[Spoiler] Wins ‘Survivor’ Season 44 After Tika 3 Alliance Stays Strong

The final five in the 'Survivor' Season 44 finale
Spoiler Alert


Absolute Banger Season

Season 44 • Episode 13

rating: 4.5 stars

[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for the Survivor Season 44 finale, “Absolute Banger Season.”]

The Survivor Season 44 finale title was right: this was an “absolute banger” of a season. The Survivor 44 winner was revealed in the three-hour finale on Wednesday, May 24, on CBS, and it was a hard-fought, 26-day battle for all. With one of the most charismatic, entertaining, and savvy group of players Survivor‘s ever put together — and by finally hitting its stride with the shortened format — Season 44 will surely go down as one of the franchise’s greats.

Heading into the finale, the Tika Three alliance seemed primed to be the final three, even with the cracks beginning to show in their trust in each other. Since the merge, the Survivor 44 cast had been battling this Carolyn, Yam Yam, and Carson trio. After their original tribe was sent to tribal council night after night, struggling to pull out any challenge wins, the savvy strategizing from this trio positioned them as the group to beat. While they each accomplished it differently, their group success was defined by each of them being incredibly well-liked by the other players.

Carolyn was the quirky character who could make anybody laugh. She was underestimated for far too long, but once welcomed into the fold by more players, people realized her honesty was her best quality. It’s really easy to trust Carolyn, and as evidenced by her making it into the final five, it’s even easier to doubt her. In Survivor, doubting someone’s power often comes back to haunt you. But people liked her so much; other threats seemed more pressing. She was so beloved that even when she revealed her “secretly” strong game by playing her idol on Carson, no one voted her out after.

Carson won the individual immunity challenge, securing his place in the final four. When he brought Yam Yam with him to the sanctuary, the season’s other most colorful player pointed out that players really enjoy hearing Carolyn tell a story. That’s not a skill you want someone to have when you’re each trying to convince a jury to give you $1 million. Carson wanted Lauren out, convinced that her strong challenge performances (two challenge wins and one reward win) were under her belt. Carson’s desire for an all-Tika final three still seemed genuine here. Getting Lauren out was a logical next step for that plan.

Heidi, Carson, and Lauren in the 'Survivor' Season 44 finale


Post-merge, Yam Yam used his humor and charm to knock out every person who voted for him, often doing so swiftly. His endearing personality and, like Carolyn, blunt honesty proved to be a powerful tool of persuasion. So, why couldn’t he convince people to vote Carolyn out when heading into the final five tribal council? It makes you question if he really wanted her gone.

Last week, we said there wasn’t a clear path to victory for Lauren through social games. She needed to win the individual immunity challenge in the first part of tonight’s episode in order to have a chance for the final three. And even Lauren knew that.

Having lost the challenge, her last-ditch effort was to sow confusion about whether she had a hidden idol. That, and she accused Carolyn and Heidi of lying to her about where the vote was going, saying no one had genuine strategy talks with her. Carolyn and Heidi were “shocked” by the implication, and maybe it wasn’t the strongest strategy. But hey, leave no stone left unturned, right?

Expecting to be eliminated, Lauren gave a tearful speech detailing her pride in the person she had become through this experience. With three votes for her, Lauren did become part of the jury. The other two votes went to Yam Yam and Heidi. Yam Yam voted for Heidi instead of Carolyn. Lauren, meanwhile, voted for Yam Yam. Carolyn, Carson, and Heidi voted for Lauren, showing a possible rift in the Tika Three.

Despite this impending split, the Tika Three had all of the power as three members of the final four. That is, until Heidi won the final individual immunity challenge, assuring that the “three stooges,” as the trio called themselves, would not be side by side arguing their cases before the jury. It was an “emotional” time preparing for the fire making challenge, as Yam Yam said. No matter the lineup, one Tika was sending another Tika into the jury.

Lauren in the 'Survivor' Season 44 finale


Carolyn and Yam Yam, their tension simmering under the surface, relished in the idea of facing each other by making fire. They playfully practiced together on the beach, but there was an untrusting and competitive vibe between them throughout. Though Yam Yam often campaigned for Carolyn’s removal, he never actually voted for her. It seemed he really wanted her in the final three with him, either out of friendship or strategy or both. Sticking with friend mode, Yam Yam helped the ill-prepared Carson practice making fire, holding Carson while he cried over the stress. He didn’t want to see anyone give up at the end.

