Survivor 43 Episode 12 Recap: Major Blindside Sets Stage For Finale

Wow. That word is not only my reaction to tonight’s episode of Survivor, but it’s also all that the blindsided victim could manage to say after finding himself on the wrong side of the season’s biggest move.

Jesse and Cody were tight. So tight, that Cody never, ever saw it coming. If trust is the only form of currency that the players have out there in the game (as has been stated countless times throughout this season), then you could say that Cody’s entire portfolio was invested in the bank of Jesse. Sitting pretty with just six players left in the game, this power couple also had two Idols, and seemed like they were going to masterfully pave their path to the Final Three. That is, until Jesse made a legendary blindside. Not only one that sent a shell-shocked Cody to jury, but one that all but guarantees that Jesse will be this season’s Sole Survivor.

Did Gabler plant the seed for what Jesse ended up doing tonight? Gabler – the guy “hiding in plain sight,” and who is so invisible to the others that he has just a scarce chance at winning – did tell Jesse earlier in the episode that he was in Cody‘s shadow. That Jesse needed to carve out his own game or suffer the fate of a split jury who wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the moves made by Jesse, or that of his closest ally Cody, should the two be sitting in front of the final jury. Jesse has proved way smarter than that though, so while Gabler might have been on to something, I find it highly unlikely that that’s what ultimately persuaded Jesse to make this move. No, this assassin must have figured out at some point that he’d have to take out Cody, albeit for the same reasons laid out by Gabler.

This was undoubtedly one of the best moves of the season, and it creates a tragic end to Cody‘s Survivor story. I absolutely loved Cody, and wouldn’t be surprised if we see him play the game again. He was just an entertaining dude. But as great a social and strategic game that he played, he put way, way, way too much trust in Jesse. I can’t remember, in the history of Survivor, a player being completely OK with having someone else hang on to their Immunity Idol for nearly the entire game. Like, what the hell, for real? It’s an understood and accepted practice for a player to keep possession of their own Idols/Advantages…we’ve seen desperate players over the years hand over their Idols/Advantages as an act of building trust, but never have we seen someone so casually allow someone else to possess their most valued power in the game. It’s a testament to Jesse‘s social game that he was able to get Cody to trust him so blindly, but frankly, tonight’s blindside should have never happened had Cody even had a baseline awareness of what has up until this point been an understood norm. You just don’t do what Cody did, and I’m sure this decision will eat away at him for the rest of his life.

Jesse not only made a big move – skyrocketing him as the front-runner in the eyes of the jury and the audience – but he did so in a way that also managed to flush the Immunity Idol of his next big target, Karla. With mere seconds to react, how could Karla not play her Idol? Having herself cast her vote for Owen, the minute that Owen had Immunity, the outcome was a complete unknown. She had to play it, in her mind. And Jesse hedged his bets, correctly, that she would indeed spend her Idol.

The cherry on top is that even after all of the fireworks, Jesse STILL has one more Idol in his possession, one that nobody in the game knows he has. He can use it strategically to ensure who his next target is, or he can use it casually…but there is zero chance that he WON’T use it at the very next Tribal, when it’s the last chance to play any in-game advantages. This means that no matter what, Jesse will make Final Four, and that means that the only way that he can lost the game at this point is via the fire-making challenge. Because let’s face it, he wins the game in a landside should he sit next to any remaining combination of players. He has a shot to win Immunity at Final Four, but even if he loses and isn’t chosen to go to the finals by whomever does win, he still can earn his way there by making fire. So no matter how bad Karla, Cassidy, Gabler and/or Owen may want to get Jesse out of the game, this is his only scenario where he won’t be discussing his game with the jury from Final Three.

So it’s worth repeating: Wow.

Episode Take-Away: No question one of the best Tribals of the season, and I was simultaneously impressed by how dominant Jesse continues to be, while also feeling super-shattered that Cody was sent out the game. I just can’t believe what rationale he might have to explain why he would let Jesse hang on to his Idol, not just for this Tribal, but for the last several. It makes no sense and it’s maddening to see such an otherwise strong player make such a boneheaded judgment.

At this point in the season, I would usually go into detail as to each player’s chances of winning the game, but there’s never been a more clear-cut winner than Jesse Lopez. And as much as I like Jesse, I feel like his gameplay has set up what will be an anti-climactic Finale. Why? Well, odds are that if Jesse makes Final Three, that he will clearly win. Boooooring. But if Jesse does end up losing the fire-making challenge, it will somehow feel deeply disappointing. We would also end up with a winner that just wouldn’t feel satisfying. Owen? A very likable guy but a player who has had little control over his own game and has more often than not been on the wrong end of the vote. Karla would be great, but her gameplay the last few episodes would almost make it feel like she “backed-in” to the win, and wouldn’t be as satisfying as I might have imagined it would have felt a few weeks ago. Cassidy is also likable but it just doesn’t feel like she’s playing a winning game. And while I would personally love Gabler winning this season, it just doesn’t seem like he has any real chance in the eyes of the jury. So really, what other outcome can there be for this to have a fulfilling ending, other than seeing Jesse come out on top?

We will find out soon enough. Survivor 43 three-hour Finale is next Wednesday, and we’ll have a chance to see how Jesse closes out an absolutely stellar overall performance…or we’ll see how he manages to screw it up.

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!

“Always Has Been”

Art by Erik Reichenbach –

Out this week: Cody

Won Immunity: Cassidy (2)

Vote Result: Jesse played an Idol on Owen. Karla played an Idol on herself. 4 – Cody (Jesse, Gabler, Owen, Cassidy), 0 – Owen (vote from Karla negated by Idol), 0 – Karla (vote from Cody negated by Idol).

Current Advantage List:

  • Jesse – 1 Immunity Idol

Next Week’s Episode: It’s the Finale people! Be sure to check back here for my full Finale Recap, and for scoop on the new season of Survivor – Survivor 44 – coming in the Spring 2023. In the days after next week’s Finale, I’ll also be updating my rankings for “Most Memorable Seasons” as well as my list of the “All-Time Survivor Winners.” You’ve come this far, I hope you’ll join me next week as we wrap-up yet another great season of Survivor!

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