Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor 44 recaps
Survivor 44: Hot or not?
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: February 5, 2023
Survivor 44 Pre-season cast analysis

Survivor 44: Hot or not?

What a great several weeks it’s been since Karla won Survivor 43! I almost loved 43 so much that I’m not ready to move on to 44, but somehow I’ve found the strength inside to “get back out there” and try to find love again with a new cast.

With Valentine’s Day this month, it felt even more appropriate to swipe right, left, and super like again on the latest batch of castaways as I search for my Survivor love, inspired by Kat Edorsson’s very scientific method of determining someone’s date-worthiness based on whether they can reach the halfway point of the game ... which has notably been made almost half as difficult as it used to be.

Overall, this group feels more high-energy than the last, and there’s an obvious one who may have more to bring than all three casts in the new era, combined, could offer, so I’m feeling optimistic. New twists can always lead me to new ways to hate a season, but why get ahead of myself and ruin the show before it even starts thinking about what those could be?

Eighteen newbies, seventeen soon-to-be losers, 3 tribes – Tika, Ratu, and Soka – let’s hope this season doesn’t suck-a.


Carolyn Wiger


Every few seasons, there’s someone cast who seems as though Survivor asked itself, “who would be the perfect player for Ryan Kaiser to be obsessed with on this show and tweet incessantly about them?” and this kooky mom with big, beautiful blonde hair, an even bigger personality, and who may or may not be rock-sexual is far and away that “it” girl for me.

Carolyn, rocks

From the moment I saw her, I was in love. I tweeted that the last 30-and-a-half years of my life had been one era, and I’m now entering my Carolyn era. From the short promo, she was everything, but now having read and seen more from her, she’s not just one-note crazy — she’s really something special and one-of-a-kind.

Carolyn’s overcome drug addiction in her life and now serves as a drug counselor hoping to help to others find the path that she did, and now probably makes one of the most fun moms on the planet. She describes herself as “a little bit loud” which ... tracks. A mix of Maryanne and Noura — a combination that is too explosive to even wrap my head around yet but one that makes me incredibly excited to watch her play this game.

Carolyn’s big personality could give cause for concern, but both Maryanne and Noura made it to the end of the game, so I think there’s a chance Carolyn can too. Being a mom is another red flag when it comes to Survivor longevity, but looking at her tribe, I think there’s potential for her. Yam Yam is going to be another big personality that Carolyn could clash with, but Carolyn has some online Survivor experience so she should know more than your average fan of the show how to maneuver herself out of sticky situations (even if she created them).

This is a very optimistic swipe for me, but I’m going right on her. I don’t feel confident enough to call Carolyn my winner pick, but boy am I praying to the Survivor gods that happens. At the very least, I’d like to see her stick around until the end so we get as much Carolyn content as possible throughout the season. For as long as Carolyn is around, I will be LIVIN!



Yam Yam

'Yam Yam' Arocho

Alright, come at me with your pitchforks, bitches. I am not a member of the Yam Yam fam. It’s funny because for all the reasons I’m obsessed with Carolyn, one would think I’d be equally obsessed with Yam Yam. He has potential to prove me wrong, but where I feel like Carolyn’s energy will be just enough, Yam Yam’s may be a little too much. I think it’s more of a “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us situation.”

Like dating in the real world, it’s sometimes just a “vibe” thing with me. Yam Yam rubbed me the wrong way in his video where he already claimed he’s the best player in the world. There’s confidence, and then there’s just saying stupid shit like that. Best player in the world? I mean ...

Sandra: I don't know about that

Yam’s a salon owner and loves to gossip, so I could see that working for him in the short term of throwing shade at someone else, but he admits he never shuts up, so I’m expecting it to bite him in the ass – the only question is when. I’m an introvert which means extroverts typically frighten me, so while I don’t know that I could survive with Yam Yam, the Tika tribe may be able to put up with him for a bit. I can’t swipe right on everyone, though, so I’m going to be negative here and say that Yam Yam’s yammering will lead him to being cut sooner than later – not being able to keep his mouth shut may make him that prime “almost merge” target which would be a first since that’s consistently been a woman. For the sake of seeing something different, I’d support that.




Helen Li

Contrary to Carolyn and Yam Yam, Helen’s plan is to play an under the radar game, and with those two on the Tika tribe with her, that strategy should send her deep into the game. She references Erika, Tina, and Sophie all as players she can see herself emulating – all winners, mind you. My only fear would be that Helen plays too “safe” and while she may masterfully navigate the flow of the game, if she’s not as much of a driver of it, we could see her facing a similar fate as Cassidy did last season. The juries love their BIG MOVES and while I’ve said before that I don’t agree you should need a list to be able to win the game, I admit that I am one person sitting at home and not one of the people sitting on the jury whose votes actually matter.

All that to say, I may not have Helen as the hugest of contenders to win, but I think she could be a safe bet at making the finale, so she’s definitely a swipe right for me. I love and adore games like Erika, Tina, and Sophie’s (and Vecepia, to add another) that are so criminally underrated, so I’d love to see her succeed playing a similar way. If nothing else, the track record for Helens being iconic on Survivor is so far 100%, so I expect to like this one.




Bruce Perrault

Bruces have also delivered on the show – at least delivering something that’s not a movement of the bowels *cue the calm, smoothing sound of Courtney Marit singing a lullaby*. Bruce comes across as so sweet and the lovable dad type – he compares himself to Jeremy who’s amazing at every aspect of the game, so if that’s true, he has winner potential.

Bruce works as an insurance agent which, as someone who used to work in that industry, I know does not sound exciting, but that means Bruce can sell. He says he’ll be like a chameleon, and in what I’m sure will be a chaotic Tika tribe (a deliberate choice by Casting, I’m sure) blending in will be big. I could see him bonding with Helen over a similar approach of trying to keep calm and fly under radar while maybe being the reason Carolyn isn’t the first boot, bonding over being the two parents on the tribe. I expect Bruce to be kind of a quiet leader type, respected by everyone, and won’t be a target until very late in the game. Although he works in sales, I don’t know that I see quite the “shark” in him that may be needed to win the game. I think he’ll go a long way but will end up getting got by someone with just a little more killer instinct in them. We’re all going to love Bruce, though, and it’ll be sad seeing him get blindsided when he does.




Carson Garrett

Sami was an anomaly last season in that he was a player in the 18-22 age range that didn’t make me want to throw up. I don’t know that I’ll be able to say the same about Carson. You know you’re old when you’ve finally reached the point in life where any young whippersnapper with an ounce of confidence in themselves just annoys the ever-loving shit out of you – they’ve barely outlasted puberty; how are they going to outlast on Survivor!?

Carson’s smart – you don’t get much smarter than “rocket scientist,” though you look at the two Brains tribes we’ve had on the show and you know that that’s not everything. Carson claims he’ll be the nice guy in the beginning and then emerge as the puppet-master pulling all the strings in the end – please refer to the Sandra image above for my thoughts on that. He hopes to play like Christian but in a way where no one suspects his strategic capabilities which I don’t think will go exactly as Carson plans; it’s hard to play dumb for even 26 days in Survivor, so someone’s going to sniff out that he’s a smarty-pants.

Carson seems pretty inoffensive at least, so I suspect he’ll be an easy merge-maker, thus dateable by Survivor standards. Somewhere near the middle or late stage of the merge (so, like, a span of two days now in the new era) I think Carson will try to make that BIG MOVE he thinks he can make, but someone else will make it instead, creating a failure to launch situation (in the failed rocket sort of way, not the movie – though I wouldn’t put it past a Gen Z to end up like the latter too).




Sarah Wade

I feel like I have A LOT to say about all of Tika except Sarah. She’s also the one person in the cast who isn’t big on social media so I haven’t seen the video package of her that CBS marketing sent out everyone with strict instructions of sharing them at the exact same time on the exact same day. The fact that Sarah is, to my knowledge, nowhere to be found in public makes me think she and/or the show don’t really care about her time on it, so me thinks that means her time will be short and forgettable.

She looks up to strong Survivor women and boasts a Summa Cum Laude (LOOK IT UP!) so I think it’s safe to say she’ll be physically and mentally competitive. From the limited knowledge and read I have on her, she may come at the game a little too methodically and fail to connect at a deep level with her tribe, so based on next to nothing, I’ll say she’s the first Tika boot, and given that I think they’ll be the “mess” tribe, that could mean Sarah’s the season’s first boot as well.




Matthew Grinstead-Mayle

Moving on to Ratu (not to be confused with Rotu), the biggest standout to me on this tribe is Matthew. He was a standout in the brief promo as a “gay dad” so it’s easy for the mind to immediately wander to “Ricard” who ranks among the “best to never win” list for me; thus, I have a good feeling about this guy.

Like Bruce, I think Matthew will quickly have everyone gravitating toward him as “daddy” (Carolyn is MOTHER) – he seems like a very loving, genuine guy who also describes himself as funny and a social butterfly. I’m going to pretend he didn’t compare his gameplay to that of Ben’s, but I understand the point he was making when he referenced that (playing the game and learning how to overcome personal baggage). Matthew seems way more self-aware than Ben and he won’t need to make it to the end thanks to the powers of Production.

I love seeing the diversity among the LGBT+ players that have been cast in recent seasons – I think this season includes an official record-number of those who identify as such, so I’m excited to see them all in action as I think each will play in wildly different ways. Matthew seems like a guy who will be a huge threat near the end game, but compared to Ricard who just seemed to obviously sharp and savvy, Matthew feels a little more down to earth and kind of a fun, goofy guy to be around. He also says he’s very adaptable which I always say is the most important quality to have to win Survivor. Matthew shouldn’t be allowed near the end, but I think he can convince people to take him there, whether intentionally or just by being himself in a JT sort of way. I can see a winner contender in him, so he’s getting my first super like swipe!


Super like


Lauren Harpe

The other parent on the tribe is Lauren, so I expect she and Matthew to bond over that and potentially be the “mom and dad” power couple on the Ratu tribe and on the season – I personally would like to see that. Lauren, unlike Matthew, is a single mom, and she’s doing this all for her kids. That means she will NOT go down without a fight as nothing is scarier than a mom looking out for her family. She says that Survivor is more than just a game to her – it’s a purpose. I love that. Lauren is here to WIN. Losing is not an option.

Lauren’s also a school teacher which means she knows how to handle chaos. Moms don’t always fare well on this show, but we have several in the bunch, and Lauren doesn’t stand out as much for her demographic like others before her like Nneka or Marya. I always take the answer to the question of who a player will most play like with a grain of salt, but Lauren’s stated combo of Erika and Natalie Anderson would be a fierce one if she can make it happen. Strong, competitive, socially adaptable, with a little under-the-radar play to avoid the chopping block. Tika may be my favorite tribe, but Ratu’s got two of the top three for me when talking Sole Survivor potential. Next to Matthew, Lauren is another one to look out for – super like!


Super like


Kane Fritzler

It’s totally not looks or the fact that he’s a student, but Kane is giving me big Jacob Derwin energy. He describes himself as goofy and sasquatch, and this will sound mean, but when Kane says he’s a younger and more handsome Tyson, I feel like that viral meme of Jennifer Aniston wanting to tell him, “I love your confidence.” I also love that he loves Dungeons & Dragons and dogs – seems like a cool dude and a fun nerd to hang out with, but how will he fare on the island?

I worry that he’ll have trouble fitting in. I don’t see who on Ratu will be his ride or die. I see Matthew and Lauren teaming up, Jaime and Maddy maybe, which leaves Brandon so unless we get an Odd Couple kind of pairing, I don’t know what Kane will really be able to find his person who will be able to protect him. Sadly, I think Kane could be an early out at Ratu. If he is, I at least hope he gives us a memorable character like Jacob was. He was one of funnier parts of Ghost Island before it was left with about the same energy as a dead person. With Kane, I’d probably have to give his odds the same ghost treatment.




Maddy Pomilla

I didn’t get a lot of big energy from Maddy either in the way she spoke, though I really appreciate her wanting to go into this game and play hard, not playing from the sidelines, and is in it for girl power. I could see her teaming up with Jaime who comes across as a lot more energetic and bubblier, maybe trying to lock in Lauren for an all-women alliance. If Kane is the first boot on Ratu, that means Lauren would then have to choose between the two girls and two guys. With Maddy being more of move-maker, that may move Lauren in the direction of working with Matthew and Brandon instead.

Maddy describes herself as friendly and feral which is an interesting pairing – she also comes from a big family where she’s learned to be bold and dynamic in order to stand out. Survivor requires a mix of that while also being able to play chill at times too. I think Maddy is really excited to play the game, but I worry that she’ll play too hard, too fast and not realize she needs to slow down until after her torch is already snuffed.




