Another season of Survivor has come and gone — and color me surprised, but this was a good one! While I felt fairly unenthused during the early episodes, by the back half of the season, I was all in.
Mainly, I think this is due to particularly good casting this time around. While the players eliminated in the first half have already completely been erased from my memory, the players who made the merge and beyond were, for the most part, interesting, entertaining, and full of surprises.
For the most part… there were still a few in there who made zero impression, but overall — great job, casting team!
Survivor has been around a LONG time by now, and while the show continues to add new twists, some basics remain. There are challenges, there are alliances, there are players making overly orgasmic sounds when Jeff mentions food…
Fortunately, some of the most annoying gimmicks from past seasons were not included this time around — fire tokens, redemption island, the prisoner’s dilemma option. One fun new element this season was the appearance of locked bird cages with advantages inside — seeing the players frantically try to find keys, figure out their options, and either conceal or reveal their advantages was goofy and silly entertainment.
By the end, there was a core trio who worked their way from underdog status, outnumbered by members of other tribes, to running the game, and I loved them. Carolyn, Carson, and Yam Yam were delightful — solid alliance, really interesting and quirky people, and great game play.
Unfortunately, Carson lost the fire challenge, making him the final jury member rather than earning a seat in the final three. I would have loved to see these three (#TikaStrong #ThreeStooges) battling it out at final tribal, but sadly that was not to be. Instead, a player who I never particularly noticed, Heidi, ended up at the final, and the win went to Yam Yam.
I was mostly okay with the end results. I was a Carolyn fan all the way, and can’t believe she didn’t get a single vote. I liked Yam Yam, and had he not been up against Carolyn, I would have been excited for his win. I can’t quite figure out what the the jury was thinking, except maybe they didn’t see the amount of strategy Carolyn was applying day by day. The TV edit made it clear that behind her outbursts and kookiness, Carolyn was super smart and was on top of every element of the game, but who knows? Maybe the jury just didn’t get that from the tribal council sessions.
My main complaint about the current Survivor format remains the fire challenge — once it’s down to four players, the person who wins the final immunity challenge picks one person to make it to the final three, and the remaining two have to compete to see who makes fire faster. And that’s just a dumb way to have people get to the end.
In this season, Heidi won the last immunity challenge, and made the decision to give up immunity and build fire against Carson, giving Carolyn and Yam Yam seats in the final three. Heidi did this, apparently, to build her Survivor “resume” and show the jury what a great competitor she was. A couple of problems with this: She played a really lackluster game throughout — I never particularly paid attention to her, or noticed anything special about her strategy. She also chose Carson to go up against in fire building, and it was clear that all four of the remaining players knew he was weakest at fire.
So yes, you could call it a risk to give up immunity and do the fire challenge, except I’m sure she realized that Carson wouldn’t have much of a chance. If you want to really go big, battle Carolyn or Yam Yam!
As expected, Heidi won the fire challenge, and then was declared to have set a record for making the fastest fire in Survivor history. But… who cares? She kept bragging about it at the final tribal, but how does that matter? It’s one fire. What about the rest of the season?
Fortunately, the jury ultimately wasn’t impressed enough to vote for her (except for Danny, who was her closest ally all along), and the win went to Yam Yam. He’s terrific, and like I said, I’d be happy for him in any other season.
Funny, all of my real life friends who watch Survivor were Team Carolyn all the way to the end, and we all were shocked at the outcome. I hope they bring her and Carson back for future seasons. Justice for Carolyn!
See the bottom of this post for more Carolyn love and some great news!
Re Carson, I loved his enthusiasm, his nerdy dedication to the game, and how much he blossomed playing the show. This is the engineering student who 3D-printed past Survivor puzzles at home prior to playing, so he killed it every single time he had a puzzle to do. Good for Carson — he was smart to give himself every possible advantage — but I hope Survivor now retires all past puzzles and starts fresh!
My #1 plea to Survivor production: Get rid of the fire challenge! It’s been done to death at this point, and is such an unsatisfactory way to determine who gets to the final. I’ve talked about this before, so I’ll just copy and paste my earlier thoughts on this here:
There’s got to be a way that’s better than a fire-making challenge for determining the final three. Maybe when it’s down to four, you have one person win immunity, then let the remaining three battle it out for the next two spots? Otherwise, the one who wins that particular immunity challenge gets an outsized amount of power.
I hate seeing weak players at final tribal, with great players voted out (or eliminated by fire) in the 4th or 5th position. I get it — you want to win, so you try to make sure you’re sitting next to someone you can beat. But wouldn’t it be cool to have three amazing players at the end, each with a really strong argument to pitch to the jury?
The fire challenge has to go. The tribes make fire at camp every single day. So making one fire on one day, faster than your competitor, doesn’t make you more deserving of the Survivor prize. It just means you got lucky that particular day.
If I wanted to dwell on a #2 complaint (which has nothing to do with gameplay), I’d say ditch the immediate reading of votes and the afterparty. Granted, it must suck to be a player and have to wait a year for the reunion show and reading of the votes, as they used to handle this pre-pandemic. Still, how can the finalists — especially the two who didn’t end up winning — get into the mood of the party when they literally JUST found out they lost, and they’re still sitting there unwashed and tired after 26 days? Let them at least take showers and put on clean clothes first!
All in all, a fun season to watch. Jeff Probst’s hosting remains terrific — I love his play-by-play narration of the challenges and the way he handles tribal council. The emergencies early on added some drama, and overall strong casting made this group really entertaining to watch week after week.
I still intend (at some point) to go back and watch one or two earlier seasons that I missed. Meanwhile, I’ll look forward to whatever fresh twists show up in season 45 this fall!
And now, back to the person I truly thought deserved to win this season…
Here’s a quick scene that shows just a little of Carolyn’s personality and quirkiness:
On the #JusticeforCarolyn front, it was welcome news to hear she’d received the Sia Award! (Sia is a huge Survivor fan, and awards money to her favorite player each season). This time around, Sia gave three awards — the biggie went to Carolyn ($100,000), with two smaller awards to Carson and Lauren ($15,000 each). Great choices, no question. Here’s Carolyn’s reaction to the news, being (as always) very Carolyn about the whole thing:
And here’s an entire piece on the glory of Carolyn: https://www.vulture.com/article/survivor-44-carolyn-was-the-true-winner.html
Wrapping it all up:
Despite some unevenness early on, this ended up being one of the best Survivor seasons in recent years. As I mentioned, many of the folks voted off in early episodes are completely gone from my memory, but the second half of the season more than made up for an earlier duds.
The next season airs in September. As always, I feel pretty skeptical when I watch the trailer for the upcoming season — these always feel kind of samey. But, after the fun of season 44, I’m willing to remain open-minded and hope the casting pays off once again.