Survivor 43 Premiere Episode Recap: Not Here To Make Friends

Boom! We’re back, baby! Survivor has entered its 43rd (!!!) season and I for one cannot be any more excited. Season 43 premiered with a two-hour long episode yesterday that did not give us the typical “two hours = two exits” format. Instead, the time was spent on the characters – or should I say – these real people whom we will get to know even better over the course of the next few months. This careful time-investment showcased what appears to be another amazing crop of players…if the new “era” of Survivor (that started with Season 41 a year ago) will be remembered for anything, it will be for its strong, diverse casting. And regardless of what Emmy voters have to say, with Survivor, we are in the hands of the best-ever Reality Host, Mr. Jeff Probst, with top-talent across the board within their production staff, to their cameraman, producers and editors all the way down the line.

What’s not to love about Survivor? It’s a real question…like, is there really anything better than a great season of Survivor? And even a “bad” season of Survivor is way better than most of anything else that reaches the air.

Perhaps I’m a bit biased…if this is your first time perusing this column, first of all welcome! Secondly though, this weekly Recap/Analysis is coming from a dude who was with Survivor from the very, very beginning. From Episode 1 of Season 1, I’ve watched every second of Survivor, and beginning with Season 20 (Heroes vs. Villains) I had the amazing opportunity to begin covering the show professionally. I’ve been a voting member in the official Survivor Hall of Fame, I’ve been a guest on Rob Cesternino‘s “Rob Has a Podcast” (although he doesn’t invite me on anymore…hey, it’s all good) and I’ve interviewed everyone from Jeff Probst, to Richard Hatch, to Russell Hantz, to Sandra Diaz-Twine, and nearly everybody in-between, on my new defunct “FilmSurvivor Podcast” (maybe one day I’ll revive this, but for now, it’s sleeping). My home since Season 33 (Millennials vs. Gen X) has been right here on Reality Tea, covering both Survivor and all-things Big Brother (Finale is Sunday!). Perhaps coolest of all, I am once again honored that these pages are the exclusive home to weekly new artwork from the legendary two-time Survivor contestant, Erik Reichenbach, who contributes an all-new Survivor comic related to each week’s episode. What makes Erik a “legendary” player, you ask? Well…Google it. Or just take my word for it.

Erik‘s artwork will appear within this Recap each and every week, but if you don’t see it, that might just mean you need to stay tuned…usually by the weekend following each new episode, it will be added and shared on social media. And I encourage all of you to check out his site,, where you can actually purchase his work and take home some of his amazing creations all for yourself.

Finally, these pages will usually be more of a “reactive” analysis and look at each week’s new episode of Survivor, and not a “blow-by-blow” Recap, so make sure you’ve already seen the episode before reading each week.

So what did y’all think of the Survivor 43 Premiere? I always enter in each season with an incredible sense of optimism…heck, why not? Survivor has rarely if ever felt “disappointing,” although it has happened on occasion. But I am always a bit nervous-excited. Will I like the cast? Will I get a good vibe? Will it continue to live up to its ongoing legacy as the best Reality Competition Show in the history of television?

For me, Survivor 43 checked all of the boxes and then some. I just loved the time that we were given to get to know this new group of players, but more than that, I thought it was masterfully presented to us. Having two-hours, with the first hour almost solely dedicated to getting to know the contestants, is a great way to start a season (next week we will be given a 90-minute Second Episode to boot!). I felt invested, and I loved the tribe dynamics that we did get to see. You have to remember that this whole “flashback” thing is fairly new to the show, and where it felt jarring and forced when it first came along in Season 41, it felt like an integral part of the storytelling at the kick-off of Season 43.

Many of the elements of the “new era” are still in place. This is now a 26-day game, made more grueling by the lack of food and assistance from production, as well as a more fast-paced style of play. We once again began with three tribes of six, which I think makes these pre-merge episodes all the more exciting, and as we saw, it makes whoever is targeted all the more important. Should we keep someone around whom is loyal to our alliance? Or someone that can help us win challenges? Because if a tribe keeps losing challenges, all the loyalty in the world won’t save them.

