Georgia Tech student Carson Garrett finished a solid fourth place in the 44th edition of CBS’s ‘Survivor” Wednesday night.
Carson fell short while delightfully amusing Puerto Rican Yamil “Yam Yam” Arocho ended up taking home the $1 million over emotionally wacky but surprisingly savvy drug counselor Carolyn Wiger and level-headed engineering manager Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt.
And it wasn’t even close: seven out of eight jurors gave Yam Yam (pronounced “Jam Jam”) their vote.
Why did Yam Yam win? He won the respect of most of the jury because his social game was so darn good. He was funny and self-deprecating and infectiously likable as well. But he was a smart strategist as well.
“Yam Yam is a very perceptive player,” jury member Kane noted during the finale. “The guy can read body language from a mile away. You fart in the water, well, he knows about it. He made himself part of everyone’s plan to the point I couldn’t get him off the beach.”
Carson also played a smart game over his 25 days in Fiji. He was warm, sweet and vulnerable when he needed to be while teaming up with Yam Yam and Carolyn in an alliance by day three on the Tika tribe.
Before the show, he also replicated “Survivor” puzzles with a 3D printer at home and learned them so well that his knowledge helped him win two individual immunity challenges including one that got him into the final four. (Obvious note to “Survivor” producers: retire the old games and create new ones!)
Unfortunately, Carson lost the immunity challenge that would have gotten him into the finals. Instead, Heidi won and she chose to compete against Carson, aware that he was the weakest of the four in terms of fire-making skills. (She could have had Carson compete with either Carolyn or Yam Yam but chose herself to help improve her standing with the jury of her peers.)
In the end, it was a smart gamble on Heidi’s part. She broke a “Survivor” record for fastest fire-making ever: three minutes and two seconds. Carson didn’t embarrass himself. He did manage to get a fire going but he wasn’t able to burn the string down as fast as her.
“I was so scared,” Heidi said after taking this risk. “That was a risk. ... Winning feels absolutely amazing. ... This moment is ridiculous.”
Carson smiled as his fire was snuffed out by host Jeff Probst. “I was in tears,” he said on the show. “I wasn’t confident in myself. For me to start fire and at least have something going against the fastest fire-making winner ever. I’m proud of myself for challenging myself and becoming more self confident.”
In the end, Yam Yam won the hearts of the jury over both Carolyn and Heidi. Carson also voted for Yam Yam, who was kind enough to comfort and help Carson before the fire-making challenge even at the potential detriment to his own game.
But if Carson had managed to make the final three, Atlanta educator and “Survivor” alum Ron Clark said he probably would have won. “Everyone saw him as the brains of that three,” he said, referencing him, Carolyn and Yam Yam. “He voted right every time. He made great relationships with everyone.”
In a brief interview Thursday, Carson said he is now much more confident in who he is, that he doesn’t have to worry as much about what others think of him. He isn’t sure why he felt so at peace when he didn’t make the final three but he enjoyed his time on the island and has no regrets.
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