‘Survivor’ 43: Paused Immunity Challenge & Disappointing Tribal Council — Who Was Eliminated? (RECAP)

'Survivor' Season 43 Episode 7 'Bull in a China Shop'
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Robert Voets/CBS


Bull in a China Shop

Season 43 • Episode 7

rating: 2.5 stars

It’s official: Survivor Season 43’s merged tribe name is Gaia. After the players ousted Elie last week in the most (and honestly, first) interesting Tribal Council of the season, the “reeling” and “blindsided” Jeanine spent the first moments at post-merge camp trying to save face. She opted to act like her closest ally’s elimination was “the best thing” for her game with her new teammates.

When the sun came up on Day 14, it was an all-new game. Maybe it’s just the edit, but it’s near impossible to understand how Owen, Jeanine, and Elie thought keeping “the Baka Five alive” was going to happen. As a whole, Baka never trusted each other. They played well together in challenges, but outside of that, the vibe of their tribe was bad. Much of that had to do with clashing attitudes from Elie, Gabler, and Sami, though Elie, Owen, Jeanine, and Sami would have people believe Gabler was the only problem starter.

All of this is to say that everyone from Baka needs to start fresh with their alliances. And there’s no time like the merge to do that. Here are the highlights from Survivor Season 43 Episode 7, “Bull in a China Shop.”

Gaia got their first tree mail delivery this episode, but it wasn’t the exciting surprise they hoped for. Rather, the show sent them all into the awkward tizzy of having to divide themselves into pairs for the day’s Immunity Challenge. Rather than split hairs on the new team, everyone drew rocks. The pairs came out as Owen and Gabler (former Bakas), Cody and Dwight (former Vesis), Noelle and Sami (Vesi and Baka), Ryan and James (former Cocos), Karla and Cassidy (former Cocos), and Jesse and Jeanine (Vesi and Baka). Their challenge was in three stages, and they had to make the cut to advance to each stage.

Stage One: crawl through a muddy, twisted net, dig up planks, race back. The first four pairs to plant their flags on their mat make it through, the last two are out with no immunity. Stage Two: race up a cargo net, use the planks to make a rope bridge. Both players must get to the other side, drop down a wall, and race to their mats. Only the first two pairs to complete this stage would advance to the final leg, which would see the pairs end. Stage Three: Four individuals compete against each other, holding onto a handle attached to a bucket that contains 25% of their pre-game weight. The players must hold the bucket steady. If it drops, they’re out. The last person standing would win the first individual immunity. (Gabler’s immunity idol, by the way, has now expired without ever being used.)

'Survivor' Season 43 Episode 7 'Bull in a China Shop'

Robert Voets/CBS

Stage One of this challenge was so physically daunting, it brought Noelle to tears and paused the game after the first four pairs made it through. The netted tunnel resulted in every player getting twisted and looking like Tootsie Rolls, the hardest part being writhing their way out of the self-made cocoons. Noelle’s prosthetic leg came off halfway through, and Jeanine also found herself nearly immobilized, (This would not be a good challenge for anyone claustrophobic.) Jeff Probst paused the next stage as the players helped the mud-covered Noelle and Jeanine out of their traps.

Sami, Noelle’s partner, was one of the first through the net, but ended up not making it to round two. He bore no ill will toward Noelle over the loss, however. Jeff gave a rousing speech praising the players for rallying together to help Noelle. “You are all obviously competing for $1 million,” he said, “and yet you still have the capacity and the empathy to say, ‘But we gotta help Noelle.'”

The setup of this challenge does raise concern about Survivor‘s planning process for those with physical disabilities. Noelle likely knew about the challenge ahead of time and agreed to partake, and she has performed excellently in every challenge so far (as a Paralympian would). But this net and mud setup seemed like the odds were particularly against her this time. It’s not clear if Noelle took her leg off in the net (as she has done in previous challenges) or if it was knocked off in the scuffle. If it was the latter, the show should not have put her in a position where that could happen, and this challenge’s setup seems like that was an obvious risk going in.

Noelle and Jesse in 'Survivor' Season 43

Robert Voets/CBS

When the game commenced, it was Dwight and Cody, Ryan and James, Gabler and Owen, and Karla and Cassidy competing. Only Gabler, Owen, Dwight, and Cody made it through. Gabler and Cody held their buckets up for 37 minutes — a Survivor record. Gabler won in the end, which is likely a lifesaver for him after his Elie drama last week and now expired idol.

Last week, only six players were eligible for votes. This week, everyone but Gabler is an option. When fetching water at the well with Sami, Owen, and Dwight, James found a bottle floating in the water. It said there was a Knowledge is Power advantage hidden underneath the shelter, but none of the guys wanted it. James said he wouldn’t touch it until after Tribal, but retrieved it in secret. Dwight kept no secrets, immediately telling a handful of players about what James found. This put James’ name on the chopping block immediately, as anyone with an advantage is a threat.

Noelle charted a Vesi/Baka alliance to get either James or Ryan from Coco out, and after the advantage, James’ name became number one. But Jesse was uneasy about following Noelle, his former teammate. He and Karla trust each other more and smartly didn’t want to let someone rise up and call the shots. No one on Vesi was particularly loyal to the other. In private chats, Cody was pitching voting Dwight out, and Jesse saw it as a viable way to weaken Noelle.

Cody, Karla, and Jeanine still have their hidden immunity bracelets. Noelle has her Steal a Vote. The second Cody learned of James’ Knowledge is Power advantage, allowing him to steal idols at Tribal, he gave Jesse his bracelet for safe keeping. Jeanine and Noelle also played musical chairs with their advantages, and Karla’s idol is still a secret to everyone. In the beginning of the episode, the former Bakas all seemed primed to betray each other. But heading into Tribal, it was the previously solid Vesi that was ready to throw their old tribe alliance away.

Advantages, idols, and when to play them was the main topic of conversation at Tribal. James (a chess champion) painted out his strategy for playing your advantages, saying, “a lot of people use their advantages wrong and to their detriment. You can’t sit back and be worried about advantages 24/7. You can drive yourself crazy. What you can do is find a group of people that you build trust with that give you a logical plan and you stick to it.”

James is shaping up to be the season’s smartest strategist, but hasn’t yet tried delivering strategic blows. He could stand to be more cutthroat, it seems, and after getting two votes this episode, he just might be moving forward. After only voting women out all season long with the exception of Geo (how have the women not talked about this yet?), all of this episode’s votes went to the only Black people left in the tribe: James, Dwight, and Ryan. Dwight was sent home in the end, just one week shy of the jury.

There’s no strong reason why players wanted to weaken Coco by specifically targeting Ryan and James. Karla and Cassidy (who barely said a word all episode) were also available targets and made it through Stage Two of today’s challenge, just like Ryan and James. Jesse and Cody’s reasoning for voting for Dwight out wasn’t because he made it to the final challenge round or because he shared James’ advantage secret — Cody just said he thought he was “eery.” Mind you, they’ve worked together fine all season long and were paired in that day’s challenge, making it through to the end because of each other.

Cody and Jesse’s flip against Dwight was meant to weaken Noelle and the growing threat of her game, but if you want Noelle out, why not campaign for her? Why punish Dwight? One thing’s for sure, these decisions made for one of the most paltry Tribal Councils of the season. We’re hoping this motivates James to take his smart strategizing and pair it with bolder moves next week, which will see the first member of the jury selected. The only other promising strategic player in this game is Karla, who has kept the scent of her secret moves covered all season long.

Survivor, Wednesdays, 8/7c, CBS