Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor 43 recaps
The hat project
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: September 30, 2022
Survivor 43 Episode 2 recap/ analysis

The hat project

A 90-minute non-premiere and non-finale episode of Survivor?! In this economy??!!

I’ve always said Survivor would work better with a longer runtime but only if it’s done right. We still ended up with a lopsided edit with one tribe all but invisible and the Cody Assenmacher hour on another — while the latter was admittedly great, I still think the editing team is working out which way to best weave in those personal packages for each player. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they’re slightly non-sequitur with the story.

The latest “Beware” twist ate up a lot of time and made for an odd tribal — the only question on my mind was, “Where’s the bead???” If that’s what we’ve come to, squinting at the screen to see if there’s a bead one someone’s bracelet or not, I fear we’ve lowered the bar for what we call “drama” on this show. At least we got a blindside this week and are looking at a likely break-up next week, but I’m still waiting for more characters to emerge. Asking for another Cody is a lot, but even a few half-Codys would add some spice to the season for me.

We’re still in the honeymoon phase of figuring out where this season will really go – it’s nice, but I like my Survivor more than just “nice.” I sound more negative than I actually feel about this season’s start; I think the appropriate word thus far is just “neutral.” No major complaints, but nothing I’m OBSESSED with yet. I don’t have a HEATHER, and I’d prefer to not have to create a hero for myself, but you know I will!

Wonder Heather



Despite an extended episode, Coco got next to no content this week, only reminding us of a few key(?) players. Nothing’s changed for Karla, who still finds herself in the middle of two alliances within the tribe, the girls + James and Ryan + Geo. The fact that we were given this update on something which had no real update makes me assume this will be significant if/when Coco goes to tribal council. In other words, “stay tuned!”

The main Coco report was on the budding bros Ryan and Geo, specifically Geo who shared more of his story of growing up gay and how that’s impacted his life. It’s sad that in 2022 these stories are still real and relevant, as Geo talked about how upon coming out at 18, his family told him to either change or leave, so he left — a decision that sadly led him down a dark spiral of depression, homelessness, and contemplation of suicide. Families are supposed to provide unconditional love, so it’s heartbreaking when we hear that some families do have a “condition” which is for children to live the life their parents want them to live. “You can live the life we want for you, or you can get out of our lives completely and die, for all we care” — that’s pretty fucked. Friendly reminder — don’t have kids if your “hopes and dreams” for them revolve specifically around who you’ve decided they’re allowed to love and who they’re not.

Luckily, Geo persevered and found happiness with a husband who I’m sure gives him all the love he deserves. At Coco, Geo was also feeling the love from Ryan, who stated how Geo feels like someone he’s known for longer than just their time on Survivor, almost like brothers, finally referring to themselves as a “duo.”

Last week I was on the fence about which way Karla would sway, suggesting she could maybe orchestrate a vote for James to keep both “sides” for her to swing between, but this week confirmed that James is secure with the girls and Ryan and Geo are a duo, so rather than be a third wheel, I think Karla will now end up sticking with Cassidy, Lindsay, and James which means I may be back to my pre-game pick of Geo being the first to go on Coco (which would be cruel after the show made us care so much more for him this week). We know Lindsay is the closer to James than the other ladies are, so I could also see Karla and Cassidy becoming a tighter team themselves, working in cahoots as two chismosas. Maybe Rice and Beans 2.0?

Sandra and Courtney


Baka bringing home the bacon

Baka bounced back this week after being the biggest losers last week, but not before making me more upset that we lost Morriah because she was “weak” when the episode opened up with Gabler breaking down. He proposed finding and frying up some worms to make “bacon” for an energy boost, but I’m not sure even that could’ve brough him back from the coma he looked to be in:

Gabler, resting

Gabler remains the sole source of “conflict” within this tribe between posing an idol threat, losing steam and stamina, and getting called out again for not helping in a challenge. I had my suspicions that Morriah being voted out last week for physical reasons was just a façade, and those were cemented this week given Gabler’s condition.

While an overall victorious night for Baka, that storm they thought they made it through is far from over, especially for Elie and Jeanine. They’re naively under the impression that the boys aren’t playing the game, but during their private girl talk, that immediate shift in scene to the boys back at camp talking about sticking together told us otherwise. Sami at least acknowledged that he doesn’t think the game should be divided by gender lines, but the consensus at camp seems to be that Elie and Jeanine think they hold all the power, when in actuality, they gave up that power when they let go of Morriah – these aren’t children they’re playing with.

