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Survivor’s most brainless tribe swap ever did provoke some action

Survivor’s most brainless tribe swap ever did provoke some action
Lauren, Josh, and Carolyn during the Survivor 44 episode 4 reward challenge (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

Survivor’s tribe swaps can seriously screw players over. One day a person is on top; the next day, an outsider in a new tribe that still has a big chunk of people who used to be on the same tribe together.

That’s the most dramatic but also most regrettable outcome, since the odds just screwed someone over.

But at least those are odds, and everyone has an equal chance at a random draw of buffs, even when Survivor producers control the swap by having an equal number of men and women on each new tribe. That’s what happened the last time we had a tribe swap, in Survivor: Winners at War.

A person on a beach holding out a basket to a group of people
Jeff Probst offers new buffs to the Survivor Winners at War cast during their first tribe swap (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

But in Survivor’s first swap since 2020, the producers decided to dump random chance and instead just force three people to switch.

As a consolation prize, they got idols that will expire once all the players end up on one beach, which used to be called the merge before all the fun was drained out of it.

Survivor 44’s tribe swap ended up being a forced mutiny, though it was framed as part of the “journey.”

That word is overused on The Bachelor and here, because it was no such thing. Carson, Jaime, and Josh rode a boat together, said hi, split up, and then picked up their idol and new buff. They had nothing to do except pose for this incredible photo:

Three people standing on a hill with the ocean behind them, looking at each other and laughing
“Ha ha we’re about to get screwed!” Josh Wilder, Jaime Lynn Ruiz, and Carson Garrett at the start and end of their “journey” on Survivor 44 episode 4. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

The swapped players don’t even have a lot of agency with their new idols. Since a combined-beach moment might be coming soon, their idols’ expiration is basically the producers being like: PLAY IT NOW.

Jeff Probst might has well have blindfolded himself, had the players surround him, and spun around while pointing at people: You and you and you are switching, and you’re all immune, you’re welcome.

As the reward challenge (slingshots) winner, it was Soka who made the choice of who to send on the “journey,” but without having any information to make that choice it was boring.

Doing this when one tribe has just four players is even more nuts. Three tribes of six is already challenging enough. Why not do a true swap and turn three tribe into two? I suspect it’s because that might not guarantee immediate drama, while this had a better chance of starting a metaphorical fire.

In his podcast, which I’ve been recapping, Jeff Probst said that, when planning twists, he reverse engineers scenarios until he finds a point where there’s “some decision that has to be made.” He also said he read a book about negotiation that helped him figure out how to “trap somebody into getting where you want them.”

There was no decision to be made here, and no agency from the players until they arrived at their new tribes. It was just Probst trapping them.

A person with their hands on their hips, with a large Survivor logo behind them
Survivor 44 host and showrunner Jeff Probst during episode 3 (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

I will admit, however, that made for some interesting moments, such as Carson immediately giving up Yam Yam as a mastermind in order to cover his own strategic play, Jaime convinced she was “starting fresh” with “a lot of power” in her two idols, though one is fake.

To demonstrate trust with Jaime, Danny searched her belongings for idols. “I took the liberty of going through her bag,” Danny said. “The rules of normal, ethical actions don’t apply here, at least in my book, and we’re reading my book.” Season two of Outlast, Danny?

And here we arrive at the problem and thrill of these advantages and twists: sometimes they produce decent or even great TV, and thus validate the producers’ choices.

Most interesting was what happened with Carolyn and Josh, though it’s a version of something that’s happened many time before: A dominant alliance takes someone for granted, that person flips and gets them back.

In this case, the alliance was just Sarah and Yam Yam, and told Carolyn they’d vote Josh out and use her as the pawn.

“I’m done with that,” Carolyn said about being the decoy. “Why would I have any loyalty to them?”

She talked to Josh, and Josh told her about his to play it for Carolyn, believing the plan. When they left for Tribal, the editing suggested Carolyn was unsure if she’d just let Josh be voted out, or she’d “stand up and do something for yourself.”

