Screaming at the Screen - Damnbueno's Survivor 44 recaps/ analysis
A finale this|close to a classic
By Damnbueno | Published: May 25, 2023
Survivor 44 Episode 13 recap/ analysis

A finale this|close to a classic

As we enter this season's finale we potentially have three finalists as evenly matched as possible in Carson, Yam Yam and Carolyn. This is not to dismiss Heidi and Lauren as contenders, but let's be real, as we enter this last episode, the focus is on the Tika 3. A win for Lauren and/or Heidi seems as likely now as a Cook Islands win from anyone not in the Aitu 4, or a Fans win over any of the Favorites in Micronesia.

Cook Islands came down to one vote, with Yul pulling out a 5-4 win. Micronesia may have been as close if Amanda had not buckled under late-game pressure, and dropped votes into Parvati's lap. I think either scenario is just as likely this season. Any finalist is capable of saying the wrong thing in front of a jury that could create a reason for jurors NOT to vote for them.

So, as a primer for this season's finale, I thought it'd be fun to take a look at some classic Final Tribal Councils that resemble the scenarios described above.

Colby vs Tina (The Australian Outback) - Colby and Tina largely controlled the voting decisions of their alliance. Tina's strategic strength was her social game, as she regularly hammered home her "good guys should win" mantra. And Colby? He just won everything - 3 Reward and 5 Immunity Challenges. This may have caused Colby to be resented by his jurors, but entering the final 3, eventual 3rd place finisher Keith didn't have any support on the jury. Colby had an easy win if he took Keith to the finals, but he bought into Tina's mantra, and lost the million to her in a 4-3 vote.

Vecepia vs Neleh

Vecepia vs Neleh (Marquesas) - Vecepia pioneered the "under the radar" game, and survived being in a 7-3 deficit. Neleh largely stayed in the safety of majority numbers. All but one of the 7 jurors came from Neleh's original tribe, but Vecepia's 4th vote may have come courtesy of Neleh's bonehead statement. At Final Tribal Council, Neleh admitted she didn't start playing the game until day 24. Even though she got 3 votes, its doubtful her alliance partners felt good about giving money to someone who was on vacation half the time.

Fabio vs Chase vs Sash (Nicaragua) - Sash played the best strategic game, but presented himself like a slimy used car salesman. Much like Heidi this season, Chase was indecisive, and worried about angering others most of the time. And Fabio was a likable goofball who spent most of the game out of the loop, and thought others kept him around because he's smart. Chase talked himself into a few votes at Final Tribal Council, but came up one vote short. Fabio took the win 5-4-0.

Tony vs Woo (Cagayan) - While Tony's 8-1 landslide win might hint he dominated the season and carried a goat to the end, this season largely swung on Woo's horrible decision to take Tony to the end instead of Kass. Entering the final 3, Woo hadn't angered his jurors, and was fairly well-respected. Tony had angered and betrayed several jurors, but played a dominant, if not puzzling strategic game. Kass had angered more than half of the jury, and didn't care. All of that changed when Woo won the Final Immunity Challenge, and took Tony to finals. Had he taken Kass, he likely gets an easy win - possibly a unanimous win. But the Jury rewarded Tony (or did they punish Woo?) for talking Woo into making the worst decision in Survivor history.

Wendell vs Domenick

Wendell vs Domenick (Ghost Island) - Wendell and Domenick were about as evenly matched as any two finalists. Both played a strong physical game, and their partnership outsmarted everyone else. But Wendell's social game was better than Domenick's. Wendell read the jury better, and realized some of them didn't care for the aggressive and dismissive way Domenick treated Sebastian and Donathan. Wendell even subtly encouraged Domenick to continue behaving that way just before Final Tribal Council. Domenick didn't realize until it was too late how his bravado was costing him votes. The initial vote resulted in a 5-5 tie, and zero-vote finalist Laurel was tasked with casting the deciding vote. Wendell was closer to Laurel than Domenick was, and she voted for Wendell, who took the win 6-5.

All of this season's final five have created reasons for their jurors to believe things haven't gone the way they've planned. None of them have been dominant, but they've all earned the jurors' respect. There's no obvious goat among them.

None of them have scorched the earth on their way to the finals like Boston Rob in All-Stars, Russell in Heroes vs Villains, or Brad in Game Changers. But nobody is way ahead of the pack like Earl in Fiji, Jeremy in Cambodia, or Kim in One World either. All of them are capable of talking themselves into votes with a surprisingly impressive performance like Chase, Todd (China) or Sophie (South Pacific). And unfortunately, all of them are also capable of talking themselves OUT of votes like Neleh, Domenick, or Amanda.

No matter how things play out, I'm hoping all the finalists fight for the win as hard as J.T. and Stephen did in Tocantins. The winner will be whoever tells the jury what they want to hear. Whoever has gathered that information the best over the previous 25 days will probably prevail.

And away we go ....

Ok, Carolyn is endearing, but her constant screaming is annoying.

Final five

Carolyn: "Why won't you go Idol hunting?" Carson: "Because I can't see." Too bad Carson isn't like Domenick in Ghost Island, who "found" an Idol at night after claiming he couldn't see his hand in front of his face. Funny how he didn't mention the camera lights that pointed down at the bush where he "found" it."

Tika three

If these players knew they'd be moving to a new beach, they should have also known whatever was hidden would be an Advantage for the Final 5 Immunity Challenge.

The confessionals from the Tika 3 sound like Final Tribal Council statements to the Jury. Lauren and Heidi's sound more like it's actually on Day 24. In the commercials promos for the finale, everyone got a full sentence except Heidi. All she got to say was "Wow."

I see a puzzle at the end of the challenge, and I'm already thinking Carson is gonna win. I guess nobody found the Advantage.

But this looks like a new puzzle. Just the same, Carson is the best of these five at puzzles.

The puzzle

Does Probst really have to ask "Is it worth playing for?" when Immunity is on the line?

I wonder what the Advantage was? Maybe somebody got to start with one key in hand already?

Carson is 6 or 7 pieces ahead of Heidi, but Probst says its only 1 or 2.

Carson on the puzzle

This one is a blowout unless Carson gets sloppy and knocks pieces out.

Yeah, this one was never in doubt.

Carson leaving Carolyn behind is telling me Carolyn is gonna throw Carson in the fire challenge. Since he has Immunity, there really wasn't a "bad" choice for choosing who to take with him. Even feeding Yam Yam, who is probably his toughest competition, won't have immediate blowback since the next challenge is at least a day away. I say you leave behind the person you want to vote out. I suppose it was smart to take Yam Yam because he's got a better chance of convincing Lauren and/or Heidi to vote Carson out at Final 4 than Carolyn does.

Yam Yam is right for targeting Carolyn. She's easily the biggest threat of the 3 women.

Reward feasting

Carson is convinced Lauren is the biggest threat. It would have been nice to have seen some of what Carson saw in Lauren's game that made him feel that way.

That's the coldest hug Yam Yam has ever had.

Carolyn and Yam Yam

Carolyn: "We need some Tika on the jury." Ok, that was just plain dumb. Why not just tell Yam Yam you want him out?

Carson: "Carolyn drives me crazy. She has no filter, and is unpredictable." This is why I told you to boot Carolyn instead of Helen way back in the olden days. You know, 19 days ago?

Brandon looked disappointed that Carson won Immunity. He must be pulling hard for Lauren.

Carson got it

If Lauren survives this vote, she might regret sounding so defeated. She could be in the finals with jurors accusing her of giving up. And Lauren telling Carolyn and Heidi "Nobody talked to me" might actually change their minds about voting for her. Jurors might conclude Lauren didn't recognize help when it was being offered to her.

Probst: "I will say it's a testament to the game play this season that it's very difficult to know what the truth is." Great point Jeff. See? I can compliment Mr. Probst too.


Lauren: "I won 2 Immunities and a Reward." Carolyn did it last week, and now Lauren is doing it. She's saying what she should be holding back for Final Tribal Council.

I really miss seeing voting confessionals. There's usually zero reason for players to lie at that moment. I miss those confessionals almost as much as I miss the Ponderosa and Jury Speaks videos.

Carson voting Lauren

I do have to say this cast across the board has done a great job of sending people out of the game without making them angry first. Could it be that all the Producer twists in the pre-merge game prevented players from getting to know each other well enough to really feel betrayed in the post-merge?

This Final Immunity Challenge would become interesting if everyone had to do it with their off hand.


Nope, they all get to use their strong hand.

Heidi wins Immunity, so all those shots of Heidi practicing making fire were a great misdirect. Good job, editors.

Heidi wins

Heidi: "Unless I make fire." Uhh ... nevermind.

Four fire making kits. The Producers saw this coming too.

Fire kits

I guess we'll never know what would have happened if a Tika had won Final 4 Immunity. Who would any of them put in the fire contest against Heidi? How would that decision affect their chances of winning? Who knows if we'll be able to fully believe whatever they say in their exit interviews?

Yam Yam: "I saw Carson on day 1 making fire. He no good." My dog is awake from my outburst of laughter. Yam Yam's sense of humor could easily win him this game.

Yam Yam: He no good

Why is everyone showing Heidi how good or bad they are at making fire? Your fire making skills should be treated like an Idol. Don't advertise it.

Yam Yam helping Carson practice at making fire could be very smart. It could secure Carson's jury vote. Plus, Yam Yam probably knows he can beat Carson anyway, if the two of them go head to head.

Right about now, I want to skip past Probst's questions and just get to the contest.

Probst: "You won your first Individual Immunity win." The department of redundancy department is proud of you, Jeff. Ok, I'm back to normal, taking shots at Probst.

Probst addresses the F4

Heidi: "I'm still making up my mind." It's bad form to tell your jury how indecisive you are. Some or all of them may see this decision as a no-brainer. They could doubt you simply for not already reaching a decision.

Carolyn is in the finals ... and right on cue, she's continuing the Final Tribal Council speech she started last week.

Probst: "If I'm watching at home, I'm saying 'Give me a bowl of popcorn." Hardcore Survivor fans are saying "We predicted this weeks ago."

I always forget which color - purple or orange - has won more fire contests.

F4 fire

The breeze is always a factor in these contests.

Heidi beats Carson at fire. The orange station wins. She made the "Big Move"™ Probst is always crowing about. Will it pay off? I'm thinking it won't.

Two seasons in a row now, a record has been set in the fire making contest. To me, this means the players are ahead of the game, and it's time to retire this final 4 challenge. Its time to come up with something new ... or better yet, something old. Just let the players outwit each other. The players know this challenge is coming, and are making it less and less entertaining. The fire challenge has become just like the Survivor Auction. It's too familiar, and needs to go.

My big question now is who will Carson endorse at Ponderosa? The entire jury knows Carson knows the most about Carolyn and Yam Yam's games, and Danny has probably told them how Heidi was following him. I think Carson's choice wins this game. Heidi's fire win is impressive, but the rest of her game really isn't as impressive when compared to Yam Yam and Carolyn's. Who did Heidi outwit?

This might come down to who gets tripped up at Final Tribal Council the worst.

Kane: "If you fart in the water well, Yam Yam knows about it." My dog is awake again. I don't know that this is a skill I'd like to have.


Heidi: "I think the jury has seen my game." A lot of 2nd place finalists (like Aubry in Kaoh Rong) have said the same thing. No matter what you think, you need to be prepared to remind them in convincing fashion.

I'll say it again, Frannie loves Carolyn. I think her vote is going to Carolyn, and she's bringing Matt's vote with her.

Danny: "This is gonna be Tyson vs Holyfield." Does that make Heidi the referee? Are we about to see the 2nd tie vote in finals history? Or will Heidi's fire win secure Danny's vote, and make it a 4-3-1 split?

Yam Yam: "We knew who was the target every time." Heidi butts in on Yam Yam's answer, and says "You guys were riding the wave of the Soka members." Yam Yam: "That's what we wanted you to perceive. Carson is nodding like a bobble head doll, and right out of the gate, Heidi falls on her face.I think Yam Yam just knocked Heidi out of contention.

Final three

Heidi: "I tried to be strategic." That's not a strong answer.

"I was playing, but it was so underestimated, it played into itself." Carolyn's answer is killing it.

Heidi: "They (Yam Yam and Carolyn) were on a high. I suffered through a lot." Nobody is buying that. Yam Yam: "We weren't on a high, we took advantage of the perception that you were saving us." Carson's neck is hurting again from nodding so hard.

Yam Yam: "I used everyone." Great answer. This jury IS buying that argument.

Heidi needs to tell Danny "I was the one who voted for you." She missed that chance and said "I used you as a shield."

Yam Yam: "When you all were lying, that twinkle in your eyes went away." GREAT answer. That tells people he had an accurate read. Yam Yam identified everyone's "tell." I guess he was better at reading body language than Carson.

Heidi: "Seeing Carolyn trying in challenges inspired me." That's an honest statement, and jurors appreciate honesty, but it's not a statement you should make when you're trying to beat Carolyn. You're giving them a reason to vote for Carolyn.

Heidi: "Carson was the brains." I don't think they're buying it, even if she's right.

Heidi: "If I win, I'll be the oldest female winner."

Yam Yam: "Jeff, your voice is supportive, but annoying." That statement alone would get my vote. Just like Gabler last season, Yam Yam has the jury cracking up.

Laughing jurors

Carolyn to Danny: "I needed you out because you were controlling things." Carolyn might have just taken Danny's vote from Heidi.

Yam Yam: "I won a necklace, which made me a threat. But I wasn't a threat because I made myself not a threat." Yam Yam is speaking with a ton of confidence, and I think it's working.

I'm absolutely loving this Tribal Council. Everyone is fighting for it. It's exactly what I wanted to see.

Heidi: "This game is about finding myself, and realizing the growth." That pitch didn't work for Stephen in Tocantins, and Heidi should know that.

Heidi talking

We only saw 6 of the 8 votes, so does that mean Yam Yam won 7-1-0? I'm shocked Carolyn didn't get any votes. I thought her jury performance was better than Heidi's, and almost as good as Yam Yam's.

So Heidi wins the fire challenge, throws herself in, wins and takes out the perceived biggest threat ... but loses the million. So much for the theory that says you have to make fire to win the game. Heidi made a strong pitch, but I think it was too little too late. And her stumble out of the gate probably killed any momentum she'd gained by winning at fire.

It looks like this time around, they let the finalists and jurors eat before starting the post-game discussion.

Frannie just confirmed Yam Yam talked himself into her vote. He took that vote from Carolyn. Props to him.

Frannie, aftershow

It sucks that nobody voted for Carolyn. She played too well not to get any votes. Yam Yam played a good game, but not that much better than she did. I think Carolyn and Stephen Fishbach belong in a category separate from typical zero vote finalists.

So I guess Yam Yam's biggest break came when Heidi won Final 4 Immunity and decided to put Carson into the fire challenge. It sounds like several players saw Carson as the front runner - perhaps because of the strong social relationships he built as opposed to his strategic game which most of them didn't see. But Carson leaving was clearly the best thing for Yam Yam because Carson could fill the jury in on how in his view, Yam Yam played a much stronger overall game than Carolyn.

Heidi should be proud of herself, but I think she lost the game long before Final Tribal Council. She just created too many reasons for others to think she was following others as opposed to forging her own path.

Matt. B. and Frannie confirming their relationship was great. Check out how red Frannie's face is while he's talking about her.


Yam Yam broke the trend of someone being labeled a "leader" early on, yet still getting the win. I think he defused that bomb through his sense of humor. He made himself fun to be around in a way most "leaders" don't. In other words, his social game was so good, he didn't have to sit next to someone who angered the jury in order to get a win. He also did a great job of showing his vulnerability without making it seem he was angling for sympathy. Yam Yam had 6 votes cast against him along the way. I think that's high for an eventual winner, but it's pretty late now, and I don't want to look it up. Jeff Pitman might know off the top of his head.

Yam Yam winning

Wait, did they let Kane play again? Did they just give him time to grow his beard thicker?

New Kane

Let me know your thoughts on this season's final 5. Do you think Yam Yam was actually the front runner all along, or did Carolyn and Heidi drop votes in his lap? What did you think of Heidi's decision to put herself into the fire challenge? It appears that's what got her Danny's vote, but it didn't impress the other jurors enough to vote for her. Had she already knocked herself out?

Check back here during the off-season. I've got some ideas for columns, and will continue writing about my favorite game. And thanks for reading Screaming at the Screen!

damnbuenoDamnbueno got his nickname in 8th grade Spanish class when his friend shouted out "You're pretty damn good at Spanish." The teacher insisted he say it in Spanish, so the friend said "Esto es damn bueno en Espanol." The nickname stuck. These days, when he's not forgetting his 8th grade Spanish, Damnbueno is indulging his obsession with all things Survivor. Reach him in the comments section here at True Dork Times.