Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor 44 recaps
No meal, no buff, no hope
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: April 7, 2023
Survivor 44 Episode 6 recap/ analysis

No meal, no buff, no hope

To paraphrase The Amazing Race legend (who should’ve been on Survivor by now) Rachel Reilly, “The Survivor merge episode is supposed to be fun and good!” In the new era, that has been largely untrue – technically this is only “mergeatory” but it’s consistently left me longing for more, and sadly, 44 is no exception. There’s so much that happens when tribes come together on one beach, but with the forced structure of this now-staple turning point in the game, this start to the next stage is nowhere as “fun and good” as it used to be. Until we return to those days (spoiler: we won’t for as long as Jeff remains at the reigns), my face will be forced to make this expression every time we enter “mergeatory”:

Rachel Reilly


Ready to get off this island

I’m ready to get off Jeff’s island – that’s for sure.

It’s ironic that Jeff wants to keep the players on their toes yet insists on following such a strict formula in the new era. Last season, mergeatory happened when there were 13 left in the game, and had it not been for Bruce’s medevac, I assume it would’ve been a copy and paste of that here, but instead we saw it at 12 ... just like in seasons 41 and 42. At least in this scenario, the first “real” merge boot will make the jury? That’s about the only positive.

Soka, Tika, and Ratu opened up treemail telling them they were moving (or in Ratu’s case, they were welcoming new roommates) to which everyone excitedly reacted, but surely it wasn’t out of surprise if they had been paying attention at all. They’d not have seen 43, so the “twist” at Final 12 should’ve been no twist at all to them.

Before leaving the beach, Carson gave us a recap of all the idols and advantages in the game – a sad state we live in that this was necessary. It’s also frustrating that the shock value of these things getting played at tribal council is significantly less since so many of them are public knowledge. I think Carolyn and Danny are the only two who’ve managed to keep their idols a complete secret. Props to them for doing what you’re supposed to do with idols.


The tribes moved in together on the morning of Day 12 and while we saw some early interactions, the sum total of what we saw felt light to me. Jaime called herself the MVP for knowing the most of anyone in the game, but what all was there really to know? Immediately, all eyes were on Josh as someone who everyone wanted out already – I was confused over why he was labeled “dangerous socially” when so many already wanted him to leave. The dynamics of this day, then, didn’t feel super complex – maybe that’s why we basically skipped ahead to Day 13?

Part of what pisses me off about this mergeatory is exactly that – because the game will soon limit who can be a target at this first combined tribal council, players aren’t exactly encouraged to hit the new beach running. There’s no sense in talking too much strategy when it could become moot when literally half of the tribe will win immunity in 24 hours. While in the old days, immunity could still save someone from being the merge boot, but even if everyone was eying one person, only one immunity was up for grabs, so it made sense to come up with a Plan B or Plan C. Here, what’s the point? You’d need to get all the way down to Plan G or Plan H in case Plans A through F end up immune. How can anyone plan for that? The truth is, they can’t, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole game just sits in standby mode for the first 36 of the 48 mergeatory hours. How fun!

Carolyn watching the group talk

As an ISTJ, I felt Carolyn’s struggle with small talk in a large group SO much, and I was about as bored here as she appeared to be. I was ready for them to start playing the Charlie Brown teacher noises – that could’ve made this small talk actually amusing. One amusing moment, at least, was Josh’s cattiness/pettiness toward Yam Yam. I agreed with Yam here – there wasn’t so much a “betrayal” when the two started at Tika on different sides. They both lied to each other about what they ended up doing at tribal council, so why the bad blood? I don’t think this was a good look for Josh and just made him look bitter as well as naïve to what the game is all about.

Still, Yam Yam felt that he was on the early outs because of Josh’s telling of his Tika troubles, but Matt reassured Yam that Josh was everyone’s target. If only there wasn’t a 50% chance of Josh being immune! Or wait, I meant one hun-eigh-nine-six-fiftyish percent. Sorry – I needed a minute to do the math.

Carolyn mathing

Got it now!

Talking numbers, Tika had a little reunion that night, coming back together as the “three stooges” and given this was the only other major talk before the challenge (besides Matt and Frannie’s pillow talk), I think this is a storyline that will be significant. While Yam Yam was a target this week, I could see that target shrinking once more than half of the tribe is on the table for discussion. I definitely sense some Foa Foa vibes from Tika if I look at the combined Ratu and Soka as Galu. It would be tough for them to make it all the way to final three, but I’d say there’s a non-zero chance of that happening. Carson’s gamebotty FTC speech would be worth sitting through for the entertainment that would be Carolyn and Yam Yam’s – I’d even be okay with a double crowning there! (Carolyn getting two crowns, that is!)


