Survivor 43 Episode 9 Recap: The Belly of the Beast

So, does anyone want a papaya?

It was a giant week for Survivor, a double-stuffed episode that gave us not one, but two Immunity winners and two Tribal Councils. It was also a showcase for strategic players to shine and for a few to start setting up the paths to their end-games. Moves were made not only to create a major blindside, but also we got to see some serious jury management machinations at play. And then there was the ultimate showdown between Owen and James, a bit of a rivalry that has been simmering underneath the surface over the past few weeks.

We saw that rift between Owen and James burst right from the start of the episode, in the immediate aftermath of the Jeanine vote-out. Owen did not like that James told him to vote for Ryan just moments before Tribal, when in Owen’s mind, James didn’t need to lie. From the perspective of James, who was sitting way higher up in the perceived pecking order, just wanted/needed Owen to place his vote on Ryan. Owen did what he was told, and Owen did honor what James told him to do, but in the game of Survivor, you have to know it’s not going to sit well with anyone who is being “told” what to do, or how to vote. The fatal mistake for James was that he really underestimated not just Owen, but also Owen’s standing with others in the game. James did try to have a conversation with Owen after the Jeanine vote, but at that point the damage was already done and Owen didn’t allow him the chance.

So of course, chalk it up to the Survivor Gods when they put both James and Owen on the same team this week…the latest twist being that there would be two teams of five, with each having an Immunity winner and going to separate Tribals. Cody won himself some “peanut butter jelly time” for his team by outlasting everyone, while also scoring individual Immunity for himself. Karla meanwhile, won Immunity for herself on the opposing team. A big caveat of the challenge – not deemed as super-important at the time that Jeff Probst announced it – was that the winning team would also get to go to Tribal Council second, meaning they’d get to first see who the other team voted out before getting to vote out one of their own. Jesse and Cody – who have been phenomenal strategists thus far and who are low-key dominating the game – would use this to their advantage…however they ended up going against what we had seen play out on our TV screens earlier in the episode.

Looking ahead for both of their games, Cody and Jesse weighed heavily who they should vote-out…miraculously for Gabler, he was not even a blip on either of their radars (something that could ultimately prove deadly down the road…we shall see). They must have deciphered that the other tribe was either going to vote out James or Owen, so they planned their vote-out accordingly: If the first team were to vote out James, they would then have the space in the game to blindside Cassidy. If it was Owen out first, then Ryan would be the one that they’d cut. The thought pattern was that they didn’t want to piss off Karla, but if James – her close ally – unexpectedly goes home, then they might as well take that opportunity to cut Cassidy, which would suddenly leave Karla all alone in the game. Should Owen go though, voting out Ryan would show Karla a bit of loyalty for not voting out her ally Cassidy when they had the chance.

Of course, nothing played out the way that was discussed or expected.

At the first Tribal, James was outfoxed and sent to jury, and boy was he not happy about that. Let’s pour out a bit of our alcohol for the Knowledge is Power advantage, flushed from the game for the second time this season and still yet to be used successfully in its existence. That advantage was in James’s pocket when he was blindsided in a unanimous vote, secured by a theatrical – but strategic – move by Noelle to play her Steal-A-Vote advantage, and doing so quickly so that even if James wanted to steal it, it would already be out in the game. She stole Owen‘s vote, but it was behind-the-scenes (and not shown during the episode) that Karla must have ultimately signed on to vote-out James…she too, voted him out. So everything we saw was basically to make James NOT play the Knowledge is Power advantage, and it worked like a charm.

With James on the jury, we expected to see Cassidy follow him given the earlier conversation we saw between Cody and Jesse. But they ended up taking out the free agent Ryan, who left the game with a giant bag of clams that he caught and didn’t want to leave to those that would vote him out. Poor Ryan was still playing the game by 2002-era Survivor strategy, and was hoping to be kept around simply because he provided for his tribe. Um, yeah no. That’s antiquated if I’ve ever seen it.

