Screaming at the Screen - Damnbueno's Survivor 43 recaps
A brief history of Survivor producer meddling
By Damnbueno | Published: November 10, 2022
Survivor 43 Episode 8 recap/ analysis

A brief history of Survivor producer meddling

In last week’s episode we saw the fairly-unwanted return of the Knowledge Is Power Advantage. Geo had it first, then got voted out while holding it. I was happy it was gone. It offered the players more freedom to live and die by their own ingenuity.

But then it came back at the earliest possible time. The clue to its location was “hidden” in a spot where there was a 100% chance of it being found – floating in a bottle in the water well. James had the misfortune of holding the ladle while Sami, Owen and Dwight were standing right next to him. The moment he grabbed that bottle, James shot straight up to the top of the threat level ladder. Was he supposed to say “I don’t want it,” and hand the ladle to someone else?” Through almost no fault on his own, James became a prime target.

A brief history of Survivor producer meddling

I hated it. James avoided getting booted, but he’s still in trouble simply because people know “James has got something.” He wasn’t drawing attention to himself by wandering off alone like Ryan does. But his game has been hurt by the Producers’ need to guarantee KIP has an effect on this season. I understand producers like the drama KIP can create, but why now? The players just provided a very entertaining twist of events resulting in Elie’s departure, and the game was wide open with each original tribe having 4 members. I guess the producers don’t trust the cast enough to let them drive the action. They can’t even wait until there are smaller numbers, when Idols are more likely to be played, and KIP can have a bigger impact.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d start this week’s column with a review of previous producer meddling that went wrong.

This is not to say all producer twists/meddling have failed, because several have been successful. The first Tribe Swap in Africa, the fake merge in Thailand, pitting men vs women in The Amazon, introducing the Immunity Idol in Guatemala, the Blood vs Water theme, and many more have all been great additions. But when twists go wrong (or at least much differently than producers likely intended), things can get really ugly.

Pearl Islands – The Outcasts twist.

The Outcasts

At that season’s merge, the first six players voted out returned to the game to compete against the two remaining tribes. As it played out, two of the outcasts (Burton and Lill) were voted back in. The big problem here is the playing field simply wasn’t even. Lill and Burton had little chance of winning the game because most wouldn’t want to give the win to someone who’d been voted out. And while producers claimed the 6 Outcasts were given minimal rations, those players didn’t have to deal with the game stress the remaining players had. At a minimum, the Outcasts didn’t have to worry about anybody lying to them about an upcoming vote. And the ultimate sign of failure? Some of the Outcasts didn’t want to return to the game. They voted Lill back in because they didn’t want the annoying Lill ruining their pre-jury vacation! Producers didn’t learn their lesson, as they returned to a shorter version of this with Exile Island, several seasons later.

Palau – Players pick the tribes.

Palau - players pick the tribes

The players spent two days together before finding out they’d be picking their own tribes – men would pick women, and women would pick men in alternating rounds. Two people would be left unchosen and eliminated. That was just plain cruel. While both Wanda and Jonathan had a fair chance to socialize their way onto a tribe, it was still unnecessarily harsh to bring them there, and kick them out before they could even run a tribal challenge. But what ended up being just as bad was the tribes the players picked were so lopsided, the show lost entertainment value. Koror won every Immunity Challenge. After 2-3 challenges, we all knew the winner would come from Koror. Producers were slow to learn their lesson as they let players pick the tribes in Fiji and Gabon before retiring this tactic.

Guatemala – Star returning players

Guatemala - Star returning players

When the 14 rookies arrived, Probst told them how lucky they were to have Stephenie – “The strongest woman ever to play this game,” and Bobby Jon – “The hardest-working Survivor player ever.” Probst ushered in the hero worship era of Survivor where rookies all lined up behind returning players, making the veterans' run as easy as possible. Producers might not have known how easily rookies would lay down for the vets, but they had to suspect it could happen. But perhaps worse than that was forcing both tribes to endure an 11-mile overnight hike through the jungle just to get to their camps. You’d think after seeing the Marquesas final 5 being unable to stand up for three episodes would be warning enough that physically-depleted players can’t provide “good TV,” but there we were watching half of Bobby Jon’s tribe flat on their backs on day 2.

Panama - Exile Island – Dividing tribes by age AND gender

Panama - Exile Island

It was easy to predict the “Older Women’s Tribe” was most likely to lose Immunity Challenges. Thankfully, they mixed the tribes after only one vote. Otherwise, we’d have likely seen all four of those women gone first, and the world might have been deprived of the legend who is Cirie Fields. I can’t help but wonder what producers thought would be the benefit of starting the tribes like this?

Cook Islands – Tribes divided by race

Cook Islands

Producers took one great idea, then neutralized it with a bad idea. While increasing the number of minorities in the cast was smart, and long overdue, producers almost killed the show by dividing the tribes by race. The CBS studios were picketed by crowds labeling the season “Survivor: Race Wars.” If postgame accounts are accurate, producers realized their mistake while filming the season when the first 7 boots were all minorities. Producers allegedly tried to get some White players voted out by adding the mutiny twist. They hoped the minorities would gang up on the White players. But that backfired too when the White players reunited, and 3 more minorities went out. Producers couldn’t stop the minorities from voting each other out – and it was in part, their own fault.

Fiji – The Haves/Have Nots twist


Have nots

Producers gave one tribe a bed, table and chairs, beer mugs, silverware, and even a toilet. They gave the other tribe nothing. Fans hated it. It didn’t matter that the tribes knew up front they’d have to win a challenge to get the comfy camp. Fans just saw the whole situation as unfair. Watching Boo relaxing in a hammock, followed by Michelle unable to walk because she’s too dizzy from dehydration just wasn’t entertaining to a lot of viewers.

Tocantins – A vote on day 1

Tocantins - A vote on day 1

Hardcore fans still remember how badly Wanda and Jonathan got screwed over in Palau, so when it was announced the Tocantins players would be voting in the game’s first hour, it started the season off on an unsavory note. While Sandy and Sierra didn’t leave the game, both had a stigma attached to them that they couldn’t overcome – based purely on a visual first impression. Neither of them had a chance. Again, I have to ask what positive outcome were the Producers expecting?

Nicaragua – The Medallion of Power

Nicaragua - MoP

This time, Producers took a bad idea and made it worse. If you’re gonna divide the tribes by age, the younger tribe has a natural advantage in any physical challenge. But adding in an Advantage that guaranteed a challenge win simply tipped the scales too far to one side. To their credit, Producers realized what a turd this was, and the Medallion of Power never made it to the tribe swap. It was gone by day 11.

One World – Two tribes, one beach

One World

Starting the game with two tribes living on the same beach was a great idea with limitless potential. Encouraging cross-tribal communication opened up possibilities for all kinds of secret alliances. If you fell to the bottom on your tribe, you could immediately start working on getting a new alliance with members of the other tribe. But Producers killed those possibilities by making it a men vs women season. Of all the tribe distinctions over the years (age, occupation, race) the one players have held strongest to is gender. Why encourage cross-tribal communication on one hand if you’re gonna discourage it on the other? I think the two tribes/one beach concept could work – especially in a 26-day season. Why not try it again?

Kaoh Rong – Remove a juror

Kaoh Rong - remove a juror

The three medevacs that season threw a monkey wrench into the shooting schedule, especially when Joe left the game on day 34 right before an Immunity Challenge. Producers were left with a blank day on the schedule. To fill that hole, they improvised and threw in an unused portion of a previous challenge, awarding its winner the chance to kick someone off the jury. The result? Neal spent 15 days interacting with the rest of the jurors, only to find out that after being medevaced (which is painful enough), he also missed out on the pre-jury vacation. While it might be harsh to take a shot at the producer scrambling here, I don’t think the bad luck of a medevac should be followed by inserting a pure dumb luck element. What’s wrong with having a 38-day season?

Game Changers – Advice from Cochran

Game Changers - Advice from Cochran

After a second tribe swap, Debbie was sent to Exile Island, and would join the tribe that lost the next Immunity Challenge. While on Exile, she got a surprise visit from Cochran, who was there supposedly to offer valuable advice. They should have called this the “Probst loves Cochran” segment. His advice was pretty basic and obvious. He also gave her an Extra Vote, which didn’t play much of a factor at all. The entire segment felt forced as a chance to promote Cochran. Producers didn’t realize this idea was a stinker, so they tried it again in Island of the Idols. I thought it was funny that eventual winner Tommy was the only finalist who DIDN’T get “expert advice” from Boston Rob and Sandra.

Game Changers – Advantagegeddon.

Game Changers - Advantagegeddon

Six people attend a Tribal Council, and five of them can’t be voted out. The one person who leaves (Cirie) doesn’t have a single vote against her. Producers didn’t anticipate players sitting on their Idols/Advantages for so long, but this sent one very clear message – there are too many Idols/Advantages in the game.

Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers – Final 4 fire challenge

HvHvH - F4 firemaking

The challenge is of course designed to help the Probst-favored male challenge beast make it to the finals, but the way they introduced it was an absolute disaster. I don’t know if the twist was planned before filming began, or if it was inserted while the game was in progress, but either way, it was perceived as an attempt to help Ben. By not telling that season’s players on day 1 that a fire challenge would replace the vote at final 4, the players weren’t able to strategize around it. Had they known about this twist, Ben, who everyone knew was good at making fire, might not have made it past final 8.

Edge of Extinction – Re-entry challenges

EoE - Re-entry challenges

Producers proved they didn’t learn their lesson from the Outcasts twist in Pearl Islands, so they made it worse. It was bad enough that a voted out player (Rick Devens) was allowed to return to the game on day 17 after being out for 6 days. But at least he started on fairly even ground with the other merge players like Matt Elrod in Redemption Island. But allowing a second player (Chris U.) to return on day 35 was just ridiculous – especially after he had the exclusive opportunity to get valuable information from 10 eventual jurors on exactly what they wanted to see in a winner. No other Survivor winner had the chance to get instructions from his/her jurors on how to get their vote. Producers proved they were especially slow to learn this lesson when they brought it back for Winners At War. To be fair, Ozzy also returned to the game on day 35 in South Pacific, but he only stayed on Exile with one future juror at a time. As jurors were eliminated in duels, they went to the Ponderosa. They didn’t hang around to tell Ozzy what they wanted to see in a winner.

Island Of The Idols – 12 idols

IotI - 12 idols

Once again, Producers showed how slow they are to learn from their mistakes. Despite having a final 6 in Game Changers where five people had immunity, producers saw fit to insert a total of 12 idols into this season. The potential for disaster was doubled since Game Changers only had five idols floating around. Thankfully, producers have scaled back the idol count, having eight in Winners at War, three in 41, five in 42, and only three (so far) this season. But they found new ways to screw up the last two seasons, including…

Survivor 41 – Turn Back Time Hourglass

41 - Hourglass

When Probst tells a player or players they’ve won immunity, it should be set in stone. Danny and his split squad team were told exactly that. Before the challenge Probst told everyone – “(If you win) you don’t have to compete in that first individual Immunity Challenge, you are safe at that first Tribal Council.” He also said “For the other person (left of a team), they’ll be taken to a separate island, where they’ll live alone for two days and two nights. No proper meal, no buff, no immunity, no company, no shelter.” Danny eventually, and accurately, said Probst straight out lied to the players when Erika was sent to Exile, was allowed to reverse the results of the challenge, and give herself immunity. Danny’s quote from that moment - “I busted my ass on that challenge. To learn that don’t matter anymore is really tough for me to process.” It was tough for a lot of fans to process and accept too. Thankfully, Producers left it out for 43.

So how badly will KIP screw up things this season? James did make his problem worse by telling so many people what he’s got, but he’s still got time to fix it. His fate is in his own hands…until the Producers put the KIP back in his bag after he destroys it.

And away we go…

Sami came on board for the Dwight vote at the last minute? Good for Sami for establishing communication with everyone. He’s getting valuable information, and keeping his cover pretty well too. Going straight to Jeanine & Co. to explain things was very smart.

Owen, Sami, and Jeanine

Jeanine: “I had my idol go home in Dwight’s crotch.” I know its cruel, but I can’t stop laughing at that line.

Man, Noelle can’t shut up about anything. Now she’s telling everyone Jeanine’s Idol is gone? She’s a terrible alliance partner. If I’m in the game, I use Noelle to spread some misinformation. Then I get rid of her before things change and I might I need her.

Jesse has Jeanine’s Idol???? Ok, Jesse just shot up the strategic genius ladder. He might be the best player this season ... IF he can keep it a secret. I’m glad Dwight didn’t blow it up on his way out like Drea blew up Omar’s game last season.

Is Owen picking up on how close Jesse and Karla have become? It doesn’t look like it.

Jesse, Karla, and Owen chatting

I said it last week, but Owen is a VERY good in-game narrator. Does he realize he’s in the Omar position? He’s in good with the majority AND those on the bottom. He can get information from everyone.

5 of the majority 7 think either a challenge threat (which I say is Ryan), or Owen should go. The smart move is removing Cody and his Idol.

Did Survivor give everyone a change of clothes? I was looking to see if their clothes were still muddy, or at least faded from the last challenge. I was ready to praise the Survivor laundry dept, or perhaps wonder if the players had to bring 3 of every clothing item, but nobody’s wearing the same clothes. If I’m obsessively checking continuity, I’d know any confessionals in these new clothes were recorded after day 15. On a season rewatch, I’d know if these new clothes show up in confessionals before the merge, they were recorded much later in the game -- like Natalie White’s “Here’s why I think I can beat Russel” confessional in Samoa, which was shown on day 9, but recorded on day 34.

Sami has a good plan in pretending to stick with the 7, but he’s really sounding arrogant about it in confessional.

We’ve seen this challenge several times before, but they usually balance a statue instead of a ball. Russell won this challenge to get into the finals in Samoa, and Joey Amazing passed out in this one in Cambodia.

Ok, praise for the Survivor laundry dept. Cassidy is wearing the same shirt she wore in the mud challenge, but it looks just as blue as it did before that challenge. Noelle’s tank top looks pretty fresh too.

Cassidy, final sit-out

I wouldn’t sit out of this challenge. Favors aren’t returned in Survivor (at least you shouldn’t plan on it happening), and it sends a message that you think you’re safe. But if I do feel safe, I might compete then intentionally drop out 3rd or 4th.

Is Ryan cheating? Can you lean that pole on your head? Is he a member of the Houston Asterisks ... I mean Astros?

Ryan in the challenge

This challenge is why Jesse should be thinking of removing Cody. He’s done well in several different types of challenges. Its only a matter of time until he wins one. Oh yeah, and he’s got an Idol. (If Jesse gave it back to him.)

James’ comment is what inspired Owen to compete so hard? Is that like how Ozzy’s arrogance inspired Tai to compete harder and win in Game Changers? Will also got tipped off and driven to a win in Millennials vs Gen X.

Ryan is really bad at this game. Does he really think people will stick to a decision made 15 minutes after returning to camp? Does he think nothing will change while he’s out fishing?

Cody: “People were running around the beach like Jean-Claude Van Damme.” Is he known for running on beaches? I thought he was known for breaking things and being a jerk.

There’s “right place, right time,” Karla again, getting all the information.

Karla and Sami

Is Ryan about to pull a Rupert? Catch a ton of fish, talk about how good its gonna be for dinner, then get blindsided?

James: “But Jeanine might be athletic.” Maybe James is worse at this game than Ryan. Earl would never make such a weak argument. I wonder if Ryan is emulating a different Earl?

Cassidy is pushing a little too hard. It might not hurt her at this vote, but it will later. Didn’t she watch Elie get booted after others labeled her a “leader?” Noelle has been targeted for the same reason. Cassidy is starting to act like a “leader” too.

Cassidy lobbying for votes

Look at Gabler and Karla endorsing my “Subtle game play” philosophy at Tribal Council! I’m happy Karla is doing it. Gabler not so much.

Ryan caught 21 fish? I wonder how many Rupert caught before he got blindsided? I’m gonna back whoever kicks that bucket of fish over when they return to camp. Who is the Fairplay in this scenario telling the women “One of you bitches is going home next?”

(I got that from commentary on the Pearl Islands DVD)

Jeanine is gone, and so continues the new trend of ignoring the challenge beast at the merge. How soon will they be saying “Someone has to beat Ryan or he’s gonna take my spot in the finals?”

Those Fijian crickets were incredibly loud during Jeanine’s exit comments. They must have had their own microphones.


After everyone was swapping Advantages and Idols last week, it would have been nice to know if everyone got their trinkets back. Is Jesse holding two Idols now? Does Owen still have Noelle’s Steal A Vote? And why wasn’t anyone concerned about James’ KIP at this vote. Shouldn’t he have been a bigger target this week? Something is missing here. Wouldn’t it be funny if Cody asked for his Idol back, and Jesse gave him Jeanine’s Idol by mistake?

I’m liking Sami’s game more and more each week. Despite appearing so overconfident, he always seems to be in the know. I wonder if he’ll be the one to break up the Jesse/Karla connection?

I’m also wondering if Ryan’s challenge talent is being ignored for the same reason Xander and Jonathan’s was – his social game is so bad, he’s already established himself as a goat. Nobody seems to be worried about Ryan outsmarting them, that’s for sure.

What are your thoughts? Since we’re seeing so much more of Owen in confessional, does this mean he’s a finalist, or is he doomed to be bounced around final 5? Are Sami’s strategic chops strong enough to carry him to the finals? Who will have their game blown up when Gabler or Noelle spills important info? Who’s playing the better game between Jesse and Karla? Is James really familiar with Earl’s brilliant game in Fiji, or is he confusing Earl with Dreamz? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

damnbuenoDamnbueno got his nickname in 8th grade Spanish class when his friend shouted out "You're pretty damn good at Spanish." The teacher insisted he say it in Spanish, so the friend said "Esto es damn bueno en Espanol." The nickname stuck. These days, when he's not forgetting his 8th grade Spanish, Damnbueno is indulging his obsession with all things Survivor. Reach him in the comments section here at True Dork Times.