Immunity - big balls

I laughed when we’ve strayed so far from the classic Survivor merge that we no longer even call the milestone a “feast” and, instead, it’s now referred to as a “merge meal.” I know we’ve had a lot of cuts over the years, but this one really put it all into perspective. The show can’t afford the same meat and veggies smorgasbord anymore, but here’s a lovely charcuterie board instead. Thinking about it, I guess that’s fair. The merge now is about a week earlier than what it used to be so they deserve less reward.

The challenge itself was as repetitive as this twist, topped off with a puzzle that SOMEHOW someone was able to practice at home before going on the show. Even without a 3D printer, Carson could’ve found this among many others on Etsy, so while I commend the students of the game for memorizing all they can to give themselves advantages, shame on the show for making it that easy. If they don’t want me to fast forward through these challenges, give me something unique to grab my attention.

I don’t need to see a puzzle I literally have at home on top of challenge components that are just asking for another medevac.

Carolyn crush

When I said I want to go back to old school, I didn’t mean like this!

Kelly Goldsmith crush

Luckily, there were no medevacs and Carolyn’s team won so I was happy! Although, I wasn’t so happy that I started crying like Jaime and some others did. I think the winners were even more emotional than the losers, and while I do understand that immunity is great, like ...

Jaime crying

I think that’s a lot of emotion for “safe.”


Losers lie in wait

As I said earlier, a lot of this mergeatory is waiting, much like the purgatory from which it derives its name. Yam Yam, of course, wanted to start scrambling to secure that buff – currently citing he had “no meal, no buff, no hope.” Unfortunately, but sensibly, no one was ready to go there yet with half the tribe away from camp. Danny literally told Yam Yam that he was just going to wait until the winners got back before getting too deep into vote talk.

So, then, literally what is the point of all this wasted time if no one’s actually going to play the game until hours before tribal council? What’s the point of the first 36 hours of mergeatory if it’s only the last four that matter? We keep saying – demanding – “let the players play” but the show consistently limits that. It’d be one thing if these split camps created dynamic conversations, but they don’t seem to, and even at the winners’ “meal,” no one’s going to be 100% open about their feelings in such a large group.

Contrarily, with the old merges, the tribe would have three whole days from start to end to figure out how to navigate that initial, monumental merge vote. Now, it’s just a matter of finding the easy scapegoat everyone can agree to in the eleventh hour and call it a day. We had Josh and Yam Yam’s “personal vendetta” to make us feel like there was drama, but everything still just felt on-hold to me and that’s why I was bored.


Merge meal

“Merge meal” may be the thing that made me laugh the most this episode especially since it wasn’t meant to be so funny. By season 46, we’ll be at “merge snack” and it’ll just be that granola bar that Jaburu accused Janet of smuggling in The Amazon. Come to think of it, why wasn’t that on Ghost Island? That would’ve made a great hidden immunity idol.

Again, this dinner-table conversation felt so forced and fake. Josh came up as the target which sounded in line with what everyone was thinking anyway, and the only new caveat was what to do about his idol. Carolyn jumped in to explain that he didn’t have an idol and that all he had were some beads from Tika’s treemail, adding that he used the same note as “proof” for both his “journey idol” and his fake one.

Unfortunately, for Carolyn, even with the evidence she presented, no one really felt sure of the case she was making. Meanwhile, I was screaming at home for them to believe her.

Frustrated Carolyn

Another 10/10 confessional from Carolyn – although is any ever not that?


Eyes are gonna jump out

^me trying not to fall asleep this episode.

With everyone finally back at camp and all eligible names now on the chopping block, it was finally time to talk strategy which, more or less, was just deciding who to make the decoy vote in case Josh’s idol was real.

Initially, that vote was leaning toward Kane, and in a moment of truce, Josh and Yam Yam buried their hatchet and agreed to save their feud for another day…well, at least Josh did. Yam Yam still said Josh was the last person he wanted to work with, so even though a vote for Kane meant a vote not for Yam Yam, Yam Yam wanted everyone to keep their eyes glued to Josh.

Josh as the main target with Kane as the backup felt like the solid plan, but likely having spent those formative days at Tika with Yam Yam, Carson, too, had a big mouth moment and told Kane that his name came up at the merge meal. Frannie and Matt have some competition for cutest nerd couple of the season, I guess.

Kane and Carson

That was meant to be a sweet act of kindness from Carson, telling his friend his name was out there, but once Kane knew, that freaked people out for some reason. All the vote talk this week just felt weird to me because I ultimately felt like Josh going was a given, so I didn’t follow why I was supposed to care who the backup vote was. The players didn’t know for sure if Josh’s idol was real, but the audience did, so I never really felt in suspense here – nothing like the best merge episode of all time in Cagayan where I was sweating over whether Kass would flip or not. That was a good kind of sweat for me.

