Warning: This article contains spoilers for the series finale of Survivor 44.
Five remaining players walked into the Survivor 44 finale Wednesday night on CBS. But only one would walk out a winner, and that winner once again proved that in the game of Survivor, a dominant social game trumps all.
Yamil "Yam Yam" Arocho, a 31-year-old salon owner from Puerto Rico, defeated Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt and Carolyn Wiger 7-1-0 in the final jury vote. Yam Yam was an integral member of the Tika Three Stooges alliance that played from the middle after the merge — pitting the Soka and Ratu tribes against each other until their numbers sufficiently dwindled and Tika took over.
Robert Voets/CBS Carolyn Wiger, Carson Garrett, Lauren Harpe, Yam Yam Arocho, and Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt on 'Survivor 44'
But it was also Yam Yam's social game that excelled. And while that social game often consisted of making tribemates laugh with his hilarious bon mots, Yam Yam showed another side of himself when he put his own game at risk to help a distraught Carson Garrett practice making fire. That could have backfired had Carson then used those lessons to beat Yam Yam during the final four fire-making competition, or beaten someone else and then defeated his helpful tribemate in a final three vote. But that didn't happen, and after Carson went down at fire, Yam Yam had another jury vote in his pocket.
The episode began with a final five challenge that featured a huge obstacle course and a puzzle, which played right to the strengths of 3D printing puzzle master Carson, who won immunity with his third puzzle victory. That left Lauren Harpe exposed, and the single mom was sent to the jury after an emotional, tear-filled speech about how proud she was of her Survivor journey and the things she learned about herself along the way.
CBS The final 5 of 'Survivor 44'
That left only one non-Tika tribe member in the game: Heidi. And Heidi still had plenty of fight left in her. Not only did she win the final immunity challenge, but she then gave up her free pass to the final three to take on Carson in fire, believing she needed to pad her résumé if she ultimately wanted to win the jury's respect. She certainly did that, not only defeating the biggest threat to win in Carson, but doing so in a Survivor record time of three minutes and two seconds.
Still, it was not enough to defeat Yam Yam. The Tika three of Yam Yam, Carolyn, and Carson had done a masterful job of egging on the Soka and Ratu post-merge war while they skillfully played the middle — riding that strategy all the way to a majority alliance that eventually took control of the game. In the end, Yam Yam's colorful personality and superior social game prevailed, and the jury rewarded him as the player most deserving of the Sole Survivor title and the million dollars that goes with it.
We have plenty more Survivor 44 finale coverage for you, including our interview with the jury, the final five naming the jurors they feared the most in the game, and the entire cast talking about how they would have approached a final Tribal Council. We'll also have your first look at the next season of Survivor, as well as an exclusive deleted scene from the finale and exit interviews with Yam Yam, Carolyn, Heidi, Carson, and Lauren.
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