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‘Misogyny,’ Toxic Fandom, and The Ali-Gabler: Why Everyone Involved in the ‘Survivor 43’ Backlash Is Wrong

Toxic fandoms, reality TV, and somehow Elon Musk

Gabler, Owen, Jesse, and Cassidy stand on the beach

Spoiler Warning: We will be discussing the winner and finale of Survivor 43.

The tribe may have spoken but the fans refuse to shut up. 

The 43rd season of Survivor (yes there have been 43 whole seasons of the show) ended this past week and it has sent die-hard fans of the show into an absolute frenzy. Just absolute chaos. Peak internet toxicity. A hellish mess for the players and the audience. But why, you might ask. Was the winner immediately exposed for cheating right after they were announced? Did the final tribal council involve the jury pelting the finalists with rotten fruit while Jeff Probst maniacally laughed and ripped off his trademark cargo shorts? Did a player say something bigoted on live TV? 

No. A certain faction of the fandom is upset because their favorite, Cassidy Clark, didn’t win and a former contestant looked up the “liked” tweets of the actual winner, Mike Gabler – revealing that he often liked tweets from Elon Musk and other conservative dingdongs. The upset fans immediately used this information to attack and harass the jury members who voted for him (which was all of them but one) accusing them of being misogynists (the jury contained three women), transphobic, racist (the jury contained an Asian woman, two Black men, a Latino man, and a Latina woman), and homophobic (one of the jury is a proudly out lesbian), while also hurling plenty of death threats and other cruel insults at them. Because that is the go-to tactic of angry fans in the year of our lord, 2022.

But here’s the thing. In this scenario, to use a phrase familiar with frequenters of AITA on Reddit, everyone’s the asshole. And when I say everyone, I mean the fans, the editors of the show, and perhaps even a couple of the players. So let’s break it down. 

The problems with new Survivor

Jeff Probst enjoying the rain
Photo: CBS

The long-running reality competition show has been airing twice a year for, literally, the past 22 years. The original competition spanned a whopping 39 days and always ended with a panel of the voted-out players choosing the winner. When Covid hit, production decided to scale the show down to 26 days, however, they also decided to make those 26 days really hurt by removing most of the reward challenges and taking away formerly given things like rice and flint to make fire. In the new seasons, the beginning 3 tribes have to compete in reward challenges just to earn a flint, with the losing tribe going without until the next challenge. 

This reduced time span has been a controversial choice for some because, even with harsher conditions, it’s a shorter time that the players have to endure and it leaves less time for the editors to craft a narrative and for audiences to get to know the competitors. The result is that the editors often go overboard on the under-editing of finalists and winners so that their final triumph can feel like a twist or surprise for the audience. Unfortunately, the under-editing is one, usually only done to the female finalists and winners, and two, usually just leaves the audience feeling annoyed and angry. The appeal of the show is being able to have favorites and to be able to guess and strategize along with them. When a contestant is barely featured, the audience has no way to get to know them and so when they win, it feels undeserved. It becomes shocking in a bad way. 

The show also prides itself on creating a situation in which the competitors can create their own society, with its own rules. But unfortunately, many contestants carry their prejudices and preconceived ideas along with them in their knapsacks. There has been a long trend in Survivor of Black women and disabled women being voted out early (if not first) because they are seen as both too weak and too likely to win votes because of their backstories. There has also been a frequent trend of camps dividing along gender lines, with mens’ alliances and womens’ alliances going at it. For a long time, women were the majority of the early outs because the men thought that women would not be able to help them win immunity challenges. Plus the show was, for its first ten years, very white and very straight. (Though it must be noted that the first-ever winner of Survivor, Richard Hatch, was an out gay man.)

However, things were looking a bit better in the new seasons after CBS announced its new Diversity Pledge, which stated that all of their reality shows would have casts that were at least 50% minority or diverse groups. And that has actually made Survivor way better! The contestants are way more interesting. Unfortunately, some old tendencies still lurk and this season we watched as most of the women were voted off before the merge. This led to a resurgence of grumblings about misogyny and paved the way for the Cassidy stans to strike.

So let’s talk about Cassidy and her fans

Cassidy on Survivor 43
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS

Ok, straight up let me just say that I don’t think Cassidy is one of the assholes. But I also don’t think, from what I saw, that she deserved the win over Gabler. I think that she was a victim of production severely under-editing her the way that they did to Erika, the winner of season 41. Cassidy pitched herself as a subtle, “under the radar,” player – someone who was pulling the strings behind the scenes instead of making big moves. Unfortunately, she was allied with Karla who was seen as the bigger personality and the player with stronger social connections. And so she existed, at least in the edit, in Karla’s shadow. Cassidy was a challenge beast, winning three individual immunities, but she wasn’t presented as a strategizer or social threat, the other two main components of the game.

She also fumbled the ball at the final tribal council. While I don’t think she should have given up her immunity necklace to go against Jesse in fire-making, I don’t think she presented a strong counter-argument. Instead of arguing that by pitting the strongest fire-maker, Gabler, against Jesse, she was once again pulling the strings to ensure her win, she got defensive and claimed she didn’t need to make that big move. Which was a misread of her jurors who clearly felt she did need to make one. She also got caught claiming credit for a vote-out that she didn’t orchestrate and, once again, did not have a strong counter-point or other moves to offer up as evidence that she deserved the million dollars. 

But her fans have always been loud. From the very beginning, there was a very vocal fanbase on Twitter that rallied around her and dubbed her “mother.” She is 26 years old. And I’m sorry to be the one to say this Cassidy stans, but it’s very common in reality competition shows (just look at which queens rack up hundreds of thousands of followers on RuPaul’s Drag Race), for people to immediately root for the thin, hot, white lady before they actually do anything to deserve it. And I’m not saying Cassidy doesn’t deserve praise! She won three very tough immunity challenges! But people had dubbed her their favorite from episode one and based on edit alone, it appeared to be because she was thin and hot. 

And it is those fans who are now on the attack. Once again, much like toxic Drag Race stans, they have been harassing and screaming at the players who did not vote for Cassidy. They have told Jesse, the final juror and the one I thought was going to win until the end, that his kids deserve to be poor. They have told Noelle, a Paralympian and amputee, that she deserves to lose her other leg! And all in the name of “fighting the misogyny” inflicted upon their fave. They claim that the jury only voted for Gabler because they were bitter that Cassidy outwitted them (when really most of the jury just seemed shocked and disappointed that they couldn’t vote for Jesse, who had the best moves of the season.) And then, upon the discovery of Gabler’s Twitter account, they began to claim that by voting for Gabler, the jury was also somehow endorsing his political beliefs… which they knew nothing about. (They lose access to all social media when they fly to Fiji to compete). 

Which brings us to the Ali-Gabler

Gabler struggling to keep his bar lifted
Photo: CBS

The man who put palm fronds on his tribe mates while they were sleeping. The man who gave a shout-out to every state or person he could think of during an endurance immunity challenge. The first man to ever announce that he was going to donate all one million dollars to charity after he won. The man who apparently loves Elon Musk.

Gabler is a new and controversial type of Survivor winner. Many were shocked and upset about his win (prior to the discovery of his Twitter), simply because he presented himself as a “goat” (the Survivor term for the person dragged along to the final three because they can’t possibly win.) He was old, he was weird, he made strange declarations, and most of the other players got along with him well but didn’t take him seriously. But watching his confessionals, that appeared to be by possible design. He was constantly referring to himself as a silent assassin, as the alligator that would pop up and then dip beneath the surface. The Ali-gabler. And sure enough, he had an in on every major alliance and even managed to plant the seeds that eliminated his main threats. 

He also gave the strongest performance at final tribal council. And whatever else happens in the game, that is the moment that matters the most. You can have the strongest strategies and win every immunity challenge, but if you can’t pitch your case to the jury, you can’t win. And Gabler made the best and most cohesive arguments. He had clear explanations and branding of his strategy, he worked his many relationships because he was able to make friends with everyone, and he easily got the jury laughing and on his side. He owned up to his fumbles and could eloquently explain his victories. He told the jury what they needed to hear. And he won. He also made the shocking announcement, after the win, that he was donating all of the money to helping veterans in need. Specifically to charities that would help veterans struggling with PTSD, depression, and more.

But fans were surprised. And many were not happy. A previous competitor, Eliza Orlins, immediately found his Twitter and began looking through his history, including the tweets he was liking. Among them were Elon Musk’s infamously stupid “my pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci” and one calling for Elon Musk to be named Time’s “Person of the Year.” She also accused him of lying about the money going to charity and said that he was giving it to a shell fund, Veterans in Need, which is actually a Trump SuperPAC. 

Fortunately, it was quickly clarified that when he said “veterans in need” he meant it in a general sense and was not naming a specific charity. He has also gone on record saying that he is working with a legal team and accounting team to put the money into a fund that will be going to several legitimate charities including Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions. 

That doesn’t mean that his political beliefs and love of Elon Musk don’t suck! They do! It’s a big bummer that this man who was entertaining and charming and weird on television turns out to have dog shit politics, but honestly, that is very common for both reality TV contestants as a whole, but Survivor specifically (just look at all of the former players who are anti-vax, it’s A LOT of them). And so yes, it is disappointing that he likes tweets of terrible people (because it must be noted, he has not actually expressed any of these opinions on social media himself, just clicked the like button, see he is savvy!) but at least the money he won might actually do something good. 

And there you have it! The dumpster fire that is the backlash to Season 43 of Survivor! Now, where is Jeff Probst so that he can snuff all of our torches.

(Image: CBS)

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Brittany is a lifelong Californian (it's a big state, she can't find her way out!) who currently resides in sunny Los Angeles with her gigantic, vaguely cat-shaped companion Gus. If you stumble upon her she might begin proselytizing about Survivor, but give her an iced coffee and she will calm down.