Survivor crowned Yamil “Yam Yam” Arocho the winner of Season 44 in a landslide vote over runner-up Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt during the three-hour finale episode that aired Wednesday night on CBS.
Yam Yam, a 36-year-old salon owner from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, who currently resides in San Juan, Puerto Rico, won Survivor 44 in a 7-1-0 vote at the Final 3 Tribal Council on Night 26 of the game.
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“I’m so freaking happy, I can’t believe it!… I made a list of every single winner of Survivor, and I got to No. 44 and I wrote, ‘Yam Yam — San Juan, Puerto Rico,'” Yam Yam gushed after his victory, saying it felt “meant to be.”
And he added, “The relationships I have with these such amazing people… they’re friends for life! I am so freaking happy.”
Yam Yam defeated Heidi, a 43-year-old engineering manager from Ponce, Puerto Rico, who currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA — who received a single vote from juror Danny Massa — as well as third-place finisher Carolyn Wiger, a 35-year-old drug counselor from North St. Paul, MN, who currently resides in Hugo, MN.
Carson Garrett, a 20-year-old NASA engineering student from Rome, GA, who currently resides in Atlanta, GA, finished Survivor in fourth place after Heidi defeated him in the final fire-making challenge.
And Lauren Harpe, a 31-year-old elementary school teacher from Port Arthur, TX, placed fifth.
The jury was comprised of Brandon Cottom, Carson, Danny, Frannie Marin, Jaime Lynn Ruiz, Lauren, Matt Blankinship, and Kane Fritzler.
The Survivor finale broadcast began on Night 23 of the game, with the remaining five “Va Va Tribe” members arriving at their new camp on a new island.
Heidi had played an idol at the previous Tribal Council, but Carolyn boasted about how her plan to take out Jaime worked. Since Heidi’s idol was flushed, the castaways assumed it was rehidden somewhere at their new camp.
Carson, Carolyn and Yam Yam just hoped one of the other two players wouldn’t find the idol.
On Day 24, all five castaways desperately searched for the idol. Heidi felt she was playing “solo,” but she was proud of her “fantastic” resume. Yam Yam wished he had played a bit more of a showy game, but Carson felt confident in his social and strategic gameplay thus far.
Carolyn said she had trusted her gut the entire game and she had a good feeling that she was going to find the idol.
Lauren, who had won challenges and played hard, then spoke to Yam Yam and Carolyn about how Carson was a huge threat whom everyone loved and respected him. Lauren set out to break Tika’s bond, and Carolyn agreed Carson was dangerous because he’s an eloquent sweetie pie who could definitely win.
Meanwhile, Carson was worried about Yam Yam and Carolyn potentially flipping on him.
Later that day, the five players met Survivor host Jeff Probst for an Individual Immunity Challenge.
For the challenge, each castaway was required to race through a three/level obstacle and collect keys along the way. After using a pole to grab the last key, the key would open a chest with a rope inside. The player then had to climb a ladder and race to finish a Survivor puzzle.
The winner would automatically earn a spot in the Final 4 as well as Reward in the form of a feast. At the sanctuary, the winner would be treated to spaghetti with meat sauce, chocolate cake and carrot cake.
Carson ended up winning Individual Immunity, and he was able to choose one person to join him at the sanctuary. Carson picked Yam Yam to enjoy the food with him, and he apologized to the three women.
While Yam Yam and Carson relaxed and filled up with carbs at the sanctuary, Yam Yam said their biggest threat was Carolyn, but Carson wasn’t so sure. Yam Yam said Carolyn’s Tika idol was impressive to hear about and she wanted everyone to think she was crazy and not in control.
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Carson understood where Yam Yam was coming from, but he thought there would be a big benefit of Tika staying together and voting out Lauren, who had won immunity twice and built bonds and friendships with people.
Carson was afraid Lauren would get a lot of jury votes if she made it to the Final 4, and so he hoped she wouldn’t find the idol.
“I think it’s a mistake,” Yam Yam said of Carson’s commitment to targeting Lauren. “I hope it doesn’t bite me in the ass.”
Back at camp, Lauren predicted that she was going to be the men’s target. Lauren had a lot of allies on the jury, and she knew that her opponents recognized that.
Lauren then revealed to Carolyn that Yam Yam had thrown her name out before the prior Tribal Council. Carolyn realized the guys might have been up to something. Even if there was only a one or two percent chance of that being true, Carolyn admitted it scared her.
Heidi and Lauren then asked Carolyn to vote out Yam Yam with them. Carolyn said if Yam Yam had been targeting her, it changed everything for her.
“Maybe I will vote for Yam Yam,” Carolyn noted.
Once Yam Yam and Carson returned from Reward, Yam Yam could tell there was something going on and he may be in trouble. He could sense Carolyn was a little awkward and off.
But Carson announced to Carolyn and Yam Yam how he was definitely going to vote for Lauren, regardless of what they decided to do. Carson worried Carolyn, who was causing paranoia, was going to be unpredictable.
Carson and Yam Yam agree to vote for Lauren, but they decided to tell Lauren that they were going to vote out Carolyn so Yam Yam would no longer be her target.
“If Carolyn goes instead of me, I’m okay with that,” Yam Yam told the cameras.
Yam Yam then told Lauren that Carolyn would win in fire and it would make sense for them to vote for her in order to keep the heat off themselves. Lauren didn’t know whom to believe, and deep down inside, she thought Carson, Carolyn and Yam Yam were still one, big, happy Tika family.
Lauren therefore fought for her boys and her family, and she looked in the jungle high and low for the idol, which was tied to a tree branch.
Suddenly, Carson grew paranoid that Lauren had found an idol. He pitched to Yam Yam the possibility of targeting Heidi instead. Carson acknowledged it was going to be a very important vote, and he hoped Carolyn wasn’t going to turn on Yam Yam. Carson said he didn’t know where the votes were going.
At Tribal Council that night, Lauren announced she was probably the one going home that night. Lauren said no one talked strategy with her before Tribal, which surprised her since she was going to become a member of the jury and could have influence.
Carolyn and Heidi disagreed, saying they had definitely made time to talk to her. Lauren agreed how names had been thrown around but there was no solid plan.
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“I think anyone here could have an idolâ€¦ We all searched all day long, and it could be Lauren,” Heidi reasoned.
Everyone wondered if Lauren was putting on an act because she had an idol, and everyone appeared nervous.
Lauren then broke down into tears, saying she was so proud of herself and her sons would be proud of her as well. Lauren said she had trusted and relied on people in the game and Survivor taught her someone can live off very little and still be happy.
It then became time to vote, and Lauren was shown writing Yam Yam’s name down. Carson then wrote Lauren’s name down.
After no one played an idol or advantage, Jeff proceeded to read the votes in the following order: Yam Yam, Lauren, Heidi, Lauren, and Lauren.
Lauren smiled big and was gracious upon her exit. She blew the Final 4 castaways a kiss, and Carolyn assured her, “Good job!”
“It feels great to come out here and make my family proud,” Lauren said in her final words.
“I made it 24 days out on an island. How awesome is that? Even though I’m not the ‘Sole Survivor,’ I’m still a winner. I’m just so grateful that I was blessed with this opportunity to come out here and play.”
Heidi, Carson and Carolyn voted for Lauren. Yam Yam voted for Lauren, and Lauren voted for Yam Yam.
On Day 25, the Final 4 castaways met Jeff for the season’s last Individual Immunity Challenge.
Carolyn was emotional and overwhelmed as she walked up the steps, knowing she had achieved a dream.
Jeff instructed each castaway to compete in a classic Survivor challenge.
With one hand tied behind their back, they had to put a ball into the top of a shoot and attempt to catch it once it spiraled to the bottom and came out the other side. At regular intervals, more balls would be added, making it more difficult. If at any point a ball dropped, that person would be out.
The winner would receive a spot in the Final 3 and be able to plead his or her case as to why he or she deserves to win Survivor. The challenge champion would also get to select who goes to the end and which two castaways would compete in fire for the third and final spot.
