With the season premiere of Survivor 44 just around the corner, the Inside Survivor team got together to draft its teams and assess the new crop of castaways about to battle it out for the $1 million prize and the title of Sole Survivor.
Taking turns in a snake draft, decided by random draw, the Inside Survivor contributors picked their winner candidates, big characters and personal favorites to assemble their teams. Read on to hear their first impressions and predictions for each castaway…
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GIA’S FIRST PICK
Truthfully, I was not expecting to be the first person to pick in this draft, but I’m happy I did so that I could choose Bruce right away. From the moment I read that he doesn’t care about challenges, I knew he was a player I could get behind. This lifelong fan has an unconventional strategy of avoiding looking for idols and advantages, but with the success rate these trinkets have had in the past few seasons, perhaps this will end up working in his favor.
What I admired the most about Bruce was how he was able to turn some hard lessons from his childhood, namely, growing up in the foster care system, into reasons why he’s made to win Survivor. He recognizes the importance of maintaining relationships throughout the game, both for the short and long-term. He’s a player who values loyalty over challenge prowess, which I’m taking as a breath of fresh air.
Of course, it’s much easier to explain your strategy than it is to put it into practice, but I have faith that he can live up to his favorite player, the one and only Jeremy Collins.
MARTIN’S FIRST PICK
Any Survivor player who says they identify the most with Courtney Yates is already a winner in my book. And I can see where Claire is coming from with that comparison, in being smaller and probably perceived as “weaker” by her fellow tribemates. Those things can be worrying, especially in such small tribes. However, Claire has such a bright and bubbly personality that I think any perceived physical weakness will be quickly overlooked.
Her life experience of being the “odd one out” probably means she knows what it takes to charm and work her way into different personality groups, which, in a game with 17 strangers, is a major plus. It shouldn’t take her long to make friends and allies. And she seems to understand the approach of “chill and let others blow themselves up.” As she told Parade’s Mike Bloom, she will “quell that superfan desire” to go looking for idols on Day 1 and instead work on forming trust with her tribemates.
I think so long as her tribe doesn’t develop a “keep the tribe strong” mentality from the off, Claire has a great chance at making solid relationships that will carry her far in this game.
CORY’S FIRST PICK
Did I make Carolyn “Mother!” Wiger my first pick largely because I wanted to pick my faves regardless of winner equity? Yes. Did I also pick her because she didn’t expect to be an early draft pick in her pre-game interviews, and I wanted to right that wrong? Yes. Do I think Carolyn is being slept on and written off as wacky cannon fodder? Also yes! To get the bad out of the way, she proudly compares herself to Noura and has a very high-energy, off-beat personality, so the potential first-boot vibes are here for sure, even in a fairly off-beat cast.
BUT! Let’s look at our last two winners in the new era. Maryanne and Gabler were both larger-than-life characters who seemed cast to provide as many OTT edgic ratings as possible among a cast of more serious gamers. But they both had something I see in Carolyn: self-awareness.
Carolyn knows the show super well, she’s played ORGs before and done quite well, to my knowledge, and she can take a step back and acknowledge her biggest weaknesses from an objective point of view before playing. That’s leaning more towards the Maryanne and Gabler end of the spectrum than the Noura side. So count me as a genuine Carolyn truther, and don’t underestimate our chances of a third oddball winner in a row.
ROB’S FIRST PICK
Matthew, the 43 year old barbershop owner from Ohio, made a huge splash in the season preview (literally, he fell off some rocks into the ocean), so picking him first was a bit of a risk on my part. However, I get big-time winner energy from Matthew. I usually do my first pick/winner pick based on good vibes, and Matthew stuck out to me instantly. He reminds me of a good friend of mine, and that definitely helped make him my first pick. Plus he’s the only cast member of 44 to currently follow me on Twitter, so he gets extra points for that.
In the opening scene preview, Jeff asks Matthew if he has any fear of starting the game, and he gives a great answer about being anxious and fearful but also trying to take deep breaths and keep it in so that he can focus on the game. This type of thinking is super helpful on Survivor, as fear and anxiety can turn into paranoia and get you swiftly booted. He’s an outdoorsy guy, and I think he’ll be a great asset to his tribe at camp and in challenges. Matthew comes across as a genuine, fun guy, and I’m very excited to see him play this season!
