Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor 44 recaps
All your craziness is not craziness anymore
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: May 21, 2023
Survivor 44 Episode 12 recap/ analysis

All your craziness is not craziness anymore

This was a scary week for Carolyn fans as the edit had us believing she was a goner ... except me! You’d think I’d be a nervous wreck with my #1 in danger, but I’ve never felt more confident in an edit misdirect than I did with this one. The episode went almost exactly as I expected it would – I just had the wrong Ratu as the boot!

While it was made clear that Carolyn is, in fact, a contender now, it was too little too late for Ratu and Soka to make a move to break up the Tika three. They took Carolyn’s new threat level as an opportunity convince Carson and Yam Yam to vote her out, but I say it was too late because even if Yam Yam and Carson wanted to vote Carolyn out, doing so at final six would essentially hand the game to Lauren, Jaime, and Heidi by giving them a 3-2 majority at final five. Thus, in spite of Yam Yam and Carson weighing a decision the entire episode, I knew they’d never cast the Carolyn vote and allow that scenario to happen.

Thus, for me, this was a little lackluster of a penultimate episode. However, I think we have an exciting finale to look forward to with a competitive final tribal council – maybe even the second most competitive we’ve seen since Ghost Island – if it pans out the way I predict it will. I won’t ask you to burp in my mouth, but I will ask you to follow along in my Survivor 44 finale forecast! BUT FIRST, the one that made it so close but fell just short:


I don’t know who the editors dunked on more this season: Matt or Jaime. Jaime’s confidence that her idol would win her the game almost became as meme-worthy as Angelina’s confidence that her rice-negotiating skills would do the same. We were robbed of a glorious, “this is NOT a hidden immunity idol” gag, but I think Jaime’s confidence is still what lost her the game – her confidence in Tika.

Again, because we don’t see everything (even less in the new era), we’re left to put the pieces together ourselves and come to the conclusion that Jaime trusted Yam Yam and Carson way more than she should have. If she wasn’t going to make a move against Tika at seven, then she must’ve relied on Yam Yam and Carson helping her make that move at six. In retrospect, she needed a path to the end that didn’t involve half of that final six being Tika, and if she had found one, I think she could’ve stood the best chance of winning out of Lauren and Heidi, maybe even over Tika at that point if she was able to be the driver of that imaginary endgame.

From what I saw, Jaime had the social skills to make it to the end but lacked some of the strategic maneuverability necessary. Hindsight is 20/20 so I’m sure Jaime has some regrets now about how she played or specifically who she played with (Jaime and Kane are the Carolyn and Yam Yam in an alternate Survivor universe) but I admired her unbreakable enthusiasm and spirit which is impressive to hold for 22 days in the stressful game that is Survivor.



If this season wasn’t the Tika show, then I think, or I hope, Lauren would’ve been a leading lady rather than a supporting role in the story of 44. Whenever we’ve been given time with Lauren, it’s all been gold. We know I love to root for moms who often take a lot of hits in the game, but Lauren’s been throwing a lot of punches and impressively has two big immunity wins under her belt – both of which may have saved her from getting the boot on those respective nights. Lauren’s an inspiring individual who I have so much love and respect for and to anyone that needed proof of just how amazing she is, I hope this season delivered that.

Unfortunately for Lauren, I think she’ll be following her fellow Ratu, Jaime, to the jury. This is Tika’s game now, and while there may be a shot that Yam Yam and Carson cut Carolyn now, I’m still extremely confident that at least Yam Yam and Carolyn are FTC locks. Lauren has a résumé as the last Ratu standing, she was labeled an early strategic threat, she’s proven herself a threat in challenges, and she has a powerfully emotional case as to why she should win the million. For all these reasons, I think we’ll see Tika-strong stand at final five, so unless Lauren pulls out another clutch win, that’s sadly where I think her game will end.


I just said that I think Yam Yam and Carolyn are FTC locks, and while a great story it would be, I do not believe that the final three will be three Tikas, so I think Carson’s rock-solid game so far will crumble in the final four fire-making challenge. Carson has an impressive résumé as well; socially he’s made really tight relationships, strategically he’s been a leader in a lot of the votes, and physically he’s practiced just about every challenge this season has had, so I’d consider him an absolute triple threat in the game.

Since Yam Yam sees Carolyn as a contender to win and I couldn’t see Carolyn taking anyone but Carson to the final three if she were to win final four immunity, I struggle to see the “logic” in why Yam Yam and Carolyn take each other instead, but entire season has been building up to a showdown between those two, and if Carson was at final three as well, it just wouldn’t be as much of a two-horse race as it feels like it is. It actually sucks because this would be the first evenly split three-way final tribal council since ... ever? It’d certainly be the most fun once since:

China final three

Carson’s done everything correct to get there and of the three Tikas, I’d honestly give him the most credit for their success since a lot of it relied on Ratu who Carson had the strongest connection with of the three, I gather, but then maybe this is exactly why no one wants to take him to the end, and it’s only realized in the eleventh hour which means he’s going to face off in fire. There’s been so much imagery with that, too, that it feels like a foregone conclusion, so the only question is who he sits there (and presumably loses) against.

If Carson sneaks into the end, on paper he has one of the strongest résumés, and I could see how he’d maybe get the majority of the votes, but I just don’t think Carson is the winner, so I’ve had to come up with a reason why that is, and I’ve landed on him getting burnt at four. Who burns him?



Heidi’s been probably the most prevalent this post-merge outside of Tika, so it would make sense if she’s the last non-Tika left standing. Like Carson, she too has a story with fire with her big (and only) premiere moment being where she started Soka’s fire, so it would make sense if she’s the one to send someone to get snuffed via fire-making. On a positive note, I’d get to celebrate Heidi as she’d be the first woman to win this since it became the “twist” at final four – that’s NINE seasons in a row where a man has won (5 times against women) but I’m sure that’s PURELY coincidence and not something to add to the list of reasons why Jeff sucks ....

On a negative note, the fire-making challenge still exists as the final four default, and if the finale goes this way, it’ll be yet another reason why I hate this mechanic. No fault to Heidi (don’t hate the player – hate the game) but I can’t help but think that at least a little part of the reason why she hitched her wagon to Tika’s this last episode was because she doesn’t need a final two or final three plan – she just needs to make it to four, and then she’s got a pretty good chance of making it to three.

Heidi could’ve been her own queen-maker at final six with a Maryanne-esque “holy shit, she’s gonna win” move. She knew Jaime and Lauren were voting for Carolyn, and she knew Tika was voting for Jaime, and Heidi had an idol. Heidi had all the information and all the pieces to pull off the biggest move of the game by using her idol on Jaime and tearing apart Tika, her biggest roadblock in getting to final three. Why? Well, because she didn’t need to.

She knows how the final four works so she just needs to be Tika’s fourth wheel, and then she’s likely got a 1 in 3 shot at a million bucks. Choosing to play her idol threw me a bit, as keeping it until five would have 100% guaranteed her at least the fire-making challenge, but maybe she thought Jaime and Lauren would vote for her again (convinced by mastermind Carolyn, mayhaps). All this to say, fire-making still makes the final days less exciting.

That’s why I’ll always love the final two – there is zero complacency in an alliance of three or four when players know that only two make it to the end of the game. This allows for wild moves and thrilling tribal councils still at final five or four followed by an extremely tough deliberation at final three over who gets to final two. Now, players just need to get to four if they have faith in their ability to make fire – five if they have an idol, and maybe only six if they’ve got two idols or some other advantage. The more Jeff pushes out the final vote before final tribal council, the more it encourages players to just play it safe.

Since we don’t know for sure, I don’t want to accuse Heidi of this 100% being her strategy, but knowing there’s another way of getting to the end besides just having numbers, it makes acquiring those numbers less important, so some players can coast to the end rather than having to fight too hard. Winning is another hurdle, but you have to get to the end in order to even have a chance at winning, so I think it’s easy to play to get there before you play to win there.

Heidi here I think will make a strong case for how she successfully reached the end, but against the two biggest presences in the game, Yam Yam and Carolyn, I worry if she’ll be able to have a strong enough voice to sway votes. Even though Soka will have Matt, Frannie, and Danny (her #1) on the jury, I don’t expect them to stay Soka-strong for loyalty’s sake alone. Danny will vote for who “got” him, Frannie is clearly a Carolyn stan, and Matt will follow Frannie – just kidding! But I can see Matt feeling more compelled by Carolyn’s story and case over than anyone else’s.

For these reasons, I fear Heidi will be yet another mom who gets the goose egg at final tribal council, but I don’t think she’s played an unimpressive game at all – I just think she’ll be up against the two who have played more impressive games:

Yam Yam burping at Carolyn

I’d still choose to smell Yam Yam’s 22-day stank breath over eating one bite of that Survivor pizza they serve in Fiji.

This one is too close to call. It’s seemed clear to me that this season will come down to Carolyn vs. Yam Yam, but I’ve gone back and forth on who it ultimately will be. My heart obviously wants Carolyn to win, but my head still thinks Yam Yam will just barely edge her out in the votes. Either way, I like what this potentially sets final tribal council up to be: one of the best battles in Survivor history.


In one corner (the Carolyn Corner) we have perhaps the most unorthodox yet one of the most impressive players in 44 seasons. No one could play the way Carolyn has played and have as much of a shot as she does to win except Carolyn. We’ve seen her “type” before make it to the end and have zero respect from the jury (which I usually disagree with) but Carolyn is a completely new “type.” She’s blended this emotional/strategic style of play into one that finally is seen by other players as a legitimate way to win the game.

This last episode was HUGE for her and calmed my fear that she wouldn’t be taken seriously enough to be given the title of Sole Survivor. She made a big move, she gave a big explanation for it, and she took big credit. Yam Yam’s admission of Carolyn being someone who can win the game was perhaps the most important one of all, given that he’s had the most up-close perspective on her game out of everyone, and he’s been a sharp player himself. Game recognizes game.

