'Survivor' crowns Mike "Gabler" Gabler Season 43 winner in shocking nearly-unanimous jury vote
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 12/14/2022
Survivorcrowned Mike "Gabler" Gabler its Season 43 winner in a landslide vote over the runner-up Cassidy Clark during the final episode that aired Wednesday night on CBS.
Gabler, a 52-year-old heart-valve specialist from Houston, TX, who currently resides in Meridian, ID, won the $1 million prize -- which he's going to donate to veterans in its entirety -- on Night 26 of the game in a 7-1 vote against Cassidy, a 26-year-old designer from Plano, TX, who currently resides in Austin, TX, at the Final Tribal Council of the season.
Cassidy's only vote was from James Jones on the jury.
Owen Knight, a 30-year-old college admissions director from Bethesda, MD, who currently resides in New Orleans, LA, made it to the Final 3 but received zero votes.
Jesse Lopez, a 30-year-old with a Political Science PhD from Venice, CA, who currently resides in Durham, NC, finished the game in fourth place after Gabler defeated him in the final fire-making challenge.
Karla Cruz Godoy, a 28-year-old educational project manager from San Diego, CA, who currently resides in Newark, DE, claimed fifth place.
The Survivor 43 finale broadcast began on Day 24 following the Tribal Council in which Cody Assenmacher had been voted out and Karla played her hidden Immunity Idol out of fear and paranoia.
Jesse had blindsided his best friend and orchestrated Cody's blindside by playing an idol for Owen, and Jesse was proud of himself because he still had another idol in his pocket to play.
Gabler said he felt he had a strong chance of winning if he could make it to the Final 3 because he was like "a silent assassin," and Jesse gushed about having made "a historic" move in the game, which would naturally paint a target on his back.
While Cassidy said she had been on the right side of every single vote this season, Owen had been the exact opposite. But neither Cassidy or Owen had made any big, flashy moves.
Meanwhile, Karla on Day 24 said she was struggling with a bad ankle and finger, but she planned to give the rest of the game everything she had. She no longer had protection, but she had the confidence she could advance further in the game.
The Gaia Tribe was then shown arriving at their new camp, and each castaway received an envelope with Tree Mail inside. It was a clue to a secret advantage.
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The clue read, "Solve the phrase to find the advantage. You cannot search for the advantage until you have correctly unscrambled every word."
Cassidy hoped Karla wouldn't find the advantage because she said it would be vital to her game to get Karla, her former No. 1 ally, out.
Karla did unscramble the phrase first and looked for something "lifeless" -- like a dead tree -- but then Jesse began searching as well. Owen also began investigating dead trees along the shoreline.
In the end, although the advantage was only two inches from Owen's fingertips, Karla found the advantage before anyone else and grabbed it. Karla earned herself a slight advantage in the upcoming Immunity Challenge, and Karla hoped it would do "the trick."
On Day 24, the Gaia Tribe metSurvivor host Jeff Probst for the Individual Immunity Challenge, which required each of the Final 5 castaways to maneuver a buoy through a series of obstacles and then use two handles to transport puzzle blocks over a hinged balance beam.
Once each player had his or her blocks, he or she would use them to solve the following word phrase: "You cannot hide in a dangerous game."
The first person to finish would automatically receive a spot in the Final 4 as well as Reward in the form of a protein burst -- steak, baked potato, vegetables, wine and cheesecake at the nearby sanctuary.
Karla's advantage allowed her to start with 10 of her puzzle blocks, roughly a third, already at her puzzle table.
Karla ended up with a time advantage, as she began working on her puzzle in first place. Owen started the puzzle in second place, followed by Gabler, Cassidy and then Jesse.
Owen won Individual Immunity after appearing to have a sudden stroke of genius, and Cassidy praised him for finding his "redemption." Owen got to choose one person to join him on the Reward, and he selected Cassidy, who cried because she was so grateful.
This was Owen's third Immunity necklace, and he spoke to Cassidy about targeting Karla or Jesse while eating steak. Owen called Karla tough as nails, smart and well spoken, but Owen acknowledged how Jesse was the mastermind behind the biggest move of the season.
Owen wasn't sure he'd be able to beat either person in the end, but he was leaning toward taking out Jesse. Cassidy, however, still wanted to see Karla go next. The pair agreed Gabler didn't seem to have much of a shot to win.
The pair ultimately agreed on voting for Karla.
Meanwhile, at camp, Gabler claimed his body was breaking down and he had lost about 25 pounds.
Jesse and Karla talked to each other about how they were both in trouble. Karla suggested they should vote for Cassidy, and Jesse wasn't worried because he'd be able to play his idol for himself.
Gabler, however, told the cameras that he wanted to sit next to Cassidy and Owen in the end, assuming he could beat them, and so his goal was to vote out Karla and Jesse.
Later that day, Karla made a convincing argument to Owen why Jesse needed to go, and so Owen seemingly considered it. She also tried to convince Cassidy that Jesse had played a much better game.
Although the women had played the game so long together, Karla told Cassidy that she was going to take credit for moves they had done together and if she ended up on the jury, Cassidy wasn't going to have her vote to win. In that moment, Cassidy said she lost a lot of respect for her former friend.
"I think she's upset... that I formed better social relationships and that I outwitted her to the point I'm going to be in the Final 4 and not her," Cassidy said in a confessional.
Cassidy then warned Jesse that Karla had been gunning hard for him. Jesse said he was torn between Cassidy and Karla, mainly because Cassidy was a physical threat and had a good shot to win the Final Immunity Challenge.
That night at Tribal Council, Karla openly pitched how the tribe should take Jesse out because of his previous big move. But then Jesse flashed his idol, which had belonged to Jeanine Zheng. Jeanine's jaw was nearly on the floor because she had given her idol to Dwight Moore to hang onto before Dwight got voted out.
Karla then insisted she wasn't a threat, and she proceeded to ask Jesse "to dance."
Jesse whispered to Karla that if he played his idol for her, he was afraid the tribe would switch their votes onto him. Jesse then recommended they pitch taking out Cassidy to Gabler.
The whole group, except for Owen, then got on their feet and began whispering. Cassidy suspected the vote was being flipped onto her, and then Owen got up and checked on the plan.
It then became time for vote, and Karla was shown writing "C" down. Cassidy then wrote Karla's name down, saying she liked Karla in the game but would "like her better" on her Survivor resume.
Jesse then played his hidden Immunity Idol for himself, just to ensure his safety.
Jeff read the votes out loud in the following order: Jesse, Karla, Karla, and Karla.
Everyone had voted for Karla, while she voted for Jesse.
"That's how you play a game, guys!" Karla shouted on her way out.
Jesse pointed out how Karla had spoiled his perfect record of never having received a vote, and Karla joked about how that was intentional.
"I think I played a kickass game, and to hear people think I was a threat and a great player, that is the highest honor, I think, in this game. There's no other way I'd want to go [out]," Karla said in her final words.
On Day 25, Cassidy, Jesse, Owen and Gabler met Jeff for the Final Immunity Challenge.
Jeff instructed each castaway to use a long fork to maneuver a bowl through a channel. Once a player reached the top, he or she would place the bowl down and head back to the start to retrieve another bowl.
The entire structure sat on a spring, which meant that if a player hit the structure too hard with a bowl, it would wobble and the tower of bowls at the end would tip over and fall. If a bowl fell, the castaway would have to start the whole challenge over again.
The first person to stack 15 bowls would win immunity and be guaranteed a spot in the Final 3. The winner would be able to plead his or her case to the jury about why he or she deserved the title of "Sole Survivor" and the $1 million.
In addition, the winner would be able to choose one person to go to the Final 3 with him or her, forcing the other two players to compete in a fire-making challenge.
Gabler and Jesse were pretty close, but Cassidy ultimately won Individual Immunity -- her third of the season -- and she seemed totally ecstatic.
Cassidy explained to the cameras after her big win that she didn't want to sit next to Jesse in the end, and so she had to think about who would have the best chance of beating Jesse in fire.
Owen thought his best chance of winning Survivor would be to go head to head against Jesse in fire and hopefully beat him. Owen said Jesse was "the top dog and the biggest threat to win," and so beating Jesse may secure him votes at the Final Tribal Council.
Owen, although feeling tired and ready to give up, practiced making fire with his flint and was determined to go further in the game. Owen therefore assured Cassidy that he could beat Jesse in fire.
Jesse, knowing he had been flashy with his moves, anticipated making fire. He thought his best chance of winning would be against Cassidy, and so Jesse told Cassidy that she should make fire against him to have the strongest resume in the Final 3.
Cassidy, however, didn't want to give up her necklace, and she wasn't sure how much stock the jury really put into fire.
Gabler insisted he could beat Jesse in fire, but he was very weak and lightheaded from lack of food. Gabler planned to donate the entire $1 million to veterans in need if he won.
Cassidy was afraid of Owen took Jesse out in fire, it would sway votes toward Owen. Cassidy also wondered if Gabler was even strong enough to get the job done.
At Tribal Council on Night 25, Cassidy announced how she had earned her place in the Final 3. She and Owen had both won a third of the Individual Immunity Challenges, and so Jeff agreed.
Cassidy said she believed she had played a strong game and didn't need to make fire to prove she was worthy of being in the Final 3. Cassidy therefore thought Jesse's pitch was in his best interest, thinking she'd be the easiest person to beat.
Owen and Gabler then announced how they'd both like to compete against Jesse in fire and "seize the moment."
Cassidy told Jeff that she wanted to take Owen to the Final 3, and so Gabler and Jesse faced off in fire.
Gabler sparked a flame first and was trying to build it up quickly. While Jesse sparked a tiny flame, it went out. Jesse was able to spark a second fire, but Gabler's flame burned through the rope first.
Gabler broke a Survivor record of winning the fire challenge in the fastest time ever of four minutes and nine seconds.
Jesse broke down into tears after losing, saying that he was thinking about his wife and children, who really needed the money. While Gabler insisted Jesse had made his family extremely proud, the look on Jesse's face said it all -- he thought he let them down.
"I felt like I played a great game, and it was right there. It's hard because I've had to fight my entire life to sort of get to where I'm at," Jesse cried.
"I always felt like I had to walk this tightrope because I don't have a safety net back home. And so, every day feels like 'do or die' back home because one wrong move, it slips through your fingers. Looks like I made a wrong move, but I think I set a great example to my kids to play your heart out and give it your all... especially the kids in juvenile hall."
And Cassidy reiterated how Jesse was only in this position because of how great of a game he had played. Cassidy said needing Jesse out of the game was a sign of respect.
On Night 26, after the Final 3 castaways enjoyed a feast, Cassidy, Owen and Gabler faced the jury comprised of Jesse, Karla, Cody, Jeanine, James Jones, Noelle Lambert, Ryan Medrano, and Sami Layadi.
At the Final Tribal Council, the jury was given the power to ask questions and demand answers.
When asked to share his Survivor story and what differentiating him from his opponents, Gabler told the jury that his game had been relationship and trust based, that he tried to be someone whom others could count on.
Gabler said he was in and out of many alliances, strategizing behind the scenes, yet no one ever viewed him as a threat.
Gabler also announced how no one had written his name down all season.
Cassidy said she always voted on the right side and was never blindsided. She said she had aligned herself with big threats, such as Karla and James, as shields. Cassidy also said it's a feat to be the last woman standing.
Cassidy noted the record number of women who were voted out pre-merge this season was an example of the odds being against her.
Owen called himself an "underdog" who had to scratch and dig himself out of holes after being on the wrong side of the vote most of the time. Owen asked the jury to respect his determination and hard work.
The Final 3 mentioned some of their biggest moves this season and how they had played social games.
Owen said his core alliance was with Noelle until he teamed up with members of the Final 5 to get to the end, and Gabler said he was with the "ride or dies" -- including Jesse and Cody -- and never received a vote because he did a great job of playing under the radar and not being perceived as a physical threat.
Cassidy then shared how she decided not to make fire because she thought Gabler was the best at it and she didn't want to give Owen a boost in the votes, in addition to feeling like she had deserved a spot in the end without having to compete in fire.
Owen expressed regret over his blowup with James.
When asked to reveal their biggest mistake in the game -- and own up to it -- Gabler said threatening to play his "Shot in the Dark" almost got him voted out of the game. Cassidy said she could've handled her last conversation with Karla better, whom she still loved and respected, and Owen admitted, "It's hard to choose just one thing."
The jury didn't give Cassidy credit for the Ryan vote off, and Owen owned up to never having an idol or an advantage. But Owen insisted he had strategic chops and could be a key part of the votes.
For the last time this season, it was time to vote. James voted for Cassidy, saying she stood up for herself and owned her game, but Karla voted for Gabler for taking risks and making great moves in a game full of lies.
Jeff then grabbed the votes and revealed how he was going to read them immediately in the jungles of Fiji.
Jeff read the votes in the following order for the winner of Survivor: Cassidy, Gabler, Gabler, Gabler, Gabler, and Gabler.
Gabler apparently won Survivor in a 7-1 vote, and Cassidy and Owen both appeared stunned.
The cast then enjoyed pizza and champagne while having an honest and raw conversation with Jeff.
Gabler admitted he was "shaking" after his surprising victory.
"It has been a roller coaster... but tonight was special because I got to tell all of the story," Gabler explained. "Out here tonight, I was working it until the very last second!"
Gabler apparently convinced the jury he deserved to win in the final questioning. The cast realized Gabler knew what he was doing all along and wasn't just "a loopy old man," according to Sami.
Gabler is the second oldest winner in Survivor history, and he announced how he is going to donate the full $1 million prize to veterans in need in his father's name. Gabler, who comes from a military family, said he wants to help veterans who are struggling with PTSD or other psychiatric problems.
"I've worked very hard and I've been fortunate, but I'm rich at home in family and friends," Gabler said, suggesting that he's not a rich man financially.
Although she lost, Cassidy said she will "stand by [my] game 100 percent" and is proud of herself.
"I did everything I could. I played 1,000 times better, Jeff, than I thought I ever could've coming into this," Cassidy shared. "I really just evolved as a person and a player out here. I feel I've become my own inspiration in this game, and so I'll always take that with me... I wouldn't have changed a thing."