It’s the penultimate round of Survivor 44, and only six players remain. The Tika three of Carolyn, Carson, and Yam Yam, the Ratu duo of Lauren and Jaime, and the last Soka and resident vote sponge Heidi. But those dynamics might be shifting as the endgame continues because, after last week’s Tribal, where Carolyn exposed herself as a big player, she’s spilled some blood in the water, and sharks are circling.
And among those sharks is Yam Yam, who cringes as Carolyn recounts her history with the bird cage idol, from fooling everyone into thinking she didn’t have it to planting a fake idol with that red X that trolled Sarah on her way out. As much as he loves his wacky best friend, she’s just pitching a great case before she even makes the final three… which doubles as a great case for voting her out. And Jaime and Lauren, who just threw votes on a sketched-out Heidi and need safe harbor, are happy to pounce on an easy Carolyn boot to save themselves.
At dawn, Heidi sneaks out of camp to hunt for idols, figuring a second one is the only way to guarantee her safety with how little trust exists between herself and the other five. But the other five wake up and join the search, giving Lauren and Carolyn time to bond. Lauren admits Carolyn plays the fool to cover up an otherwise great game. It’s all the more reason to take her out, which she proposes to Yam Yam and Carson.
But Carson has mixed feelings about cutting Carolyn loose this soon. Not only would voting her out now give the non-Tikas a road to the end but Carolyn’s been totally loyal to Carson from the first week of the game and played an idol on him. And that’s something he wants to reward, so for now, he’ll be keeping the wool over the Ratus’ eyes and hope he can get the votes together for a Ratu blindside.
First, though, we have a reward challenge to get to, and with the team of Carolyn, Jaime, and Heidi floundering on the course, Carson directs Lauren and Yam Yam to victory, earning them a spa day at the Sanctuary. It’s Yam Yam’s first reward, and he’s living the good life at last, but it isn’t long before he opens the door for strategy talk and gets right to the point: Carolyn needs to go. Now. His gut says it’s time to let her go, and the votes are here to make it happen. Lauren is still on board, but Carson’s still resistant to the idea.
Meanwhile, the three reward losers partake in their own strategic developments. Jaime wants to pit the Tika three against each other, proposing a Carson blindside on account of his triple-threat status. He’s won immunity, he’s socially solid with everyone, and his role in Tika’s middle-man strategy is impressive. Carolyn agrees in person, but in the confessional, she says Carson’s still a piece of her endgame puzzle and won’t be leaving just yet if she has a say in the matter.
And to make things more concrete, Carolyn links up with Heidi, and the two of them discuss going to the final three with Yam Yam. And given Lauren and Jaime are a solid duo who put Heidi’s name down multiple times, the Ratu women are prime targets for this new alliance should the Carolyn plan fall through.
But if the Ratus are going to be targets, they’ll only have one option tonight because Lauren wins her second immunity of the season in a showdown against Heidi. Only four spots remain in the final five, and it quickly becomes one as Carolyn and Jaime are picked as the two possibilities for tonight. Carolyn and Heidi reaffirm their plan to vote for Jaime, while Lauren and Jaime are still ready to vote for Carolyn, even if Carson would be their preferred target. And in the middle, like usual, are Yam Yam and Carson calling the shots on another vote.
Though in this case, the focus is on Yam Yam and his moral dilemma. Carolyn’s been his ride-or-die all season, even with their up-and-down relationship. Cutting her at six is the big move he feels is right, but it’s still a painful move to even consider making. On the other hand, Jaime has a lot of friends on the jury with how strong her social game apparently is (though you’d never know with 90% of her airtime being dodo music and fake idol shenanigans). So even if Carolyn is the right call, Jaime leaving has some small upsides.
Pitching the Carolyn move to Carson one last time, Yam Yam lays it on thick: Carolyn can win, and if they keep her around for the sake of sentimentality, she’ll run away with the jury votes and leave them both looking like fools for underestimating her yet again. And once more, Carson is stubborn in his refusal to cut his island mom, believing she isn’t a surefire winner at the end like his ally claims. But Yam Yam came to win, and to get that million bucks, he knows what needs to be done. What he doesn’t know is whether he’s strong enough to do it or not.
At a tense Tribal Council, Carolyn gets paranoid and catches wind of a potential blindside, making an already ominous episode feel like a funeral for the season’s biggest star. But Carolyn still finds the time to defend her game, reminding the jury (and the audience) that just because you play emotionally doesn’t mean you aren’t playing a game worthy of respect.
Win or lose, it’s a refreshing sentiment from this show that has repeatedly presented older women as undeserving of the title because they showed emotions on the island. Carolyn has bucked the trend after 44 seasons of her archetype being shut out of serious contention, and to see the edit finally make a case in favor of this play style being acceptable, if not commendable, is one of the few hopeful changes to the game this season’s had to offer.
But to my shock and utter relief, Carolyn survives her own swan song episode. Heidi plays her idol just to be safe, Carolyn gets two votes from the Ratus, and Jaime is sent to the jury when Heidi and the Tikas join forces. And the final five are sent to a new beach again, but who really cares about that twist at this point? Not this cast, that’s for sure, because they packed up all their supplies to prepare for it.
As for Jaime… what a ridiculous edit she got. For someone hyped up as a social threat in the endgame, we saw nothing like that in the episodes themselves. What we did get, though, was countless confessionals making her look like an idiot for parading around with a fake idol despite having no way of knowing it wasn’t legit. And once it left with Kane, she got dunked on again when nobody believed her story about losing said idol.
I can appreciate Survivor leaning into its comedy and mocking delusional players when they deserve it, but the joke stops being funny when it’s punching down this hard against someone who didn’t deserve the heat. Jaime was one of the season’s most positive players, and she played a good enough game to be a threat at the final six. But instead, her edit boiled down to “Delusional Fake Idol Lady” for most of the season.
That being said, we have our final five! Logic and basic math say Heidi and Lauren have no real shot unless it’s a surprise final two because this has been and will likely end as the Tika Show. What’s less obvious is which one will wear the crown. Carolyn’s been painted as the biggest threat going into the finale, surviving her own downfall episode and emerging at the right time to fulfill the New Era meta. But Yam Yam’s impressive social game and revenge story against those who targeted him could pose a legitimate threat to her chances should he fail to take her out before Final Tribal.
And you can’t totally count out Carson, who has the challenge training to reach the final three and the strong gameplay to sweep the jury votes despite seeming like a third wheel to his more grandiose allies. I’m not expecting any massive surprises in this finale, but for a season as convoluted and structurally botched as this one, I’d say it’s best to let it finish strong on a predictable, simple, and satisfying note.