Noelle Lambert may have been the latest castaway eliminated from Survivor 43, but her impact on the game will never be forgotten. As the first above-knee amputee to play Survivor, the Paralympian sought to represent the disabled community, and in her own words, “pave the way for a new generation of people to start applying.” Noelle didn’t just accomplish this goal, she smashed it in every way imaginable. As a player, she also managed to break stereotypes for physical players, proving that they too could have an impressive strategy that carries them through the game.
As for her exit, the remaining players in the game simply saw Noelle as a threat. And after winning this week’s reward challenge – which will surely be remembered as a defining moment in the franchise – her threat level grew exponentially, specifically to Jesse. Noelle’s name was already floating around camp, but Jesse seemed to kick it into high gear, aggressively campaigning for her elimination and seeking to execute it in three steps (which viewers saw onscreen). Though not executed to perfection as Gabler caught wind of his sly gameplay, Jesse was able to rally enough votes against Noelle, making her the 11th castaway to be eliminated from Survivor 43, and the fourth member of the jury.
Pop Crave spoke with Noelle about the positive response she’s had from fans within the disabled community, why she respects Sami’s gameplay, still working with Jesse and Cody despite being on opposite sides of the Gaia tribe, and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!
You’re officially juror #4! How do you feel about your entire Survivor journey now that your elimination has aired?
I’m definitely grateful for it. I mean, I did everything I wanted to do. I played the game how I wanted to. I wanted to go in and play a loud, energetic game, and I wanted to pave a way to prove to people that people with disabilities are capable of doing it. I couldn’t be happier with my whole experience. I’m proud of myself. I mean, obviously, there are things that you can change, but you get to play this game once. I remember before the game started, Jeff Probst, he said, “Listen, you play this game once, and you don’t want to have any regrets when you get voted off.” And so, I mean, that always stuck with me in the back of my head. I just kept telling myself, “I gotta keep doing everything I can to pave a way for me in this game.”
You continue to be such an inspiration for all kinds of people, but especially those within the disabled community. What has the response been like from them to see you compete as the first above-knee amputee to play Survivor?
It’s been incredible! I mean, just all the heartfelt messages, all the people supporting me. It’s been amazing, and I have to say, it’s made this whole me being voted out experience very easy, because I have all this support from people. I mean, I get people reaching out who have disabilities, who are amputees that feel like they can believe in themselves. And then when I have parents reaching out saying that their kids are disabled and they’re watching me, that’s just… that was the reason why I signed up to do the show. To begin with, I wanted to be this positive light. Having all the support that I have in the last four or five days, I mean, I’m so grateful. I can’t thank everybody enough for sending me… I mean, even till this day, my phone gets blown up on social media. It’s just… it’s amazing to go and see all these heartfelt messages. I’m grateful for everybody who sent me a message. It’s been incredible.
Sami voted out Karla despite making it a priority to include her in the vote for last week’s split tribal council. What are your thoughts on this, especially considering that you could have probably saved your Steal-A-Vote had he let you know sooner?
Yeah, I mean, at the time, I wanted to kill him for telling her everything [laughs], but the way Sami was playing this game was actually really smart. He could sense if he was on the bottom of an alliance, and every move that he did, it was to benefit his game moving forward. It wasn’t to benefit other people. That’s what makes this game hard for a lot of people… you don’t want to do this, you don’t want to do that. So watching it back and seeing him tell Karla everything, it made sense. It was actually a really smart, strategic move on his part, because if he could get James voted off and then get Karla as an ally, it makes sense. But Sami is the type of person that if you give him trust, he’ll respond to you. That was kind of my decision as to why I wanted to bring him on the reward. I remember when we were at the reward, he said, “I will 100% go to rocks for this group.” He was like, “This was it for me. This was it.” So, I mean, Sami is just that type of player who, you know, is… I mean, I didn’t see it. I knew he was really smart, but after watching the season back, I’m like, “Wow!” Like, kudos to this kid, because he is maneuvering in and out of different alliances, and he’s getting away with it. It’s incredible.
You and Jesse both had confessionals where you mentioned having a good relationship with each other. You also said that you had a “great alliance” with him and Cody. Can you talk a little bit about how you two rebuilt trust despite him working with the group of seven for the first couple merge votes and blindsiding Dwight?
Yeah! So our game plan as Vesi going into the merge was, “We don’t want to seem like we’re a tight group of people.” At least that’s what we would talk about, and so I was okay with him and Cody going off into the majority of the seven. Like, I thought they were kind of my in, and so I always knew what was going on. It was always funny because Jesse and Cody backstabbed and blindsided me twice, and I still was coming back and being like, “I still want to work with you!” I think it’s just a testament to their game and how well they’re playing, because every time they would do that, I would come back to camp and I wouldn’t be mad. I would try to be like, “Okay, what happened?” Like, “Why didn’t you wanna…?” And they would always make it seem like it had nothing to do with me. They were really sweet talkers, and they’re just really enjoyable people. I mean, every single person is, but I just had really strong bonds with them. From Vesi, especially going through the couple of challenge losses and then coming off of a win, we were bonding. But yeah, Jesse, I mean, if Jesse told me to jump off a cliff, I think I would have done it at that point. I mean, he’s a mastermind! He was playing the game perfectly. I could see how great of a player he was, but I didn’t get to actually fully appreciate it until I got voted off. I was like, “Wow!” I’ve been joking around with this, like, “I’m not giving him credit for my vote off! I’m giving his son, Geo, credit for the vote off,” because he said that phrase, “Go get that money, baby!” And then it was like, “Alright, bye Noelle! I don’t care even if we have a great relationship.” I mean, every time that I would have my number one voted off, I would always be able to adapt, and I would always be able to find a new person. Owen was my person, and so once you get closer and closer to the end, having that one person is something to kind of be scared of. I understood it right when I got voted off. I was like, “I’m not gonna be bitter. It makes sense. They realized what I was doing. They could see it coming.” I was like, once I made that James vote, I was guns blazing. This is how I wanted to play the game to begin with, which is probably my downfall, but I wanted to play the way I wanted to, so I’m grateful that I was able to play it that way.