“It’s not important to me if it’s a bad move or a good move,” Yam Yam told the cameras. “It’s something that I really wanted to do.”

Carolyn, the only player left who never won individual immunity, really wanted to prove herself by making fire. Heidi had a hankering to play with fire as well, which is only a major move if it’s successful. Her logic was that it was her last chance to make her resume comparable to the Tika Three’s. Heidi had the power to send one player to the final three, and she chose Carolyn, who gave a tearful speech about her younger self that brought Frannie to tears in the jury. She then sent Carson to make fire and Yam Yam to the final three, taking the major risk of sacrificing her immunity.

The risk paid off. Heidi’s flame burned through the rope first, making for a rare payoff to one of Survivor‘s biggest possible risks. Not only did she win the challenge, she set a new record for the fastest fire made in Survivor history (3:02). The jury was literally jumping out of their seats in excitement. Could middle-man Yam Yam and blindside-conductor Carolyn convince the jury their long games were more impressive than Heidi’s big risk? She is the first and only person to split the Tika Three. Making that clear in her pitch would be key when battling against better season-long strategies.

Carolyn’s biggest appeal was her indisputably honest game play. Not many Survivor players can say they were honest and themselves for the entire season. Yam Yam’s strengths were in his relationships. Because he bonded with everyone (and had no issue creating new bonds when needed), he knew how everyone else was voting and could vote however he wanted. Heidi is the strong physical player of the bunch, the only non-Tika member left, and of course, she took a massive risk to show her gumption.

Yam Yam in the 'Survivor' Season 44 finale


In Survivor, how you frame your game is just as important as how you play it. Here’s how the final three sold themselves to the jury.

Yam Yam’s Pitch

As part of the Tika Three, he helped convince Ratu and Soka members that Tika was following everyone’s lead. In reality, they were pulling the strings behind the scenes. This gave Yam Yam important intel and important connections that kept him in the know of how everyone was voting.

He used Carson and everyone else on Va Va for information, which he said people should have targeted him for but mistakenly didn’t. He used the real emotions and facial expressions of each player to figure out when they were lying. Strategically, he was all talk and all behind-the-scenes action, both flying under the radar and helping run the show, making himself part of everybody’s plans. He was almost always on the right side of the vote, having the best track record of all the finalists (including Carson and Lauren).

Heidi’s Pitch

She got into a “hole” after the Soka numbers dwindled post-merge, but she “tried [her] best” to still implement strategy while in the bottom. She used her biggest ally, Danny, as a “shield” to boost her game. Once she had the opportunity to take the lead in the finale challenges, she took it.

Being a Latina in science, Heidi learned how to control her emotions in her male-dominated field. She used that skill to control and employ her emotions when needed. Playing with fire gave her the “best opportunity” to have a winning pitch.

Strategically, she had to figure out how to adapt and survive while playing against the leaders. She wanted to inspire girls who look and talk like her with her game play and potential win. A big part of her pitch relied on convincing the jury that Carolyn and Yam Yam’s decisions were controlled by Carson. Setting a new Survivor record was an unexpected payoff of her big fire gamble. She wasn’t always on the right side of the vote, but she still powered through to the end.

Carolyn’s Pitch

She didn’t choose to play as an underdog, but the assumptions that she was cruising for a loss made her reputation soar when she proved otherwise with one strategic move. Her genuine connections with other players built systems of trust that were never broken. After years of being sober and embracing the full range of her feelings, she made a conscious choice not to shut off her emotions in this game. She used her emotions as a tool, stopping her tears when she knew people needed to see her pull herself together.

Strategically, using her idol on Carson wasn’t only for him. It was also a way to assure the Danny blindside would work. She needed him gone because he was influencing other voters. The drama between the Tika Three, she and Yam Yam said, was often played up for the other contestants, but some of it was real. Despite real disagreements, the bonds remained. She knew her cards and when to play them, getting herself to the final three having made good on her honest promises and successfully executing vote plans. She had a second-best voting track record of the final three.

The winning pitch? Yam Yam’s! The first vote went to Heidi, and the next five went to Yam Yam. That was enough for Jeff Probst to call it (Jeff revealed all the remaining votes went to Yam Yam during the reunion). And with that, a banner season of Survivor is in the books.

How do you feel about Carolyn being a no-vote finalist?