Carolyn was out first, and then Yam Yam dropped a ball. The challenge came down to Carson vs. Heidi, and in the end, Heidi won it.
Heidi was overjoyed, screaming and cheering about her success, and then she teased to Jeff how she might decide to make a big move and compete in fire herself to ultimately impress the jury.
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After the challenge, Heidi had all the power.
Carson practiced making fire, knowing he was the biggest threat left. Carson was trying to be optimistic, but he struggled to spark a single flame and he worried his self-doubt and lack of confidence was going to be his demise in the game.
Carolyn and Yam Yam also practiced their fire-starting skills, and Carolyn noted that she wanted to fight her way into the end. She was almost hoping to compete in fire.
Yam Yam gave Carson some tips because he didn’t want to watch his friend fail in front of everyone. Carson was in tears, and Yam Yam didn’t want to see the young man give up. Tan Yam thought, good or bad move, he wanted to help Carson, and Carson said he really appreciated it.
“May the best Tika win,” Yam Yam told his pal.
Carson told the cameras with tears running down his cheeks, “I think it really speaks to how this game goes way beyond the money.”
At Tribal Council that night, Heidi intended to go with her gut on whether to risk her life in the game by facing off against a competitor in fire.
Heidi told Jeff that she hadn’t told anybody what her choice was going to be. Yam Yam said he likes making fire, Carolyn announced how she felt pretty confident, but Carson admitted he felt the pressure and was uneasy.
Heidi then declared that she was going to bring Carolyn to the Final 3. Carolyn burst into tears because she said people always viewed her as the strange and talkative girl; she couldn’t believe someone wanted to include her in something so big and meaningful.
With Carolyn deemed safe, Heidi opted to compete in fire against Carson.
“I think I’ll have an easier time convincing people to vote for me if I beat Carson in fire,” Heidi explained.
Yam Yam therefore also walked his way into the Final 3.
In the fire-making showdown, Heidi sparked a flame first, and she did a good job or nurturing it while Carson desperately struck at his flint.
While Heidi’s flame was burning high, Carson managed to spark a flame and was building it up.
In the end, Heidi’s flame burned through her rope and she won.
“It was one of the fastest fires we’ve ever had!” Jeff exclaimed of Heidi’s performance.
Jeff then confirmed Heidi had made the fastest fire in Survivor history, in just three minutes and two seconds. Heidi was thrilled her risk had paid off, and she gushed about feeling “amazing” and having “no words.”
Carson, meanwhile, said he was so proud of himself for challenging himself and gaining confidence. He even smiled when Jeff snuffed his torch.
“To lose it to somebody who made the fastest Survivor fire-making challenge in history feels pretty awesome,” Carson said in his final words.
“Even though I didn’t make it to the Final 3, I am so proud of myself, and it’s incredible to be on Survivor and actually live my dream of playing. So I’m still kind of pinching myself that I’m even here.”
On Day 26, the Final 3 castaways reflected on their achievements and celebrated with a feast.
Yam Yam was afraid to sound stupid at the jury questioning. He knew perception was everything.
Yam Yam had played the middle man throughout the game without making any major betrayals. He made intentional moves and built connections where people couldn’t vote him out.
Heidi had put herself in a vulnerable position to take Carson out, and she succeeded in taking out the King. She was also a strong woman who never gave up.
Carolyn never thought she’d get far because of her wild personality, but she had found an idol and made blindsides throughout the season. Carolyn said being emotional was part of her strategy, and that it certainly didn’t take away from her intelligence and self-awareness.
“Carolyn was all over the place in the most masterful way,” juror Jaime explained to the cameras. “She led us believe that she didn’t know what she was doing, when she knew what she was doing in every single conversation — and that’s good gameplay.
It then became time for the Final Tribal Council to end “an absolute banger season,” according to Matt in the jury.
Heidi, Carolyn and Yam Yam prepared for the jury’s questions, and they were prepared to defend themselves and hold themselves accountable in order to prove they were most deserving of the $1 million and to be crowned “Sole Survivor.”