Four people sitting on stumps at night, with torches and lanterns behind them
Yes, this is the entire tribe: Josh Wilder, Sarah Wade, Carolyn Wiger, Yamil “Yam Yam” Arocho, and Jeff Probst at Tribal Council on Survivor 44 episode 4. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

At Tribal Council, though, it was clear that Carolyn and Josh made a plan, and together voted for Sarah, blindsiding her, and dropping Yam Yam to the bottom of a three-person tribe instantly.

Together, Josh and Sarah went from “the bottom of the barrel,” as Josh described his position, to the top, though it is a very, very shallow barrel.

At Tribal, Yam Yam said “bye Felecia,” and used the pronoun “her,” which became a thing about whether he was targeting Carolyn. Amusing.

In other Carolyn news, she put an X made of sticks on the bird cage, and then created a similar one to mark the location of her fake idol. Her thought: X marks the spot. “I’m worried that it looks so fake,” she said, but then she realized that everything looks fake because “there are so many twists” and “I don’t feel like this is too far off left field.”

It’s nice to see someone in the game call out its idol and advantage problem!

Before Sarah was voted out with an idol on day eight, there are now six immunity idols in the game, plus three fakes created by the producers that are believed to be real, and one fake. Four more and each player could have had their very own.

Programming note: I won’t be recapping next week’s episode, but will recap again in two weeks. Hopefully the producers will stop playing Survivor and let the players play!

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Happy discussing!

Bad Mitten

Sunday 26th of March 2023

“Together, Josh and Sarah went from “the bottom of the barrel,” as Josh described his position, to the top”

- should read josh and carolyn, Sarah’s barrel is sunk

James Pats

Saturday 25th of March 2023

You people bitched and moaned when there was no tribe swap for three seasons and now when there is one you’re bitching and moaning about that? No pleasing you.

James Pats

Sunday 26th of March 2023

@Bad Mitten, Where was the producer manipulation? The players had a decision to make where they knew anything was possible, and then , as is standard with Survivor, the unexpected happened. If there weren’t any idols people would whine about the three switched being “screwed over”, hence why the idols were there. But then people whined anyway

Bad Mitten

Sunday 26th of March 2023

@Bad Mitten, maybe next time we actually try swapping full tribes instead of shooing individuals over to other tribes with an idol

Bad Mitten

Sunday 26th of March 2023

@James Pats, if you want to actually call this sad excuse for producer manipulation a tribe swap then sure go off


Saturday 25th of March 2023

This is completely unrelated to anything whatsoever, but for some inexplicable reason Carolyn and her edit remind me of the security officer lady from Third Rock From the Sun. I have no point, I just need to tell SOMEONE since I don't have anyone to watch this with anymore.

It's Time to Vote

Thursday 23rd of March 2023

Yes, the device that led to the tribe swap was clumsy. The three split at the fork in the road, and then drew a new buff. But it didn't even make sense. If they were picking a path, shouldn't each buff-bag have had all three tribes colors in it? Either the fork in the road was staged or the drawing of "random" buffs was staged.

Anyway, I also agree that the Josh-Carolyn alliance was the best part of the episode --and pretty darn good gameplay, really.

I was most impressed with Carolyn's performance at tribal. She sold the idea that Sarah and Yam Yam had all the power and she was on her way out unless she could persuade them to vote Josh. Then she and Josh coldly stuck the knife in.

She's a nutjob but she just made a serious Survivor move.


Friday 24th of March 2023

@It's Time to Vote, My guess is after they chose paths, they put one buff (of a color other than their current tribe) in the bag, so they were really just drawing out one buff that wouldn’t be their current one, which I guess the path they chose was still “random” but I agree it’s stretching it. I will always watch Survivor but I do agree that the amount of advantages/Idols/losing votes/whatever else the producers come up with is dizzying and next to impossible to keep track of.

Mikal S

Thursday 23rd of March 2023

Carolyn needs her own show.