‘Survivor’ Finale: [Spoiler] Wins Season 43 in Major Plot Twist (RECAP)

Final five in 'Survivor' Season 43 Episode 13 finale
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CBS

Survivor

Snap Some Necks and Cash Some Checks

Season 43 • Episode 13

rating: 3.5 stars

[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for the Survivor Season 43 Episode 13 finale.]

Going into the Survivor Season 43 Episode 13 finale on December 14, there was no denying Jesse was the heir-apparent to the title of Sole Survivor. He voted out his best friend, Cody, last week in a stunning blindside by using his own idol against him, convinced the entire cast he flushed out an idol when it was in his possession the whole time, and was the sole reason everyone on his original tribe was voted out.

On top of that, no one ever voted for him, and he kept his strategic cards to his chest all season long. The only thing he hadn’t done yet was win Individual Immunity. But as long as he made it into the Final Three in the two-part finale, the game was his. But after 12 episodes of dominating the game, the Survivor 43 finale was the first time Jesse’s lead waned. After Karla (who won an advantage for the Final Five Immunity Challenge that didn’t stop Owen from winning) was voted out in the final Tribal Council, Cassidy (the finale’s second Immunity winner) sent Jesse and Gabler to make fire.

A Jesse win would all but guarantee his overall victory and make for one of the best-played seasons in show history. A loss would be a punch-in-the-gut end. Here’s what went down in the Survivor Season 43 finale, “Snap Some Necks and Cash Some Checks,” on CBS.

Jesse in 'Survivor' Season 43 Episode 13 finale

CBS

While Jesse and Karla both started out the episode strong, Cassidy and Owen proved they weren’t to be counted out. Cassidy and Owen, the season’s strongest players in individual challenges, delivered strong performances again in the final two games. Owen won the first, Cassidy the second.

On the table for the first challenge was immunity and a steak dinner. To win, the players had to maneuver a buoy through a series of obstacles, then use two handles to transport puzzle blocks over a hinged balance beam. The puzzle blocks solved a word phrase, “You cannot hide in a dangerous game,” and the first to finish takes the steak. Frontrunner Jesse fell behind early on in the challenge, and Owen took an early lead. Based on who performed poorly in the advantage word scramble at the top of the episode (all but Karla and Owen), it shouldn’t be surprising that Owen won and took Cassidy with him to reap the reward.

With Owen immune, big players Karla and Jesse were the main targets. Over dinner, Cassidy and Owen agreed a modern Survivor jury wants to see big moves like Jesse’s, but somehow disagreed on who the biggest threat was between him and Karla. Owen thought the former, Cassidy the latter, but Cassidy’s strategy here proved she had savvier long-game plans. They both agreed Gabler didn’t have a shot at winning in a Final Three pitch, and they ultimately set their sights on getting Karla out first.

Over at the new Gaia camp, Gabler was “crushed” by Owen choosing Cassidy because he had “so little in the tank.” Karla and Jesse agreed they needed Gabler on their side to vote Cassidy out, but neither were really going for Cassidy. Secretly, Jesse planned on using his remaining hidden immunity idol for himself, and Karla was gunning for Jesse. Despite feeling hurt by Owen, Gabler still wanted to be sitting beside Cassidy and Owen in the Final Three, so an alliance with Jesse and Karla wasn’t intriguing.

In a bid to get Jesse out, Karla tried scare tactics with Cassidy once again after realizing their bridge was fully burned. The women laid it out plain to each other: Cassidy didn’t want Karla in the Final Four, and Karla wouldn’t vote for Cassidy (and would tell the jury to follow suit) if she ended up being eliminated. The threat made Cassidy lose all remaining respect she had for Karla’s game.

Final five in 'Survivor' Season 43 Episode 13 finale

CBS

Threatening players didn’t work for Karla in Episode 12, so it’s puzzling why she’d try it again. Perhaps Karla realized that her strong strategic plays throughout the season wouldn’t mean much without enough strong social bonds.

Things only got more tense for Karla in the Tribal Council. Jesse’s Cody blindside was the main topic of discussion, with Karla arguing before the players, the jury, and Jeff Probst that that big move should make everyone want him gone. Jesse landed another power move that canceled out her argument when preemptively revealing Jeanine’s idol that he’s been holding onto in secret since Dwight was eliminated. Jeanine, the first member of the jury, keeled over in disappointment when realizing her idol was still in play when she was sent home.

Not to go down without a fight, Karla asked Jesse to “dance,” walking away for a whispered strategy talk that Gabler, Cassidy, and Owen eventually invited themselves into as well. Only the vote would reveal the final consensus. Jesse’s idol was real, and Karla was sent to the jury. Karla started writing Cassidy’s name, scratched it out and wrote Jesse instead to make sure he didn’t end the season with no one writing his name down — one last strategic move, and the kind we haven’t seen Gabler, Cassidy, or Owen play this season.

For the last challenge of the season, players used a long fork to maneuver a bowl through a channel, repeatedly stacking the bowls on top of each other until complete. The caveat: the structure was on top of a spring, destabilizing the whole thing. The first person to stack 15 bowls won a spot in the Final Three, plus the power to decide who will join them in the final and who would have to make fire.

Owen was gunning for his fourth individual win, Cassidy her third. Gabler had won once before, but challenges are Jesse’s achilles heel. The former two were in the lead the whole challenge, but a gust of wind toppled Owen’s stack in the final moments. He knew trying to catch up was pointless; Cassidy won. If brought to the Final Three, would calling it quits in the final Immunity Challenge be seen as a bad move by the jury?

He didn’t like the looks of that. To show his fight, Owen asked Cassidy to let him make fire against Jesse, convinced he could win. Jesse, disappointed he never won Individual Immunity, asked Cassidy to make fire against him, arguing sacrificing her safety and beating him would make her a shoo-in for the $1 million. Cassidy didn’t fall for it, but this guy truly does know how to orchestrate captivating moves. Gabler wanted to make fire so he could go out swinging, his other big idea being to donate his $1 million to veterans charities, should he win.

As Cassidy walked into the final Tribal Council with the Immunity necklace around her neck, jury member James whispered “beast mode.” The jury was impressed by Jesse’s fire pitch to Cassidy. But as she explained, saying yes to that should come from someone who hadn’t earned their spot in the Final Three. Her only concern was for her own game, and her game was best served by taking Owen into the Final Three. Jesse’s win depended on building a glorious blaze — a fate fans feared.

Once Gabler got his flame, it never went out. Jesse had to restart, and the jury was cheering for Jesse the whole time, proving he was one snapped string away from winning $1 million. But his blaze never grew, and Gabler ended up setting a new Survivor fire record, burning through his string in four minutes and nine seconds. (The previous record was just under five minutes, completed in Season 38.) It was a tough blow for Jesse, who dreamed of using the $1 million to give his children the safety net he never had growing up. He may not have won, but he leaves Season 43 as one of the series’ most memorable players.

With the Final Three determined, the jury explained what they were looking for from each finalist:

Cassidy, “The Champion”: Show that she wasn’t just riding the majority all season; explain how she avoided the plots against her.

Owen, “The Underdog”: Convince them to vote for the underdog, showing why someone who was kept out of majority alliances all season should win now.

Gabler, “The Outsider”: Explain how his free-agent social game is more impressive in comparison to Cassidy’s social/strategic moves and challenge wins and Owen’s impressive comeback.

Gabler argued that the clearest example of his strong game was the fact that his name was never written down. Cassidy painted the picture of how her strategy, social, and challenge play kept her in the lead and as a perceived threat. Plus, it made her as the last woman standing. She noted the record number of women who were voted out pre-merge this season as an example of the odds against her, and the players agreed. Owen explained his underdog status, telling the jury he proved his strategic strength when working with Noelle to get James out (one of the season’s most surprising blindsides). Blindsides aren’t easy to do when you’re in the bottom.

Karla wanted to know what Cassidy did pre-merge to get herself onto Gaia. She noted her alliances with Karla and James as her ticket there, showing her smart ally instincts. Jesse wanted to know when the players used social intel they received to their advantage. Cassidy pointed out that everyone who campaigned for her elimination, she had a hand in sending home soon after.

Cassidy and Owen in 'Survivor' Season 43 Episode 13 finale

CBS

Gabler argued he intentionally kept himself from looking like a threat by toning down his physical performances, but he definitely didn’t look like he was trying to lose. Cassidy said her physical performances saved her in key episodes, and she wasn’t wrong. But why didn’t she bite on Jesse’s fire bet? She earned her spot in the end, she said, plus it was a strategic play. Karla asked Owen why his physical performance should be noted, and it boiled down to the underdog story once more. Overcoming physical and emotional obstacles as recently as Day 24 is what made him proudest.

Jesse, who has a PhD in political science and is an expert in voting behaviors, wanted to know when each player convinced players to vote for someone else in their favor. Gabler noted the Elie elimination. Cassidy noted getting Ryan out, but the jury corrected her saying she was brought into the “ride-or-die” alliance and the plan began before her. This was new information to Cassidy, but it didn’t seem like a fatal reveal. Owen gave an honest answer, saying he didn’t have a good voting record, but he was able to turn things in his favor regardless. The candor was well-received.

In the end, Cassidy got one vote, and Gabler got the rest. It seemed the jury wasn’t looking for the biggest moves of the season after Jesse was no longer an option. Gabler’s “outsider” pitch convinced the voters he had the strongest season-long strategy of the remaining three. He’s now the second-oldest winner of the series at 51, setting two records in one episode, and he declared in the Reunion Show that he’d make good on the promise to donate his winnings to struggling veterans.

Survivor, Season 43, All Episodes Streaming Now, Paramount+