[Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Survivor Season 44, Episode 12, "I'm the Bandit."]
Seemingly every week this season, we've talked about Carolyn being a secretly good player. It's been a "secret" because she masks that good player with the exterior presentation of an erratic, emotional, unconventional personality. Up until now, that's been her biggest asset. She's been able to maneuver and amass social capital and harbor an immunity idol and manipulate others into fake immunity idols and work her way into a numbers advantage at the final 6, all while maintaining the veneer of a non-threat. That all ended with last week's Tribal Council, when Carolyn played her immunity idol and voted out the tribe's biggest threat, Danny.
Back at camp, despite Carolyn's best efforts to downplay her threat level, it dawns on the other players just how big of a threat she has become. She made the flashiest move of the season so far and thus claimed credit for the season's biggest blindside, all while the jury demonstrably went gaga for her. The more Carolyn talks about her move, the more the other players see her as a threat to win, and we get a series of interview clips throughout this episode to attest to that. Jaime says Carolyn is a lesson to not judge a book by its cover, and Lauren says, "she's so confusing but she's so lovable."
But the most aware of Carolyn's threat level is the player who's been closest to her throughout the game. Yam Yam sees Carolyn as a probable winner right now, and he spends the whole episode seemingly trying to psych himself up to vote her out. Whether or not this is the editing working overtime to make it seem like Carolyn, the season's fan favorite, is in danger, the sentiments Yam Yam is expressing in his interviews are genuine. He sees exactly how much of a danger Carolyn is and doesn't want to go up against her in the final three. So he approaches Jaime, Lauren, and even Carson with a plan to vote out Carolyn. (It seems Heidi has flaked out on too many plans to be seen as a trustworthy vote at this point.)
Carson appears to be considering it, but his dilemma is the kind of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" choice that tends to face Survivor players when they get this deep in the game. Yam Yam isn't wrong about the threat Carolyn poses, but Carson is on equally intimidating footing. He's instrumental in helping his team win the Reward Challenge this week, and he's studied and is adept at puzzles in a way that makes him way too dangerous at the final few immunity challenges; plus, the jury seems to like him. Carson has to know that getting rid of Carolyn this week would make him the prime target next week when he would be outnumbered by a Jaime/Lauren/Heidi alliance. Carson needs to keep Carolyn around as a shield for one more week, then hope he can to get rid of her next time.
This week, the Survivor producers perhaps realized that they've run the risk of painting themselves into a corner with making Carolyn too heavy a favorite to win. They did the same thing last season, editing the show to the point where only a Karla or Jesse win would be satisfying, and then ended the season with a final three that included neither of them. So this episode is filtered heavily through Yam Yam's perspective. He gets to explain to the home audience how much he loves Carolyn but also why he would need to betray her to win. If Carolyn is the season's heavy sentimental favorite, Yam Yam at least made the case for himself to be an acceptable alternative.
Of course, all that talk about Yam Yam betraying Carolyn and voting her out ends up being a red herring. At Tribal, Jeff Probst's prodding and Yam Yam's seemingly apologetic justifications have Carolyn extra paranoid that this may be her last hurrah. She casts more bug-eyed glances around at her fellow tribemates than she has all season. But just as last week's heavy foreshadowing against Carson turned out to be a fake-out, so did the Carolyn eulogy. The Tika Three and Heidi banded together to vote out Jaime, as they head into a final five along with immunity-winner Lauren. Yam Yam stayed loyal to Carolyn for one more week. Next week's finale will test how long that loyalty lasts.
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Yam Yam's best move would have been to oust Carolyn this week and Carson next (or vice versa), so credit to Carson for keeping the Tika alliance together and keeping his feet out of the fire for one more week.
Honorable Mention(s): Lauren keeps winning immunity exactly when she's in the most danger of getting voted out. We'll see if that ends up holding weight with the jury if she ends up in the final three.
Sketchy Strategy: Heidi got paranoid and played her hidden immunity idol at Tribal, the most unnecessary idol play in a season full of unnecessary idol plays. To be fair, paranoia at final 6 must be at incredibly high levels, but Heidi had to know she was in very little danger of getting voted out at this juncture. The Tika alliance was targeting Jaime and Lauren. Jaime and Lauren's best chance was to try to turn one or more of the Tikas against each other. It would make very little sense for the Tikas and Ratus to band together to oust Heidi at this stage. Heidi's only real point of danger would have been if Jaime had played an immunity idol, but she hadn't. Heidi had a clear walk into the final four if she'd held onto her idol. Now she's vulnerable at the game's most crucial stage.
Alliance Report: The Tikas made it to the final five, but alliances may well be over at this point.
Coming Next Week: The season finale will crown a sole Survivor, and it would feel really weird if it were Lauren or Heidi.
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, Carolyn Wiger, Jeff Probst