CHRISTINE’S FIRST PICK
YAMIL “YAM YAM” AROCHO
Carolyn was my ideal first draft pick since she’s an internet friend of mine, and she beat me in an ORG we played together in 2020, but Yam Yam was the perfect choice for my first pick once she got snatched up. What’s not to love about Yam Yam? He’s one of the great casting finds in recent years, with an infectious enthusiasm that’s sure to win over his tribemates.
Traditional Survivor thinking would lead us to say that Yam Yam is a big “character” and therefore has no shot of actually winning. After all, who would let a fun, likable guy like him get to the end? But after Maryanne’s win (and, in a slightly different way, Gabler’s win), I do feel the need to take big characters and personalities more seriously as winner contenders in this era of the show.
Yam Yam is unlikely to be seen as a cutthroat strategic threat and also won’t be targeted as a quiet, under-the-radar threat. It’s possible he’ll be able to slip by to the end despite his big personality, precisely because his big personality will help him hide in plain sight. Who knows, maybe this is wishful thinking? God knows I would love to see such a wonderfully authentic human being win this show! I wouldn’t go as far to lock him in as my official winner pick. I’m more inclined to make a “safer” pick for that. But I’m honored to have him in my draft. Winner or not, he’s already one of the undisputed stars of the season before it’s even aired.
STEPH’S FIRST PICK
As I was doing a very quick breeze through the Season 44 cast for this draft, Matt left the biggest impression on me because of a promo feature video where he posed with this semi-awkward, semi-excited, rather goofy but endearing mis-angled thumbs up. Coupled with a shaky camera zoom and the dramatic soundtrack, it made me think, “This guy looks like a meme that I’m going to root for.”
The 27-year-old curiously compared his job as a cyber security engineer to a digital bank robber, stealing information from others for his purposes. Frankly, it felt to me like he was forced to relate his job to skillsets useful for Survivor, but I appreciated this honest awkwardness as he played along.
It’s clear that he has the head knowledge of the mechanics and advantages of the game, though he doesn’t seem to be strategising too much or have a fixed expectation of how to play. To me, it looks like he’s focusing on the experience of being on the show and not taking things too seriously. This could fair well for him, especially in an era where most players are serious and pretty intense in strategic gameplay. Overall, there’s this awkward energy to Matt that I think is refreshing and thus makes him my first pick!
STEPH’S SECOND PICK
The 29-year-old product manager is definitely going to be compared to Erica from three seasons earlier and has even admitted she sees a lot of the Season 41 winner in herself. As Helen predicts, she’s going to be underestimated because of her size. But she shows this awareness and perceptiveness, understanding how people may view her, and wants to spin these to her advantage. From her pre-game interviews, you can tell that she’s smart and well-spoken — I’m hopeful these traits will help her form good bonds with other players.
Helen prizes her adaptability, having code-switched through different social contexts in life. While this is certainly a plus point, I’m uncertain if it would translate into a fast-paced game where everyone is scheming all the time. The ability to adapt must come with a flare for strategy and good instincts. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see Helen play and want her to make it far in the game.
CHRISTINE’S SECOND PICK
JAIME LYNNE RUIZ
Jaime is my big “could go either way” pick for this season. Last season that pick was Noelle, and she ended up making it a lot further than I expected her to, so maybe Jaime will surprise me here as well! Jaime and I share a hometown, so she already gets some points from me on that alone. This 35-year-old yogi hopes her experience in the corporate world will help her succeed in Survivor, too. We’ve heard this comparison between Survivor and the corporate world a lot in recent years, and at this point, I don’t know how meaningfully that professional experience actually transfers to Survivor success.
What stands out to me about Jamie isn’t her corporate background but rather her enthusiasm. It radiates off of her in her cast video, which bodes well for her social game early on if people see her as a positive force keeping her tribe together even in the tough times. Couple that enthusiasm with her desire to play a game similar to Erika’s, and Jamie could have the recipe for a winning path to the end.
I’m less convinced, however, that she’ll be able to navigate this season’s potential twists and avantages with a level head. I could see her excitement getting the best of her and leading her to take unnecessary risks, but here’s hoping she channels her inner yogi and manages to navigate any of those twists and turns with calm and ease and avoids making a big target out of herself.
ROB’S SECOND PICK
Lauren, a 31 year old elementary school teacher from Texas is my second pick and I was very glad to be able to have her on my team. First of all, if we’re going with the “winner is on the logo” that happened with Survivor 43 (check out that 43 logo and tell me you don’t see Gabler), then Lauren is the winner according to the 44 logo. Besides that, she seems like a down-to-earth, fun, easy-to-like person, and I have no doubt she’ll fit in great with any group of people she’s playing with.
As a teacher, she knows how to deal with different personalities and does damage control on the daily. She said she wants to be a “quiet strategist” like Erika and Natalie, and I think that, coupled with her personality and adaptability, could carry her very far into the game. As a recently divorced single mom, Lauren’s had to overcome a lot at a young age. She’s got the drive to want to do well and sometimes that’s enough to scrape by each vote. In a cast full of huge personalities, her calm and friendly demeanor could be a welcomed thing amidst the chaos.
CORY’S SECOND PICK
My first impression of Josh based on his bio is that of a chill, positive, easy-going guy who’s been through non-stop adversity in his life, from health issues to being a gay Black man in an environment that didn’t embrace him for who he was. But he beat the odds to find great success. Inspirational backstory aside, I think Josh has the ability to adapt to basically anything thrown his way at this point, be it mental or physical in nature. And with the amount of people this season citing Natalie and Jeremy as players they want to emulate, this proud Jeremy emulator will have an easy time finding people whose playstyle matches his own.
Where minor red flags pop up, though, is his RHAP interview. He couldn’t name the Black Widow Brigade and didn’t remember how many members it had (calling them Cirie and the Dynamic Six) even though Erik giving away immunity was supposedly his favorite moment, so I have to wonder if Josh is more of a casual fan in a sea of super fans. Maybe that lack of precise game knowledge could hinder him against savvier Survivor experts. But we’ve seen great players like Earl Cole kill it out there with basically no Survivor knowledge whatsoever. So as long as Josh’s social skills and game sense are on point, I feel solid about him for a while and hope he can seal the deal.
MARTIN’S SECOND PICK
Like my first pick Claire, Carson is another Survivor obsessive, and part of me does worry that he could fall into that overeager “superfan desire” early on. If he shows his cards too early, it could be a short stay in Fiji for the NASA engineering student. That said, Carson appears to be on a tribe with a lot of other high-energy superfans, so his eagerness could actually fit in with the tribe’s vibe perfectly.
If Carson can make it through those first couple of days and let the excitement wear off a little, I think we’ll see his true potential. There is no doubt he is super intelligent, and he has the right mindset for the game going in. In his Parade interview, he pointed to Omar as someone he’d like to emulate, a player always focused on putting himself in the best position to win but without the ego of having to shout his greatness from the treetops.
So long as Carson can find like-minded individuals to share in his enthusiasm, there is no reason he couldn’t make a deep run.
GIA’S SECOND PICK
Listen, I couldn’t not pick Maddy when I saw she was still up for grabs in the draft. Anyone who is willing to describe themselves as “feral” in their official bio is one to watch in my book. The adventure addict is a classic middle child, emphasizing the social skills she needed to survive growing up in such a big family (as someone with four siblings as well… girl, I get it). Combine that with her experience running in an ultramarathon and trekking to Everest base camp, I think it’s safe to say she won’t be a slouch in the challenge department either.
Maddy is all about girl power in the game, which is excellent news. Very rarely do we see all-women alliances go far into the game together, but when they do, it’s magical. If others are on board with her on this, it could make for a very interesting season. Now the question is, will others be on board with her?
GIA’S FINAL PICK
I have said multiple times that I am not a fan of the current advantage-heavy, chaos-for-the-sake-of-chaos style that seems to plague this new era of Survivor (admittedly, with mixed results). Luckily, for Frannie (and my draft), she loves it, and she’s hoping to take the lessons of the likes of Sophie Clark, Gabby Pascuzzi, Aubry Bracco, and Maryanne Oketch with her into the game. Not a bad roster of players, if I do say so myself.
It’s clear that Frannie is a smart individual. I mean, you certainly don’t get a perfect score on the MCAT by accident, now do you? And I love how she acknowledges how working in customer service has given her a range of skills needed in a competition like Survivor. So while Frannie is ready to embrace all the madness that the new era brings, let’s help the new era is ready to embrace her back.
MARTIN’S FINAL PICK
Heidi might have been my last pick, but that doesn’t mean she was a consolation prize. There is a lot of potential across this entire cast, and Heidi is right up there with the best. I think her life experience, having moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico and struggled for many years to adapt and work her way up in the world, will serve her well in this game. She seems like a fighter who won’t give up easily.
Of course, being the “older woman” is always an obstacle to overcome on Survivor. It can often be an easy excuse for a tribe focused on physical abilities. But Heidi doesn’t seem to be a slouch in the strength department, so one would hope she doesn’t become an easy target simply due to being older than her tribemates. She has a fun personality combined with a strong work ethic, and if she can find the right balance between those two facets, there is no reason she couldn’t do well this season.
CORY’S FINAL PICK
As the only Canadian on the cast, Kane has recent history on his side and big shoes to fill. That said, my gut reaction to this man was, “Oh, so a Canadian Daniel Strunk?” Not the most positive first impression, but that’s just how these nerdy student-of-the-game types go. For every Maryanne or Adam who goes on to pull off an upset victory in spite of their wacky antics, you get your Jacob Derwins, who fill their socks with rice and flame out pre-merge.
But what gives me faith in Kane is that he doesn’t seem like the type to let his fandom go to his head and steer him into hot water trying to be the best player of all time by day three. He’s fairly laid-back and says he doesn’t want to look for advantages until right before the merge. But he’s not afraid to be the camp clown and unleash his inner Tyson to keep his tribe entertained while hiding his true strategic potential.
While he could easily be left behind in a fast-paced game, his strategy perfectly aligns with the current meta of holding back until the time is right to play hard. Whether he’ll get there is another debate, but I feel he’s got the right game plan for this specific era of the show. But hey, even if he does go Full Derwin and implodes right away, at least it will be good TV.
ROB’S FINAL PICK
Danny is a 32 year old firefighter from The Bronx, and my final draft pick. On the surface, he seems like the typical muscle-bro, and he thinks that’s how he’ll be perceived. Under the surface though, he’s a meditating, Harry Potter nerd who compared himself to a background actor in American Pie 5 (which made me laugh way harder than I probably needed to). He doesn’t seem to fit into the archetype they cast him for, but in saying that, I think he’s going to be the physical challenge star on the Soka tribe.
He’s ready to be adaptable and roll with the punches, which is a huge plus in the new era of Survivor where there’s an advantage or twist around every corner. I think he’ll be able to get on well with his tribe, as the Soka tribe seems to be the most even-keeled of the three starting tribes. His strength will get him through the tribal portion, and if he’s able to keep up with the pace and strategy, he could easily make it to the end.
Also, on average, firefighters have done pretty well in the game, with two winners (Tom and Jeremy) and some memorable players like Keith Nale (who also did well in both of his seasons), so I think his physicality and ability to keep cool under pressure will take him far.
CHRISTINE’S FINAL PICK
Brandon is a bit of a Renaissance man. This piano-playing former football player turned security specialist enjoys performing magic tricks in his spare time when he’s not busy piloting planes. My first impression of Brandon is that he’s incredibly likable and has a steady, cool confidence about him that I think will serve him well on Survivor, especially in the early stages of the game. He identifies with Danny McCray and aims to play like the great Jeremy Collins, citin both his self-awareness and his meat shield strategy.
It’s no surprise that Brandon would appreciate the meat shield strategy, because he’s certainly going to need them in this game as a clear physical threat himself. I don’t see him being a huge risk-taker if he finds himself in a Beware Advantage situation or something similar, opting rather for an affable “unofficial team leader”-type gameplay style to get him to the merge.
He strikes me as someone who will have no problem getting to the merge in this new era of Survivor. Post-merge, he’ll face all the problems that “big guys” like him face once it’s time to take out the big threats, but here’s hoping this self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades can navigate his way to the end one way or another.
STEPH’S FINAL PICK
Sarah is clearly a huge fan of Survivor — she knows the details of the game inside and out, has (over-)analysed past seasons, and has calculated the best choices and decisions for different scenarios. The 27-year-old fluently speaks the language of superfans tearing apart every single little move on the show, which is relatable fun for the fan community and may sound like promising information on paper, but perhaps impractical for actually competing on Survivor.
Because of this, I’m not very optimisitc of Sarah’s odds. I don’t think she’ll be able to translate all this enthusiasm and knowledge from a fan’s perspective realistically in the game.