Hey, everyone. Survivor 43 recap coming up in just a second, but I was just delivered a stack of heartwarming handwritten letters from loved ones, and I have to imagine these are going to get pretty emotional, so apologies in advance if I start getting a bit choked up. Look, here's one from my daughter Violet!
Why do you love Survivor more than me? —Violet
Hmmm… okay. Not exactly how I was expecting to kick things off here. And loving something the same is not loving it more. I've told her that a million times. Oh, here's one from my son Dale. Great kid. Let's see what that dude has to say.
Thanks for getting me the Survivor: Panama DVD set for my birthday. Just to reiterate what I have told you many times before: I do not watch Survivor. Nor do I own a DVD player. I also noticed that you bought me a season in which you are featured on one of the DVD extras, which is at best lame and at worst pathetic. Can this be traded in for Magic cards or… I don't know… socks? —Dale
Hey, say whatever you want about me and Survivor, but I don't know why people feel the need to go and crap all over physical product like that. So what if it takes up tons of space, is terrible for the environment, and, honestly, doesn't even look that good. There's something about holding it in your hand! Like a record. Or a book. Or a newspaper. Or something else that makes me seem a million years old. Anyway, that letter sucked. Let's see what my wife Christina has to say. At least she'll have my back.
Everyone is here for the holidays. Can you please come downstairs and spend some time with your family instead of writing a stupid recap of a reality TV show? Also, your daughter says you told her you love Survivor more than her. That's really messed up. —Christina
For the last time, I said the SAME, not MORE!!!! Jesus, these people! And what the hell? These aren't anything like those sappy lovey-dovey letters folks get on Survivor. But anyway, yes, it is Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. I hope everyone has a big scoop of the crispy on their plate this holiday season. But yeah, I should probably move things along so I don't end up on my own Exile Island over here. So without further delay — I know I've promised that before — let's get into the big moments from episode 10 of Survivor 43.
CBS The cast of "Survivor 43'
Noelle Conquers All
We all know I'm a heartless bastard and don't usually go in for that thing where we are supposed to be emotionally manipulated into being uplifted by watching people fail miserably in challenges. I've spoken to many players who inadvertently became stars of these isn't-it-amazing-the-way-they-never-quit-even-though-they-couldn't-cross-a-balance-beam-or-shoot-a-basket-if-their-life-depended-on-it segments, and they didn't like it. Specifically, they didn't like being celebrated for failing or struggling. (Heather Aldret is one recent example, but I've heard this from others off the record as well.)
I worried we were headed into that same trajectory in this week's reward challenge when Noelle could not get over the balance beam with her prosthetic leg. "I have no f---ing idea how I'm going to do this," she said after one of her many failed attempts while the other players were all onto the final stage of tossing a bean bag onto a platform. I had no idea either, especially when she began sweating so much that she began to lose the suction on her prosthetic. It was at this point that I started really worrying that Jeff Probst was going to make a big deal about her remarkable effort in defeat because I did not think a hardcore competitor like Noelle would appreciate that. (Most athletes don't go for moral victories.)
But then, instead of having to manufacture a huge emotional moment, an actual huge emotional moment happened instead. Because Noelle eventually got over that balance beam and then went and won the damn challenge! "That was the luckiest thing in my life," she proclaimed after winning, but that is not true in the least.
CBS The cast of "Survivor 43'
These Survivor contests are all about stages, and if even if you falter at one, you can make up time in another, which is exactly what Noelle did with an expert throw onto the perch. It was awesome to watch and nothing about it felt manufactured. This was true. It was real. It was — and I am veering into super cheesy cliché territory here — an athlete overcoming obstacles to persevere against all odds, the kind of stuff we all live for. It was Rocky, Rudy, Cool Runnings, Hoosiers, and The Bad News Bears all rolled into one.
"I have seen a lot of things in 43 seasons," said Probst. "That is up there at the top." Maybe it's hyperbolic, but also, maybe it's not. This was super incredible, and do you know what made it super incredible (besides Noelle's performance)? The fact that she did it on a challenge course without any alterations made because of her condition. With that thin balance beam, Survivor producers and the challenge department proved that they clearly were not offering special accommodations to Noelle being an above-the-knee amputee by making an easier challenge course for her to navigate.
