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Survivor 44: The Ancient Alliance Between Gay Men and Eccentric Women Takes Center Stage

Carolyn is once again in the spotlight with an idol hunt and a fun alliance.
  • Yam Yam Arocho and Carolyn Wiger (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)
    Yam Yam Arocho and Carolyn Wiger (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Survivor Season 44, Episode 2, “Two Dorky Magnets."]

    The outcome of this week's Survivor Tribal Council makes all the sense in the world if you were following the editing choices over the season's first two episodes. In a toss-up between voting out Helen or Carolyn, you had to know we wouldn't be losing Carolyn, who's been the season's biggest character so far and kicked off last week's premiere episode with a cold-open confessional in which we actually got to hear the producer speak because Carolyn was such a tongue-tied mess.

    From an on-the-island perspective, however, it makes much less sense. Why would Yam Yam and especially Carson choose to align with the demonstrably erratic Carolyn over the calm, clever, and more predictable Helen? For Carson, he might have reasoned that Helen was more of a threat to him in the long run, someone who could outsmart him when the time came. He also seems to (mistakenly) think Helen was displaying some "I found the immunity idol" body language. Meanwhile, Yam Yam (pronounced "Jam Jam") sees a Helen/Sarah/Carson alliance that would have him on the bottom rung, making Carolyn a far better ally to keep around. That's sound reasoning.

    But there's potentially another factor at play for Yam Yam here. He's a 36-year-old gay salon owner from Puerto Rico. And for centuries, gay men have claimed as our birthright the ability to cheer for, support, and otherwise align with over-the-top, eccentric, even chaotic women. It's written in our DNA. From Judy Garland to Tammy Faye Bakker to Tiffany "New York" Pollard from Flavor of Love, a gay man will always drift inexorably towards an eccentric woman.

    And Carolyn is nothing if not eccentric. "She's like a mix of Goofy and Cher," Yam Yam says at one point, referencing at least one gay icon to describe his new best ally. This week alone, she climbs a tree to find a hidden key to the locked cage that contains the immunity idol and sticks her hand into a crevasse where a snake is hiding out. She later manages to find that key (closer to the ground) and is so overcome with excitement that she runs off to the beach with the idol and the lock in her pants, before realizing she needs to return the satchel and lock so no one will be suspicious. (She also maybe confuses which of the satchel's contents is the actual idol and which is the powerless silver coin; stay tuned to further episodes to see if that pans out.)

    When Carson pledges his loyalty to Carolyn and Yam Yam, her reaction is to spin around, sit on the ground, and throw some dirt on herself in… celebration? Let's say celebration. At Tribal Council, when Carolyn starts to tear up for seemingly no reason, Yam Yam sums up her whole vibe thusly: "Carolyn is like this all the time, in a good way. Even, like, opening a green papaya and finding out it's ripe, she gets emotional. This is what makes her cool."

    For Yam Yam, Carolyn being a quirky weirdo isn't a reason not to align with her. It's the reason he gravitates to her. He's into that unhinged energy she's putting out. It's what makes her cool. It's certainly what makes her a deeply watchable reality TV character, even if she does cause your anxiety levels to spike every now and then. There seems to be something of an unspoken outsiders' bond between Yam Yam and Carolyn, and when Carson votes with them to get rid of Helen, they find themselves in the driver's seat on Tika.

    The social strategy on Tika comes at the end of an episode that had been dominated by two tribes' search for their respective birdcage keys. In both cases, it's a lone-wolf hunting strategy that bests the tribe majorities. As mentioned above, Carolyn manages to not only find the key to Tika's birdcage but also seemingly avoids suspicion that she was the one who found it. Carson notices that the satchel has been tampered with (astute!) and then assumes from Helen's body language that she was the one who found it (less astute!). Body-language assessment is maybe not a Tika strong suit overall, as Sarah and Yam Yam each deduce that the other has the idol based on nonverbal clues that are communicating nothing of the sort. Modern-day Survivor players outsmart themselves kind of a lot!

    On Soka, while Claire is preaching the gospel of the tribe not wearing themselves out before a challenge, Danny is running around the island like a madman searching for the key to the cage. Shockingly, trying for something ends up paying off better than not trying for something, and he ends up with an immunity idol, which he might need since he seems like something of a social outcast on his tribe.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Player of the Week: It's gotta be Carolyn. She's weird, she's emotional, she doesn't seem to communicate super effectively, but she ends up on the right side of the vote and she has an immunity idol. And she doesn't get bitten by that snake up in the tree, which is a definite win.

    Honorable Mention(s): We don't see too much of Ratu tribe this week, in part because they don't go to Tribal Council. And for that they can thank Matthew, who dominates the puzzle-board portion of the immunity challenge and then reveals to Jeff Probst that he'd built a replica of said puzzle-board at home to practice on. This is maybe a lesson for Survivor producers that re-using puzzles the way they do is making the game too easy to prepare for, but it's mostly a win for Matthew, who is quickly becoming the protagonist of his tribe.

    Sketchy Strategy: Matt and Frannie's budding flirtation on Soka tribe is adorable to watch. They're in the early stages of nerd love, who wouldn't appreciate that? But it's already making them very conspicuous, and in a modern Survivor age where everybody on the island is attuned to reality-TV orthodoxies like "beware showmances," that could end up putting them both in danger.

    Alliance Report: Mathew revealed that the reason he played his Shot in the Dark last week rather than casting a vote was so he could sit back and see how the vote shook out before committing himself to one side or the other. A smart move, as it turns out, as now the power structure on Ratu tribe seems to be Matthew, Brandon, and Jaime (though Lauren with her two votes seems to think she's in the driver's seat).

    Advantage Report:

    • Danny now has a beaded immunity idol (plus a non-powered silver coin to do with as he pleases, presumably as bait to make a fake idol).
    • Carolyn now has a beaded immunity idol (plus a non-powered silver coin, though Carolyn seems to think it's the other way around).
    • Lauren has an extra vote to use whenever she wants to.
    • Sarah earned an Inheritance Advantage, which when played in the voting booth will allow her to secretly scarf up all the advantages played at that particular Tribal Council.
    • Matt lost his vote for his next two Tribal Councils.

    Coming Next Week: Matthew doesn't intend to play an honest game, Frannie and Matt are a liability, and Danny is doing somersaults and eating parchment in the jungle. Fun times!

    Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM ET on CBS. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Jeff Probst