Well, that Survivor finale was… a finale. Viewers may have expected Cassidy to take home the $1 million after she won Final Immunity and knocked frontrunner Jesse out the game by sending him to make fire. Or perhaps Owen’s underdog story was a narrative the jury wanted to reward. By looks of social media reactions, it seems most viewers did not have Gabler winning Survivor Season 43 on their Bingo card. Admittedly, we didn’t either. Then again, who didn’t presume Jesse would walk away victorious?
Perhaps the Survivor edit made it clear to some that Jesse’s thrilling long game would come to a heartbreaking end in the Fire Making Challenge. After the merge, Cody and Jesse were painted as the ones to beat by the edit, but in each episode Cody’s edit grew sillier as Jesse’s grew more impressive. By the time Jesse expertly blindsided Cody in Episode 12 (the edit keeping Cody returning his idol to Jesse a secret until Episode 13), the show had made it abundantly clear that the tightest pair of the season would soon be broken. It was a move so big, it seemed to lock in Jesse’s win with the jury.
In the Reunion Show immediately following Final Tribal Council, the jury said Gabler was the only one whose pitch checked all of their boxes. It’s puzzling to see how the group reached this conclusion, as it contradicts their reactions to big moves made in Tribals. The jury was so verbally in support of a Jesse win because of his season-long strategic strikes that never failed once. Only failing at fire could take him out. And the jury cheered for Jesse as he played, indicating the $1 million was in the bag if only he made it into the Final Three.
To that end, Cassidy was smart to send Jesse to Fire. Winning Final Immunity, in this format of the game, means you win control of the finale puppet strings fair and square. She chose to send Gabler to Fire, trusting he’d beat Jesse in that battle over Owen, whom she wanted by her side in the Final Three.
Jesse was never in danger at previous Tribal Councils (Karla wrote his name in her last vote to break his no-vote streak), showing his skill in keeping himself off of the chopping block despite being a major player and his powers of persuasion to get votes to go his way. Cassidy’s name, on the other hand, was tossed around a lot as a vote option.
As she noted in her jury pitch, she had a hand in eliminating nearly every person who wanted her gone, showing the strength of her social bonds (she was always given vote intel) and her ability to ride the waves and successfully persuade.
Owen got some votes in Episode 3 and Gabler never got one, but as Cassidy said, it’s because the strong players wanted them in the Final Three to make them look better to the jury. Owen took the underdog angle to his pitch, saying he evolved from one of the worst to one of the most trusted players — and the season’s highest Individual Immunity winner.
Gabler’s pitch was essentially that he could have played better in challenges, but chose not to to make himself look like less of a threat. He said his free-agent plan, paired with his non-threatening physical play, is what made him the best player of the season.
Was it just us, or did the edit not support that pitch at all? In confessionals, Gabler talked of being an “assassin” that was “hiding in plain sight.” But the only elimination he orchestrated was Elie’s just before the merge, and in most other instances he was simply brought into votes to help the numbers. To viewers, it’s hard to see where the “alliGabler” jumped out throughout the season.
He had some occasional strong moments, winning one Individual Immunity against Cody (and setting a record while doing it — Karla and Owen also set a record a couple of episodes later), but he truly wasn’t a threat for most of the season. One can hardly say winning the Fire challenge is a game-winning resume booster. Yes, building a fire takes skill, but that game is half skill, half chance. Notably, viewers knew Gabler planned on donating his possible winnings to veterans charities. The jury did not, but learned of the plan in the Reunion and were moved.
This jury was ready to give Jesse the $1 million because of the massive moves he played that all players agreed would go down in Survivor history. If impressive big moves is what they were looking for, Cassidy had the resume for that. We’ve seen players argue their subdued game was actually a strength before. If that’s what you were going for, would the finale not be the time for a plot-twisting display of skills, delivered before the Fire challenge? Surely making fire alone can’t be what someone should bank on. It’s not all that surprising that Gabler got votes in the end, but it is shocking that he got seven out of eight.
Gabler’s performance in the finale wasn’t that of a strategic assassin. Perhaps the edit did him a disservice, but perhaps there simply wasn’t footage to support his argument? Based on the season’s edit and the finale pitches, do you think the right player won Survivor Season 43? Let us know in the poll, below.
Survivor Season 43, All Episodes Streaming Now, Paramount+