Usually, when a Survivor preview shows a player suggesting something like a backstab or betrayal, it’s a reliable misdirect. During the next episode, we’ll see that phrase in context, and it’ll fade away.
Not this week. The preview for Survivor 44 episode 12—the penultimate episode!—teased what became the central question of the episode: Would Carolyn, Carson, or Yam Yam, aka the Tika three, aka the Three Stooges, turn on each other—and specifically, would Carson and Yam Yam vote Carolyn out?
From everyone suddenly realizing Carolyn is a player after the blindside of Danny to Yam Yam’s emotional confessional before Tribal Council, that question persisted all the way until the tallied votes were revealed by Jeff Probst.
It was an emotional roller-coaster, even if the train ended up pulling into the same station where it started from.
After Danny’s ouster, Carolyn—who you may recall both Danny and Brandon treating like she didn’t even exist as a player—was on a high.
“Even though, technically, I didn’t need to play my idol, I still don’t regret playing it,” she told us. “I assured that me and Carson and Yam Yam are still together—that’s what we needed.”
This pointed toward Carolyn sticking with the other two, and that stayed pretty consistent throughout the episode. The question whether or not they’d blindside her.
Carolyn told the other players the story of finding an idol, and creating the red X for the cage.
Yam Yam showed us his concerns starting then. “I always knew that Carolyn is a great Survivor player—but she let, now, everyone know that she’s good,” he said, telling us, “your target keeps getting bigger and bigger” and “I’m personally a little afraid of her.”
The editors showed the other players giving Carolyn credit, too. Lauren said “she’s fooling all of us,” while Jaime pointed out that Carolyn “may lead with emotions, and distract with emotions, but it’s very calculated—and that’s how you know she’s a good game player.”
With an idol gone, the players spent a morning searching for a new one, but found nothing.
Heidi thought she might be the “easy vote next,” so she wanted a second idol so she could guarantee her way all the way to the top four.
Lauren pitched going to the final four with Yam Yam, Jaime, and Carson, and they all talked about how Carolyn was a threat.
Carson, though, revealed to us that he was lying to them: “I need Yam Yam and I to pretend that we’re working with Lauren and Jaime.”
The reward challenge was a return of the blindfolded ball thing, with Carson being pushed around by Yam Yam and Lauren, and Jaime being pushed by Heidi and, when she herself wasn’t lost, Carolyn. A few comedic moments for sure, especially with blindfolded Carolyn losing her team. I also just laughed at the visual of Carson being left in a prone position to navigate his team through the final ball maze.
Carson, Yam Yam, and Lauren won, and their reward was a foot massage, which is the first great reward of the season. Screw sandwiches. I’d give up immunity for a foot massage.
At The Sanctuary, the producers made the masseurs say, in unison, “Welcome to the Sanctuary, where good things happen,” and I really hope the production better paid and tipped them well.
Back at camp, Jaime wanted to create a rift in the Tika three, and pitched Carson to Carolyn. Carolyn told us, “We need him for at least one more vote,” and then was shocked at how calculating she was being over her friend and ally. I do think this moment shows that Carolyn will stab her allies in the back when she needs to.
So, I love Carolyn and want her to win, but I was shocked and horrified by her behavior when the reward challenge players returned to camp.
“Can you burp in my mouth?” she asked Yam Yam. “Or in my nose?”
He agreed; I held down bile. “I wanted to smell chocolate,” Carolyn told us, though she admitted, “I felt kinda gross after that, to be honest.”
Heidi, as the last member of her tribe, and with her ally voted off, talked to Carolyn and Yam Yam about joining them to go after Jaime or Lauren.
Yam Yam also talked to Jaime about going for Carolyn, and in an interview, told us, “I need to disconnect from them.”
Was this still a misdirect? Or was Yam Yam making his move? At the right time? Too early? But first: an immunity challenge!
The challenge was balancing balls, and gave me a chance to take a nap, especially after Lauren, Jaime, and Carolyn were out early, meaning the challenge likely wouldn’t affect the vote.
“When you’re dealing with a ball on a disc, it is all about touch,” Narrator McExposition said. “Sometimes you need a light tough, other times more firm.” With this yammering, I was truly shocked that he’s heard of “a light touch.”
Lauren and Heidi were the final two balancers, and Lauren won immunity, i.e. saved herself if the Tika three were going to go after her.
Heidi wondered to us if she could save her idol, and asked, “Do I trust what I’m being told?” Did she trust Carolyn, Carson, and Yam Yam?
Yam Yam, meanwhile, was really considering going after Carolyn, it seemed like. “You don’t think we can get her out at five?” Carson asked him.
Yam Yam told us, “My brain’s telling me I need to take Carolyn out. My heart doesn’t want me to do it. So the question for me tonight is: Do I have the courage to take Carolyn out?” he asked. “I don’t know, I don’t know. I want this money and I want this title.”
The players brought their entire camp to Tribal Council, accurately predicting that they’d be sent to a new beach to start over, another new-era twist that is completely pointless.
Probst, who clearly knew what the storyline was for this episode, really tried to make everyone cry and/or spill something. Yam Yam just said the vote will be for “the person who needs to leave.”
The editing, though, did a good job of making this still a mystery. At one point, Carolyn gave a preview of what I expect her jury speech to be, talking about how she can be both emotional and strategic—and then demonstrated that, saying, “I’m scared—is this, like, my goodbye speech?”
After the vote, we saw Carolyn mouthing “what?” and looking toward Yam Yam. Clever insertion of unrelated footage, or a sign of a massive backstab?
Before Exposition Daddy could read the votes, Heidi played her idol for herself.
That’s when the tension really ramped up. The editing had me while Jeff Probst was reading votes: two votes for Carolyn, two votes for Jaime, confused looks from Carolyn.
My heart was sinking, as if we were losing Carolyn.
Then: two more votes for Jaime.
Carolyn was saved, the three stuck together, the whole episode was a giant misdirect! But it was an effective one, and it was clear that Yam Yam, especially, was struggling with the decision—even if he did ultimately go along with the obvious and easiest vote.
In the end, Heidi joined with Carolyn, Carson, and Yam Yam, while Lauren and Jaime voted for Carolyn.
Next week, the grand finale! I expect Lauren to be out first, based on how under-edited she was for so long, and then the question is whether the Three Stooges make it to the final three together or with Heidi in one of their chairs.
Whatever happens, I really hope we don’t get Gablered again.