‘Survivor’ 44 Recap: This Cast Really Knows How to Play an Idol

Jeff Probst in Survivor 44 Episode 3
Spoiler Alert
Robert Voets/CBS


Sneaky Little Snake

Season 44 • Episode 3

rating: 4.0 stars

[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Survivor Season 44 Episode 3.]

Survivor 44 Episode 3 proved once again that Jeff Probst was right to call this cast a “sophisticated” group of players. For two seasons in a row, players sat on their hidden immunity idols for most of the episodes, thinking it was best to keep them safe until one of two things happened: they needed to use the idol to protect themselves or betray another, or they wanted to bring the idol into the finale to impress the jury. Just three episodes in, the Survivor Season 44 cast has made more exciting use of their hidden immunity idols than the last two seasons combined.

Episode 3’s title, “Sneaky Little Snake,” is a misnomer, as there isn’t one sneaky player in this installment, but two. Danny from Tribe Soka and Matthew from Tribe Ratu played similar manipulative tricks on their teammates, setting the stage for some plot twists that will likely thrill viewers while crushing some players. However, one player in the episode took a bad bet on a poor strategy, leading to a panicked scramble before tribal council.

Tribe Tika had an easy, fun time in this episode. Sarah is less trusting of Carson following the Helen blindside last week, but they got an immunity challenge that played to their strengths, landing them in second place and rendering their issues moot for now.

'Survivor' Season 44 Episode 2 Helen elimination

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All of the tribes get along well so far and seem to be having a blast with each other. But no one was having as much fun as Danny at Soka as he planted a fake idol and masterminded its discovery. Each player that unlocked the birdcage received a real hidden immunity idol and a fake one. Brandon still has his fake, but his real idol was flushed in the Season 44 premiere. And Carolyn has kept hers secret from Tika, though some fans on social media worry she confused her fake idol for the real one.

Danny snagged Soka’s, and in Episode 3, smartly repackaged the fake idol, locked it back in the cage, and hid the key, setting the stage for someone to be bamboozled. To really make sure no one found the fake idol parchment, he ate it. (Ratu ate live worms in this episode, so everyone’s dabbling in weird snacks but was eating it necessary…? Honestly, who cares? It was funny as hell.)

During a group key search, Matt found and took the bait, and then Danny dug further into his sneaky plot by outing the discovery to Josh. Now, all eyes were on Matt instead of him, and the team has already focused their attention on Matt and Frannie because of their relationship.

Matthew pulled a similar move over at Ratu. After bonding with Jaime (the team’s “plant mom and plant dad”), they went on a walk that revealed a hidden idol by the well. Jaime snagged it, and Matthew pretended to be excited for her. In reality, he had found the actual idol days prior (now that Brandon’s was flushed, it was only a matter of time before another was brought in), but this one came solo.

Matthew made a fake idol himself, wrapped it in the real idol parchment, and hid it at the well without anyone catching wise. He played the supportive friend to Jaime to gain trust, but it’s also a failsafe in case he needs to place a target on her back one day. But that time was not now, as Ratu won the immunity challenge, scoring themselves tools and fruit. Tika got the same, but less.

Claire and Heidi sat out at the top of the immunity challenge, which featured water, sand, and stacked puzzle elements, making for Claire’s third skipped challenge in a row. Jeff questioned her on this last week and probed again here, but Claire asserted that it was a tribe decision and that her ego wasn’t involved.

Survivor 44 Episode 3 immunity challenge, Tribe Soka

Robert Voets/CBS

Soka will never know if they would have won had she or Heidi played. But what they did know was that Claire was not pulling the same weight as everybody else, and Claire knew the target was squarely on her back as a result. She started gunning for a Josh elimination, with Danny leading the Claire campaign. For him and Josh, it was simple: this was their first time going to tribal council, and Claire hadn’t played in the challenges for three games in a row. It’s not a good look when you need a solid team to win.

But Claire defined strength as trust, not brute force, in her tribal plea for safety. Heading into the votes, Frannie seemed primed to vote for Josh, with Claire and possibly Heidi on her side. She said Claire not playing in challenges was “fixable,” but Josh being suspicious was not. Heidi was torn on what to do. She seemed to care about Claire genuinely but knew not to let personal affection impede her gameplay. In tribal, she did an excellent job at giving substantive enough responses while concealing her next move.

It was clear to everyone that Claire was on the chopping block, and Jeff dug into that topic. Her argument was that she “swallowed her pride” by sitting out on the challenges, saying they were group decisions that were difficult for her to bear. But she volunteered to sit out two episodes in a row without much team deliberation, and her teammates weren’t questioning her strength in the Episode 3 challenge. Claire said herself she wouldn’t perform well in the water.

The regret on her face was evident in this tribal, but she pleaded her case by telling Jeff, “They didn’t even give me a chance to show what I’m made of.” Unfortunately, from the viewers’ POV and her team’s, she chose not to compete. It may have led to a savvy cross-tribe pow-wow with Matthew in the premiere that may have benefitted her post-merge. Still, without that individual strategy being repeated in subsequent challenges, it’s hard to understand why she opted out.

Survivor 44 Episode 3, Matt Blankinship and Claire Rafson from Tribe Soka

Robert Voets/CBS

Claire argued that tribe strength isn’t only physical, which is true. Trust is needed across the board to face any obstacle. But by sitting out and putting her trust in the tribe not to judge her for it, she robbed herself of the opportunity to show she can be trusted across the board to defend allies, to provide for the tribe, and, yes, to be a helpful tool when fighting to for a challenge victory.

Claire played her shot in the dark, meaning there was no vote from her or Matt (he previously lost two; everyone but Frannie thinks he lost one). The final tally came down to Josh, Heidi, Danny, and Frannie’s votes, making Heidi the deciding factor like Claire said before — or so it would seem.

Claire was in fact, voted out, but the end credits scene revealed that Frannie went against her own Josh plan and voted for her instead. Heidi voted for Claire as well, making the decision unanimous.

Next week will likely give insight into Frannie’s plot-twist decision that helped take out an early fan-favorite player.

Survivor, Wednesdays, 8/7c, CBS