has gotten a lot tetchier. After a second-straight tribal council where Owen was left out of the loop about who was going home, he made little secret of his frustration with James and his "godfather" behavior around camp. After the challenge, with both Owen and James on the same team, that frustration boiled over into a full argument at the water well. It was actually refreshing to see someone's emotions get the better of them, as happened with Owen here. Modern-day Survivor players have gotten so good at saying the right thing to keep themselves in everybody's good graces; one of the few benefits of this season have been moments like this or Elie and Gabler arguing back at the merge, which is unquestionably bad strategy but more cathartic as a TV viewer.
What was actually fascinating about both of these showdowns, though, was that each of them ended up as fodder for another player to make a move. Cassidy vs. Ryan ended up in a 4-1 vote against Ryan, but it wasn't Cassidy who we saw marshaling the troops to save her bacon. Instead, the decision on who to get rid of was credited to Cody, who played the middle for most of this episode. He made promises to both Cassidy and Ryan, he seemed to have acquired Gabler as an ally, and when it came to his strategic partnership with Jesse, the edit seemed to grant Cody the "it all comes down to me" treatment.
Things were a lot more turbulent on the blue team. James and Karla targeted Owen and seemed to have Noelle as a vote in their pocket. But then after the commercial break, the editors sprung a surprise Noelle plan on us: she planned to use her steal-a-vote on Owen (in order to lull James into a false sense of security) and then use both votes, along with Sami's vote, to vote out James. Twist! But then, in another left-field edit, Sami tells us that his main loyalty is actually to Karla, and that while he wants to vote out James, he doesn't want to flip to an Owen/Noelle alliance as much as he wants to bring Karla over to his side. This seemed like long odds considering Karla and James have been aligned since Day 1, but it worked. Noelle stole Owen's vote, Karla voted against her ally, and a visibly bothered James got the surprise 4-1 vote. Owen's big enemy was vanquished… and Sami got all the credit.
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Sami. He's been becoming more and more central to the edit since the merge, and this week the edit credited him with eliminating a major threat in James. Noelle's steal-a-vote gambit gets some of the credit as well, but Sami’s alliance with Karla is apparently strong enough to get her to ditch James at such a crucial stage of the game? It's a strong move.
Honorable Mention(s): The edit didn't give her any credit, but I'll give Cassidy a nod for convincing Cody and Jesse to side with her against Ryan.
Sketchy Strategy: So, according to what we saw, Cody and Jesse made the determination at camp that they'd wait and see what the blue team did at their vote to determine how they would vote. If the blues got rid of Owen, that meant the seven-person alliance from the last two weeks was still strong and they'd get rid of Ryan accordingly. If James somehow got voted out, they'd read the writing on the wall and dump Cassidy in a kind of St. Valentine's Day Massacre for the former Coco alliance. What we saw happen was the opposite: James got the boot and then Cody and Jesse voted out Ryan. Why? And why show us Cody and Jesse making that exact plan if they didn't go with it? Just to fake the audience out? It's so unsatisfying.
Alliance Report: Oh, who the hell knows at this point. Sami and Karla, it seems, have an unbelievable bond. Cassidy likely teams back up with them, and maybe Sami continues to string Owen along. Cody and Jesse are a solid pair and could make overtures to Noelle. Cody seemed to have brought Gabler into an alliance, but the previews for next week show Gabler gunning for Cody. In a season where nobody's all that good at strategy, it's hard to guess where things are headed.
Coming Next Week: We're being promised chaos. They'd better deliver chaos.
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.