The episode was sort of framed as Yam Yam making the “mistake” of not getting rid of Carolyn, but the show also can’t let FTC lack any surprise. Telling us “Carolyn will win” and having her sit at the end would be too obvious, so my read is that Yam Yam didn’t make the game-ending mistake, and instead, Carolyn will by not getting rid of Yam Yam in the finale.

Yam Yam

Yam Yam came into the merge with quite a big target, but his threat level management has been masterful as he was quickly able to shrink that target by getting rid of the players who were most responsible for putting it on his back in the first place. His recurring reminder that people who’ve voted for him keep getting voted off is a strong case to present at final tribal council. He, like Carson, was critical in keeping Tika together and leveraging relationships with Ratu and Soka, and I think his resume is larger than Carolyn’s when it comes to “control” he had over many of these post-merge votes.

While Carolyn’s played a loud, exciting, but atypical game, Yam Yam screams one of solid social and strategic player with a compelling personal story to make it the icing on the cake. If the jury all votes for how someone is “supposed to” play Survivor, then Yam Yam wins 100%. If they all vote for someone who maybe wasn’t as technical of a player but whose flavor was more surprising and innovative, then Carolyn wins 100%. People say this every season and I never believe it; however, I truly think this jury vote will come down to who is able to sway the most people with their case at final tribal council.

Looking at numbers, looking at the season’s really only major story, and since this is a fun prediction to make (especially if I end up right), I think we could see Survivor’s second tie vote at final tribal council.

The players who I think will swing more toward Yam Yam’s game are players who played, or aimed to play, like him strategically and socially. Those players are Brandon, Kane, Danny, and Jaime. All of those strike me as jurors who will think more “head” than “heart.”

The players who I think more likely to vote for Carolyn are those whose hearts connect with her heart. Frannie’s a fan of Carolyn’s fierce authenticity and uniqueness, Matt struggled with social anxiety himself and I could see him inspired by Carolyn’s struggle to fit in the same way he did, Carson is Carolyn’s “baby” and while he’s more of a brainiac in life, Carolyn connects with his self-proclaimed chaotic nature and I think he’ll lean this way in his final vote like he did his first vote. Lauren is the one I’d be less confident on being a Carolyn vote, but she spoke this episode during that idol search that no one plays the game like Carolyn, and that on top of being mutual moms may be what makes her cast the vote for Carolyn. If she doesn’t, and we’re to still tie, then maybe Kane rolls a die and the two flip-flop, but this is my best guess at the jury votes in a Yam Yam vs. Carolyn (vs. Heidi) final tribal council.

If I’m 100% on the money, then who gets the actual money will come down to Heidi. I can see her vote going both ways for similar reasons as Lauren, but there was a small, early merge confessional where Heidi talked about having a connection with Yam Yam (be it because of their Puerto Rican blood or other reasons, we don’t know because we didn’t dive too deep), and if I’m to believe everything that’s shown to us is shown for a reason, then the reason for that confessional is because it has an impact on how the season ends with Heidi casting the tiebreaker vote in favor of Yam Yam, which means I’ll be making this face when he’s declared the Sole Survivor:

Frustrated Carolyn

Mostly kidding! If not for Carolyn being such a special star in the Survivor universe, I’d be over the moon over Yam Yam winning, but I can’t help but to hope with all my heart that Carolyn takes this instead. She’s had such a beautiful story and is a beautiful human inside and out – we just need her on the list of winners. I need her. I’ve needed her since the moment I saw her face (that face) in the first look at the season. It’s going to be weird going back to a Survivor without Carolyn. I’m going to be looking for her in the premiere of 45 like:

What the ____?

I’m sure there will be plenty of other cause for that reaction, but “no Carolyn” will be one of them.

Players of the week


Carolyn – Carolyn – Wow I really wonder who may Player of the Season will be next week and if it’ll be the person who has either been one of my Players of the Week or had her own special feature in this every week. I loved this week for Carolyn because people finally saw in her what I and many others have season all season – a big threat to win. She was a little “much” in her retelling of her idol story, but I’d expect nothing less than “too much” from Carolyn at this point. To go with that, we had the hilariously off-the-wall moment of Carolyn asking if Yam Yam would burp in her face so she could smell what he ate at the reward trip. THAT is exactly the kind of stuff we’ll all miss in any future season of Survivor that Carolyn is not on.

Yam Yam – Yam Yam had a tough decision this week between his head and his heart, but to me, the two decisions seemed the same. His best strategic move, and the move that he wanted to make emotionally, was to keep Carolyn. A lot of these votes have come down to Yam Yam which is why he will make a worthy winner of this game. So, he’s officially my “winner pick” going into the finale, but I’ve been 0 for 3 in the new era, so this may just be my way of officially jinxing him which means that I’m actually securing us a Carolyn win. Sorry Yam Yam!

Carolyn Corner

I wasn’t able to squeeze it in anywhere else, but I wanted to talk about Carolyn’s performance in the reward challenge as a reminder that literally everything this woman does is immediately iconic.

Lost, blindfolded Carolyn

I cry and/or laugh in hysterics every time she does anything. I hope it’s not otherwise early onset incontinence, but I swear she makes me piss myself almost every week.

Carolyn: I peed my pants

Ryan KaiserRyan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser