Survivor 43 Episode 6 Recap: Earning The Merge

It’s the new era of Survivor, but some things always stay the same. For example, the merge episode is always one of the more exciting chapters of the season, but unlike in the “old school” days, one doesn’t simply “make the merge.” In this new tougher (yet shorter) edition, the merge must be earned.

Another thing that remains the same no matter what new twists are thrown our way, is that some players just can’t outrun their early game missteps. Sure, the Yellow “Baka” Tribe came to this point in the game with the numbers advantage: 5-4-4 over the other tribes. But if they were going to stick together come the merge, they needed to try a bit harder – or at least approach things a bit differently – pre-merge, in order to stay “Baka Strong.”

So what exactly do I mean by “can’t outrun their early game missteps?” I’m referring to Elie,  who except for her tragic backstory (where we learned her sister died of an overdose), was for all intents and purposes portrayed as a villain. Yes, it is usually doom when a player talks about how great their game is going in a confessional interview, as Elie did this week. But heck, Elie has been shown praising her game pretty much every episode this season! She was summed up best early in the game by Gabler, her arch-nemesis at Baka, who wanted her gone but also gave her props in saying that she was the sort of player that they’d all regret allowing to go far into the game. Elie was a strong and memorable character (for some reason, I could see her getting a call for a “second chance” season), but she played a bit too hard, a bit too fast and a bit too confidently.

The Gabler vs. Elie showdown had been teased since the premiere, so we knew that it was all going to come to a head at some point this season. Watching Gabler throw Elie under the bus at the Merge Feast, then watching Elie confront Gabler head-on is the stuff that Survivor is made of. At this point in the game, other players are also just wanting to make sure it isn’t them going home, and they’re really looking for any sort of reason to vote someone out…by Gabler throwing out Elie’s name, he all but solidified his quest to get her out. And his reasoning for doing so is exactly why Gabler is becoming a beloved character: “By throwing out Elie’s name, I was trying to throw out Elie’s name,” Gabler told us. Television gold.

One feature of this column that I always get positive feedback on, is how I list out at the bottom all the current advantages in the game (see below!). How awesome was it for the show to finally do the same? Owen was talking about all of the advantages he knew about (of course there were some he did not know about), and then the producers made a graphic showing all of the current advantages. If Elie made any lasting move in the game, it was to figure out (from Noelle talking about it) that Cody must have an Idol, since he was collecting beads. Elie told Jeanine about this, so word will get out to everyone about Cody’s Idol which isn’t great for all those Cody-lovers out there (count me as one of them!).

Many were also happy to see that the “hourglass turn-back-time” twist does not appear this season as it has the past two seasons. “Earning the Merge” was a lot more thought out this time around, I think. The tribe’s were randomly split into groups of six (with Noelle siding with the winning Blue Team) and the winners of the challenge all became Immune. That meant that Noelle, along with Ryan, Jeanine, Jesse, Gabler, Dwight and Karla all were given safety. Left exposed were Elie, James, Owen, Cassidy, Cody and Sami. Let’s break this down further…

Cody, who by some measures SHOULD be everyone’s target because he’s savvy and super-likable, was an untouchable when it came time to scramble…his name was brought up and then quickly snuffed out. Cody, who has an Idol, did not have to use it, and the idea that others would be so quick to protect him is a testament to his game, and to how big a threat he really is moving forward. Then there is Sami and Owen, allies from the Yellow Tribe who also were hardly mentioned as targets (Owen did receive one vote, but it was a throw-away). Cassidy continues to maneuver herself through this game, but it’s James that I’m the most impressed. Has there ever – and I mean ever – been a player so cool, calm and collected as James? He was in serious danger this week, and at worst one could say his reaction was “mildly annoyed.” He has a solid alliance and feels confident…not in the way that Elie felt confident, to the point where it led her to make bold, reckless moves, but in a quiet sort of way that keeps him off of everyone’s radar despite everyone knowing in their hearts how good at this game James really is. He is emerging as a sleeper pick for me, a no-drama, no-nonsense player who has got what it takes to be a Survivor winner.

It was good news for both Jesse and Jeanine that they were Immune after winning the challenge, but both had lost their votes due to previous risks they had taken in the game. It’s one thing to not have a vote, but to have been on the chopping block too would have been hard…Jeanine most assuredly would have used her Idol in that scenario, and on herself. The big debate this week was whether or not she should have played it to save Elie, and I actually feel that it was a way better move for Jeanine to have held on to it, as she did. Look, Jeanine had no idea what the final vote tally would be, but she had to assume that if the tribe was targeting Elie, that this wasn’t going to be the only week they do so. Had she saved Elie, that would have been good in the short-term, but now Jeanine would be anchored to a huge target and without the protection of her Idol. That’s one way to have played it, I guess. But I think the much smarter move was to just let Elie go. She can now claim (since she didn’t have a vote) that she wasn’t that close with Elie anyways and distance herself a bit. She still possesses a hidden Idol which makes her a threat. And she is also a wild card and a much needed number for other alliances moving forward. It must have been hard for her to watch her alliance-mate Elie go down, but I think keeping her Idol in play was a move that could push Jeanine much deeper into the game.

Tribal Council finally showed us that Gabler came out on top of his rivalry with Elie, but they didn’t leave without one last spar. As Elie was getting her torch snuffed, she told the tribe, “This is what happens when you put trust in Gabler.” A final effort to ruin the game of the man that she so terribly underestimated. “Right back at ya,” Gabler told her, with a grin he could hardly contain.  Even having been immune for this vote, remember that Gabler’s Idol had an expiration date on it, so by not playing it at this Tribal, Gabler now goes into the rest of the game Idol-less.

What else went down? Ryan tried to form a Final Seven alliance with the rest of the challenge winners, an idea that was flatly rejected and that put Ryan even more on the outs with pretty much everyone. Karla smashed her finger and still absolutely crushed the challenge…what a beast! And that final vote may have left some heads to be scratched…there were seven votes on Elie out of a possible 11 (remember Jesse and Jeanine could not vote). Of the five other votes, James received two votes…we know one was from Elie but what was Owen doing voting with Elie to vote out James? Hmm. Noelle then seemed to be out of the loop with a vote for Cassidy, and Karla with a vote for Owen, or was this perhaps an attempt to create a tie-break scenario between Cassidy and Owen should Elie played an Idol? I’m sure we’ll get explanation next week.

Episode Take-Away: If I had a vote, I would vote to always have a two-hour premiere (as they typically do), but also to ALWAYS have a two-hour merge episode (which they did not, this season). As exciting as it was to watch Gabler and Elie‘s rivalry come to a head, the post challenge scrambling seemed incredibly choppy and hastily edited. The merge episode always introduces so many new dynamics that it would have been nice to let some of them get air-time, or breathe at all.

We are down to 12 now, and this typically will begin the jury phase of the game, although there is no solid confirmation of that just yet…but if there is another Final Three, then that would leave nine jury seats. There are several Idols and advantages still in play, and more than a few lone wolf/wild card types…not to mention I’m sure that Survivor isn’t done with twists for this season. Don’t give up now! Survivor 43 is just getting started.

Erik Reichenbach DabuDoodles Art. 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 that he shares his talents every week on my column and with my audience with a new piece of Survivor artwork each week. 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!

“Gabler’s Bag”

Art by Erik Reichenbach –

Out this week: Elie

Won Immunity: Karla, Dwight, Gabler, Jesse, Jeanine, Noelle, Ryan

Vote Result: No advantages or Idols were played. Jesse and Jeanine could not vote. 7 – Elie (Ryan, Sami, Dwight, Gabler, Cody, James, Cassidy), 2 – James (Elie, Owen), 1 – Cassidy (Noelle), 1 – Owen (Karla)

Current Advantage List:

  • Jeanine – 1 Immunity Idol
  • Cody – 1 Immunity Idol
  • Karla – 1 Immunity Idol
  • Noelle – 1 Steal-A-Vote

Next Week’s Episode: Noelle is becoming a powerhouse and others are starting to notice…plus, a new power is set to be unleashed into the game, and it is hidden underneath their shelter! Also, as if Gabler wasn’t enough of a character already, he refers to himself as “Alli-Gabler” (think “alligator”).

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