Jaime Lynn Ruiz

I wrote down after watching Jaime’s video “smiles a lot” – she seems very much that classic sweetheart archetype, and her background in marketing with focus on relationship building should make her someone who should survive a long time in the game, even should she lose an early ally in Maddy, if I have the right read there. She’s a yogi so she’ll be able to keep cool under pressure at least if things start off a little shaky for her.

Jaime seems like she has a big heart which always makes me worry that someone won’t be able to make the hard decisions when they need to, and instead they’ll be made for them. I don’t see Jaime as someone who will be a major threat or target in the game, unless that high energy never rests or people perceive her as too social, so I think she’ll go far, but I don’t get the winner vibe from her. She’ll be fun and delightful, though, so I expect to be rooting for her.




Brandon Cottom

Brandon was a little blah for me. The self-comparison to Danny from 41 is obvious given the NFL background, so it would be easy to expect Brandon to end up somewhere in the same spot as Danny. He seems really nice and physically strong, so he’ll be an asset for Ratu but a potential threat later in the game. Physical players, though, have recently not been as threatening as social/strategic ones, so I could definitely see Brandon making it as far as Danny but ultimately outplayed by some playing a little harder at that point. Good, solid pick to go far, but I don’t expect him to win or necessarily be that exciting for me. I think Brandon was cast as one of the more “normal” personalities of the bunch.




Claire Rafson

My favorite on the final Soka tribe is Claire. As a queer, black, Jewish woman, she’d certainly be one of the most diverse to ever win the game, and I’m excited to say that I see her as having the potential to do it! She says that people won’t see her coming until her knife is in that back, and that’s the attitude I love to see on Survivor – sweet but sinister.

Claire’s a superfan and I actually can see the Michele/Natalie combo coming out of her to make for one hell of a winning performance – the masterful social maneuvering of Michele with the competitive drive of Natalie – as long as there isn’t a “Tony” in the cast (which I don’t believe there is) then she sounds like she’ll be pretty unbeatable at Final Tribal Council.

From her bio and her video, Claire just gives me everything in what I’m looking for in a Sole Survivor candidate. Brains, Beauty, Brawn, Blazing Speed – all of it. After Gabler, we could use this kind of 180, so not only does Claire get a super like from me – she gets the SUPEREST of super likes. Claire is my official winner pick of Survivor 44.


Super like


Danny Massa

At the other end of the spectrum with who I’m neither expecting nor wanting to see win is Danny. He is self-aware enough to at least admit he knows he comes across as a “bro-ish jerk” (which could mean something else ENTIRELY in a different context) but he wants to play nice to alter that perception. The thing about Survivor is that it brings out the real you; I’m not saying the real Danny is a dick, but if he comes across that way maybe through his competitive nature, it’s going to be hard for him to fake “nice” for three and a half weeks under high stress.

He's into meditation, though, so maybe he really is trying to work on that. Danny stands out physically, so if his demeanor is also a little rough around the edges coming from the tough New York firefighter life, he could make more friends than enemies. He’s probably safe from being the first Soka boot, but he could “Russell” some feathers soon after and see a sooner than later boot from the game. However, Survivor has been too nice lately, so I could get on board with a fighter – it could just be a little too much with Danny, giving more Russell than Sandra.




Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt

Speaking of Sandra, Heidi’s a big fan! She’s from Puerto Rico, she’s a mom, so I assume she can GET LOUD TOO WHAT THE FUCK!!! She’s also an engineer, so she’s smart. Heidi’s a Sandra fan, and I’m already a Heidi fan. Heidi also says she likes Angelina who is not everyone’s cup of tea, but Heidi sure knows how to make herself MY cup of tea.

No tribe has what seems like the “doomed” mom (Carolyn makes me nervous a little, but I’m trying to keep thinking happy thoughts) so I think Heidi will be able to find her footing, maybe gravitating toward Claire and Joshua, both of whom I think will be powerful players. It would be wise for Heidi to hook up with people like that to be shields and then look to turn on them later in the game. Sandra’s game is one that’s difficult if not impossible to replicate, and I could see Heidi not being as ruthlessly cutthroat as Sandra, but she still comes across as sharp enough to know what needs to be done without getting too attached or playing the “mom” role. I’m excited for this Heidi – another name big “name” on Survivor that I expect big things from.




Frannie Marin

Frannie may have one of my favorite names ever on the show – it’s just so fun to say! FRANNIE! I hope to be yelling that at the screen next month – for good reasons, not bad. She sounds truly delightful, describing herself as “zesty” in place of any other word she could have chosen. Frannie feels like a fun, fresh character – she identifies with Gabby and Aubry which isn’t surprising but hopes to play with that extra spunk (zest?) of Maryanne. I could actually see Frannie being a little more like Christian than even Carson claims to be, too.

As fun as I think Frannie will be, she sounds very anxious, and if she doesn’t immediately find her place within the Soka tribe, I could see her spiraling and freaking out, sending up red flags to the rest of the tribe. I’d love to see her story be one of growth and finding that confidence to win the game, overcoming any nervous anxiety she may have over it, but if Frannie is voted out, I know it will be one of the more heartbreaking boots of the season for me.

If Soka goes to an early tribal council, we’ve seen “keeping the tribe strong” so much more in the new era that I worry for Frannie as a young woman. Matt, who I’ll talk about next, gives me some of that same nervous energy that could having him bonding with Frannie on the bottom of the tribe, leaving me to guess it’ll be one of them going first and then Danny being a “surprise” second Soka boot. This is the part where I hope Claire and Heidi take Frannie under their wings and make Matt the first boot instead, so I’m going to swipe right on Frannie because I just can’t not. I’m hoping for a really great story from her and to see many Frannie fans (Frans?) emerge this season!

Say hello to my new Frans




Matt Blankinship

Like Frannie, Matt is a fun, goofy, nerd with a mix of excitement and nerves over the start of the game. Matt attributes his experience in life of failing at things as what’s prepared him most for the show which is ... interesting. It makes sense, learning how to pick yourself up from failures, but Survivor is unforgiving. You can make minor fumbles and survive, but “fail” is a big word and not something you want on your Survivor résumé ever.

I’d so love for Matt and Frannie to be the next Christian and Gabby, but Soka could even see that potential as a threat. If only one of the two can survive, then I have to hope it’s Frannie which means Matt will sadly be swiped left on for me. Dating is a cruel game, and that’s just how it plays out sometimes.




Josh Wilder

Last but far from least, we have the on-paper superstar Josh. Is it Josh or Joshua? I think it’s just Josh, but after “Eric” became “Abraham” in 41, I don’t know how much to trust the preseason press anymore. What I do trust, however, is that Josh will be a big player this season. He’s a go-getter, he’s a fighter, he’s athletic, he’s intelligent – is he perfect? I think that question will end up his undoing, but only later in the game.

I’m really moved by his story as someone whose life is a bit of a miracle at this point, stating he wasn’t expected to live past the age of five. He’s had to fight medical issues his whole life as well as facing adversity as a gay, Black man in the Midwest, so when it comes to being a Survivor already, he’s a big standout in this cast. This guy just deserves a fucking WIN. I think he’s got a good shot, but I could see his story and his in-game résumé being too big to be overlooked, so he’ll have a hard fight to get to the end. Given his history, he’ll sure as hell put up one, but he’s going to have to go on an impressive immunity run at the end, which I wouldn’t mind seeing for Josh’s sake, but I can’t reasonably bet on that. He still gets a big swipe right from me and I think he’ll be a favorite of mine throughout the season.



Opening challenge

I’ve run out of potential matches which means we’ve reached the end of the cast list. The final tally of swipes is as follows:

  • Left (pre-merge loners): Sarah, Yam-Yam, Kane, Maddy, Danny, Matt
  • Right (dateable mergers): Carolyn, Helen, Bruce, Carson, Jaime, Brandon, Heidi, Frannie, Josh
  • Super (winner-winner Chicken Morris dinner): Claire, Matthew, Lauren


Last season I was right to swipe left on Geo, Lindsay, and Nneka, and two of my three super likes, Karla and Jesse, ended up the major contenders I thought they’d be, so I’d say my track records is ... who the fuck knows. Much like real Tinder, Survivor Tinder is a wild ass mess, but that’s why we love the show, right? 43 was short of the excitement the fandom was looking for, so in 44, we look for that fun, chaotic energy to return with players playing the game and not feeling so much pressure to play nice and safe. I want MESS.

Muddy Carolyn

Yes, exactly that. I’ll be back after March 1st to recap all the dirt that’s hopefully dished!

Ryan KaiserRyan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser