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Did Survivors’ flirting, furtive foraging, or puzzle prep pay off?

Did Survivors’ flirting, furtive foraging, or puzzle prep pay off?
Survivor 44's Helen, Carson, and Yam Yam in a boat and Carolyn in the water—a metaphor? Or foreshadowing? (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

It’s a testament to the Survivor 44 cast and their entertaining personalities that the second episode spent half of its time on idol hunts and a showmance, and was littered with the cast making references to Survivor even while we were watching Survivor, and I just enjoyed without minding too much at all.

Of course, I’m me, so, sure, it’s annoying: Jeff Probst’s desire to force the players to make choices risks having the players just reacting to the producers’ obstacle course, rather than finding their own way through the jungle, to try to make metaphors out of Survivor elements.

Let’s start with the showmance, which the show introduced with all the subtlety and grace of Yam Yam sliding down a piece of plywood and making me cringe on his behalf because I was pretty sure that was tearing all the skin off his back and the doctor was going to get another starring moment to narrate medical treatment while someone convulsed underneath him.

Two portraits, one of a person with long hair and glasses smiling, the other of a person with curly hair, glasses, and a beard with an expressionless face
Frannie and Matt, whose friendship/connection/showmance got a lot of attention on Survivor 44’s second episode (Photos by Robert Voets/CBS; composite by Andy Dehnart)

In a conversation about their dogs, Matt tells his tribe about his breakup, and says his ex broke up with him and “kept the dog as well.” So his ex is clearly the villain of the season.

Then Producer McExposition gave us a lot of Matt exposition, including things we’ve just heard, so we know how Ready! For! Love! Matt really is: Matt says he’s in a “very vulnerable state” and “recently got out of a relationship” (what?!) and then tells us “I found an incredibly connection with Frannie.”

We then see Matt flirting with Frannie as they work on some palm fronds, and he says, “you’re a little fishy and I’ve got my big long rod. I don’t really make a habit of talking about my big long rod.” This makes her laugh; at this rate Jeff Probst will be officiating a wedding at the merge.

I’m all for rod jokes, but I started to think it was weird that we were only getting Matt’s perspective on the relationship. Not that it’d be unusual for Producer McSexist to focus on just a man’s perspective on Survivor, but Frannie seems to be like he’s fun! and Matt’s like *drooling everywhere*.

We finally do hear from Frannie, and she says, “I’m so glad that you’re here” to Matt. He confides in her that he lost his vote, and she just puts his head on his shoulder.

At long last, there’s a confessional from Frannie, in which she tells us “the fact that Matt trusts me … is a really good sign,” and she also worries that there’s a target on them if they spend all their time together.

Ultimately, her description of their connection sounded to me like it could be romantic or platonic: “I think we just gravitate towards each other—we’re just like two big, dorky magnets that can’t be pulled apart.”

Frannie is right that their time together is a risk. Claire tells us, “Are you serious? Like, what are they doing? They’re just digging their holes deeper.”

Speaking of digging holes: After the first advantage-fest of a Tribal Council, Matthew shares with us that “Tribal could not have gone better for me” and says he used his shot in the dark as a “play of strategy so I didn’t have to vote, so no one knew where my alliances were.” Does he know that votes are private?

Kane, meanwhile, says Tribal “went about as poorly as it could have gone for me,” because he voted for Brandon thinking the “majority consensus [was] that Brandon would go home,” and instead the majority just bailed on him and didn’t vote at all. Kane looked for an idol to protect himself, but found only a crab.

However, both Danny and Carolyn were successful in their searches for the keys to unlock The Birdcage.

Carolyn first goes climbing, and in a fun bit of editing, she tells us that “I started digging,” while the camera pans up, tipping up to see Carolyn high in a tree.

Also in that tree: a snake. “I do not want to see a snake!” Carson says, fleeing, so it’s a good thing he’s not on Soka with Matt’s big long rod.

Somehow, Carolyn separates from the group, and finds the key thanks to her commitment to searching through anything, which she illustrates by telling us about the time her kid swallowed a tooth. “I dug through his poop for three days,” she says. “I was persistent.” Awesome parenting there.

Her persistence pays off, but her sneakiness needs some work. She gets the idol—but leaves the cage empty and without the lock. She returns the bag and relocks the cage, but does so in a way that is super-obvious it’s been opened.

Both Carolyn and Danny decided they wouldn’t tell anybody, which is the smartest game play I’ve seen so far this season.

Tangent: If I found an idol and the fake beads, I’d replace the fake idol and then hide the key in an obvious place, so someone would think they had the idol, but did not. Neither Danny nor Carolyn has done that (yet?).

When the rest of the tribe realizes the cage’s contents are askew, Carson tells us that he’s great at “reading body language” because of all his preparation (wait, he prepared?!) so he “instantly start[ed] analyzing.”

He decided that “Helen, arms crossed,” means she’s hiding something—though before he went full-on Traitors’ player with misguided confidence, he added, “I don’t know if she has the key.”

Meanwhile, Yam Yam thinks Sarah is nervous, and Sarah thinks it’s Yam Yam, and no one suspects Carolyn, which is incredible, since, as she points out, she’s the only person missing on a five-person tribe.

People climbing over netting that's been placed across an A-frame
The start of Survivor 44 episode 2’s combined reward and immunity challenge (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

The immunity/reward challenge was an obstacle course with some new elements, or ones I’ve forgotten about, ending with the very familiar snake ball puzzle. They all ended up at the puzzle together.

Ratu, after being in last place, caught up and Matthew’s puzzle skills won immunity for them. The puzzles can change the trajectory of the challenge, and that can be thrilling, but if the rest of the challenge doesn’t matter, why are we watching it?

After the challenge, Matthew shared that he built a plywood replica to practice. Later, Carson said he practiced too, and we saw all the 3-D printed puzzles he made because “so many of the puzzles are repeated.”

These were one of many moments of people talking about being on Survivor while on Survivor, and while I respect Matthew and Carson’s prep, this is 1) not new—remember this from 7+ years ago? and 2) is it really an amazing thing if your contestants know exactly what to expect and practice?

More significantly, Probst making a moment out of this is just using show time to give the show credit for being a great show, which ironically makes it a less-great show. Just let Survivor be Survivor!

Anyway, purple/Tika lost, and heads to Tribal Council for the first time—and all the idol-hunting did have some payoff, with the question of whether or not Carolyn would use it, or not use it and be voted off.

Sarah didn’t have a vote, so she needed an alliance of three to vote with her, and connects with Helen, Carson, and Yam Yam, who say they’ll vote for Carolyn.

Yam Yam tells Carolyn, though, because “I really gelled with her,” adding, “we’re crazy people.”

They both want to vote out Helen for being too smart and strategic. Just no. Carson joins them and says he wants to be with them, and Carolyn collapses out of excitement.

Carolyn second-guesses Carson, worried he’s lying. “What’s in it for him?” she asks Yam Yam. Carolyn isn’t wrong! Carson tells us, “I’m really liking playing both sides,” although he admits his “chaotic, crazy side” likes Carolyn and Yam Yam.

At Tribal Council, Helen signs her own exit slip when she talks about conversations others are having without her, and says, “What if that’s the reality and I’m just living in my own delusion?”

“That would be called a blindside, and that would be called Survivor,” Captain Obvious McExposition explains.

At another point, Probst calls out Carolyn for exhaling, and that prompts her to cry. “I didn’t want to cry—I’m just scared,” she says, and then changes that to “I’m just grateful … it’s those little moments.”

Probst says she’s using past tense, and she says, “I’m staying.” And she was.

I know Carolyn isn’t everyone’s favorite character, but I love her raw honesty and physical expressions of her feelings. “Why are there so many pieces up here. Like, just put one,” Carolyn says, critiquing the voting confessional’s set design while she’s voting. “This is a like a horror movie up here—like a haunted house.”

Besides Helen’s vote, the tribe unanimously votes for Helen, who is clearly blindsided, and crying in her exit interview. “I had no idea they were protecting their own game,” she tells us.

Having spent the weekend watching The Traitors UK, a very emotional season with lots of paranoia, I’m seeing shades of that in Survivor 44, too. I’m also noticing how The Traitors brings something new to the competition reality show table, while Survivor keeps searching in its own feces because it’s too far up its own ass sometimes.

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Happy discussing!


Saturday 11th of March 2023

Late to watching the episode. But I can’t tell if a Carolyn is for real or acting. If that’s truly her…. She going to make it far becuase everyone is gonna treat her as the crazy that doesn’t have her stuff together and not a threat….

As for Carson. He comes off like a spencer from his first season not second chance. He may last Until tribe swap.

Sarah got away with not voting. Tribe never suspects she lost her vote since not all the votes had to be read.

Okay epeisode outside of that. Only annoyed with the people now doing survivor prep at home with their own puzzles, etc. For all the game changes Probst and produces have done. It’s shown how challenges have become predictable that contestants can replicate it all at home.

Originality is needed again. So it plays into why some of survivor is getting boring to watch if all the same.

We need some season 4-6 of big brother expect the unexpected true moments for contestants.

They know day 4 is tribe swap, that merge is day …, that advantages are at the island. Etc


Friday 10th of March 2023

"These were one of many moments of people talking about being on Survivor while on Survivor, and while I respect Matthew and Carson’s prep, this is 1) not new—remember this from 7+ years ago? and 2) is it really an amazing thing if your contestants know exactly what to expect and practice?"

- That anddddddddd all these people who can recreate survivor challenges clearly have $$$$$ I mean Carson was bragging about his 3D printer at home. I think this dichotomy where Survivor is basically saying hey were recycle all this stuff so if you want to be successful go out there and practice it, is only benefiting players with economic means.


Friday 10th of March 2023

"Tangent: If I found an idol and the fake beads, I’d replace the fake idol and then hide the key in an obvious place, so someone would think they had the idol, but did not. Neither Danny nor Carolyn has done that (yet?)."

- Andy... You somehow glossed over (actually just didnt mention) the third tribe and the guy who found their tribe's idol did put the fake back in the bag/cage as you were suggesting.

Andy Dehnart

Tuesday 14th of March 2023

Do you mean Brandon in the first episode? I remember clearly how he opens the cage and reads the idol with everyone watching him, but he re-hides the fake idol in the cage without anyone noticing? I don't recall that at all!

Scott Hardie

Friday 10th of March 2023

Carson's vote against his closest ally Helen intrigues me. As Carolyn said, what's in it for him? I have to wonder if Carson figured the odds of Sarah losing her vote at the summit and decided not to risk a tied vote. But if he was thinking about the summit, why not target Sarah to eliminate any advantage that she might have earned there, and now while she's unlikely to use it?


Thursday 9th of March 2023

Is it just me, or did Carolyn refer to the real idol as the fake? Is she confused as to which one is the actual idol? I was waiting for her to play her idol just to find out that it was not the actual idol.


Thursday 9th of March 2023

@CT, I don't think she read the instructions that came along with it. Maybe she will later (or did off camera), but I too was waiting for her to use the wrong one at TC.


Thursday 9th of March 2023

@CT, I thought that too! Unless the instructions were different, but I don't know why they would be.