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For Once, Mediocrity Did Not Prevail in the Season 44 Finale of 'Survivor'

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 25, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 25, 2023 |


Season 44 of Survivor has wrapped, and it was one of the best seasons in recent memory, not so much because of gameplay but more due to the personalities involved (it was also a welcome rebound after a dull season 43).

The casting for this season was exceptional. The first half of the season was fueled, in part, by the showmance between Frannie and Matt, which was the first showmance in years. They were an incredibly adorable, dorky couple (and they are still together), and it was hard not to root for them each week.

Midway through the season, Frannie had a chance to save Matt after a random sorting put him on the wrong side of the numbers, but she chose immunity, which was the right choice at that moment. If she had gone the other way and sacrificed her team’s immunity to save Matt, however, I believe that Frannie, Matt, and a third person (possibly Kane) could have formed an unstoppable alliance. It would have been cute as well. However, the unstoppable threesome that formed instead—Carolyn, Yam Yam, and Carson—made for less predictable television.

Carolyn and Yam Yam were the biggest personalities of the season (partly due to the editing), while Carson, a 20-year-old NASA Engineering Student, was not only the ultimate Survivor fan but also a fan favorite. He did something we hadn’t seen before. Although physical challenges receive a lot of attention on the show, it’s usually the puzzles that determine the outcome of an immunity challenge. Carson recreated those puzzles at home using a 3-D printer and mastered them, which is how he won two individual immunity necklaces despite not being particularly athletic (although he did build up some muscle before the game).

Carolyn, Yam Yam, and Carson formed a small three-person alliance after the merge, but they were in a perfect position. While the other two larger alliances targeted each other, Carson, Yam Yam, and Carolyn—a loud, weird, and delightfully kooky recovering addict turned drug counselor—played both sides against each other until they secured their spots in the final four. The editing occasionally suggested that the three might turn on each other, but I suspect it was never a genuine possibility. They were close and knew the power they held as a united front.

What was most interesting about the Tika Three is that any of them could have legitimately won. They didn’t have to betray each other because each had confidence in their own game. Unfortunately, Carson lost to Heidi in the fire-making challenge (after she broke the record for the fastest fire in Survivor history) and didn’t make it to the jury vote, so we didn’t get to see how the vote would have turned out if all three had made it to the end.

On Survivor, it’s rare for three strong social personalities to make it to the final four. Each of the three was targeted individually, but they managed to protect one another. Carson was the strategist, Yam Yam was the charming one, and Carolyn’s unpredictable temperament kept them loyal. I often wonder why the strongest physical players don’t come together to protect themselves, but it’s great to see the three best social players (except for Frannie) working together to reach the end, resulting in a much better final than usual.

This meant that mediocrity did not prevail, as is often the case because all the strongest players usually get voted off. I had assumed that mediocrity would ultimately win with Heidi, who seems like a great person but hid behind Danny for most of the game. Heidi knew she didn’t stand much of a chance against the big, immensely likable personalities, so she pulled a Chris Underwood move (Survivor Edge of Extinction) and, after winning the final immunity challenge, pitted herself against arguably the most popular player, Carson, in the fire challenge.

It was her only play, and she won, but it wasn’t enough. I assumed she had enough friends on the jury — Danny, Jamie, Lauren — to secure a victory if Carolyn and Yam Yam split the votes. In fact, before the jury, I thought she would win, but I wanted Carolyn to win. Ultimately, however, Yam Yam was the most convincing and charming during the jury questions. By the end, not only did I think he would win, but I wanted him to win. He wasn’t just one of the best social players in the history of the game, but also one of the most cheerful, upbeat, and likable players. Both he and Carolyn seemed clownish in the early episodes, but they won me over, and Yam Yam’s decision to help Carson with the fire challenge, potentially to his own detriment, also made him one of the more selfless players to ever win the game.

I expected Carolyn to receive at least a couple of votes (Frannie loved her), but Yam Yam ended up with 7 votes, while Heidi received only one. Carolyn received no votes. When they put together another All-Star season, however, Carolyn will almost certainly be back. I expected that to be in season 45, as the show tends to have all-star seasons every five cycles. That will not be the case for the next season. Here’s a preview: