Top Five, Baby! - Brent Sullivan's Survivor 44 recaps
44 in 20/20 hindsight
By Brent Sullivan | Published: May 29, 2023
Survivor 44 Episode 13 Recap/ analysis

44 in 20/20 hindsight

Welcome to “Top Five Baby!” where after each episode of Survivor, Brent Sullivan will try to break apart and find the top five moments that made a lasting impact on the season or moments that could at least affect the next few episodes. Sometimes the moments are obvious and other times ... not so much, but after years of watching and analyzing this show to myself, I like to share the ones that I think stand out the most.

Before I get to anything else, I believe a congratulations is in order for Yam Yam. Knowing how the season started, I am honestly surprised that we are saying that. Having both him and Carolyn on the same tribe and seeing what big characters they both were, I couldn’t have imagined a game where either one of them won, let alone see them both sit at the final tribal council. Once again, the casting was amazing this season. It’s great that we are getting so many different players and winners. I honestly believe this will only help the show grow and hopefully stick around for a while.

This week - the week following the finale - is always a little different. Since there isn’t anything to discuss moving forward or what could have made an impact next week or down the road, I will be looking at all my previous articles to pick out the five that I think I got the closest to getting correct. Plus, maybe one at the end to see how bad I did as well. (I’m sure I could do a whole top five of what I got wrong). So, here we go one more time with a Survivor 44 Top Five Baby!

1. Matt hearts Frannie (Episode 2)

Matt hearts Frannie

After 44 seasons of Survivor, I can’t believe that two people would still be caught doing this. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants and Survivor rules be damned! So here we are just a few days into the game and these two can’t be separated for more than a few minutes.

Listen, as Jeff says: “I love love,” but there is a time and place for it ... and this isn’t it. At least they could try to keep quiet about it. But both Frannie and Matt are openly spending lots of time together and constantly acting like a couple. Claire’s expressions should really say it all, but Survivor does a really good job at casting and these two should know better.

It’s safe to say that these two will be voting together and unless the other four band against them, they may actually be safe on such a small tribe. This may be one huge advantage of the smaller starting tribes. A duo is only one person away from a tie vote. Now, from a viewer’s standpoint, since they have been winning challenges, we don’t know exactly what the tribe breakdown could be, but I’m anxious to see how that all unfolds the first time they have to go to tribal council and vote someone out.

So, sometimes love does conquer all. Matt and Frannie remained a solid pair throughout the pre-merge, they even had a tight alliance going with Danny and Heidi at one point. Honestly, things were looking pretty good for them right up until the “Earn the Merge” happened and they were split up with Matt being on the side with most of the Ratu members. Also, according to the after-show and some post-game interviews, they are still together, so I guess it all worked out for them.

2. Carson makes the jump (Episode 2)

Carson makes the jump

All right, so the last thing we need to discuss is why did Carson vote with Carolyn and Yam Yam and did he know about Sarah’s no-vote? If he knew for sure that Sarah couldn’t vote and he was afraid of a tie and drawing rocks, then maybe that explains everything. But we have never seen a single scene of him or her talking about it to each other.

Personally, I think Carolyn had every right to be paranoid when she was afraid, he was lying to her and wanted to vote her off. Carson, Helen, and Sarah have been hanging out and doing some strategic talks for five days, now all of a sudden, he appears to be jumping ship. Obviously, during voting, he did indeed go with Carolyn and Yam Yam when they voted off Helen.

Now the big question for Carson is: is he going to stick with them now that he voted with them once or will he try to get back with Sarah to pull off a move against one of the other two? With such a small tribe, I think he is stuck with the side he picked for now, but I am interested to see exactly which way he goes.

Who would have thought this would have made such an impact on the game? When Carson made the decision to go with Yam Yam and Carson, he pretty much set them up to march to the final four, only none of them knew it at the time. Would Carson had fared better had he went the other route?

3. Carson on Ratu (Episode 4)

Carson on Ratu

This is the one I am most intrigued by. Ratu has been winning, so they seem to be getting along ok, but there was quite a bit of turmoil early on in this group. Lots of misplays during the first tribal council, plus both Lauren and Kane struggling at the immunity challenge this week may make Carson look good in their eyes. Not to mention the fact that Matthew is already starting to cultivate a relationship with him by telling him secrets that no one else knows.

Since Ratu seems to be on a nice winning streak and Tika is not, I’m not sure if we will see them go to tribal council before the merge, but if they do, Carson is smart enough to play his idol, then it comes down to who will be the one voted out and will Ratu be able to keep working with Carson after the fact? As I said, this is the tribe I am more interested in seeing how things shake out and I’m looking forward to it.

I really feel like this is an underrated moment in this season. In Carson’s short time with Ratu, he made great bonds and built relationships that helped Tika navigate the late phase of the game. Having both Lauren and Jaime trust him late in the game helped him and Yam Yam makes several of their decisions and it probably kept the Ratu girls from jumping over and working with the original Soka members.

4. Yam Yam charms (Episode 7)

Yam Yam charms

This was definitely a Yam Yam-heavy episode. Lots of confessionals with him, shots of him making the whole tribe laugh, and even Jeff likes to call on him during tribal councils because of his humor and passion. All these traits also make him a great person to have around camp ... and a terrible person to bring to the end of the game with you. Somehow, his name comes up as a potential vote-off every week and somehow, he makes it through. Heidi even found an advantage on the old Soka beach when they were split up that she tried to use to get him voted off. In the end, though, the original Ratu members stuck together and voted off Matt, but more on that here in a few.

I think it’s easy to say that Yam Yam is not only one of the biggest characters of the season, but he seems to be charming his way through the game as well. It’s been a little rocky, but he seems to have a great relationship with Carolyn. He also has an alliance with Carson from their time on Tika together. On top of that, everyone who gives a confessional talks about how much they love having him around. I have a feeling that his target will get smaller and smaller, and he will find himself going deep into this game.

This was obviously his superpower. Everyone that was around Yam Yam loved him. In fact several players mentioned how sad it would be to vote him off when his name came up as a potential voting target. He just charmed people right up to the very end when that won him a million dollars.

5. Carolyn's mad, then isn't (Episode 11)

Carolyn's mad, then isn't

I have to be honest; I am a little disappointed. I honestly thought after Carson and Yam Yam left her out of the vote when they voted Frannie out of the game, that she would be mad. I mean like blazing mad. Enough to burn down the whole camp with those two still in it kind of mad. However, it went more like this ... when they got back from tribal council, she was noticeably upset at both. They had to pull her to the side, explain everything, and try to console her. After what I thought was going to be the start of a downward spiral against them, she wakes up in the morning and all is forgotten. I know that she is smart enough to know that it’s just a game and they did a smart game move for them, but we definitely haven’t seen her portrayed as that type of player this year.

So, just like that, the three original members of Tika are back together and ready to make a move against whomever they want. Now, the big question for these three is, are they all willing to make it to the end together? Do all three of them think they stand a chance of winning against the other two? I can’t wait to see how they come out of the gate next week now the numbers (in theory) are equal with three on each side.

The reason I put this one in was to illuminate Carolyn’s game. Yes, she was a very emotional player and she made lots of decisions based on her feelings and not on game logic. But this moment here proved that she was growing and learning as a Survivor player.


Now for one that I completely was wrong on. As I mentioned earlier, I was wrong on many others, but this one stood out as really wrong.

6. Tika (Episode 1)


I have a feeling this is going to be our “train wreck” tribe this season. Already missing their strongest player in Bruce, they also have Carolyn who appears to be on the outside of the majority already. Carson, Sarah, and Helen have formed a bond almost immediately, and with Bruce gone, that puts her and Yam Yam on the outside looking in.

The curious part about that division is that both Yam Yam and Carolyn are two of the biggest personalities in this season. So, even though they are entertaining, that doesn’t mean it will be easy to live with them. But we can ask Gabler how that works out in the end can’t we? Even though Yam Yam made the fire (very quickly it seemed), the other three are sitting pretty right now. Plus, Helen and Carson helped them get their camp supplies by figuring out the Savvy puzzle.

At this point, if Tika loses the next immunity challenge (and I think they will), Carolyn may be in trouble.

Obviously, it didn’t take me long to be completely wrong about something. Yes, they were still a “train wreck” sort of tribe early on, but then they started winning. When they got to the merge, both Carson and Yam Yam used their social skills to start picking off Soka and Ratu one by one. Through all of that, there ended up being three Tika members in the final four and two sitting at the end trying to win the million dollars.

So, there you have it for another season. Once again, I hope you enjoyed reading and interacting with these as much as I did writing them. As always, I am honored to be even the smallest cog in the great big machine that is Survivor and to be a minimal part of the overall Survivor coverage. Thank you to everyone who visited this weekly article, whether you are a committed reader and you seek this out every week, or you just happened to come across this while searching for something else. I couldn’t do it without either of you! Survivor is still the greatest show after all these years and it’s fantastic to enjoy it with all of you. So, thanks again!

But one last time, I want to hear from you as well, let me know if I missed any moments or if you think I’m way off base, the interaction is part of what makes this fun!

Were you happy with Yam Yam’s win?

What was your favorite part of the season?

Are you excited to see Bruce return in season 45?

Thanks again and talk to everyone real soon!

Brent Sullivan - Top Five, Baby!Brent Sullivan is a long-time fanatic of Survivor and has been writing about it for years. When he is not writing, talking about, or applying to be on the show, he spends his time with family, doing nerdy IT stuff, and watching movies. Follow him on twitter: @BSully_13