Let's Talk About Survivor 43's WTF Winner: Was It The Jury? The Edit? The Other Finalists?

Gabler in Survivor Season 43
(Image credit: CBS)

Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers and analysis for the final episode of Survivor 43. It also contains links to some articles about other seasons that contain spoilers.

Survivor 43 came to an end last night and delivered one of the most shocking winners in the show’s history. Mike Gabler, clowned by many on Twitter for most of the season and seemingly considered an ideal goat to drag to the finals by the remaining players, not only won the big prize, he did it in convincing fashion. Now the second oldest winner ever, he absolutely crushed Cassidy and Owen and picked up seven of the eight possible votes from the jury. 

I stared at my screen last night while the votes were being read in disbelief, and I was not alone. Survivor Twitter erupted with utter shock. Heading into tribal council, many believed he wouldn’t receive a single vote. Instead, he was one away from a perfect game. 

So, what the hell happened here? For many fans and players, modern Survivor is supposed to be about rewarding the person who played the best and most strategic game. How is it possible that the collective read from so many was that Gabler was bad and yet, he cruised to victory so easily? Well, after you get over the initial shock, it’s a little less crazy than it seems. Let’s talk this out…

The Other Finalists Were Not Good

Let’s just be honest here. The people who drove the game and made the big, flashy strategic moves or were involved with the numerous twists were eliminated before the finale. I think most people watching at home would say the strongest players were Karla and Jesse, who went out in fourth and fifth position. They were loudly and overtly targeted because the other players surmised, correctly, that they would have cruised to victory if one made the finals. I think Jesse probably would have won if both made the finals, but Karla would have at least been a really strong contender.

So, with both of them gone, we were left with three players with really weak resumes. Owen, who is an absolute delight as a person by the way, was on the wrong side of so many votes. At one point in the season, he pleaded with James to just tell him who to vote for so he wasn’t wrong again. He won three immunity challenges, and he was much more plugged in near the end, but I don’t know that I could have voted for Owen. He was just too out of the loop for too long.

The Final Tribal exposed some perceptions about Cassidy from the jury that weren’t necessarily obvious to those of us watching at home, but let’s set those aside and just talk about what viewers saw on the edit. Cass won three immunity challenges and played a nice social game. She was on the right side of every key vote, and she formed very strong alliances with Karla and James. She’s a solid Survivor player and, in my opinion, a perfectly worthy finalist. But let’s be real, she’s not exactly Tony Vlachos. She didn’t make any big moves. The other players clearly viewed her as a supporting piece in alliances, not the driving force of alliances, and her resume is a lot worse than the majority of Survivor winners.

The Jury Clearly Did Not Respect Cassidy’s Game

I’m going to leave Owen out of this conversation. As I said, he was on the wrong side of way too many votes, and it’s nearly impossible to win Survivor when you vote incorrectly over and over again. So, it was always Gabler versus Cassidy. I assumed, like many people watching at home (and probably Cassidy herself) that she was the obvious winner, but from the moment the jury opened their mouths and started asking questions, it was pretty clear they had no respect for the game Cassidy played. 

She referred to her alliances with Karla and James multiple times during the final tribal council to point to key votes she made, but it seemed like the jury wasn’t nodding their heads nearly as aggressively when she spoke, perhaps because the perception was Karla and James were driving those votes and she was along for the ride. When she was asked to name a vote she personally drove, she picked Ryan and then was immediately called out by Ryan, Jesse, Cody and Gabler, who said that vote was actually driven by them. Taken altogether with the final vote numbers, it’s pretty clear most on the jury felt she aligned herself with people who played great games and didn’t play a great game herself.

The Survivor Editors Didn’t Do Gabler Any Favors

Edit or not, Gabler made a lot of mistakes during Survivor, and he would have gotten run over by a good finalist. I think we can all point out really obvious screw-ups. There was that time he told everyone to vote for him and he’d use his shot in the dark. There was that time he was so loud and aggressive about wanting Elie out that he had to immediately start blending into the background. There was the time he covered his sleeping tribe in palm leaves they never asked for. There was a lot of bad.

But judging by this final episode, the Survivor editors didn’t seem to show us a lot of the good. Gabler put on a really strategic and well-argued case in front of the final jury. It’s now obvious there’s way more strategizing going on in his mind than the show ever depicted. Gabler clearly had pretty solid connections with most of the people on the jury. The show sorta made it seem like people were just humoring him and telling him how to vote, but some of the comments from the jury made it seem like he was a much more proactive part of Jesse and Cody’s strategizing than we got to see. Based on how vigorously many in the jury were nodding their heads at his comments, it was also obvious that he was pretty well-liked, and once again, that was not shown.

Fans and contestants are always going to have complaints about the edits, but it was particularly confusing this season.

To Sum Up

You should never be completely shocked by the Survivor winner. Because it’s a game, more than anything else, of perception, the people watching at home should be able to see where those final jury votes came from. If it’s a complete shock, that means either the jury voted in an illogical manner or viewers at home weren’t given the same perspective those on the island saw. Well, this vote was a shock for so many fans including myself.

But the more I think about it, the more I think there’s a little blame in a lot of directions to go around for that shock. A little blame should go to the editors for clearly not showing us how strong some of Gabler’s relationships were. A little blame should go to the other finalists, who, in Owen’s case, had no real shot, and in Cassidy’s case, clearly wasn’t perceived as a decision-maker by the other castaways, which is ultimately her fault. And some blame should probably go to the jury, who, I think, were a little too willing to forgive some of Gabler’s obvious mistakes and a little too judgmental of Cassidy coasting at times. I'm not saying he didn't deserve to win, given the options, but seven votes? That's always going to feel weird.

But that's Survivor. Sometimes you get an all-time great winner, and sometimes you get someone that fans will talk about with surprise for decades to come.

Mack Rawden
Editor In Chief

Mack Rawden is the Editor-In-Chief of CinemaBlend. He first started working at the publication as a writer back in 2007 and has held various jobs at the site in the time since including Managing Editor, Pop Culture Editor and Staff Writer. He now splits his time between working on CinemaBlend’s user experience, helping to plan the site’s editorial direction and writing passionate articles about niche entertainment topics he’s into. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English (go Hoosiers!) and has been interviewed and quoted in a variety of publications including Digiday. Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.