‘Survivor’ 44 Recap: Are We Heading Toward a Tika Final 3?

Carolyn, Yam Yam, and Carson in 'Survivor' - Season 44 Episode 12
Spoiler Alert

[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Survivor Season 44 Episode 12, “I’m the Bandit.”]

Don’t doubt the power of an emotional game. Survivor Season 44 Episode 12 proved it’s not enough to for a group to agree a person is a threat. You have to make players feel the danger of keeping them around, and then convince them that now is the time to be cutthroat.

Jaime and Lauren (the individual immunity winner) tried and failed to vote Carolyn out in the episode, and Yam Yam nearly joined them. “I think out of everybody here, the best game is being played by Carolyn,” he told the cameras. “My brain is telling me I need to take Carolyn out. My heart doesn’t want me to do it.” The target was placed on Carolyn’s back after the strength of her season-long game was revealed last week. Playing her idol to protect Carson and vote out Danny sent shockwaves across the jury and cast, and made Yam Yam set his sights on her for the first time.

Yam Yam didn’t need Carson to send Carolyn to the jury. Having Jaime, Heidi, and Lauren on his side would have given him the numbers. Yam Yam perhaps could have been convinced to take Carolyn out had he not been leading the campaign to do so. (Making that leap on your own is scary. Letting others lead, on the other hand, alleviates some pressure.) Had Jaime or Lauren taken more of a lead orchestrating this Carolyn blindside, he may have felt more comfortable jumping ship. One thing was for sure, breaking up the Tika Three would take a strong, emotional campaign, and no one achieved that in the episode. Frankly, Yam Yam was the only one who really tried.

Between Jaime, Heidi, and Lauren, Jaime had the strongest alliances with other players. This made Yam Yam turn to her with his Carolyn plan, to which she agreed. It didn’t take much convincing to get Lauren on board, but Jaime rested on her laurels when it came to securing the majority vote, perhaps assuming Yam Yam could get Carson to join their ranks.

Carson in 'Survivor' Season 44 Episode 12


Carolyn and Carson were gunning for Jaime, getting Heidi (who still had her secret idol) on board. Aligning herself with the strongest majority was Heidi’s best option, as the other women had voted for her in the past. Jaime and Lauren should have had the foresight to know that Yam Yam would need more convincing to betray his close friend. Although, maybe they thought the betrayal would come easy, as he had left her out of majority votes before. Still, excluding an ally and voting out an ally are two entirely different ball games. (The “era of alliances” very much isn’t over, despite what Jaime previously told Jeff Probst.)

By focusing the campaign solely on Carolyn’s threatening game, Jaime and Lauren failed to paint the Tika Three alliance for the threat it is. With just one tribal left in the season, breaking up that trio is the only game-winning move left for Jaime, Heidi, and Lauren. They could and should have been more savage in their attempt to get Carolyn out, otherwise their fate was up to Yam Yam. Why leave it there? Heidi was the only one who positioned herself to split them up next week. By taking their side, she can earn their trust. And that little bit of trust could be the leg up she needs to get into the final three.

With those four grouped up, it’s hard to see a path forward for Lauren through social game. She has won two individual immunity challenges now and will have to rely on that strength to make it into the final four, barring any conflict between Tika and Heidi. The last time immunity idols can be played is when there are five players left in the game (everyone searched for a new one in this episode, but no dice).

Unfortunately, Heidi wasted hers by playing it during tribal council, securing her spot in the final five. Keeping the idol a secret all the way to the end has proven to be a helpful strategy for past winners (it helped seal Maryanne Oketch’s victory in Season 42). Heidi will now have to play strong against the Tika Three (and possibly win the fire challenge) in order to win the $1 million.

The final six in 'Survivor' Season 44 Episode 12


During tribal, Carson said there could be a “breakup” that night. Knowing his loyalties lied with Carolyn, this looked like a tactic to make Jaime and Lauren think he was voting with them. Yam Yam’s similar comments made Carolyn so suspicious, she quietly questioned their intentions during deliberations.

Yam Yam said the person leaving that night was the person everyone needed to leave, which only added more fuel to Carolyn’s suspicious fire. And when she received two votes, she seemingly assumed they came from Carson and Yam Yam. The remaining four votes went to Jaime, sending her to the jury.

“Everybody here can attest to the fact that I have been extremely emotional, but it doesn’t mean that somebody can’t be strategic who’s emotional. I am both,” Carolyn rightly said to Jeff before the votes. But she’ll have to recognize her Episode 12 emotional reaction for the mistake it was in next week’s finale, as the credits scene revealed she wasn’t betrayed. Yam Yam voted for Jaime along with Carolyn, Carson, and Heidi. It was Jaime and Lauren who voted for Carolyn.

The only people who have the sway to eliminate Carolyn are her two closest allies. She seemingly won’t be voted out until Carson and Yam Yam agree she needs to go, and they’re just not there yet. It’s hard to say if Carolyn, Carson, and Yam Yam will commit to a Tika Three final three, but based on Episode 12, it seems neither Carson nor Yam Yam is emotionally willing to betray her. At least not yet…

Survivor, Three-Hour Season 44 Finale, Wednesday, May 24, 8/7c, CBS