Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor 43 recaps
Sugar cracked out
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: December 11, 2022
Survivor 43 Episode 12 recap/ analysis

Sugar cracked out

Is a new tradition of the new era pulling off the biggest blindside/move of the season in the penultimate episode followed by a finale victory? We’ll find out in just a few days, but despite an overall “meh” season for me, I’m pleased to report that almost any outcome on Wednesday will leave me satisfied – some endings will leave me a little longing for a different story than what we were told, but I think most people left have a case and their win would be justified.

With all eyes ahead on the final three days of the game, it’s time for my semi-annual incorrect guessing at how they go. In 41 and 42, I said Deshawn and Mike would be the Sole Survivors, so take all this with a grain of sugar (or a jar if you’re Sandra) - I also just got back from brunch with cinnamon chip pancakes, French vanilla iced coffee, and gingerbread donut holes, so I’m “sugar cracked out” like Cody was this week. But before I talk about the final five and this next week, a few words on the final six boot:

Cody snuffed

Cody never gave me strong “winner” vibes but I thought he was definitely making it to the finale; I’d have guessed him to be the tragic half of the duo that failed to take the stronger one out (losing in a Domenick or Fishbach finish), so I was shocked when Jesse ended up embarrassing the hell out of Cody the way he did. I’m not sure if Jesse considered Cody a threat to win or just felt the need to make a move that he could claim as his own and not as a combined effort – personally I think Jesse could have won against any combo final three from this final six, but at least this move gave us something to talk about and add to the #SurvivorBlindside list.

Cody was the character I thought he’d be – fun, charming, full of comedic relief, but he impressed me with how much of a player he ended up being. He said this week that he “learned like a sponge” (I think he meant “absorbed” but I understood the point he was trying to make) – a later-in-life fan of the game but one who quickly adapted to it and, frankly, nearly mastered it. He only failed to see that his right-hand-man Jesse was actually the king and that Cody himself was Jesse’s jester. Cody had too big of a heart and a dream of sitting next to his island bro Jesse in the end, but Jesse knew that in this game, you have to be heartless.

My only complaint about the cast of 43 is that they are were too nice and amicable which meant a rather wave-less season, but this made surfer bro Cody an easy standout amongst them as unpredictable and more off-the-cuff. If not for Karla, Cody would’ve been my far and away favorite with the way he had me LIVIN for every moment of his. Who knew that a guy from Iowa would be the most entertaining man of the season? It’s clear the show loves him too, so when they inevitably cast some returnees from the 40s, Cody should expectedly be at the top of that list of players – I’ll be DYIN if not!

With Cody out of contention, who will take this thing home? I think there’s an obvious answer, of course, but like I said, I could see anyone making a compelling case at Final Tribal Council – it’s just a question of will it be “case closed” should a certain someone make it there, or will it be an open field if he fails?


Karla was the queen of Coco and heading into the merge I thought she was playing the best game, and that continued for several rounds when she inexplicably (literally, the show didn’t explain why) was able to swoon some key players into falling in love with her, using Sami and Jesse and their connections on Baka and Vesi to keep her shielded.

When she lost James, however, Karla started to lose steam and I don’t know that it’s really picked up since then. Everyone knew about her idol this week after she remained the only person in the game to not spill the beads on that for so long, and once word got back to Cassidy that Karla was coming for her during the Sami vote, it seemed like Karla had no one left to play with. All that said, I don’t see this finale going the way I want it to for Karla.

Jesse still labeled Karla as the biggest threat in the game, and as this is Jesse’s show right now with him being the only one already safe at final five, I can’t see any way Karla stays unless she wins immunity (or another idol gets planted at camp, which we can’t rule out). If she manages to do that, then she needs to make it her mission to make sure Jesse loses the fire-making challenge. If Karla can credit herself with that move – or anyone can, for that matter – then I think she can win the game. Aside from Jesse, Cassidy would give her the most competition at FTC, but if Karla is immune at 5, then Cassidy goes out there, so I don’t think it’s worth spending too much time on a Karla vs. Cassidy jury vote – we’re not going to see that.

Karla has provided so much this season both on-screen and off, and while I’ve had players I’ve been pulling for in a finale, it’s been a long time since I was this nervous/excited for someone – usually my pre-season favorites don’t make it this far, but she’s reversed the curse, so my love for her and her game have only picked up in momentum each of the last 12 weeks. She’d be hugely representative of so many communities of people (women, queer, Hispanic, first-generation American) that it’d a great finish, but win or lose, I’m proud of Karla and her game – another player who absolutely needs a second shot should this first one fall just short. That ominous “you’ll see me at the final four” line from her this week just scared me as textbook ironic foreshadowing.


As Karla’s lost steam, Cassidy has picked it up and the boys have begun working with her instead of Karla, but I still don’t think she’s in anyone’s endgame plans which will mean a tough finale for both remaining women. As long as Karla isn’t immune at five, Cassidy should make final four with the same mission to then take out Jesse. Owen and Gabler will likely take each other to the end; if Jesse wins immunity, it won’t matter who he takes because the game will be over, so Cassidy needs to either win immunity and hope whoever she sends to fire-making beats Jesse, or she needs to beat Jesse in that seat herself. I hate to say it, but I think that fire-making challenge will determine the winner of this game, considering Jesse has yet to have an individual challenge win.

If Cassidy wins in whatever way at four and Jesse loses, then she should sweep the votes against Owen and Gabler. She’s played the under the radar “fox” game like she said she would, and she’s done it well in that it’s gotten her to the final five, but she’s still been called out as a threat so she’s not been too invisible of a gamer like other under the radar games in the past. Hers would be a satisfying win in a Michele-way as a testament to how the social game is still superior to all, but that ending would be one of the ones that would leave me wanting more.

Cassidy has played great, but this season hasn’t been “Cassidy’s story” – she’s gotten content, including the personal story about her sister, and while we see her being a pivotal part of moves, we haven’t really seen the game through her perspective like we have with everyone else remaining. No fault to her, but fault to the editors. Cassidy’s winner edit wouldn’t be as bad as Erika’s, but if she wins, I’d still like to ask why this season’s story then was centered around so many other people? Her confessional count is the lowest of the final five which mean she’s been the least present in the narrative as the literal narrator. Again, this doesn’t mean she can’t win, it would just indicate that we’re back to the old way of the show still having no idea how to edit a social winner as opposed to one who makes tribal council “live.”

I’ll always support winners like this – it’s just tiring to see the fandom cry when their favorite golden boys don’t win. I’m waiting to see who will be the next “robbed” Xander and Jonathan if Cassidy beats all the boys in the finale. I don’t see that as strong in “the edit” as others do, but I think behind Jesse, I realistically think Cassidy has the next best chance if the cards align.


Gabler seems the type to be a 0-vote finalist, but low key, I think this season’s could be Owen (or both). Owen’s had an amazing story of fighting to stay alive and somehow surviving all the votes despite never being a part of them. The “Charlie Brown” story on Survivor is a compelling one, but not a winning one to me. If it ends up a surprise final two with Owen vs. Gabler, then I think he could out-debate Gabler for the win, but I think it’s safe to say we know this ends in a final three so I’m not sure how Owen wins unless the jury only considers how each player played on Day…25 alone.

Owen is the most favored to reach Day 26 at least. All he has to do is win immunity at four where the odds should be in his favor – if someone like Cassidy wins there and takes Gabler to three, then Owen otherwise has the responsibility of ending Jesse’s game. If he does, that may earn him some votes at FTC, but I don’t think it actually should. One fire-making challenge on Day 25 shouldn’t outweigh the game played for Days 1-24, but juries love a spectacle, so I wouldn’t be shocked if that happened and Owen went on to win for taking out the biggest threat of the season. It would just make me hate this stupid fire thing even more.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Owen, and rooting for the underdog superfan is fun, but there’s been so many top dogs this season that I’d like to see a strong finish where one of them takes it. Maybe instead of a calling him an underdog, Owen’s more like the “hang in there” cat from that poster: cute and inspiring but not the Survivor winner brand when almost everyone else fits it better. I think the rest’s resumes are longer at this point, but I still expect a strong showing from Owen in the finale, win or lose.


Gabler may be an even bigger lock than Owen for final three, unless between him and Owen, he’s seen as the bigger threat or he could be perceived as the better opponent to face off against Jesse at fire. A little like Owen, Gabler has been more or less “along for the ride” but I have to say, he’s done an amazing job at positioning himself in this post-merge, recognizing that allying with Jesse and Cody would serve him well while also branding himself as a free agent to other players in the game. Gabler’s been used a lot as a critical vote, so his argument at FTC will need to be how that was intentional rather than the intentions of other players.

If you asked me who among the eighteen players I wanted to win the least before the season started, I’d have said Gabler. Going into the finale, I still feel that way among the final five, but based on gameplay, Gabler wouldn’t be the worst winner ever – he’d just be one of the more annoying ones to me. I think he thinks highly of his game, and I always hate the “strategy” of planning to try and take credit for everything retroactively at FTC rather than letting the jury see the way you’re playing the whole time, but if he can deliver some inspiring speech, he may just win a few votes. If any part of that speech includes people he knows or states he’s visited, though, the only thing I’ll be inspired to do is stop watching.

Credit where credit is due though – Gabler has done so far what at least thirteen others couldn’t do, and his game hasn’t simply been one of falling ass backwards to get here. He’s played with a purpose and at least in his own head, he’s had a strategy. I get the sense that the others see Gabler as someone to make a move with rather than a move-maker himself, but surprisingly, I don’t see Gabler as a complete lost cause if he can spin that story another way.


The big question of the week is going to be what happens to Jesse at final four? Does he win immunity, effectively ending the game there and waltzing into the last two tribal councils warming up his victory lap, or will he be fighting for his life in a fire-making challenge? Essentially, this season all is going to come down to what happens on Day 25.

Jesse has played an incredible game – savage when he’s needed to be but not an ass about it. He’s not my definition of “villain” but his game certainly could be compared to that of one – he’s more similar to Cirie, in my opinion, except I guess instead of a gangster in an Oprah suit he’s just a gangster in an ex-gangster suit?

Especially in the second half of the season, this show has really been Jesse’s story. The last several weeks, everything has been told through his perspective – we literally were given a thorough, step-by-step explanation of his process for executing a blindside, so it’s weird to think of “Jesse’s game” ending in any other way besides Jesse winning. That said, the show loves to fuck with us and especially loves to give those “best to never win” edits to men more than women, so I don’t think this is a 100% sure-thing and could just be means to make sure we want to see him play again, but the odds are just heavily in Jesse’s favor.

I may always be rooting for women, but Jesse would be an excellent winner. My heart says Karla, but my head says Jesse as the one who’s played the strongest from beginning to (almost) end. He’s not only been a part of all the correct votes, but he’s driven every single one of them. I don’t think taking out Cody was as big of a move as it would’ve been had Cody taken out Jesse, but the more impressive part of that is how Jesse managed to get his hands on multiple idols that weren’t even his (I think it’s been confirmed he convinced Cody that Knowledge is Power could still be in play, so that’s how he inexplicably got Cody’s idol back before the big vote).

Jesse’s combined social and strategic game have been ... flawless? I can’t really think of any reason to knock any part of Jesse’s game. If he loses, his only “flaw” will be not being able to clutch an immunity challenge or make fire faster than someone else. An argument, I suppose, could be threat level management, but has anyone said Jesse’s name? It’s been “Jesse and Cody” a few times, but we saw this week how Cody was perceived as the one to target first of that duo even after Jesse outed himself as the clearly bigger brain behind the operation – Owen, Gabler, and Cassidy should’ve switched to Jesse there rather than be pawns in his chess game. I consider Kim’s win as the closest thing to perfect for a first-timer, but even she picked up a few votes along the way. If Jesse wins this game, especially 8-0-0 which is very likely if he makes it to the end, I think the conversation is certainly there to consider him arguably the best first-time game. A Jesse wins feels a little too “easy” but that feat alone would make this finale an exciting one still – a celebration of a masterclass Survivor game.


Top five, baby!

I just laid out what “next time on Survivor” looks like for me, but I wanted to call out and appreciate Owen’s intentional nod to Tony there. TL;DR – I’m going in with expectations of Karla – 5th, Cassidy – 4th, Owen/Gabler tied for runner-up, and Jesse winning, but like I said, I’m 0 for 2 in the new era, so I’m sorry that I’ve just cursed Jesse. We’re probably getting a Cassidy win instead!

Players of the week


Jesse – Jesse completely demolished this week and it wasn’t even close – they just let him. I still don’t think voting out Cody was “critical” to Jesse’s win, but it certainly sets him apart as being able to operate solo, and his move also weakened Karla’s game while highlighting how good Jesse’s is, so all in all, it was a great move. Once again, it follows 42 with the “big move of the season right before the finale” and last season it worked for Maryanne, so I really think this final week will be Jesse’s.

We know so much about Jesse’s game and his life outside the game/motivation for playing it – this week especially touching as he talked about making the move on Cody to secure his family’s future – that I just don’t see how “the Jesse story” doesn’t end with him getting that money, baby.

Jesse crying

Don’t let that line make you cry again, Jesse – I’m pretty sure you’re about to be a millionaire.

Ryan KaiserRyan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser