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Carson on Survivor: Finale

Plus, an interview with Carson himself!

A campfire during final five. Carson is on the far right.
Image via Survivor Wiki


No pre-spoiler intro this week. After an incredible season, Carson Garrett finished fourth in Survivor 44, losing in the fire making challenge to Heidi before Yam Yam would be voted Sole Survivor in a 7-1 jury vote. Heidi received the single vote from Danny.

Carson managed to win the immunity challenge with five people remaining, choosing to vote out Lauren, but also fell short to Heidi in the final immunity challenge, “Simmotion” (a Survivor classic).

I was very thankful to get a few minutes with Carson this morning to ask about his game. The transcript and video is below and the full audio can be heard on Scions of the Southland.

Jack Purdy: To start, I want to do the generic Tech intro. Give me your name, year, and major.

Carson Garrett: I am Carson Garrett. I am going into my fourth year at Georgia Tech, and my major is aerospace engineering.

Jack: I graduated about a year ago, so we overlapped for 2-3 years, somewhere in there. I was in the business school though so my world never touched aerospace at any point.

Carson: You know, I wish they were more interrelated, like I think there’s a lot of marketing and stuff that would be really cool. But yeah, that makes sense.

Jack: Y’all filmed last June, correct?

Carson: Yes, so long ago.

Jack: You know about everything that happens on the island as much as you can know literally playing the game, and now you’ve watched the game. What I’ve always wondered is when you get back, can you even tell your family anything? Can you talk to other players? Could you, Carolyn, and Yam Yam at least be like, “ooo that was funny,” or are you on complete lockdown until episodes start?

Carson: So, I didn’t tell my family or anybody anything, I kinda kept it in my own head. It makes it a lot more fun. My family just found out last night that I didn’t win. I kinda liked the idea that they didn’t know what was going to happen. I kinda liked the idea that they thought I had a million dollars in my pocket. It gave me more opportunities to be like, “I’m going to Greece next week!”

But yeah, I think it’s a lot of compartmentalizing and you don’t want to ruin the story. I also am one of those people where you read the book before you watch the movie, and I didn’t want to spoil it. I wanted them to live it through my eyes throughout the story. And so, I found it way more fun for them to have them find out through the episodes the night of. They were always on the edge of their seat standing beside me crying, screaming. It was so fun.

Jack: That’s incredible. Would you like give them tidbits during the show to fill in some gaps was it just pure, they just watched the show?

Carson: Because they’re all under the same NDA I am, so technically I could’ve told them, but I didn’t want to. But I said, “you can ask me one question about the game, but it can’t have anything to do with my placement.” And so, the only person who remembered to ask me, which is so funny, was my mom, and she asked me, “did you find the idol?” And I said yes, so she was the only one that knew something, but that was all she knew. So she went into the game not knowing what to expect and it was so fun to watch. They lived through my eyes and that’s what I wanted because it was such an emotional and incredible experience for me.

Jack: I’ve been watching the show since I was four or five, so around Survivor: All-Stars-ish. I think I know a decent amount about the game, but of course I’ve never played so I’m missing a lot of it.

Carson: Your definitely know what’s going on.

Jack: Well, alright! I’ll take that! The edit has been good in that case.

Between all the prep work and training you did, was there something about the game or yourself that you really could only find out once you got there? [Thank you, Josh, for this question]

Carson: That’s a great question, yes. You know, whenever do you practice lying or manipulating in person. You know that’s not something people do on a regular basis. I don’t think I was going in with the intention of “I’m going to lie and manipulate everyone.”

However, when you get there, you’re like, “am I a good liar? I don’t know!”

And so that’s something I never expected to have. I didn’t know how I would do, and I ended up being great at it. I don’t know if that’s a good skill to be proud of, but I’m really good at it! I think that was something I didn’t know how I was going to do, and I surprised myself a lot. I think a lot of people go through that and just say, “I’m gonna see how it happens!” That’s something you don’t practice in person like, “how am I going to manipulate you today?” No one does that.

Jack: It’s such a weird place in the game, freedom to lie.

Carson: Yeah, you’re like, “am I good at this? Are they lying to me? I don’t know!” It’s crazy.

Jack: Let’s go to final five. In that moment when you know you’ve got final five and you are in it and you’ve made the finale on the island, did you think you had the best shot at winning at that point?

Carson: Yes, I did. I think everyone had been saying, “you’re going to win.”

Carolyn had been telling me that since the beginning of the merge. I think Yam Yam didn’t see me as big of a threat, but that was because we were working so closely, and it was part of my game to make him feel like I was not running it, and let him believe that he was the frontrunner. But really, I was the one gleaning that information between alliances. So, I think my relationship with each and every one of the jurists was very strong and I could’ve convinced them at the end that my game was very intentional. A lot of my game was building those relationships, making people feel so connected with me that I would never betray them. And so I think I would’ve pulled the win out at the end, and I knew I had to get through and it was going to be really difficult. I knew my game had become so present and everyone could see, “ok, Carson is going to win.”

It was scary too. I was on the edge of my seat. I was proud of how it turned out too in the sense of like, I went out in one of the coolest ways where someone had to make themselves vulnerable to take me out. And even the idea that for [Heidi] to have a chance, she needed to take me out as the front runner, I guess it was an honor as well.

Jack: Was there any of the four in Heidi, Lauren, Carolyn, Yam Yam that you were like, “at all costs I do not want to sit next to this person if I get to final three?”

Carson: No. I think I could’ve beat any of them. I think it’s hard to see that from the audience perspective because a lot of my game is social relationships and a lot of my social relationship were as seen on tv as it was with Carolyn and Yam Yam who I was very close to. But a lot of the reason I was able to get myself to the position I was in was because of the bonds I built with people whether it was from the members of Ratu, who all trusted me a lot. I got every single bit of info from all of the ratu Ratu at all times. It was basically just a resource I could pull from and then maneuver how I needed to propel myself. Even Soka, Danny was telling me all of their secrets. And I had a close relationship with Frannie and Matt, so I think that’s why at the final five, even final six, it was very present that there were so many people that had built those relationships with me and a lot of the reasons they weren’t in the game was because of me. I think I would’ve been able to own that at the final three.

Jack: Let me ask about your game as a whole. I think the theory I was running with was in the newer era, people have to swing for the fences more because there’s 13 fewer days, there’s more idols and stuff going on. You had your chaos Carson side, which I think was necessary in this kind of era, but at the same time, you pulled on that more reserved strategy pretty early. Was there a moment where you realized, “oh, this is actually working and this can get me somewhere.” And then, were there any moments where you heavily considered maybe stopping that strategy and playing a more front-facing game?

Carson: I think I realized that I was working for me when I got to Ratu, the orange tribe. And I was like, “how am I going to get myself in the middle of this tribe?” Because I was in the middle of the last tribe and now I’m at a new tribe. And so, when I was able to successfully maneuver myself in the middle of Lauren and Brandon versus Kane and Matthew, I realized, “ok, maybe I am better than I thought I was at this.”

From then on out, I used that to my advantage in splitting up Ratu and Soka, and even Carolyn and Yam Yam at points. And I never planned to change that. I remember so many times where I was like, “ok, this is working for me and everyone that left the game were always very close with me.”

I knew I was going to be able to explain that pretty well if I ever made it to final tribal, specifically with the idea that a lot of my game making you feel like the person that you liked out there was the person that you wanted to see. So if someone wanted me to be their little kid, I was gonna be their little kid. If someone wanted me to be a strategist with them, I would. If someone just wanted me to be an emotional, listening ear, I would be that. So, I was able to morph myself to fulfill those roles that people saw me in and that made me a lot closer with people than expected. And I never deviated from that strategy.

If I had gone and played a more up and front game, like Danny, I would’ve been taken out because those people were seen as huge threats. Even if people who are able to lay more in the dark and control where the votes are going are seen as way more influential at the end.

Our portion of the interview ended there because, well, I’ll let Carson’s video explain (I just sat and watched this unfold, my face no longer mattered in the moment)

Assessing Carson’s final stage gameplay

This season at-large was one of the least cutthroat in recent memory. Blindsides were few and far between. This cast truly had a familial aspect of it that is rare to the show, even including a successful showmance between Matt and Frannie.

Coming into the episode, my thought was that only one Tika would make final three. For me, they were all the most likely to win, so targeting each other made the most sense.

Carson winning immunity at final five was tremendous. He absolutely destroyed another puzzle with blazing speed, to the point I have to imagine he printed that one as well.

There was a reward trip to the Sanctuary as well with the immunity he won, which he brought Yam Yam along for. This made sense to me from the idea that they would finally agree to get Carolyn out, but Carson still was not a fan of the idea, convinced Lauren was a more dangerous to the point he even asked out loud how serious of a threat Carolyn truly was.

Knowing Carolyn got zero jury votes, he likely was correct in that assesment.

After some back and forth at camp, Lauren was indeed voted out at five, leaving Heidi, Carson, Yam Yam, and Carolyn at final four, guaranteeing two Tika’s would make final tribal council. I don’t necessarily belive this was a mistake all things considered, but if I’m Carson knowing what I knew in the moment, I very much would’ve gone for Yam Yam or Carolyn instead to guarantee a jury vote for myself.

At the final four immunity challenge, “Simmotion,” Carson and Heidi were the last to be alive in the challenge, both reaching four active balls in the spinning contraption. Carson had a pair of balls that came out of the contraption too close together, resulting in Heidi’s first immunity challenge victory, guaranteeing her safety, if she wanted it, at the fire making tribal council.

While all the players were practicing fire back at camp, Carson is struggling to get the magnesium onto his husk to ignite, understandably making him feel vulnerable because, as he said, he thought he was the favorite to win, so he likely was going to make fire. Yam Yam sees he’s struggling, and instead of letting him continue to struggle to theoretically make it easier for himself in case they make fire against each other, he performs a supreme act of generosity in the context of Survivor, helping him and consoling him through the emotions of the day that brought Carson to tears.

On On Fire with Jeff Probst, Yam Yam said, “the amount of love you give these people, they become your family, and you’re rooting for them. I could never see Carson have a perfect game and play amazingly, and have him fail at something like the fire challenge. Yeah, it would be amazing to see a good player go, but this is my good friend. I can do something about it, and I knew I could. He was scared of the knife, he wasn’t scared of being bad at making fire, he was scared at getting cut. So I told him, ‘if you lose a finger but you win the game, who cares! Go for it!’”

At tribal, Heidi, knowing she had the most still to prove to the jury, decided to give up her safety and make fire against Carson. She ended up beating Carson, finishing in 3:02, the fastest in Survivor history. Carson was not far behind either, his flame having reached over halfway to the piece of string above his fire.

With that, it was the end of the line for Carson. He made it 25 days, winning two individual immunity challenges, receiving an idol, making all the way to final it with an incredibly close alliance, a true rarity in today’s game, and left with a huge grin on his face.

Carson’s ability to stay in the shadows, and have nobody really catch onto it for such a long time, was truly remarkable. As he mentions above, he played what I’m calling a reverse-boggart. He was what you wanted to see in the moment. Carson made himself available to almost everyone to further people’s games. Yes he had his primary alliance with Carolyn & Yam Yam, but at no point was he unapproachable or clearly unwilling to work with someone. He saw his role that he knew he could master, mastered it, and propelled himself to top four and the clear leader in the clubhouse when he got voted out.

Every season is unique in its own way. Carson probably would win some other seasons with this strategy, and then maybe get voted out really early in others, you knever know. What I can say is that he was key figure in an incredibly heartwarming season of Survivor and represented Georgia Tech extremely well on the global stage. I do hope we get to see him again out there in Fiji on a return season.

Today, Carson received one of the cash prizes Sia gives out at the end of every season, earning $15,000. Lauren also won the $15,000 gift, while Carolyn (deservedly) was given the grand $100,000 gift.

My thanks to everyone that read this article series over the last three months. It was a joy to write and become more engaged with this show that has stayed with me all of my life. Go Jackets.

This story has been updated with additional video clips.

Jack Purdy is a non-revenue sports writermco-host of Scions of the Southland, and avid Survivor fan for From The Rumble Seat. He previously served as The Technique’s assistant sports editor before graduating Georgia Tech in 2022. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackNicolaus