Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor 44 recaps
What is tribe strength?
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: March 17, 2023
Survivor 44 Episode 3 recap/ analysis

What is tribe strength?

“What is tribe strength?” That’s the big question, isn’t it? And it’s the big question that has driven so much of the new era of Survivor. Particularly with 43 and 44, the casts were able to watch 41 and (most of) 42 play out and thus able to learn the new, standard format that Survivor has chosen to stick to – small tribes, no swaps, relatively early merge. Not only is this predictability boring as a show, but it’s now predictably problematic in the shift of the game to seem to be 100% focused on “keeping the tribe strong” just to make it to the merge. Who does that have a disparate impact on? Women.

It’s not so much there’s an intentional “anti-woman” movement, but given that every immunity challenge involves a heavily physical component and even Jeff emphasizing this week, “what’s best for everyone’s game is to never come back to tribal” it’s not a surprise that the bigger, more physical men are almost untouchable as targets EVEN THOUGH challenges always come down to puzzles, so then why is more emphasis not on that?

I think it’s just a visual thing – the tribes see a giant obstacle course with a little puzzle at the end, so their brains think to focus on what looks like the bigger part of the challenge, and even though Soka this week lost on the puzzle (after reaching it first) they asked how they could’ve done better and their minds immediately went to the smallest member of the tribe when she didn’t have a thing to do with the loss ....

Lots to break down there, but before more on that, there were some other highlights this episode to talk about, so let’s get this rant rolling.


Sarah scorned

Returning from Tika’s first tribal council, Carson gloated while Sarah tried to gather what happened over Helen’s blindside. As anyone would do, Sarah told her tribe there were no hard feelings, but inside she felt burned, most of all by Carson who she called the most dangerous player in the game – everyone at Tika loved him and even after the blindside she still felt closer to him than to Yam Yam and Carolyn. He was the “cute little nerd” but it’s known now that looks can be deceiving, so could Sarah set Carson up as the next to go if she can convince Yam Yam and Carolyn that she’s their better bet to take to the merge? Possibly, but he still benefits from what I feel like I should start calling “penis protection.”

Yam Yam and Carolyn

While there was laughing over Yam Yam’s late-night snoring, Sarah admitted she wasn’t laughing as much as the rest of the Tika tribe. When talking with Carson, she referenced that with approximately three more challenges (based on the seasons prior), odds were Tika would lose one more – again, this goes back to the “predictability” of the new era. The players aren’t playing for any sort of swap or mix-up because they essentially know to no longer expect it. Instead, they’re just trying to make it through 5 or 6 votes and the simplest way to do that is to “keep the tribe strong.”

Sarah said that she thought Tika was weak – obviously a nod to them being less physically impressive than Ratu and Soka, having lost their physically strongest member, Bruce, on Day 1. Yam Yam and Carson’s names were off the table last week, and this commentary from Sarah more or less confirmed why for me. Everyone is thinking in terms of challenges and brute strength as that seems to be what’s required to survive the pre-merge. I was hoping the 43/44 cycle would change the formula once more, but all it did was bump up that “merge” date by one round which only puts even more emphasis on this issue of tribe strength. If a tribe only needs to survive 5 votes (or 4 this season due to Bruce’s medevac), then yeah, put 100% emphasis on winning challenges. I get it, but I hate it, and I want the show to shake things up so we stop seeing this stupid storyline repeated.


Worms and snakes

A little more laughter and goofy (though not Cher) vibes with Ratu this week and dare I say a little “classic” Survivor feel?

Ratu opened with Kane singing the Canadian national anthem which was…a little pitchy, dawg, but I guess I’m no one to talk on that topic. Kane is either living his best life or living in delirium from lack of food because then we saw him waving around the immunity sword like he was about to go to battle. It was giving me a lot of George Michael Bluth videotaping himself swing a “lightsaber.”

George Michael, lightsabering

Also living their best island lives were Brandon and Jaime – Brandon showing off his fisherman skills and listing off his wide array of hobbies, and Jaime the “plant lady” decorating camp with a baby tree. Moments like these remind me that the essence of Survivor and building these little “societies” are still there but they were an unfortunate reminder, too, of just how much other fun stuff like this we are probably missing because of idols, etc. The show thinks we are more excited about that, but if I said that were true, I’d look about as fake as Matthew did when Jaime found the “idol” that the plant daddy planted.

Did you just find that?

This was a rather snakey but masterful move by Matthew (though I’m not sure I understood his logic of wanting to gain Jaime’s trust by giving her a fake idol ... ?) but also adds to what I feel is an increasing problem this season with all the fake idols.

With all these notes being attached to them and especially the coin and medallion idols that are clearly production-made, how the hell are players supposed to identify which idols are real and which are fake? I feel like the show just wants the “gag” at tribal council of people playing fake idols, but as we witnessed with Matthew being resourceful and stealing beads off of torches, we don’t need to force this to happen with all the extra “verification” items making it easy. I keep repeating myself, but “let the players play.”

