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Survivor 44 Delivers Its Most Suspenseful Vote-Out of the Season

The Tika Three are in the crosshairs, idols are in play, and someone makes a big move.
  • Carolyn Wiger and Carson Garrett (Photo: CBS)
    Carolyn Wiger and Carson Garrett (Photo: CBS)

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Survivor Season 44, Episode 11, "I'm Not Worthy."]

    The question at the end of last week's Tribal Council was how Carolyn would react to Frannie getting voted out by her allies behind her back. The answer at the top of this episode is an unambiguous "not well!"

    Back at camp, Carolyn reacts pretty much as Yam Yam and Carson feared she would, feeling loudly betrayed and unsure whether she can continue trusting her Tika alliance members. We've seen this kind of reaction on Survivor before, and it never bodes well. Countless players throughout the seasons have doomed their own games by allowing an indirect betrayal at Tribal to drive a wedge between them and their allies. For a few moments there, it looked like Carolyn was following down along that same path.

    But as has been her custom this season, Carolyn once again defies expectation and proves herself to be a smarter player than her personality type would suggest. She doesn't outwardly come across like the kind of stealthy, smooth gamers we've had on the show in the past. But this episode proves more than any other that there’s a savvy player inside of Carolyn’s kooky outer shell. After getting all her emotions out after Tribal, Carolyn wakes up feeling more rational about things. Rather than allow the Danny/Heidi/Jaime/Lauren alliance to use that strife to pick the Tika group apart, Carolyn re-connects with Yam Yam and Carson, knowing that they're still her best shot to make it to the end of the game.

    With only seven players remaining, the Tika Three (Carson doesn't call them the "Three Stooges" this week, so maybe that nickname has fallen by the wayside) are at a crucial juncture. If they can make it through one more vote, they'll be at even numbers with the rest of the players and should be able to control their own destiny to the finals. Of course, Danny and his alliance know that too, which makes the Tikas this week's biggest target.

    Viewers who have been following Survivor's editing decisions all season have assumed for a while now that Carolyn, Yam Yam, and Carson are being set up as the season's final three. This assumption isn't exactly set in stone — remember this time last season when everybody was sure Karla and Jesse were the only possible winners? But if you were of the opinion that the Tikas were going to escape this episode intact, it ended up being pretty fascinating to watch how they escaped this particular vote, when it seemed so glaringly obvious that the other four players should vote one of them out.

    First thing's first: immunity. Yam Yam wins the always harrowing "try to breathe while submerged under a grate with the tide slowly rising" challenge, which splits the difference between endurance test and James Bond set piece. Yam Yam has been a hugely likable character this season, but he's been an afterthought in most challenges. Watching him win this immunity and feel emotional about making his family proud of him was one of those Survivor moments that Jeff Probst usually ruins by trying too hard to underline the poignance of it all, but this played very well.

    Back at camp, Danny, Heidi, Lauren, and Jaime all seemed to decide that Carson should now be the target, which makes a ton of sense: he's a lock to win any upcoming immunity challenge with a puzzle element, and he's a likable choice for jury votes. Carson should be dead in the water.

    Enter Carolyn's intuition. One recurring theme this season has been Carolyn's obstinance when she gets an idea in her head. This has caused her problems before — it was the source of the rift with Yam Yam back on Tika tribe, and it was likely the reason that Carsn and Yam Yam didn't clue her in to the Frannie vote last week. But this time around, Carolyn's obstinance saved the day. She intuits that Danny and his group are going to be voting for Carson, and she decides that the only way to save Carson is to play her hidden idol for him. Does she know for sure that Carson is the target? Not through any actual evidence. But she knows, and nothing can shake her belief. For most players, doubt or uncertainty about this assumption would lead them to play conservative, and maybe even vote with the majority to burn Carson and save their own skin. But Carolyn doesn't play that way.

    The underrated element this week that doesn't get nearly enough air time is the Jaime and Lauren of it all. Despite giving Danny and Heidi their assurances to vote for Carson, they privately wonder whether they should target Danny or Heidi instead. They… probably shouldn't. At least not yet. The smarter play would be to oust a Tika this week and then try to align with the remaining two against the Danny/Heidi pair. We don't know what ends up turning the tide for Jaime and Lauren's votes, because we only get one short scene with them, but at Tribal they do end up voting against Heidi.

    It appears for a while that the immunity idols will end up deciding the fate of this week's eliminated contestant. Carolyn plans to play her idol for Carson, which she thinks will only backfire if Danny plays the idol they all assume he has. He doesn't — Heidi actually does. And it then starts to seem like Carolyn, Carson, and Yam Yam might end up accidentally screwing themselves by voting for Heidi, only to have her shock them all with her idol.

    In the end, none of this actually plays out in the optimal manner. Carolyn plays her idol for Carson, which is the smart move if you don't trust Jaime and Lauren. Strictly speaking, Carolyn didn't need to play her idol because the votes were three for Dany, two for Heidi, and two for Carson, but it's hard to say that's a bad play. Meanwhile, Heidi doesn't play her idol, which it turns out she didn't need to do, but she probably should have, considering she bet wrong by trusting Jaime and Lauren. It's a complicated yarn-board of idol strategy this week, but it ends up clearing up the immunity situation considerably. Heidi is now the only player left with an idol, and nobody knows she has it.

    So Danny finally gets the boot, makes a "De Niro face" at Jeff Probst in a comedy bit that seems to last for 100 years, and leaves us with a rather ragtag group at Final 6: Carolyn, Carson, Yam Yam, Jaime, Lauren, and Heidi. One of these six players is winning a million dollars, and considering the pattern of shocking winners over the last several seasons, it would be foolish to count anyone out.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Player of the Week: Carolyn saved the day, and given the looks on the jurors' faces, she seems to have a lot of fans ready to vote for her.

    Honorable Mention(s): Given the fact that Jeff Probst basically eulogized Carson's game during tribal council, he's gotta feel very good that he made a good enough alliance with Carolyn to get her to play an idol on him.

    Sketchy Strategy: Jaime and Lauren probably made the wrong move this week, and they're running out of time to make the right move.

    Alliance Report: The Tika Three remain in control. For how much longer remains to be seen — Jaime and Lauren are starting to look like awfully attractive people to drag to the end and not get any jury votes.

    Advantage Report:

    • Heidi has an immunity idol.

    Coming Next Week: Carolyn has maybe become too big of a threat to keep around.

    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, Carolyn Wiger, Jeff Probst