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Survivor 44: Who's on Top at the Merge?

We got a less-dramatic-than-usual merge vote, but now's a good time to take stock of which players are best positioned to win.
  • Carson, Yam Yam, and Danny on Survivor (photo: Robert Voets/CBS)
    Carson, Yam Yam, and Danny on Survivor (photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Survivor Season 44, Episode 6, "Survivor with a Capital S."

    And just like that, we've made it to the merge on Survivor 44. Jeff Probst is still trying to sell this new version of a merge-that's-not-a-merge, with the tribes gathered on the same beach but forced to compete to "earn" the right to make the merge tribe. But with the controversial and silly hourglass twist from Season 41 now long behind us, what's left is a merge by any other name. The buffs don't get handed out until later, and only the winning team at the immunity challenge gets a feast, but these are cosmetic changes — as is the fact that half of the 12 merged players are immune from the vote. That ends up being a good twist that amps up the tension over who will get voted out, but it all operates more or less like a traditional merge. Just give up the ghost, Jeff. We're merged.

    In this case, the team of Carson, Matt, Frannie, Jaime, Brandon, and Carolyn won the immunity challenge and were safe from the vote, thanks in large part to Carson blazing his way through the tree puzzle. This left a trio of men as the likeliest targets: Josh, because he's been the target for three weeks now, and nobody seems to be all that keen to ally with him; Yam Yam, because he has the fewest allies; and Kane, because Brandon's still mad about that Week 1 vote. Ultimately, Josh's threat of playing his fake little immunity idol wasn't enough to keep him safe, and he was ousted in a split vote.

    For a merge episode, it was not a particularly wild or suspenseful vote. None of the power players were ever at risk — though fan-favorite Yam Yam made for some uneasy moments — and there wasn't the kind of wild scrambling and plan-shifting that can often happen at a merge. Instead, though, we were able to get a glimpse at the game's dynamics and power structures, hints as to who is in the best position at this stage of the game.

    To mark this reset in the game, we're ranking the remaining 11 players by how strong their chances are to win the game. This is based on their current standing in terms of alliances, advantages, and skills, as well as reading the tea leaves of the Survivor editors, who can often tip their hand when it comes to which players will make it to the end.

    Power Positions: Danny and Heidi
    It's telling that even though Danny and Heidi were among only six players to be eligible for the vote this week, their names never once emerged as potential targets. They're currently safely ensconced in the merged tribe's majority, with original Soka allies in Frannie and Matt, plus good relationships with Jamie (their swapped tribemate), Brandon (Danny's bro from last week's reward feast), and Lauren, who we saw strategizing with Heidi this week.

    Production-wise, Danny has been a major focus this season, from his somersault antics down to relatively small things like Jeff Probst making a point to chat with him while everybody was drawing rocks for teams this week. But Heidi's stealthily grown prominent in the edit, too. She weighed in heavily from confessionals during the episode that Claire was voted out, and this week, it was Heidi's stated preference that Josh be the target that ended up prevailing at Tribal. She's a legitimate dark-horse contender, though her biggest liability would be if she and Danny are identified as a pair, particularly since he has an immunity idol and she doesn't.

    King of the Outcasts: Carson
    After getting swapped to the Ratu tribe a few weeks ago, Carson emerged as that tribe's sole focus of the edit, aside from Matthew's injury updates. This week, Carson shared with us his strategy of firming up his Tika bonds with Carolyn and Yam Yam, and sweeping up whatever players are on the outs from the majority alliance. Kane appears to be one of those people, after Carson gave him the heads-up that he might be in trouble. An alliance of four isn't quite powerful enough in a tribe of 11, but we'll see how Carson operates going forward. Hopefully, for his sake, nobody in the majority catches on to the fact that his at-home 3D printing skills have turned him into a human cheat-code when it comes to the immunity-challenge puzzles.

    Queen of the Edit: Carolyn
    Anybody who watched the first five episodes of this season would have no problem identifying Carolyn as the star of the show. She's currently at a disadvantage, alliance-wise, armed only with Carson and a tenuous bond with Yam Yam. But the show wouldn't have invested this much screen time in Carolyn for her to not make it far. If Gabler's win last season taught us anything, it's that the oddballs can sometimes come out on top. For as erratic as her personality can be, Carolyn has made some moves. And she has an immunity idol. She's not going anywhere for a while.

    Power Couple / Problem Couple: Matt and Frannie
    The variance in how long either Matt or Frannie last in the game is huge. They're currently near the top of the majority alliance at this point, and their close bond to each other is an advantage in terms of sharing information in a tribe this big. They could also get broken up as soon as next week and I wouldn't be surprised. Of the two, Frannie seems to be the more strategically grounded, and the one better equipped to make a long run if Matt gets voted out. Their sweet little island romance makes them a huge target; if the majority alliance starts to get chipped away, they're likely to be the first ones chipped.

    Big, Strong Man: Brandon
    For as bulletproof as strong, athletic men are in the pre-merge game, they tend to become targets after the merge. That was the whole impetus behind Brandon and Danny talking about creating an alliance of big, strong men to keep them safe. Of course, Josh was one of the names floated for that alliance, and he's gone now, so it's kind of just Brandon and Danny as the alpha males now. And while Danny has been a darling of the producers and editors this season, Brandon has been mostly a non-factor between the season premiere and now. Not a great sign for the long run.

    Self-Declared "MVP": Jaime
    If you're looking for clues in the edit as to players who will go far, one of the tells is a player who gets a lot of confessionals despite not being a major part of the vote-out scenario. That's been Jaime all season. We've seen her chime in a ton, even when her tribe hasn't been the one going to Tribal Council. This week, we got a confessional in which Jamie described herself as the "MVP" of the merged tribe, since she's been on tribes with and/or built relationships with everybody on the island except for Carolyn and Yam Yam. She's got a point. If people think Jaime is an ally and a vote for their cause, she's not going to be targeted. We saw Carson this week mention that Matthew told him that Jaime has an idol, though he didn't tell Carson that it was fake. This could either be good for Jaime (a disincentive to vote her out) or make her someone Carson might want to maneuver out sooner than later.

    Needs a Power Shift: Yam Yam
    Things came perilously close to a Yam Yam vote-out this week. With the merged tribe eager to settle on a safe and easy choice to vote out, Yam Yam presented quite the attractive option, having relatively few allies and at least one person in Josh pushing him as a target. But Yam Yam survived, giving him a few more days to hopefully build some bonds with his new tribemates. He said at Tribal that his mouth often gets him into trouble, but he really seems like a delightful person, so there's maybe some hope that he can make inroads. But inroads or not, he's already been tagged as a potential easy vote, which puts him on dangerous ground. He really needs the power dynamics on this tribe to shift into something more chaotic and soon.

    Potential Erika Edit: Lauren
    When Erika won Season 41, the show was heavily criticized for hiding her in the edit for much of the season and thus making her seem like a weaker winner than she was. Since then, winners Maryanne and Gabler have had more prominent positions in the edit, even if they weren't seen as power players on the island. After being one of the major focuses in the first episode, Lauren all but disappeared from the pre-merge edit. Numbers-wise, she seems to be in a very good position — she's in the majority alliance, with strong bonds to players like Brandon and seemingly Heidi. But it's hard to imagine Survivor pulling the same invisible-edit trick on another winner, which makes it seem very unlikely that Lauren will ultimately triumph, even if she goes pretty far.

    Allies Needed: Kane
    That vote Kane cast against Brandon in the season premiere is still coming back to haunt him. This week, it was Brandon throwing Kane's name out there as a decoy vote in case Josh played an immunity idol. Carson warned Kane about it, which may have contributed to Yam Yam being the recipient of alternate votes instead (though Kane did get one vote from an out-of-the-loop Carolyn). What Kane needs is allies, and at the moment, he only has Carson. How willing Carson will continue to be to stick his neck out for Kane like he did this week remains to be seen.

    Advantage Report: Some quick clarification on the real idol/fake idol situation here, because the show has been unnecessarily confusing. This tweet clears it up: inside the birdcage on each tribe was a satchel which contained one real immunity idol and one powerless trinket (which was obviously meant to be used as a fake idol to trick some unsuspecting tribemate). But the distinction of which trinket is a real idol and which is powerless is different on each tribe. So here's how it stands:

    • Danny has the Soka immunity idol (which is a medallion).
    • Matt has the fake Soka immunity idol (which is a silver coin)
    • Carolyn has the real Tika immunity idol (which is a silver coin)
    • Jamie has a fake immunity idol that Matthew made himself from items at Ratu camp
    • Lauren has an extra vote to use whenever she wants.

    Coming Next Week: Jeff announces a twist, and somebody won't be able to vote at Tribal Council.

    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