There’s simply no reason for any player to see this idol and question its validity:

The official fake idol

Yet, that’s “fake.” That’s so clearly production-made, not player-made, so I don’t think it’s fun or funny for a player to be punished for thinking that. Instead, it takes the fun completely out of it for me. It’s funny when someone tries to play a fucking stick with a janky face carved on it, but not when the “fake idol” is something that looks more real and well-crafted than most of what we’ve seen in the past decade. It’s cruelty for the sake of being cruel – if you’re going to be mean, do it for good reasons!


Naughty boy

If you haven’t watched Survivor: South Africa, then seeing someone eat paper was a first!

More from Soka this week on the Matt and Frannie budding showmance and Danny planting a fake idol…wait, didn’t we see this already last week? Is there literally nothing else going on at Soka? Sure, let’s believe that.

Eyerolling Josh

Hold up, who is this guy? *digs through pre-game cast assessment notes*

I wonder if Danny found his idol, planted the fake, and Matt found it all on the same day, but for time, the Matt discovery was saved for this episode instead. Danny seemed very eager to put the target on someone else for finding the idol, so I found it hard to believe this played out over several days instead of one.

Danny’s idea seemed great on paper (so great you could eat it!) but I think he could’ve left Matt alone after he found the fake – perhaps Danny wanted to force Matt to lie so that, too, could be held against him, but I think I’d have had more fun if I was Danny letting Matt thinking this was a secret he had all to himself. Either way, Danny keeps the target on Matt by telling everyone he saw something go in his pocket, but why create unnecessary tension by confronting Matt? All Danny does there is probably lose a few points in Matt’s eyes as someone who’s trustworthy if he’s going to call out his idol in front of others. Dumb, Danny!

Poor Matt…first he loses his vote, then he thinks he’s found a hidden immunity idol all the while the show plays the “idiot” music as he smiles so naively to the camera. This guy is going to get got so hard at tribal council, and much like I said above, it’s not going to be “fun.” Matt is so nice and so sweet that watching him embarrass himself so bad is going to be so cringe. Poor Frannie will have to witness that too and it won’t be pretty.

Sad Frannie


Will Claire compete?

The answer was no, so, naturally, Jeff was triggered. I’m sure he also couldn’t comprehend the concept of someone’s ego not being involved in any of their decision-making.

The official Survivor ruling is that someone can’t sit out back-to-back challenges in the same “cycle” (i.e. “episode”) so with no reward challenges, that allows Claire to sit out of every challenge. With 90% of the challenge design being heavy lifting, and arguably this puzzle requiring brute strength too, Claire sitting out as the smallest person on Soka made sense. To her credit, that sounded like a solid argument and putting the tribe’s best interest first.

Why, then, does Jeff criticize this decision so much? If Claire sits out for being the physically weakest, she’s chastised for being lazy. If she competes to show she’s not lazy but underperforms compared to the rest of Soka, she’s chastised for being weak. It’s a no-win situation for someone who doesn’t bring as much to the table physically as everyone else. That’s not new to Survivor, but with so many of these challenges appearing so physical, it’s so much more under a microscope, and in smaller tribes, even more so.

Players can bring more than just physicality to the game, and it’s the best ones that do, but when the game overemphasizes physical strength in challenges and goes even further to remove social/strategic freedom by adding all sorts of twists and advantages that people can’t control, how exactly does a player like Claire realistically “play” the game and play it well?

Its fitting that this challenge featured the “insanity puzzle” (another one whose solution can be practiced at home) because this episode was very much “insane” in that I’ve been watching the same thing for the past few seasons expecting to see different results and *shocker* I’ve not seen them. About the only joy this episode came from Carolyn’s face when she was told Tika was safe from tribal council.

Happy Carolyn

We were all with her in that moment too.


Don't they want to win?

This was such a frustrating “scramble” to watch. LOVED watching the “strategy” talk open with the two dudes ask themselves, “how do we keep the tribes strongest?” That set the tone and it never really wavered.

Heidi admitted that she felt Danny was her #1, so it made sense for her to be aligned with him on the vote, but she also admitted that between Claire and Josh, she had not much of a relationship with Josh compared to what she had with Claire – that was evident in Claire’s heartbreaking tears as she pleaded for Heidi to help her stay.

Sad Claire

Heidi was indeed the linchpin on this vote, torn between Danny and Josh who wanted to vote out Claire and Frannie and Claire who wanted to vote out Josh. Matt’s mind in the matter was irrelevant since he didn’t have a vote which brings me to a major problem I had with this one – that vote would’ve made all the difference.

Matt was never given the opportunity to protect his vote as has been given in the last three seasons. The second he got on that boat in Episode 1 (a choice that was determined by random draw, mind you) was the second the power at Soka shifted.

Had Matt been able to vote, he, Frannie, and Claire would’ve held power with three numbers. Heidi would’ve been forced to choose between either voting with them and voting for Josh or voting to go to rocks. Would her decision in this hypothetical been different than it was in reality? Absolutely – no way she goes to rocks. Josh goes home.

Instead, without Matt’s vote, Heidi became the swing and the same old emphasis on needing to win challenges weighed heavily on her mind, and pushed by Danny, ultimately pushing her to value physical strength over strength in relationships. As Frannie would say later at tribal, that wasn’t thinking longer than just the one vote in front of the Soka tribe, but I can’t fault Heid for following this new “structure” of the game. Heidi knew either way she wouldn’t be a target for at least two more votes, and by then she’d make the merge, so she could just more simply vote to ensure her tribe wins one or two more challenges to get her there. Don’t hate the player; hate the “new era” of the game.


Like a sick merry-go-round

I appreciate all the fight given and the points Claire brought up to defend why this vote should be more than just “tribe strength,” even having to battle Jeff who said to the tribe that the best thing for everyone’s game was to avoid tribal council, heavily hinting that, then, the most important thing was to win challenges. The question, “what is tribe strength?” has always been a grey area – physical vs. social – but in this new area, it’s been made to be black and white – physically strong vs. physically weak. That’s it, and if that’s all it is, what is the point of all these conversations? Every episode should end in just a weightlifting competition and whoever benches the least amount gets the boot.

I feel like that’s the game Jeff wants to see. In his perfect world, every final three would look like this:

Colby, Ethan, Burton

I myself feel like I’m on a merry-go-round. It continues making me sick, yet I choose to stay on. Why? I guess this season, the reason is Carolyn.

Snuffed Claire

I wanted so bad for Jeff to say “Safe” but knowing how much he hates women who sit out of challenges, I’m sure he had the guy in the voting booth pull out the “safe” scroll before Claire got there.

It’s been spread across social media, but 10 of the 12 first boots from each tribe since 41 have been women. I don’t think that’s coincidence, and while I hate to quote a Survivor I don’t care for, but in this instance I do believe, “there’s a flaw in the game.” Claire set herself up solidly with Frannie and Matt, and between herself and Josh, Claire put in more work with Heidi to secure her loyalty and what should have been a majority. Had Matt had a vote, I truly believe the numbers would’ve sent Josh packing.

Josh seems nice, but I haven’t seen anything exciting from him, so it sucks seeing someone like Claire with so much more spunk go this early. I won’t say she was perfect, as there’s always more that we don’t see, but from what we saw, it seemed like relationships didn’t matter and the vote entirely came down to “who can carry the most weight in challenges?”

The funniest part is that the running gag of Claire on the sit-out bench is more memorable than almost anything else from any of the challenges this season (minus the Bruce incident). So, the joke’s on the show for thinking I’m more focused on who’s in the challenge than who’s not. Claire may no longer be there in person, but to me, she will always be there in spirit.

Ghost Claire

So many thought Claire would do well this season, and maybe several seasons ago, she would have, but the show really needs to take a good, hard look at itself and fix whatever the fuck is going on here:

Sarah, Marya, Jenny, Morriah

Justine, Lindsay, Maddy, Helen

If I ever hear “keep the tribe strong” again, it will be too soon.


Next time...

Every time I see a boat now, I just look away. From what we can see, Jaime’s one of next week’s journeyers, so I look forward to more time talking about idols and advantages. Thank god! I need more of that like I need more women to be voted off the island! Can I get an a-men?

Players of the week


Danny – To my dismay but to Danny’s credit, he did everything he needed to do this episode to set himself up with power and push the vote onto the person he wanted out. The “power” ultimately fell into Heidi’s hands, but Danny definitely played the biggest influence in her decision. He’s mastered the new era way of “keeping the tribe strong” and the name of the game is adaptability, so I guess I give props to that. I just hate that it works so well. Danny’s brought a little more fun than I thought he would, but I expect him to eventually get a little too cocky and get himself voted out – much like with Matt, I think he’ll overplay.

Matthew – The actual “big move” this week for me was Matthew’s fake idol that looks exactly like the real idol, though I appreciate his being homemade rather than produced by the art department. In planning and execution, that idol plant was a 10/10 for Survivor’s first “plant daddy.” With Claire out of the running, the other two I had eyes on pre-season were Matthew and Lauren – so far, Matthew’s crushing it so while I was way wrong on Claire’s placement, I’m still feeling good about Matthew’s. We could very well be watching him planting the seeds to victory.

Carolyn Corner

This was a surprisingly quiet episode for Carolyn, a “cooldown” if you’re of the Edgic mind. I no longer am, but I’m still going to hope this means this is good for her longevity in the game. Carolyn is reinventing the way this game is played – why play with one pair of shoes when you can wear two different shoes at the same time? Ugh, her mind!

Drake meme Carolyn

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