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Survivor 44’s best episode yet delivered an outstanding narrative arc

Survivor 44’s best episode yet delivered an outstanding narrative arc
Carolyn and Carson conspire on Survivor 44, episode 11 (Image from Survivor via CBS)

“Something stupid happens, is what I’m afraid of,” Carolyn told Carson before the remaining Survivor 44 players went to Tribal Council.

I shared her concern. It wasn’t Danny possibly playing an idol I was worried about, but Jeff Probst and the Survivor production fucking up an exceptionally good episode again with some kind of moronic last-minute twist.

But they didn’t! They just let the players play! And the result was fantastic, with a beautifully crafted arc for Carolyn, who went from upset about being left out of a vote to engineering Danny’s blindside.

The vote did leave me with some questions, but even with that, it was a near-perfect episode. Let’s break it down.

A close-up of a man with a beard
Bye bye, Danny (Image from Survivor via CBS)

As it opened, Carolyn was very annoyed that she had no idea Frannie was being blindisded. “It was nothing, don’t take it personal,” Yam Yam said, and even though almost everything Yam Yam says is charming, I cannot just sit back when a reality TV contestant says “take it personal” instead of “take it personally.”

“I couldn’t not resist” voting for Frannie, Yam Yam said, even though “I knew leaving Carolyn out of this vote was gonna be bad—and it backfired.”

“You can’t fucking trust anybody,” Carolyn told Yam Yam and Carson “You lied to me all day … It’s torture—it’s mental torture. I didn’t expect this from you two.”

This dynamic is so familiar yet still so interesting; it’s one of the things that made The Traitors so freakin’ compelling.

In that moment of disconnection, Yam Yam sought connection with everyone else, telling them, “I think she thought she had the perfect game.”

Meanwhile, instead just feeling his betrayed feelings like Carolyn was, Danny was insisting “I don’t take it personal” (ugh) while taking it very personally. He was still obsessing over it the next morning. Yep, definitely not worried.

Yam Yam actually told him it was Heidi, but Danny didn’t believe him, and said, “I would find it difficult to find first graders who would buy that story.” (Well, Danny, since Jeff Probst thinks about Survivor from the point of view of kids now, I’m sure there are a bunch in the audience who were laughing at your disbelief, not Yam Yam’s story.)

Heidi, meanwhile, said, “I am going to lie my way out of this one,” and Danny appeared to believe her, even though her deflections seemed very, very telling.

Tangent: Heidi also said that she hoped “not be at the bottom of the totem pole for the next one,” which is a phrase I hope we can retire—not the least of which is because people use it entirely wrong! (Totem poles are not linear rankings of importance.)

Instead of a reward challenge or some hunt in the woods for the Fingernail of Favor, we spent the second segment with the tribe, where Jaime was leading yoga and gratitude practice on the beach.

During that time, two players got focus: Heidi and Carolyn, and from an editing perspective alone, it was very interesting how they were presented.

Heidi got an extended backstory package that took us off the island. It ended with her saying, “I’m willing to take some risks” and showed her on the top of the Auckland Sky Tower—which made me do a double-take because I have almost the exact same photo of me from atop that tower. (I had a layover on my way to cover Survivor Samoa.)

Meanwhile, Carolyn had a few interview soundbites, including telling us that she “just needed a minute” to recover, and added, “there’s a difference between the game and taking things personally—I know that, it just takes me a little bit to figure it out.”

Members of the jury, Carolyn deserves to win Survivor because she’s on a reality TV show and used “personally” correctly. I rest my case.

The Carolyn Is Going to Win segment was very both quirky and beautiful, from the players all collapsed on the beach while she played with a lobster shell she found to her just floating in the ocean.

This is exactly the kind of extended content I hope for next season, which will have 90-minute episodes.

That’s so much more interesting than the clip package about Heidi—and that has nothing to do with Heidi, just the way the show presents its characters. Just letting us see them on Survivor is enough.

Carson told Yam Yam and Carolyn, “We are playing a very under-the-radar game,” but that was not true. The other players are seeing how they’re a strong threesome, and in a strategic game, that’s not good.

Danny floated Yam Yam and Carson’s names, because he couldn’t possibly imagine a woman as a threat.

Seven people standing on a floating platform in the ocean
Carolyn Wiger, Lauren Harpe, Yamil “Yam Yam” Arocho, Jaime Lynn Ruiz, Danny Massa, Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt, and Carson Garrett at the Survivor 44 episode 11 immunity challenge. (Image from Survivor via CBS)

Then it was time for the immunity challenge—and for Yam Yam to win immunity. It was a return of the very grate—get it?!—water challenge where the players just hold on and try to breathe through grates.

Survivor 43’s version ended in a surprising way, so it seemed at least possible that could happen again. But no.

For about the first half hour, the players were just hanging out, and Carson told Jeff Probst, “I tested this in my bathtub,” and Probst said, “Really?” I thought Carson said “nope” but the closed caption said “Yup.” Carson also created an AI Jeff Probst to practice giving non-answers at Tribal Council, didn’t he?

“I can’t even really focus on your question right now,” Lauren said, teeth chattering. “I’m okay at this moment,” she said, but bailed around an hour.

That’s when the tide had risen enough to bring waves to the sides of their faces, and hopefully drown out Narrator McExposition’s explanations and attempts to get them to panic.

I will give Probst credit for being kind when people bailed, telling them things like “great job.”

After Probst screamed “keep digging!”, Lauren mocked him from the bench, whispering, “Keep digging! Don’t you quit!” and laughed.

Heidi and Yam Yam were the final two, having lasted one hour and 25 minutes. Yam Yam won—but didn’t actually know he’d won, which is great evidence that water doesn’t conduct exposition, so Yam Yam won in multiple ways. He was emotional imagining how proud his athletic family members would be of him.

With Yam Yam immune, Danny turned his sights on Carson, the only other penis left to threaten him. Danny, meanwhile, told Yam Yam the vote would be split “three on Jaime, two on Lauren.”

When Danny told Carolyn that plan, she asked him, “Is that the for-real plan or is this the fake plan?” and, dear friends, I screamed.

This is why I love Carolyn: She can call bullshit to someone’s face without making it seem like she’s telling them they’re full of shit. I want her to teach me her ways.

Heidi said, “I don’t think they’re going to see this coming.” But Carolyn did, in fact, suspected it. “I get the vibe that they’re voting for Carson,” she told Yam Yam. He wasn’t as convinced.

“Something’s not right,” she told us, saying she didn’t believe Danny, so she pitched Danny on voting Carson out as a sort of test, and didn’t buy his answer.

Now we arrived at the central question: Could Carolyn orchestrate Danny’s blindside?

Carson said he was depending on Lauren and Jaime to vote with them, asking to split the vote between Danny and Heidi.

Jaime saw Carson as a threat, but Lauren wasn’t as convinced.

Jaime was as excited about all of this as I was (“Isn’t it fun? It’s so cool!”), even though she didn’t know a lot of what was about to happen.

Before Tribal Council, Carolyn confessed to Carson that she had a hidden idol, a secret she’s kept so well I forgot she had it. This is how you use an idol! And why I honestly don’t mind a handful of idols in the game, because they’re a good tool.

Tribal Council was especially long and it felt like there were six separate endings that Probst just talked right through, like Carson talking about the experience and ending with, “I’m beyond grateful to be here.”

The best part, though, came after Lauren said something, Carolyn questioned it, and then got sassy with Danny. “That’s why I asked a question, Danny,” she said. “I was just clarifying.”

“Are you annoyed?” Probst asked her, because her facial expression didn’t communicate that clearly enough to everyone watching. She said,”Absolutely.”

Probst decided this moment needed more of him, so he said, “You get some sleep, Carolyn, who knows how you’ll see things.”

Carolyn made another face at him—a face I make at the TV frequently!—and he asked her, “Are you mad at me now?” She said, “Yes,” and he said, “Why?” This guy cannot take a hint.

When it was time to vote, Carolyn spent a lot of time in the voting booth counting, and then putting her elbows on the table and continuing to count. The editing included others reacting to this time passing.

What would happen? Would Carolyn play her idol? It seemed like not.

Then: “Jeff,” she said, at the last second, playing her idol for Carson. She also hugged him, which may have been a bit much in terms of rubbing it in.

Even better, the idol play meant that Probst read every single vote. There were two votes for Danny, two votes for Heidi, the one left. It said “Lauren”—but that was scratched out, and “Danny” was written underneath it.

What made the vote particularly interesting is that 1) Carolyn making Carson immune wasn’t necessary, which raises the question if Carson knew that 2) Jaime and Lauren were with them, as both voted for Heidi, helping to split the vote between Danny and Heidi in the event of a Danny idol play.

Whatever happened in those moments we didn’t see, they successfully blindsided Danny, and now Carolyn has her Big Move—at least as far as the edit is concerned.

I do wonder if Carson played Carolyn a little, or if they truly had no idea that Lauren and Jaime were with them. And the preview shows Yam Yam suggesting going after Carolyn, which likely means that’s not what will happen, but there should be some interesting fallout.

What does seem clear, though, is that while Carolyn may be getting some emotional vomit on the game board, she can be great at reading other players, like she was with Danny. With just two episodes left, will that help her—and the other two Stooges—make it to the end?

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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!


Sunday 14th of May 2023

Everyone saying Carolyn didn’t have to use her idol. But she didn’t know if Jaime and Lauren will vote heidi100%. What if one of them voted Carson. That would have made the Vote 3-3-1. Playing the idol to remove Carson from votes. Then kept danny as the person voted out.

If Carolyn had voted Lauren. It would have been 2-2-2-1. Which then in tie break they could have turned on Tika and on Carson

It was the best play to play the idol.


Thursday 11th of May 2023

Carolyn is kooky and weird. And for that reason, not seen as a threat -- a big mistake. But she's also better at the social game than most realize, endearing, and quite perceptive. 100% an original and playing the game hard under the radar. That's why I hope she wins.


Thursday 11th of May 2023

This was a great episode!! The only thing that could have improved it would have been Danny lifting his leg and farting as he walked down the path. :-D The DeNiro face was pretty funny though.

I've never understood why Probst continues to yell at them when their ears are underwater though. I guess it's just for our benefit!

I really hope Carolyn wins. She's playing such a great game. It looks like the jury might think so too.


Thursday 11th of May 2023

You didn't even mention the Funniest part of the entire episode.

When Danny got his Torch Snuffed, he said, "I told my friends that if Jeff ever snuffed my Torch, I would give him the Robert De Niro Face". Then he proceeds to do it, in a very close/accurate portrayal of Robert De Niro.

I was laughing so hard at that! It also made for a light hearted exit for Danny - and not a Bitter one.

Bad Mitten

Friday 12th of May 2023

@Jason, I thought that was extremely cringey

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 11th of May 2023

Oh, I ignored that intentionally. 😂 But I do agree that it was nice he exited on a positive note.


Thursday 11th of May 2023

This was one of the better episodes I've seen in the last few years. Personally, I'm going to want to see more of Carolyn. Maybe they can bring back that celebrity rehab show on VH1. Maybe she'll get the career Danny was hoping for post Survivor. That buddy action movie he thought was going to happen, isn't.