Carolyn: I like sweating


Big mouth

If you were expecting any wild revelation or a live tribal with 12 people lighting up the TC set ... you must be new here. Especially those with immunity weren’t going to stick their necks out when they didn’t have to. Thankfully, we still had Yam Yam to not stop talking and Carolyn continuing to be amazed by props in the voting booth, this time noticing a mace that reminded her of her childhood – a lot to unpack there but sadly it didn’t make the episode.

When it came to the vote, not even a Shot in the Dark was played, so it was a straight shot to send Josh packing with Yam Yam being the one to pick up a couple of those much-stressed-over backup votes.

Josh snuffed

Josh kind of came out of nowhere but came on strong in the last couple weeks, and for reasons I’m still unsure of, was labeled a major threat, enough to break the mold as the first man to ever get snuffed at the mergeatory vote. From my perspective, Josh was always on the outs and was saved three times for reasons that he didn’t control himself: at Soka, Matt lost his vote which gave Danny and Heidi more power with theirs to protect Josh for “strength;” at Tika, Josh was gifted an idol from the Survivor gods, and then when he was idol-less, Matthew pulled himself from the game, causing Jeff to cancel tribal council – all a bizarre sequence of events that saved Josh from being a pre-merge boot. I liked him; he seems like a nice guy, but maybe not the best Survivor I’ve seen – in the game; obviously he’s led an impressive life whose story is an inspiring one to follow and I’m glad he’s still here. I also appreciated he contributed to the chaos and kookiness that was Tika, providing for some fun moments especially with Yam Yam.

Josh and Yam Yam

That’s how Jeff looks at the framed photo of Boston Rob he keeps next to his bedside.


Next time

No idols or advantages were played this week, yet we’re seeing a new key to something next week ... wonderful. On top of that, a new twist where the player(s) “will have no say in who goes home” so pretty much the same stuff we’ve been seeing all season. On the bright side, Lauren is getting a confessional again! It’s the small things I try to find to look forward to ....

Players of the week

Yam Yam

Yam Yam – I don’t necessarily like seeing Yam Yam on the bottom, but I love watching him scramble because he does it in such a smooth and charming way – behind the scenes he’s spinning, but he keeps it relatively chill when at camp, and he gives us all sorts of colorful commentary along the way. As the decoy vote this week, I worry for his future, but with options opening up next week, he may have more room to maneuver. While his main “in” right now is still the three stooges of Tika, if he can play up his “outsider” shtick, then that may not be such a target. I’m not ready to lose Yam Yam yet – that’d put way too much pressure on Carolyn to carry the rest of this season. She could do it, but I’d rather her have a partner in chaos.

Carolyn – Carolyn continues to be the voice of reason of the season which is something I didn’t expect. I did sort of expect her to be taken the way she is whenever she speaks up, so that’s frustrating, but at least it may keep her off the chopping block for a while. “Level 1 Carolyn,” as Yam Yam put it, isn’t as big of a threat as what we see in confessional as Level 10 or Level 12. We didn’t get to see her talk too much to anyone else this week, so I need to see more of her interactions now that she’s officially made the merge to feel 94-99.9% confident she’ll reach the end.

Carson – Collectively, Tika has been the star of the season, and I do see a chance that they somehow Foa Foa their way to the final three. In that scenario, I could see Carson coming across as a little robotic and rehearsed compared to a more genuine, emotional performance from Carolyn and Yam Yam. Carson has been a similar voice of reason in the role of strategic narrator for a while, but lately that hasn’t been the winner’s edit. I look back to Ricard, Omar, and Jesse in similar positions as players seeming to play ahead of everyone else but getting cut at the end. If Carson doesn’t make the final three, then I think he will fall into that exact pattern anyway – either way he’ll be an important character given his prominence in this kickoff episode to the second half of the game and just general well-connectedness to everyone.

Jaime – Like Carson, Jaime’s very well-connected, and also like Carson, I fear she thinks she’s much further ahead of everyone than she actually is. She does have an advantage having lived with both Ratu and Soka, but those relationships are a double-edged sword. For now, they protect her, but later, they’ll make her a threat. I sensed she was someone who was driving the vote toward Josh, leveraging those cross-tribal relationships, but trying to drive too much may make that wand noise of hers go from “bling” to “poof” and she’ll be gone.

Carolyn corner

Carolyn is literally the best part of every week and I could not imagine this season without her – I thought I would need a special place to write about her, but she’s ended up as one of my Players of the Week anyway. Last week, I made a “Kill Bros” poster of her but I clearly pegged her as the wrong Kill Bill character, the bride, when after telling us she had a spiked mace growing up, she is obviously Gogo:

Gogo Carolyn

That’s her waving to the jury after she wins the final vote.

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