So this begs the question: Why didn’t Cody/Jesse follow-through with the Cassidy vote-out like they talked about earlier in the episode? For me, the explanation has to at least partially do with jury management. We know Cody was using a lot of his brain power on looking ahead and “lining up his numbers” for the days ahead, and they may have calculated that it was better for them long-term to cut Ryan now. James looked noticeably upset in the jury box, and sending out Cassidy with a similar blindside at the same time might strengthen the bitterness bond that those two might have brought into and poisoned the jury with. Getting the jury to root against Cody and Jesse this early on might be a losing strategy for them. On the flipside, Ryan’s care-free attitude – as we saw as he left the game all smiles – not only doesn’t rock the boat all that much, but it also gives Cody and Jesse even more cover in the game moving forward…see Karla? We kept Cassidy when we had the chance to vote her out! We are still loyal and not ready to make the first move just yet!

With the dust settling, we are now down to just eight players remaining – five men and three women, for those keeping track. Two advantages left the game tonight (Noelle‘s Steal-A-Vote and the Knowledge is Power), but three Immunity Idols remain (see the scorecard below for who currently has what). Although it hasn’t officially been announced (has it?), we are down to just four episodes of this season remaining, with the Finale likely on December 14th. There’s so much more that can and will happen, so don’t quit on us now!

Episode Take-Away: What’s not to love about Episode 9? All sorts of conflict, drama and big strategic moves…bold moves and quiet moves. James was in a good spot in the game but he just wasn’t able to manage or create real relationships with those outside of his immediate alliance, and Ryan didn’t have a real chance of winning this game anyways…so I’d say that this episode trimmed off some of the season’s fat.

What wasn’t lost on me this episode is how some of the players – like Cody, Jesse and Karla – are becoming the cream of the Survivor crop and other players are taking notice. And then there’s Gabler and Noelle, two strong personalities who couldn’t be more different, but who are both playing solid games. Either could win, and yet they’re positioned right now off of most people’s radars. But it’s Sami‘s game that really got my attention tonight. He is playing a picture-perfect definition of an “under-the-radar” game as absolutely no one is talking about this triple-threat competitor. He’s got the smarts, the physicality and the strong social skills. He’s in the ear of all of the major players, all of whom feel like Sami can be trusted. Thus far, no one is comparing notes on Sami and he hasn’t been forced to play his cards just yet. He came close tonight, by approaching Karla with what was the final plan to blindside James, but he keeps sliding on by without much thought from the others.

The fatal flaw for Sami right now might be that he is destined to be “that player” this year…there always seems to be one every season who quietly dominates the game, but does so SO quietly that the jury ends up not even noticing them. A strategic potentially satisfying winner as seen by the audience that watches Survivor, but not by those that played the game with him. Yes, Sami – in my opinion – is playing a mightily impressive game riding the fence and subtly swaying things to go as he wants them to…but if he doesn’t do something big -and soon – he isn’t going to have that winning resumé that’s needed at the end. You heard it here first, but Sami needs to go big soon, or he’ll be destined for runner-up.

One final observation: This season doesn’t seem to have that dominant physical threat at this stage in the game…of the remaining eight, do any jump out as players who could potentially win their way to the end? I don’t think so. Which just drives the strategic stakes up that much higher. I’m lovin’ it.

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!

“Operation Smokescreen”

Art by Erik Reichenbach –

Out this week: James and Ryan

Won Immunity: Cody (1) and Karla (1)

Vote Result #1: Noelle plays her “Steal-A-Vote” advantage and steals Owen’s vote. Noelle gets two votes, Owen has no vote. 4 – James (Noelle, Noelle, Karla, Sami), 1 – Owen (James).

Vote Result #2: No advantages or Idols were played. 4 – Ryan (Cody, Jesse, Gabler, Cassidy), 1 – Cassidy (Ryan).

Current Advantage List:

  • Jesse – 2 Immunity Idols (One was Cody’s, but a screen graphic this week showed Jesse to indeed have them both)
  • Karla – 1 Immunity Idol

Next Week’s Episode: Wow does next week’s episode imply something big is about to happen. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving almost ALWAYS seems to be a great episode, and everything in the preview looked heightened. There’s talk of big moves and how fast the game is speeding up. And then it’s stated out-loud: Jesse and Cody are huge targets…says Gabler to Karla. Mind-blown! Yeah, it’s about to go down. Grab your papaya.

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