Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor 43 recaps
An enigma
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: December 18, 2022
Survivor 43 Episode 13 recap/ analysis

An enigma

Laughter really is the best medicine.

This has been the second greatest collective meltdown of the Survivor community, only behind Chris Underwood winning Edge of Extinction. Arguably, maybe it’s even greater. Where do I start trying to pick myself up off the floor from finale night and write about this season’s ending? Last week I knew that Gabler had a shot, but I didn’t think he had a serious one. Once the final three was determined, it felt like a foregone conclusion for Cassidy. Right up until Jeff started reading the votes, and then “Gabler ... Gabler ... Gabler” – I didn’t know how to react, so I just laughed. Goofy-ass Gabler winning Survivor was an actual thing I was witnessing on television. I’m pretty sure I looked like this – my reaction was outright unhinged:

JTia reacts

Before I get to that moment, though, I suppose I should share some commentary on how we got there. Luckily the last few weeks have been preparing me for Karla not winning or else the night would’ve been a devastating blow to my already-fragile Survivor psyche, though I still was a Golden Girl who ordered cheesecake to have ready for when it was time for Karla’s torch to get snuffed.

Karla snuffed

And wine, but that should go without saying on Survivor finale night.

Karla played a great game, but it caught up to her a little deeper into the merge. Threat management has been super key lately, and the people who make moves get made into losers, so it’s not shocking that we got a final three with smaller résumés and what I think is a weak winner. Karla, among others, played so well that the others eventually took notice and took her out. It’s always been a balancing act in the game, but more recently the gap between drivers and passengers has seemed to widen. The real “Beware!” of the game is simply playing the game at all. Objectively, I think, the best game faced that same fate as well.

Jesse snuffed

I think we all knew this game would be decided on Day 25 – how frustratingly true that exactly was, I’ll get to later – and the question was what would Jesse’s fate be? Would he win his first immunity, making the rest of the theatrics just that, theater? Would he be forced into fire-making and win his final three ticket that way, or would he flame out? Ultimately, he was flamed out ... by Gabler. Ick.

Jesse managed to avoid the chopping block until Day 24, and unlike other 0-votes-against players, he didn’t just do “nothing” to earn that distinction. Jesse always had his finger on the pulse, he was the man with the plan, had everyone eating out of his palms, but sadly couldn’t clinch it at the end. He played a perfect 24-day game. In the old days, that would get you as far as Juror #2, but in the new era, that’s no worse than 4th place.

Wasn’t #COFFEEISFORCLOSERS a silly hashtag flashed on screen over a reward once? Wow, look at me referencing Game Changers. This finale must’ve truly been bleak.

Anyway, Jesse would not be winning any coffee because he was certainly not a closer. This was tragic, heartbreaking, and aggravating to see such a flawless game fall apart in one day, but that’s the twisted beauty of the game. The strongest players don’t always win – sometimes they get outmaneuvered in the end by someone who was lurking in the shadows (or in plain sight). I thought that was going to be Cassidy, but alas ... earwax.

It’s weird because as much as it sucked seeing him go out in the fire-making challenge, if this was any season between 1 and 34, Jesse still would’ve been the final four boot, so I’m not mad about that. I’m more upset that the edit really hit us over the head and made us love this man so much, so when he lost the game and received a big heroic sendoff, what the hell were we left with?

Of the final six, most of us would’ve been more excited over any one of Cody, Karla, and Jesse sitting in the final three, and because these three outshined the actual final three so much, seeing them all on the jury then felt underwhelming, no matter which way it was going to go. The season made us care about many of the first 15 losers more than the final three and winner. That’s just such a shitty strategy in the editing room. Cassidy, Owen, and Gabler weren’t bad – they just weren’t as exciting as the other half of the final six, and the gap between their games felt enormous. Compare a final three of Cody, Karla, and Jesse to this one:

The final three


Owen played a well-fought game as the underdog who was almost never part of any plan, and he made the best final pitch he could, but the question that stood out as sealing his fate was the one that asked about a vote each finalist drove – Owen simply did not have an answer. I, and the jury, appreciated his honesty, but in that moment, it was even further cemented to me that the jury was going to vote for Cassidy or Gabler. I just felt like, “Oh you poor, sweet, innocent Owen. You’re not winning this but I’m happy you got to live your Survivor dream!”

The problem was, though, that I don’t think anyone was thrilled about Gabler and Cassidy’s games either. Gabler’s “claimed” vote was the Elie vote, but can a pre-merge vote really be someone’s defining move of the game? Cassidy thought she got credit for the Ryan kill, but Jesse and Cody quickly corrected her that it was their move. I don’t think someone needs a “big move” like Maryanne’s Omar blindside, Natalie’s idol play on Jaclyn, or Sophie verbally castrating Coach in front of the jury to be a strong Survivor winner, but they’ve got to be able to take credit for something. When this question came up at the end, effectively, Owen and Cassidy scored “0” and Gabler scored “1” – that’s what did it. Voting out Elie was the defining move of the game.

Elie: I did that

Except, that wasn’t the big move the jury focused on – the bigger “move” was making fire. This is where I’m going to stop myself from going on a 6000-word rant (I’ll keep it under 2000), but for the love of god, can we fucking end fire-making already? I really believe, and it seems like some press has confirmed, Gabler won Survivor because he beat Jesse in fire-making in record-breaking time. It’s funny, at least, to think that he could’ve made like 20 fires in the time Sundra and Becky could barely make one:

Sundra v Becky


Chris Underwood made it a move and ever since I’ve hated the precendent that it set. Never under any circumstance should someone voluntarily giving up FINAL immunity be seen as a good “move” and the fact that it was for this jury just goes to show how fucked up of a mechanic of the game it is – it has nothing to do with the game at all, and to completely disregard the rest of the 26 or 39 days of game because “oooh fire pretty!” is crap on a stick.

Juries can have whatever criteria they want otherwise, but that one is simply not correct. Cassidy taking heat for not facing Jesse herself was PAINFUL to watch. Cassidy knew she had to get rid of Jesse in order to win the game. So what does she do? She sends Gabler to face him in fire because Gabler seemed like the best one for the job, and guess what? HE WAS. Cassidy was CORRECT for choosing to send Gabler to take out Jesse. THAT was the move! Cassidy won the immunity, Cassidy decided who would sit where at that final four, and Cassidy ultimately set up the outcome of that tribal council. She got to the final three with Gabler and Owen exactly how she wanted, yet she caught shit for how she did it. It’s like in junior math where our teacher would take points off if you didn’t show your work or even if you got the right answer, if you got it the wrong way or the “shortcut” way, you’d lose credit. WHAT THE FUCK.

Shocked Cassidy

Compare Cassidy and Gabler’s games in other ways, but to hinge the entire game on THAT is ridiculous. It’s basically been confirmed that whoever beat Jesse in fire would become the Sole Survivor. Presumably if Cassidy sent Owen to fire, he’d have won because that would have given the résumé boost he needed (again, exactly what Cassidy did not want to give him), and obviously we saw what happened to Gabler, so in order to win over this jury, Cassidy would’ve had to give up immunity and beat Jesse herself. Why, instead, did Gabler get so much credit for this? If we pretend it’s even a move (it’s not) then wasn’t Gabler just the pawn on Cassidy’s chess board? I don’t get it. Cassidy had a plan, she executed it perfectly, but Gabler got all the credit for it. MAKE IT MAKE SENSE.

The Survivor endgame is completely broken if this is what it all comes down to now. How about we just have a four-way fire face-off and whoever is last gets eliminated? That’d be exciting! Just as exciting as watching three men practice fire for a whole segment!

Owen practicing

Jesse practicing

Gabler practicing

Cook Islands jury snoozing

I can now say I empathize with that entire Cook Island jury. My GOD.

If that’s why Gabler won, I can’t accept it. That said, if you take that out of consideration, was Cassidy really “robbed”? I don’t know that I’d accept that claim either. To me, the entire final three were all backseat passengers who survived the people in the front seat getting ejected. Owen, Gabler, and Cassidy wore their seatbelts – the rest didn’t. Are they bad players? Not terribly, but “safe” shouldn’t be synonymous with “Sole Survivor.” We don’t see everything – I acknowledge that – but from what we saw, none of them were driving the car.

All three were part of votes, but like the jury pointed out, they never really dictated any. Literally it was Gabler’s one to Cassidy and Owen’s zero and that steered FTC in his favor. Don’t hate the players – hate the game that encourages that. With so much shit hidden in bags or a dead tree’s vagina, safe is smart! Sadly, it just makes for a boring show and we end up with a winner like this:


Until someone is voted out earlier than Day 8 and goes on to still win the game, there won’t be a more disappointing winner than Chris U, but Gabler ranks low for me. He’d tell you his game was hidden in plain sight, but I still didn’t really see it and my eyes aren’t that bad. He made some key relationships with people so he’d be protected, but he was kind of obnoxious and hyped himself up way too much, though, thinking about how far the edit could have gone, they surprisingly held back on the hero shtick.

I’d have personally been more satisfied with a Cassidy win but on a game level ... I don’t know that I care enough to debate who “should” have won. Jesse, Karla, Cody, or even Sami would’ve made stronger winners for the season so the debate begins and ends with them. I think it’s best we just move on and wrap this one in a nice little Christmas bow. Congrats on some smooth, successful games across the board for all the finalists – it goes without saying that they played well. This just won’t go down as the most exciting set of final three stories. Gabler being 1 vote away from a “perfect” also just feels…not right. THANK YOU JAMES for saving us from that story. You’re the real MVP.

Player of the season


Yeah Jesse played great and would’ve been a top tier winner but MY player of the season is Karla! I know, I saved the big shock of the season for last – and you thought it couldn’t get any more shocking than Sami being 19!

Karla just “checked” all the boxes for me and it’s rare that a top pre-season favorite makes it all the way to the finale for me, so it was fun to celebrate her game even through the home stretch where she started getting outplayed, but I still loved her commentary every week and she’s undeniably a force to be reckoned with – she went into the game carrying some insecurities about herself and came out feeling stronger than ever. I think we can all relate to and be inspired by that.

She represented women, queer folk, Hispanic, immigrants, and “big girls” (powerlifters if you asked pre-merge Baka!) amazing well and was a bright, colorful rainbow in a season that often felt pretty beige. I can’t imagine this season without her spice. She fought tooth and nail, she literally bled all over the field, and THAT IS HOW YOU DO IT ON SURVIVOR and just life in general, so I couldn’t be prouder. Karla’s cool as hell and hopefully gets a second chance to play one day – I’d drink to that.

Karla drinking




Muddy Carolyn


More Carolyn


That’s it. That’s all that matters. I’ve decided she is winning. See you in March for what hopefully is a much more exciting season to blog about – but may there always be something to bitch about because we love to shit talk! Almost as much as Carolyn loves this rock!

Carolyn with rock

Sandra: In a sexual way

We stan rocksexual representation on Survivor!

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