Kane in the jury wanted the Final 3 to convince him, unapologetically, that they should win the game.
Yam Yam and Heidi both insisted they had never ridden anybody’s coattail, although they had allowed people to perceive them that way at times, and Carolyn said she was “underestimated this entire game,” which sometimes played to her advantage.
Heidi argued Carson was the brains behind a lot of Yam Yam and Carolyn’s moves, but Yam Yam said he had used Carson for information and to eat on Rewards.
“I used everyone,” Yam Yam said, adding how people didn’t come for him.
“But your name was written down several times and you survived the first few Tribals,” Carolyn said.
“I thought that was because I’m pretty!” Yam Yam joked.
Heidi admitted to Danny in the jury that she had used him as a shield but they had a genuine friendship during the game.
Frannie in the jury asked the Final 3 to explain how they had used their emotions to propel their strategy, and Carolyn immediately became emotional. Carolyn said she cried when she ate a papaya and that was all real — but she also “faked tears” at time to earn people’s trust.
Yam Yam shared how some of the jurors were “blank” when he talked to them during the game but he had attempted to build real relationships with people.
Yam Yam said he could tell if people were lying to him by comparing their facial expressions when people talked about family or things they loved vs. when they’d talk about the game, another player, or making a move.
Heidi said being a Latina who works in science, she works with all men in the real world and so she’s learned to maintain her composure and control her emotions. Heidi wanted to represent herself in the best way possible to receive respect and to be taken seriously.
In terms of the physical component of Survivor, Heidi told Carolyn — who surprised herself during the game — that she admired her, and Heidi announced, “If I didn’t go for fire yesterday, I don’t think I would’ve won this game… I truly think Carson was the brains of what was happening [for Tika].”
Heidi said if the jury voted for her to win, she’d be the oldest female contestant to ever win the game. Heidi asked the jury to make “more history” with her considering she also broke the fire-making record.
Yam Yam explained how he’s not a physical person and he’s afraid of heights but did his very best to test his limits during the game, and he joked about how he’d be the first Puerto Rican person to win Survivor if the jury voted for him.
Carolyn only had her name written down three times during the season, and Carolyn said her strategy was putting her trust in Carson and Yam Yam — even though it was “a risk” to team up with Yam Yam.
Carolyn also reminded everyone she had an idol and played it to make sure Danny would go and Carson would stay in the game because she needed his number.
Yam Yam told the jury he had influenced everyone to think he was just on the island to talk and have fun, when in reality, he wanted to win and played really hard. And Heidi insisted she was adaptable during the game, had grown a lot, and was living the American dream.
The jury then voted one by one for the winner of Survivor 44, who would win $1 million.
Jeff — who commended the cast on closing out a Survivor season with comradery and positivity — read the final votes right there in Fiji in the following order: Heidi, Yam Yam, Yam Yam, Yam Yam, Yam Yam, and Yam Yam.
Yam Yam immediately broken down into tears and yelled, “No way!”
During the Survivor Aftershow, the cast enjoyed pizza and champagne in Fiji.
“This is not real!” Yam Yam happily shouted.
Danny revealed he had voted for Heidi for her logic and bold move to make fire, which he called “a big gutsy move.” Everyone else voted for Yam Yam to win.
Frannie explained how Yam Yam did an excellent job of pulling apart the complexity that is this game. Frannie said Yam Yam had swayed her during the jury questioning, and Kane announced how Yam Yam had “destroyed” his game because he was building trust with Kane’s allies.
Frannie and Matt gushed about how their showmance turned into a real-world relationship.
Carolyn then announced how her biggest hurdle in the game was herself and believing in herself, and Frannie cried and praised Carolyn for changing her world and making her feel like it’s okay to show vulnerability and share her story with the world.
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Heidi said she was “extremely proud” of the way she had played and fought throughout the season.
“Even if I didn’t win, it’s about showing my family and my girls that you have to do the best you can with what you’re given, and that’s what I did!” Heidi shared in tears.
About The Author:
Elizabeth Kwiatkowski is Associate Editor of Reality TV World and has been covering the reality TV genre for more than a decade.