Each of the three beginning tribes seemed to have distinct tribal personalities. I have a rule of only saying their tribe name once, per season, in my first Recap, because they will forever be known from then on by their tribe color. For example, the “Baka” Tribe is the Yellow Tribe, “Vesi” is the Red Tribe and “Coco” is the Blue Tribe. This is how most viewers will remember them, so therefore so will I. It was the Yellow Tribe, that found themselves at the first Tribal Council of the season, and it was an odd sequence of events, to say the least, that led to Season 43’s first boot, Morriah Young, a teacher from Philadelphia. We’ll start with them, and here are some things I saw from each of our three starting tribes:


One of the major themes of this first episode across all three tribes were that the women looked to form early alliances. For whatever reason though, these all-female alliances rarely hold together, and we saw another one fall apart just days into the game. Morriah seemed to have a solid bond with the other two women on her tribe, Elie and Jeanine. Morriah told us in her opening testimonial that she was here to flip the script on Survivor…instead of saying the clichéd “I’m not here to make friends” line, she instead said she was, in fact, here to make friends. But Elie and Jeanine decided it was best for their game to cut Morriah, in an attempt to “keep their tribe strong” for upcoming challenges. That’s a noble concept, but in reality, was Morriah a weak physical link? She seemed to perform just fine in the challenge, and if anybody at all “dropped the ball” it was Gabler, who quite literally kept having the ball drop during the puzzle portion of the challenge that he shared with Sami.

Gabler (who apparently gets the flattering “last name” treatment this season) is a heart valve specialist from Houston (currently living in Idaho according to his bio), who is by far the oldest contestant this season, at age 51 (the next oldest is Nneka Ejere, at age 43). He also was the most erratic during the Premiere. He did try to bond over rock music with Elie, and ended up being the one sent off on the “risk/reward” adventure, but historically, he did enough to become the target for the tribe’s first boot. Usually all you have to do is stand-out, and Morriah was the opposite of Gabler in this regard. Gabler scored himself an Immunity Idol (good for only his first two Tribal Councils) but then announced this info to the tribe. After feeling like he let his tribe down during the challenge, he then made the baffling announcement that he planned to play his “shot in the dark” at Tribal, which would take his vote away but give him a chance to stay immune. Huh? Well, it made sense to Gabler, if not to America and those on his tribe, who quickly talked him out of it.

But all of that craziness should have been enough for a keen Survivor player to set up a blindside of Gabler. If you’re concerned about challenges moving forward, you mean to tell me that you would rather keep the 51-year-old as opposed to a young 28-year-old woman like Morriah? Jeanine seemed to also point out that it would put her and Elie in the minority as two remaining women against the three men, should they vote out Morriah and then lose the next Immunity Challenge. But she seemed to get steamrolled by Elie’s insistence that Morriah be the target. Not only are Eli and Jeanine now in the gender-minority, but Gabler has an expiring Idol that he must use at their next Tribal. Will they really vote Owen and/or Sami out next?

It was a bad look for Elie, let’s face facts. A white woman from Idaho targets a black woman for seemingly no real strategic reason. Survivor is a more nuanced and intellectual game than, say, Big Brother, where accusations of racism or bias occur almost as frequently as challenges. We don’t have a “live feed” to see all of what went down, and we don’t know if there is more to Elie’s thought process on why she wanted to blow-up her all-female alliance before it even began by targeting Morriah. We have no idea also who else was really involved, and to what degree, in the decision. So I’ll save judgment, other than to say what I already said: It is a bad look.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to root for Elie. To those that have had the amazing fortune of NOT ever losing a loved one to drugs, her flashback story about losing her sister in 2020 may just seem like another sad story. But for someone who did lose a family member to an overdose just months ago, it brought up all kinds of emotions. It is a reminder that these are real people, and we can all learn so much from everything that they share with us on national TV.

The other standout from the Yellow Tribe has to be 19-year-old Sami, who showed to be a real physical, social and strategic threat over the course of the episode. First off, he’s lying about his age to the others (telling them he’s a mature 22-year-old), and he helped them solve their mental puzzle that scored them flint. He also looks to be a physical specimen and moreover, if the tribe’s interest is to keep itself strong so as to not lose upcoming challenges, then Sami should have some smooth sailing for the next few weeks. All good signs, but eventually, he will be impossible not to notice as a huge game threat.


Over at Team Blue, we had another all-female alliance form, between Cassidy, Karla and Lindsay. Lindsay is the oldest among them and got an awful lot of screen-time during the Premiere…I’d keep an eye on her in this game. She also had the good wisdom to pull in James as another ally, so she sits in a fairly good spot. The other two girls were also great to get to know…Cassidy seems to be a Parvati-in-the-making, while Karla is the sort of personality that I love is on this show. She bonded with Geo, both of whom happen to be LGBTQ and also Latino. Karla more than once made comments that would make you think that she is doubting herself, yet here she is, on Survivor and in a great spot in the game. Of the three women on this tribe, Cassidy may appear to be the biggest threat perhaps, but this could be a strong alliance should it stick together. History says it will likely not.

Geo seemed great, James seemed great and the last we haven’t mentioned is Ryan. He’s a physical beast, with an unlikely story, having overcome early signs of Cerebral Palsy. He dominated their “Strength” challenge and found their supplies buried in the sand within 30 minutes, even while being given four hours to complete the task.

We need to see more in the way of strategy from all of the Blue Tribe, but the characters and personalities we’ve been shown thus far feels more than promising.


What can be said about Cody Assenmacher, the real stand-out “character” from the Survivor Premiere. He’s a party guy, with smart and calmness. Heck, he will go cliff-diving next episode according to the preview. His motto of “LIVIN” was used by CBS as the title of this first episode, and he made the game’s first, sneakiest strategic move by trying to turn attention towards Justine, a cyber security sales rep. You just can’t trust a salesperson on Survivor, right? Funny thing is, Cody himself is in sales, not that he’s going to share that with his tribe mates! He’s sneaky, he’s interesting and you can’t quite put a finger on him yet…I know it’s way early to make such statements, but Cody sounds to me like an All-Star in the making!

Justine bonded with Noelle, the US Paralympian who lost her leg at age 19 in a moped accident. She told Jeff it was “the best thing that ever happened to her.” What an inspirational story and thus far, a fierce competitor.

Nneka seems like a sleeper pick to go far in this game, but she also was the only female to not make an alliance in the first episode. Maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe not? Way too early to tell.

Dwight is a grad student who fell on some bad luck, in that he took the “risk” during the “risk/reward” adventure, but ended up only losing his vote. That’s a stroke of bad luck, and as any fan of this show knows, luck is a needed asset in the game of Survivor, even for the very best of players.

I saved Jesse for last, as his story struck me the most, perhaps of anyone on the show through Episode 1. A former gang member and a present family man, Jesse seemed humble yet confident, and the sort of player that makes you want to root for him. In the shadows of big personalities like Cody or big competitors like Noelle, Jesse isn’t the sort of guy who seems like he’s going to make waves or garner too much attention. I rarely make winner picks anymore (I’ve had a bad track record) but if forced to, I say Jesse has the make-up of an awesome, inspirational winner.

Episode Take-Away: You can’t ask for more than what we got with the Premiere Episode of Survivor 43. I’m invested. There are so many great, diverse personalities, and I like that the game focused nearly all of its attention on them. There was very little in the way of major twists or overshadowing themes. The challenges that they did have seemed very “Survivor-esque” with slow-motion sequences of players army-crawling through the mud or running down the beach. This very much felt like the perfect old-school/new-school fusion of Survivor. Even the production had a bit of fun this episode, aka the job description graphics for Sami, and the little mini “open sequence” given to Owen, who mentioned he always dreamed of being a part of one.

Random thought: Gabler wanted to use his “shot-in-the-dark,” but was it even confirmed by Probst in the episode that this twist was even back this season? Maybe I missed something?

Random though #2: How cool were those new Immunity Idols?

If anything, the only disappointing part of the first episode was how it ended. As much as I liked him as a character, I thought Gabler was easy-pickins’ to get voted-out. I was a bit baffled by Morriah being targeted, I didn’t see how she was a weak-link during the challenge and I felt bad that the girls couldn’t follow through on their promise to work together. And maybe I’m looking a bit too much into it, but it also may be a bad sign from a strategic point-of-view, if we have an entire tribe that wasn’t really playing the game from the first moment they arrived, or who don’t realize when there is an easy, obvious vote in front of them. But I always return to this: I have unwavering faith in Survivor, Probst and his producers. They haven’t let us down. Whenever I can’t make sense of something, I always assume that perhaps it just wasn’t shown, or better yet, that it will be revealed in the next episode. It often is.  And the way the game is structured, no matter how dumb I think it was that they voted out Morriah, it was the winning play for someone. One of these remaining players will be crowned Sole Survivor. And this was the first inevitable step towards that winning story.

Erik Reichenbach DabuDoodles Art. As mentioned at the top, we’re honored here to be associated with Survivor legend Erik Reichenbach, who just so happens to be an amazing artist. As always, we’re thrilled and honored that he shares his talents every week on my column and with my audience. His latest piece will appear here usually in the days after the show’s airing, so if it does not appear here now, check back usually by the weekend following an episode and give this page a refresh. All of Erik’s work can be found and purchased on his site,, and I urge you to support this fantastically skilled former Survivor player!

“New Alliance DEAL”

Art by Erik Reichenbach –

Out this week: Morriah

Won Immunity: Blue Tribe and Red Tribe

Vote Result: No advantages or Idols were played. 5 – Morriah (Gabler, Elie, Jeanine, Sami, Owen), 1 – Owen (Morriah)

Current Advantage List:

  • Gabler – 1 Immunity Idol (expires after one more Tribal Council for him)

Next Week’s Episode: We get deeper into some strategy and tribe-dynamics with a 90-minute episode next Wednesday. Plus, Cody goes cliff-diving! What could go wrong?

Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this recap! Those that have followed me also know that I am also a TV personality in the Detroit area, as well as a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic. I encourage you to check out my past movie reviews and my movie show (episodes are also available online at the website, As always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.


[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]