Post Mortems

Survivor 43's [Spoiler] Details One of the Biggest Comebacks in the Show's History: 'I Never Wanted to Give Up'

Survivor 43 Episode 10 Noelle Lambert

The following contains spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of Survivor 43.

A Heroes vs. Villains sequel season may not be in the cards any time soon, but if it ever comes to fruition, we’d like to officially nominate Noelle Lambert as Head Hero.

In Survivor‘s pre-Turkey Day installment (read a full recap here), Paralympian Noelle made a jaw-dropping comeback after a balance beam nearly put the kibosh on the entire reward challenge for her. Not only did she conquer the beam, but she ultimately went on to win the season’s biggest reward yet — an overnight trip to the Survivor sanctuary, letter from home included. But her heroic feat unfortunately raised a few eyebrows among her tribemates. Knowing she was a huge threat to win the game both socially and physically, Jesse concocted a plan (and a cover story… and a fall guy…) to blindside the above-the-knee amputee before she could make her case to a jury of her peers.

Below, Noelle talks to TVLine to break down her emotional victory, Jesse’s grand plan, her social prowess in the game and so much more.

TVLINE | We’ve got to start with this reward challenge. First of all, what were you thinking when you saw there was a balance beam on the course?
NOELLE LAMBERT | I remember walking in and seeing the balance beam and immediately writing myself off. Like, “There’s no way I’m going to win this.” I didn’t even think about, even if I had won, who I would bring [on the reward]. I thought I was going to be able to do it and I knew I was going to struggle, but I didn’t think I was going to struggle that much. But yeah, I saw [the beam] and was like, “There’s no shot. Hopefully I can get asked to go on this reward because there’s no way I’m winning this.”

TVLINE | How long were you actually on the beam, and did you ever consider giving up?
I think it was about 20-30 minutes. I never wanted to give up. I always wanted to keep trying. At one point I was trying to hop it and almost twisted my ankle, so I was like, “OK, let’s not do that!” I heard everyone cheering for me, saying, “You got this Noelle!” so that was egging me on to go even further and that’s the reason I wasn’t quitting. The biggest thing I thought about was, “I need to think about everybody outside of this game. They’re going to be watching me struggle on this. Even if I can’t win this challenge, I just want to get through it.”

TVLINE | Jeff calls out that you won and calls it “one of the biggest comebacks in the history of Survivor.” Tell me what you were feeling in that moment.
They showed that I said this, but I was like, “That was 100 percent luck.” The sandbag at least. I think everybody else took over 100 throws. It’s crazy because when I stuck it, I was like, “How did this just happen?” I remember thinking to myself, “I understand why people think this show is fake now. I get it.” How could somebody like me come back and do this challenge? But I think that’s also the beautiful thing about this show. Every single challenge is the same for every single person, and seeing someone… I would always see people struggle in challenges in previous seasons and having them get through it was always such a beautiful thing to watch.

Survivor 43 Episode 10 Noelle LambertWhen I dropped and I started crying and I’m being picked up, I was thinking, “Who am I going to pick?” I didn’t want to make this decision. I hadn’t even thought about it, so that was like, “Oh my god, I have to make arguably one of the hardest decisions in this game.” Everyone is staring at you and they’re begging you with their eyes to have them eat and get a loved one’s letter, and I was like, “I don’t want to make this decision.”

TVLINE | How many times did you toss the sandbag before you landed it up there?
I would say like 10-20 times. Running back and forth, I’m sweating and I’m dramatically losing weight, so the suction in my prosthetic was moving around. Running back and forth, I had to hold my leg on because it was basically coming off. I knew that was something I had to deal with out there, especially with losing weight, so that was an added-on challenge I had to go through. I didn’t want to take my leg off and just hop back and forth. That would’ve been so tiring!

TVLINE | On Survivor Nicaragua, we saw Kelly Bruno get targeted pre-merge because people were worried that if she made it to the end, she’d have an unbeatable story to pitch to the jury. Before you even started playing, did it cross your mind that that could possibly happen?
It was definitely a thought, but the big reason why I was OK playing this game… I was telling myself how much Survivor has evolved and how much it is accepted to be different. I was thinking to myself, “I don’t want anybody to give me the million dollars solely off the fact of my story or the fact that I have a prosthetic leg. I want them to give me the money because I played the best game.”

So my strategy going into it: I lied to everybody. I didn’t tell them I was a Paralympian. I told them I was a Lacrosse coach. Even though it probably would’ve helped me in the beginning a little bit, because people would’ve been like, “OK, well she’s athletic. She’ll be able to do these challenges.” I’m a big fan of Survivor, my mom is the biggest diehard fan of Survivor and she was like, “You can’t tell anyone you’re a Paralympian!” I told people my story of losing my leg and being able to return to Lacrosse, but then I just said, “My athletic career died there, and I fell in love with coaching on the sidelines.” I didn’t want to talk about my story too much or make me some sort of inspiration, but my actions kind of carried over from there. I was able to do very well in challenges, especially at the tribe phase. But I have to give credit to my Vesi boys for getting me through all of those.

Survivor 43 Episode 10 Noelle LambertTVLINE | Do you think your big reward moment was the reason you were voted out?
Maybe 50/50. I think people started to realize that I had a great social game. My number ones kept getting voted off and I kept finding new people. If I didn’t win that reward challenge, they’d be like, “OK, she’s not going to be great in individual immunity challenges.” In the two challenges before that, I was terrible. I was one of the first people to be knocked out of both of those challenges. Having them see that I won and having them see that I can be this huge inspiration, it made them think, “Well if she’s playing the game socially, and she’s playing the game physically, we shouldn’t give this girl another chance to go further.” But if I did it again, I wouldn’t have changed it. That reward challenge wasn’t only amazing for me, but it was amazing for everybody else who was able to watch it.

TVLINE | Speaking of your social game, can you speak a bit about your adaptability out there? You always seemed to pivot so well.
My biggest thing that I told myself was to never show emotions. Especially if somebody you were working with gets voted off, go back to camp and don’t get upset about it. Be open to everything. It’s funny because Jesse and Cody blindsided me basically twice before my vote-off and I still wanted to work with them. I thought Jesse was my No. 1 out there. I had a great relationship with Owen, he was a strong ally for me, but I thought Jesse was my ride or die, even though he had already lied to me twice! He was playing the game extremely well. Whenever I did get blindsided, he would come back to camp and make it seem like I wasn’t the reason they got voted off.

When I’m watching it back live and seeing the episode where Jesse wanted to target me at the Dwight vote, he wanted to weaken me. He did an amazing job at always coming back and being like, “Listen, it had nothing to do with you,” and he would continue to give me information. I keep saying this and it’s so true, but if Jesse told me to jump off a cliff at one point, I probably would’ve done it. He had such a lovable face. It shows you how well he was playing this game. It sucked being voted off by Jesse and Cody, but I respected it. I knew when I signed up for this game that people were going to lie to me. You have to do whatever it takes to win. I made a vow to myself to never take anything personally. I got voted off in the best way possible. Everyone stood up and gave me a hug, and it was basically out of respect, so having that, it was an incredible moment.

TVLINE | The edit was particularly amusing! Jesse created this whole checklist plan — cover story, fall guy and all. What were your thoughts as you were watching that play out on TV?
That was incredible! You want to be mad at this kid, but he was playing the game so well. It’s so funny because I’m watching with my friends and family and they’re like, “Ugh, Jesse backstabbed you!” and I read comments saying, “He betrayed Noelle!” People need to make moves in this game to make a million dollars. You’re not going to get to the end by having just one or two relationships. You need to make big moves. It was an incredible blindside by him and just having that whole edit, that was awesome. Watching it back makes me laugh even though I was the target of the whole blindside. I give him, Cody and Gabler props for that.

Survivor 43TVLINE | What has the response been like from fans, or the Paralympic and disabled communities?
I’ve received hundreds of messages. It’s been very easy to go through this whole process of being voted off. The fans and the community, people have made this such an easy goodbye. I’m receiving so much love. I get so many messages of people who are disabled, amputees, parents of kids who are disabled, it’s amazing to see. I’m even getting a response from people who aren’t disabled, just people living a regular life and are going through struggles and seeing someone like me being able to overcome a lot of adversity. Even if it helped them a little bit… that was a huge reason why I went on the show to begin with. I wanted to create this positive light.

I received messages all season, but especially after last week’s episode. My phone has been blowing up. It’s incredible the response I’ve gotten. It really has. All Winners Survivor was doing a poll on Instagram for the player of the episode, and people were voting for me. I’m like, “I got voted off!” [Laughs] The support has always been the reason I’ve been able to do everything I’ve been doing my entire life, from my family, my friends and now from complete strangers I don’t even know. Getting all of these beautiful messages makes me want to keep going. It makes me want to do more. It’s been an amazing week, and like I said, it’s made it so easy to get voted off. [Laughs] It’s been an incredible journey. Being able to play this game is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m really grateful for my experience and grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.

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