They easily could have gotten rid of the balance beam portion of this contest in the hope they would get that emotional high of Noelle triumphing in an athletic competition, but by having her do it on a course designed for 100 percent able-bodied participants makes the win that much sweeter. And this was no fluke. We've seen Noelle thrive in challenges on both land and in the water. This was merely the latest example of her athletic prowess.
"I go into every single challenge thinking I don't know if I can do it," she told Probst after her victory. And yet she keeps doing it. And she keeps winning tribe and now individual competitions. "If it was me with two legs up there and I wasn't succeeding, I would have quit," said Noelle. "So everything I've learned from my accident, it just motivates me." And us.
CBS Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 43'
Stacks of Doom
After Noelle won the reward challenge and formed a plan with Sanctuary attendees Sami, Jesse, and Owen to take out Cassidy, we went back to our second challenge of the night — this one, an immunity contest.
I have gone on record as having stated what a huge fan I am of challenges in which players have to build things up and then have their dreams repeatedly crash down right along whatever they are stacking. I just love it. Honestly, if you told me I had to choose between a montage of people's stacks falling down on Survivor or eating stuffing on Thanksgiving, I don't know what I'd pick, and I cannot express how much stuffing I will put down on Thanksgiving. It's, like, an obscene amount.
But we didn't just get one montage of players wanting to blow their own brains out after watching their sky high stacks fall… we got THREE! It's like they were editing this episode just this for me. Not unlike the way Samson got his true strength from his hair, or the energy vampire Colin Robinson is fueled by the boredom of others, I run on a strict diet of human suffering and misery. I mean, c'mon, did you see Owen constantly throwing his cards down in disgust every time his stack fell? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Perfection.
The only thing I didn't like about the challenge is that this non-stop parade of human misery had to end, which it did when Cassidy finally passed the awkward looking red arrow. Their pain. Our gain.
Robert Voets/CBS Nolle Lambert and Jesse Lopez on 'Survivor 43'
Noelle No More
Jesse is savage. Straight-up savage. Noelle has this amazing moment winning the reward challenge. Then she takes Jesse on it with her so he can get letters from home and bawl like he was Stephen Fishbach suffering from #SevereGastrointestinalDistress. And how does Jesse repair that favor? By voting her out of the game. Brutal. Total villain move. Also… smart. And Jesse is clearly a pretty smart dude for someone who says "dangily-doodily" a lot. I have no issue whatsoever with what Jesse did. The same way I had no issue with Dawn voting Brenda out after Brenda gave Dawn a reward and then went diving down in swampy water to find her missing dentures. Because game is game.
If Jesse felt that Noelle would best him at the end, then he had to get her out. We can debate whether that was the better play now than breaking up the solid twosome of Karla and Cassidy, but it certainly wasn't a bad play — especially after Noelle made the flashy Steal-a-Vote misdirection against James. And it certainly wasn't an unethical one. And the job editors did laying out Jesse's three-point checklist for engineering a blindside was super fun.
I will say this: Probst did Noelle no favors at Tribal Council asking about how inspiring her reward challenge was, because obviously that is something that would be on everyone's mind while considering if they wanted to sit next to that at the final three. To be clear, he did nothing wrong in bringing it up. It wasn't anything secret, and it was notably inspiring, so he was just stating the obvious, but had I been Noelle, I would have been a bit bummed at that Tribal turn and reminder that she might be a jury liability to keep around.
But Noelle was not just a player with a sympathetic or inspiring story. She proved herself impressively adaptable every time her closest ally was voted out of the game, and had the big résumé building move against James. Throw in her athletic accomplishments on one leg — demonstrating the true spirit of both a survivor and a thriver — and she would have been a formidable opponent in the final three. Which is why players were determined to not let her get there. At least she had a super triumphant moment before getting her torch snuffed.
Okay, I gotta keep this one brief (for me) this week since there are family members milling about and I don't want to make like my man Owen Knight and constantly be on the wrong side of the vote, only this time in terms of what sort of side dishes we will be rocking this Thanksgiving (green beans over peas, if you please).
But make sure to check out our exclusive deleted scene from the episode at the top of this recap. And then come back Monday for my exit interview with Noelle. In the meantime, have a very happy Thanksgiving, enjoy time with family and friends, and I'll be back next week with a leftover scoop of the crispy.