‘Survivor’ 44’s Final 5 Reflect on Their Pivotal Moves & Missteps

Carolyn Wiger, Lauren Harpe, Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt, and Carson Garrett in 'Survivor' Season 44
Spoiler Alert
Robert Voets/CBS

[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for the Survivor Season 44 finale.]

What a season of Survivor! While there was plenty of lies told (and awkwardly discovered), this season of the hit CBS competition series featured more honest gameplay than fans are used to. The 26-day format hit its stride with Season 44, finally reprioritizing scenes at the camp that best reveal its players’ personalities. And boy, was this a memorable collection of personalities.

Two of the season-long fan favorites, the ever charismatic Yamil “Yam Yam” Arocho and the quirky, emotive Carolyn Wiger, made it into the final three, with Yam Yam’s hyper-specific pitch landing him the win. Their closest ally and third member of the powerhouse Tika Three alliance, Carson Garrett, was also an expert strategist and puzzle whiz.

He was only knocked out when losing the fire making challenge to Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt, who took a huge risk when sacrificing her immunity to make fire against Carson. She won, and she set a new fire-making record in the process. Lauren Harpe was the last person voted out of the season in the final five tribal council. She left the season as one of its strongest physical players.

Hindsight is 20/20. TV Insider chatted with the four runners up of Survivor 44 after the finale to see what, if anything, they regret from the season, and to dive into the pivotal moves that sealed their finale fates. See their answers in the Survivor 44 finale gallery below, and be sure to check out our exit interview with the Survivor 44 champ, Yam Yam.

Survivor, Season 44 Streaming Now, Paramount+

Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt in the 'Survivor' Season 44 finale

Heidi (Runner Up)

In the final six, Heidi had two avenues into the finale. She could either team up with Jaime and Lauren, who were trying (though not very hard) to break up the Tika Three, or she could align herself with the Carolyn, Yam Yam, Carson alliance. She chose the latter, sending Carolyn and Yam Yam into the final three after winning the final immunity and beating Carson in the fire challenge.

The biggest reason why she didn’t try to work with Jaime and Lauren, she told us, is because they tried to vote her out previously. Trust was lost, but with the Tikas, it could still grow. Here’s why she chose that route.

“Something wasn’t shown: Jamie was close to Yam, and we can see that. Carson was close to Lauren, and we can see that at the island, but it was never really shown on TV. So, when they said to me to ‘vote for Carolyn,’ I was like, ‘OK…’. And then I’m like, that doesn’t make any sense, right? Because if they’re close with the boys, let’s vote Carolyn. And guess what? I knew I was gonna be next. Because in their eyes, maybe they had their top four together.

“I was also close to the Tikas. As soon as I knew they were gonna be in the middle, I started making friendships with them. And you could see, the Tikas never really voted for me. Carolyn only voted one time for me — it was a bit rogue. And then Yam Yam voted for me in this one ’cause he was returning the vote that I did for him. Even though I didn’t write it, I made Lauren write it down. So, he’s like, ‘Well, you wrote my name once. I’m gonna write your name once too.’ [Laughs] The chemistries and the friendships and relationships [weren’t quite shown], but it just didn’t make sense at the time to just vote for Carolyn. And when I tried to pitch something else, the energy at the moment wasn’t quite there. So, I just knew it wasn’t gonna work for me. I wasn’t playing for fifth, I was playing for Soul Survivor.”

Heidi’s final-six decision got her into the final five (as did playing her idol, although it wasn’t needed in the end). But her fiery risk got her into the final three. She said sending Carolyn and Yam Yam into the final three was less about them and more about Carson.

“It wasn’t so much about, ‘Oh, I’m gonna take Yam Yam and Carolyn to the end.’ It was more of, I’m taking the best player out so I could put myself into the best position to tell that to the jury and hopefully get their votes,” she said. “At the time I thought [Carson] had the strongest game, and I wanted to make fire with the person I thought was gonna win.”

Carolyn, Yam Yam, and Carson in 'Survivor' Season 44

Carolyn (3rd Place)

Carolyn proved she was always a strong player when using her secret idol to protect Carson the night Danny was voted out. Having played such a similar game as Yam Yam (disarming honesty, charming the group with their humor and emotions, and building that rock-solid Tika alliance), how they each framed their games was the most important thing for the pair going into the pitches.

Carolyn feels her pitch wasn’t up to snuff with Yam Yam’s, but that she still deserved at least one vote from the jury (we agree!). A big part of it was explaining how she used her emotions to her advantage. Her explanation, said told us, was like a “diary entry,” and she thinks she should have made it less about feelings.

“That’s not gonna appeal to a Danny or a Brandon, and like, duh,” she said, adding that convincing those guys (whom she’s friends with now) to value a woman’s emotional game was a mountain of a task.

“I slowly died” as the season went on, she added, because she realized “these people just don’t take me seriously.”

When the night at the sanctuary with Danny and Brandon went sideways, it was a big hit to her confidence.

“I went in just like wanting to build these bonds and gain some allies, and to hear ‘you haven’t really proven yourself in challenges, people would wanna keep you around,’ I wanted to die inside. And that’s the truth. I felt like every insecurity that I had been trying to fight within myself was just pooped right out.”

“That’s what you want. You don’t want people to think you’re a threat,” she added. “But it became so personal for me, where I felt like as a person, people weren’t respecting me.”

“It was really hard to navigate that” in the pitches, “and it wore on me. I had so much fight in me that like, I don’t wanna be like, I got sick of fighting, but it made me like start to second guess myself.”

Carson clocked her waning fight while practicing fire. “He goes, ‘I’m worried because I’ve seen you just break down and you’re not yourself right now. And I’m worried that you’re not gonna believe in yourself [in her pitch]. I want you to know you have played a great game.'”

The Tika Three boys are like family to her now (“I talk to them nonstop”). But should she have gotten Carson out before the finale? It was “so hard” to “mentally prepare” herself for that. And in the end, she couldn’t do it. Nor could Carson or Yam Yam betray their season-long alliance.

“I would tell myself, ‘Carolyn, he’s gonna look at this and be mad at you if you don’t vote him out.’ I would justify it that way to myself. I didn’t wanna go up against Carson, but I found myself [feeling] I didn’t want him to lose fire. Even with Yam helping him with the fire, our bond is so hard to separate because we loved each other. But that’s what makes us so interesting, too.”

Carson Garrett's elimination in the 'Survivor' Season 44 finale

Carson (4th Place)

Carson very well may have won had he not lost the fire challenge. The Tika Three was the group to beat post-merge. Carson explained to us why it worked so well, and why players believed he was making all of their decisions.

“A lot of the information went through me, and I think that really came down to a lot of my relationships with people,” he said. “Like at Ratu going into the merge, I had just built individual relationships with each and every one of them. Carolyn and Yam Yam didn’t have that sort of foothold going into it, so it gave me a lot more leverage as more of a spokesperson for Tika. And I think that was seen throughout the merge group of people. For example, if Danny wanted to get stuff to Carolyn, and Yam Yam, it went through me. If Ratu wanted to get information to them, it went through me. And so I think it was a lot of times, ‘Oh, Carson’s making the decision for them,’ even though that necessarily wasn’t the case. They all had their own choices at the end of the day. But it just seemed as though, to a lot of the jurors and a lot of the people in the game that, if you got Carson on board, you got the other two.”

He did pull strings, however, in the jury, helping frame Yam Yam and Carolyn’s pitches in a positive light through his questions. Did he plan for that in Ponderosa?

“Yes,” he told us. “I wanted Tika member to win. I knew the underdog story and arc that we’ve had, and I just knew how each one of them were so amazing in their own individual ways and the way they play, too.

“There is such a difference between how Yam Yam played and Carolyn played. I mean, Carolyn would walk up to me and fake cry in front of people to make people feel as though she needed a personal moment when we were talking strategy. Yam Yam was so connected with people and was so good at using his ability to make people laugh as a weapon. I just knew how amazing they were. I wanted them to win based off the underdog story they had, how they pulled through, how they were on the right side of the vote so many times.”

Lauren Harpe in the 'Survivor' Season 44 finale

Lauren (5th Place)

Lauren was inches away from finding the last hidden immunity idol in the finale. She was looking on the ground when it was hanging right above her head in a gangly tree.

“Man, you know what? That was tough. I was tough because I feel like it was right there in my reach. The end — I’m right there. To make it that far and know that that was the death of me, I struggle with that,” she said.

Like Heidi, Lauren had the chance to break up the Tika alliance in the final six with Jaime. What made that move seem so impossible?

“At that point with Jaime, man, look, we had already burned a bridge with Heidi,” she explained. “We had written her name down as a split vote several times. And I think for me it was mostly I had never tried to connect with her. I was still caught up not thinking about the game. I was caught up with like, ‘Oh, she was aligned with Danny, Danny was coming for me. They have another agenda.’ And Heidi was a really good liar. When Brandon was voted out and when Kane was voted out, Heidi lied to me and was just keeping a straight poker face the whole time. So, I didn’t trust her. And then she was close with Danny. I absolutely love both of them. We’re really great friends now, but at that moment I couldn’t look past that, and Heidi didn’t trust us.”

“They didn’t show it a lot, but, if I had main alliances, it would be with me and Carson, and then with me and the Ratu members,” she continued. Given Jaime’s closeness with Yam Yam, did they expect Yam Yam would get Carson to vote for Carolyn with them? “Most definitely,” Lauren confirmed.

“That he would get Carson on board, but then also that I could too,” she went on. “But I think at that point we didn’t really, truly realize how close that relationship was between Carson and Carolyn, how strong their bond was, because Carson played a really great game in the sense that he would come talk to me and he would strategize with me. And then he would say, ‘Oh, Carolyn’s such a threat,’ like we would get her out. So he kind of played both sides very brilliantly. So, yeah, [I was] just comfortable. And they say when you’re too comfortable, then, you know, that’s when you get voted out.”