Elie patting Owen's head

Owen getting labeled as Elie’s “high maintenance child” wasn’t the greatest look for him, but if Elie ends up blindsided by next Baka vote, then “Elie being wrong about everything” may end up making this a positive scene for Owen, the apparent “lovable curmudgeon” of the season. I definitely identify that same way in real life, or, said another way, “cranky but cute about it.” I also found it cute when Owen went to fill up water for the tribe and walked back looking like he had peed his pants after spilling some on himself. I imagine his return to camp looked something like this:

Everybody my age pees their pants, it's the coolest

If peeing your pants is cool, consider me Phil Dickson

Phil peeing

If peeing your pants is cool, then consider me Phil Dickson.

If you haven’t watched Survivor SA, I don’t know a better image to inspire you to do so than that one.


Re-reading the rules

The last bit from Baka this week was a refresh on how Gabler’s idol works, which even I was still confused about after last week’s weird wording. After a search through Gabler’s bag, the tribe confirmed that the idol is valid through Gabler’s first two tribal councils, not just the first two tribal councils of the game, giving him immunity at their next vote, assuming he doesn’t hang onto it for no sensible reason.

Initially, I felt that Jeanine was being set up as the victim of this idol and would be the collateral damage of Elie’s decision to vote out Morriah. Jeanine just gave off major “I told you so” vibes with that one last week, and paired with the scene of her and Elie underestimating the guys playing the game, I still feel it’ll be one of them that’s the next Baka boot.

However, I got a sense this week that Elie may be too confident in her ability to manipulate the men of this tribe. We learned more about her struggle growing up with ADHD and dyslexia, and being told she was dumb all her life, until finally solving the Survivor puzzle proved to her that she’s not. This could have been some plot armor protecting her as a central part of the season’s long-term story, but with that well-earned confidence, Elie may also be starting to fly too close to the sun.

While Jeanine was the one who will get the blame for digging through Gabler’s bag (we see Sami selling her out in the preview for next week), I think once Gabler, Owen, and Sami take a step back, they’ll realize that Elie is the far bigger threat and may make Elie their target instead of Jeanine. This would be quite the tragically ironic fate for Jeanine if she ends up on a tribe of all guys when her initial goal was to go all-girls.

One way or another, my gut says Elie’s not going to get her way again and her eyes will be wide after her next tribal council.

Wide-eyed Elie


Coupling up

We saw last week these pairs forming at Vesi between Justine and Noelle as well as Cody and Nneka, and Jesse gave us his position this week that he was tight with the latter; however, he wanted to make a move on Dwight who Jesse felt was “on his own,” despite Dwight’s claim that he’s made strong social connections to everyone on his tribe. Poor Dwight – in terms of Survivor dating, he thinks things are going really great and is super optimistic that he’ll get those texts back…they’re probably just busy or something!

Jesse threw him a lifeline, at least, and proposed Dwight be his island wife which Dwight seemed to accept. Dwight admitted that those bonds he’d been building had been great with everyone so far except for Cody, indicating that’s who he’d like to vote for, but Jesse felt differently. To Jesse, “Cody’s just Cody” and wasn’t as much of a concern as Justine who happened to take a big turn in the edit this week.

Last week, Justine was the heroic fire-starter and kind of a tomboy, but a few days later, we had her seeing spiders everywhere and commenting on the quality of her fingernails. That, along with critical swing voter Jesse’s assessment of her, had me imagining votes going toward Justine just like she had imagined spiders coming after her – watch out!

Pile of Justine votes

Scared Ron Weasley


LIVIN life to the fullest

The majority of the remainder of the episode was the Cody show, and I was surprisingly … livin’ for it?

Cody’s been a fun, kooky character since the moment we met him, but in a twist that actually had me excited, we got to learn that there’s way more soul to this over-the-top cartoony personality than we realized. Cody shared that he lost his best friend, Devon, in high school to cancer (sweet of the show to put up that picture of him too) which taught Cody how valuable yet fragile life is, as well as how vicious it can be to someone who doesn’t deserve it — having lost several friends and family to cancer myself, I agree that it strangely seems to somehow always targets the happiest, brightest, purest people. It fucking sucks.

With his friend on his mind, Cody’s outlook on life is to live every day to the fullest and he shared his mantra of never letting go of a day unless he’s able to say, “I had a good time” — really inspiring! I thought Cody was going to be an ongoing joke this season, but this segment grounded him for me and revealed the motivation behind his “madness.” There’s a lot more depth to this guy and he’s got more awareness of the world than I had given him credit for having. Cody shined brightest in this moment for me more than he did with the shiny beads — this was authentic, unmanufactured, and genuinely heartwarming.

That said, I’ll be that curmudgeon quickly here and say that I don’t think we need this story segment from every individual in succession like the editors kind of tried to do — bits and pieces of peeling back the layers is how to best handle telling all these stories over time. I love character development, but I’m also not looking for an hour-long Hallmark special. Cody’s reveal was perfect here and didn’t feel forced. I’m glad we’re getting some “heroes” to see in these people, but I’m not advocating to completely do away with some villain origin stories too…just saying! We can’t have a cast full of Colleens and Elisabeths that all of America loves — we need some Jerris!


400 pounds of Survivor snake

Speaking of snakes, we haven’t seen the likes of this one since Edge of Extinction! I was also really excited to see Karla sit on the sit-out bench … that’s queen shit right there.

Sandra sitting out

Vesi was a mess in this challenge from beginning to end, but I appreciate Jeff — for once — not nagging a single individual so hard. Nneka was dragging her tribe down, and normally Jeff would belittle this type of performance to the point of basically commanding a tribe to vote out the one responsible, but maybe in his old age, Jeff somehow has gotten less curmudgeon-y. He also could’ve given grief to Gabler, though I suppose Baka was already on top of that, yet again.

Gassed Gabler

But go on about how weak Morriah was, okay.

Ultimately, Vesi was bested by Baka and Coco, sending the frustrated team to tribal council. Noelle sat out I believe because of how much of the challenge was in the water, but she regretted doing so and said she was sick of Nneka, so in order to keep the tribe at its strongest, that’s where her vote would go. Of course, by Survivor logic, that told me Nneka was probably not going anywhere.

Though he didn’t win, a shoutout goes to Cody as MVP on the snake. Had this challenge been one giant snake rodeo, Cody wouldn’t have been LOSIN!

Cody riding the snake

Save a horse, ride a 400-pound snake. I wonder how many seconds Cody could actually last in that rodeo?


Wow, impressive — for a rodeo, at least.


Cut somebody from your own ohana

Lilo & Stitch taught me exactly what “ohana” meant, so I knew what Cody was saying there.

Cody admitted that Nneka was “atrocious” in the challenge, but also told Jesse that she was “one of us,” indicating he had no intention of seeing her go. Justine and Noelle, on the other hand, blamed Nneka for the loss and wanted to see her leave to keep the tribe strong. With her neck-a on the chopping block, Nneka had to hope that strength in relationships would be considered more important than strength in swimming, running, untying bags, doing puzzles, and lifting heavy objects — basically 90% of challenge elements we see on this show, the other 10% being balance (somewhere, a chill just went down Debbie’s spine).

Justine thought she was safe enough, thinking she had Jesse, but she made two game-ending mistakes when it came to handling that relationship. First, a few days prior, she admitted to Jesse that she was a great actress and could maintain a great “lying face.” Who the hell says that on Survivor?


Okay, fair, but that was just in a confessional, not to another player.

Second, Justine straight-up told Jesse that she was worried about him being the swing vote, asking “how do we know?” whether Jesse was with her and Noelle or not.

This was all the ammo Jesse needed to take the shot at her, and while he had the power to do it alone, but he still wanted to keep Dwight happy, telling Dwight “what’s mine is yours” when it came to his vote. Ultimately, however, only one person between the pair would cast the vote that counted. Dwight felt that he had more options with the girls, and Jesse knew this too which I think set him even more solidly in the camp of Cody and Nneka. Things seemed to be setting up for an easy 3-2 vote against Justine, but we had way too much time left in the episode for it to be as simple as that .…

Cody: I fucked this all up

Cody saw “Beware” and thought it said “Be Our Guest,” barely taking a second before opening that baby. This spin on the Beware Advantage — which we’re officially dubbed the “Beadware Advantage” — was better than the stupid phrases form 41 & 42, but I still had to roll my eyes at whatever idiot (Jeff) stood up in the production meeting and, fully confident, suggested:


These weren’t as stupid as the phrases, but they were just as silly, though I’ll admit that Cody was the one, perfect person to find this advantage and pull off the jewelry heist. The self-proclaimed “legend” at Easter egg hunting (what?) said he fucked up, but he may have struck gold. To his comment about the superfans seeing every little trinket as gold — I think Cody was right. I’d have been like, “fuck no, I’m framing this bead when I get home!” Luckily, the rest of Vesi wasn’t as selfish as me.

Cody enlisted Jesse and Nneka’s help to secure the other three’s beads because, without it, they could’ve been facing rocks at tribal council. Thus, we spent the rest of the time at camp anxiously anticipating whether Cody could score or not — Noelle remained to be the last person to hand over the goods to Cody’s “hat project,” leaving us hanging headed into tribal council.


Justine the Nneka time

Okay, that pun though … come on.

Was it fun waiting and wondering over whether Cody’s bejeweled hat would wind up complete? Sure. But I do kind of hate how this wild charade of antics overshadowed a huge play to get one of the Vesi pairs to split their votes. Even if Cody didn’t get all the beads he needed, the trio managed to make Noelle and Justine write down two different names, so without Cody’s vote, Nneka and Jesse would’ve still won and sent Justine packing — an underrated social/strategic move of the night!  THAT to me was a greater test of “social skill” than the beads thing claimed to be, and we know Jesse was the one who had to be behind that.

I fear everyone will remember this episode as just the one where Cody convinced masterfully manipulated everyone into handing over their beads, but don’t overlook the greater convincing that was Jesse convincing Noelle and Justine to put their complete trust in him so that he could exploit it.  Promises already being broken at a tribe’s first tribal council — THAT is Survivor to me.

Tribal proposal

I also can’t wait to see how things go after Jesse’s other “promise.”  Dwight did NOT look happy with his new fiancé, and while I may not be married, I recognized his look to be that of an island wife scorned.  Major “we’re gonna fight when we get home” vibes.

Unhappy Dwight

Shrugging Jesse


We'll talk later

I hope Vesi built a couch for Jesse to sleep on.

Snuffed Justine

I liked Justine smashing stereotypes last week only to come out this week with a complete 180, shouting, “ew, spiders!” and “ew, look at my nails!” Sigh … two women out back-to-back, and if Baka or Vesi lose again, they’ll add a third. Karla is single-handedly holding the future of feminism together at Coco! Justine served a fine role and did a fine job up until she pissed off Jesse. I can’t say I’m too upset she’s out because I think the Cody/Nneka/Jesse trio is way more diverse and interesting than Justine and Noelle pairing up with newlyweds Jesse and Dwight to gang up on the older people. Plus, with Cody’s positive outlook on life, I don’t think he’d have gone back to camp causing too much of a ruckus over losing Nneka. Noelle, though? There’s a fire in her eyes and I can’t wait to see the fight come out in her over #JusticeforJustine!


Next time

^Karla when she hears the news that the other tribes are only voting out women. At Vesi, it’s confirmed that Dwight has drafted divorce papers for Jesse to sign, officially making them the shortest showmance in Survivor since Wanda and Willard — don’t try and tell me “I wanted to knock her off with the oar” wasn’t a term of endearment! That’s just how we lovable curmudgeons express ourselves! At Baka, Gabler isn’t showing any love lost for Jeanine going through is bag, but when he talks about “my ally” I believe he’s referring to Elie there which furthers my foresight of Elie possibly being the next boot.  Another woman and my pre-season winner pick …

Players of the week


Cody – I mean, Cody basically was the show this week!  Had you told me that a few weeks ago, I’d have said I’d hate it, but I didn’t! Cody’s a multi-dimensional madman full of life and energy who brings that element of “weird” that I love to see on Survivor. I loved pulling back the curtain on his past this week and getting a complete understanding of why he is the way that he is — it all makes sense now!  And maybe we could all learn a thing or two from Cody’s LIVIN lifestyle. Karla’s still my queen, but Cody’s my king right now, and I’m glad he landed on the right side of the numbers thanks to Jesse so I don’t have to be sweatin’ over him. Also, now I can’t wait to see Cody wear that obnoxious hat to every tribal council, only to one day (hopefully) take it off and correctly play it as an idol. Heads will ROLL.

Geo – If you weren’t rooting for Geo this week, what’s wrong with you? Like Cody, Geo’s another one who I didn’t expect to be as invested in this season, in Geo’s case, more because I didn’t think he’d last a long time. The jury’s still out on that pending Coco’s first vote, but I hope it isn’t him — though, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show pulled a bait and switch on me like that, making me love him only for him to leave me in the next week or two. If that happens, I’m glad he at least got his moment in the spotlight this episode.

Jesse – Jesse’s doing great right now and I’d say is playing the best game based on what we’ve seen between Baka and Vesi and what we’ve yet to really see from Coco. He saved his alliance from losing a critical he vote, he secured himself a majority, and he secured himself a man — Cody may have the bling, but Jesse’s just as “Survivor rich” to me, and I think his wealth will last longer than Cody’s. With Elie’s stock slipping and Karla’s yet to open for sale, Jesse may be the best-looking of my initial “super likes” at the moment, and he’s one of the shining personalities as well as I still wait to see a little more POP from several of these people.

Survivor abandoned “themes” in its new era, but after two weeks of tattoos and beads being so important, we’ll have to see next week if the unofficial theme of the season remains things you can stick on or in your ass.

More Cody

“Ass” is in his name — is this a clue!?  That reminds me, watch The Mole on Netflix next Friday!

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