We saw a brief conversation between Gabler and Karla about wanting to take out Jesse or Cody due to the control he felt they had over the game. Did he ever approach you with a plan to blindside one of them?
No, but I will say that Karla and Gabler had that conversation probably 10 minutes before we had to leave for tribal council. I mean, I think Gabler was brought into the plan of voting me off 100% before we had to leave, so he didn’t really have enough time to kind of scramble or go off to everybody else. But I mean, Gabler, I think, was kind of the swing vote in my vote, which was crazy. That happened really, really quick, so I mean, it’ll be interesting to see how it kind of plays out now that people are getting to realize how strong Jesse and Cody are.
Gabler had been loyal to you up until this point. How good of a move do you think him turning on you was for his game?
My first impression of Gabler was actually when Dwight went on the journey with him and Karla, and he came back and said, “Gabler wants to play this game like he doesn’t care. He’s going to be a strong player, he’s going to do things how he wants,” and so that’s when I knew, “Okay, this guy, he signed up to play! He didn’t sign up to just, like, go along with anything.” So, having Gabler switch on me, I mean, I wasn’t upset. It’s beneficial for his game because he’s trying to grow the alliances that he is. Maybe me not bringing him on the reward made him feel like he wasn’t a part of my number one. I was so blindsided, but at the same time, I was like, “You have to appreciate it.” I mean, I went out in a respectful way where everyone gave me respect. I had an amazing relationship with Gabler as well. I mean, he was so funny out there. He made his bed with the bamboo, and you would put palm fronds on it. I know everyone saw the scene where he’s putting palm fronds on people. That’s just Gabler. Gabler genuinely loves everybody. He was always willing to do whatever it takes. I remember when I got to the merge, it was his bed that he’s been sleeping in, and he’s like, “Noelle, I want you to sleep here. This is your bed.” I’m like, “That’s so, so nice of you, Gabler! Thank you!” I mean, I had a great relationship with him, but I mean, they’re playing the game. That’s how it goes.
At the Sanctuary reward, you said that you were terrified of the possibility of Karla and Cassidy throwing out your name, which ended up being the case with Cassidy. What was it that prevented the three of you from being able to work together?
I think it’s just because we never really were in the same alliance group from the beginning, especially because I wanted to work with Baka. I just expected nobody from Coco wanting to work with me, just because of everything that Vesi did to them pre-merge. I think the reason why we just never worked together is I knew that Karla and Cassidy were very close. If I wanted to work with them, it was gonna be with one of them. I didn’t want to do it with both, because that’s not going to benefit my game if I am on the bottom of an alliance. I think my downfall and something that I do regret – like, one of my only regrets – is on that reward challenge. If I were to bring Karla, maybe planting the seed with having us vote the same way at the tribal council before with the James vote, and maybe planting a seed that maybe we could work together… But it was them also never approaching me and wanting to make a plan. I mean, I would tell Karla… I remember the first time I wrote down James’ name. I went to Karla like, “I’m voting James,” and I don’t know if she told James or not, but I don’t think she did. That kind of made me think, “Okay, maybe I can trust her.”
Do you think the plan of splitting the vote between Karla and Cassidy would have gone through had Cassidy not won immunity?
Ah, no, I still think it would have been me. Even if Cassidy didn’t win, I think at that point, Jesse just thought that I was playing a really great game. That’s the reason why they all wanted to vote me off. I don’t think it would have been a different outcome. It would have been a different outcome if I won [laughs]!
Looking back, do you think there’s anything you could have done to prevent your elimination?
I would definitely say maybe the reward and choosing different people. Gabler’s a very loyal and trustworthy person. You give him that loyalty, you give him that trust, he’ll give it back, so potentially bringing him. It’s just a sticky situation when, you know, that whole time… Jesse, if I didn’t bring Jesse, I still think he would have wanted to vote for me. I was trying to just figure that out. But yeah, depending on who I would have brought for the reward, I think that would have changed my game. You never know. I mean, I brought Jesse, and he still voted me off [laughs]!
Final question! I’ve been asking all of the jurors… What was the first thing you ate at Ponderosa? I know you had that reward meal probably a day before you got there, but I have to ask!
Yeah, so having that huge pizza reward the night before, I wasn’t extremely hungry. But, I ordered a cheeseburger. I remember when I got back – and it’s so funny, like, getting to see everyone, and then you’re eating – I’m just annihilating everybody else’s food. I was trying everything. It’s so funny because me and Jeanine out ate everybody that entire time of being in Ponderosa. Every time someone would get voted off and they would come back, we would eat off their plates [laughs]. Like, I don’t know what it is. I think it’s just when you see people who are starving and they’re eating for the first time, it makes you hungry even though you’re so bloated, because all you do is eat at Ponderosa. I mean, that’s all you want to do. It was so funny. With Jeanine, we would just house food. Everyone would be like, “How are you girls doing this?”
New episodes of Survivor air Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS.