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Survivor 44 Episode 1 Recap: And They’re Off!

In typical and spectacular Survivor style, on Day 1, the newest batch of 18 tribe members blast in on three separate speedboats to meet host Jeff Probst on a beach in the Mamanuca Islands, Fiji, South Pacific. The cast (hopefully ready to outwit, outplay and outlast for our entertainment) is already separated into three tribes of six members each. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason for the way everyone is divided up, unlike past years — anyone remember Season 37’s two-tribe split into David vs. Goliath? 

Soka, the green team, ends up with self-proclaimed oddballs Matt and Frannie, firefighter Danny, Josh the surgeon, venture capitalist Claire and Heidi.

Ratu, the orange team, consists of single mother Lauren, husband and father Matthew, former NFL player Brandon, goofy Kane, Maddy, and yogi Jaime, who says she’s going to be checking in and speaking with the universe about the game.

The purple team, Tika, has proud Puerto Rican Yam Yam, insurance agent Bruce, drug counselor Carolyn, aerospace engineering student Carson, Sarah and Helen.

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Even before the first challenge begins, “nerdy nice” Carson says he’s an overachiever who loves spreadsheets and puzzles so he’s ready for the game. Yam Yam, meanwhile, is more excited about getting dirty. Literally. “I can’t wait to not eat, not shower, not brush my teeth, poop in the ocean,” he says, exclaiming, “Bring it!”

On the beach with Jeff, the players switch into game mode as the host explains the beauty of the contest that explores group dynamics by taking a bunch of strangers, stripping them of everything and then abandoning everyone on an island to force them to form a new society and rely on only each other — while trying to win the $1 million grand prize.

Want to Know What You’re Playing For?

After the introductions, Jeff gets right into announcing the first reward challenge that pits the three teams against each other. Pairs from each tribe must race down the beach and through a series of obstacles to collect puzzle pieces. Once they’re all collected, two players have to solve the puzzle before another player moves to a tall pole with rings that must be released by tossing them up the pole and over the top. The winning tribe’s reward is some pretty important Survivor supplies: a pot, machete and flint.

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The two losing tribes will have a chance to earn their supplies another way. The second-place team will have to choose between a “sweat task” and a “savvy task”. The third-place team will have to test their skills with the leftover option.

Survivors, ready! The tribes begin the reward challenge and it’s drama from the start. Insurance agent Bruce dives under obstacles and goes face-first into mud. Something is clearly wrong with him as he grabs puzzle pieces and hauls them back. “Nothing is easy on Survivor,” Jeff says, and judging from the blood covering Bruce’s face, he’s not wrong.

As all three teams begin to assemble their puzzles, Bruce goes down on his knees and Jeff calls for medical and pauses the game. Jeff holds Bruce’s head and tells him to relax and breathe as medics lie Bruce down on his back and give him oxygen.

Everything appears to be on track again when Bruce sits up to cheers from the other players. He’s ready to jump back into the game, and after a fist bump from Jeff, Bruce gets to call out: “Survivors, ready! Go!”

Carson, the proud puzzler, and Yam Yam breeze through the puzzle for Tika to finish first. Carolyn goes to the pole to try her luck at getting the loops up and over but she struggles. 

Soka copies Tika’s puzzle, goes to the pole, and quickly wins the game. 

Ratu then comes from out of nowhere to complete the puzzle and get all their loops over the pole. Ratu now gets to choose which task they want to try to complete to win supplies.

After leaving the challenge, Ratu spots a sign asking them to choose their task: “sweat” or “savvy”. Rather than attempting savvy, a brainteaser they must solve within 15 minutes, the team picks “sweat”, which requires them to collect coconuts one at a time from alternating piles and place them in a net. Dragging the net back and forth gets harder and harder as it becomes heavier and heavier, but they have four hours to complete the mission. The stakes are high for both Soka and Ratu — failing to succeed in their tasks means having to wait until Day 3 to receive supplies. 

Ratu’s Matthew, the oldest member of the tribe, steps up to prove his age won’t be a liability. Former NFL player Brandon joins him.

Tika learns they must complete savvy, and unsurprisingly the task — accurately counting the total number of spheres in a suspended collection of rings — is a cakewalk for Helen, who volunteers because she thrives on brainteasers in her free time, and super-nerd Carson.

A Mystery Materializes

While the selected players are away attempting to finish the reward challenges, all three tribes find a padlocked birdcage with a bag suspended inside. 

“What if it’s candy,” Tika’s Yam Yam jokes, and his tribe starts to search for a key to open the cage. In the meantime, Helen and Carson correctly guess there are 18 spheres, winning the tribe precious supplies.

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On another part of the beach, Ratu’s Matthew and Brandon are on coconut 32 and struggling. “We’ve got a challenge on our hands,” Brandon says.

As the men slowly press on, their tribe members size up the birdcage that’s just like those the other two teams found. Everyone in Ratu seems shy about spending too much time exploring the cage because they’re on a quest for water and don’t want to upset Brandon and Matthew by returning empty-handed.

The two men have grown frustrated and are getting nervous about the passing time marked by an hourglass. Matthew notes the challenge is “brutal” and they can only move their heavy bag of coconuts “inches at a time” now that it’s so bogged down.

Reaching their last coconuts, former football player Brandon says he’s “no quitter.” With the sands in the hourglass nearly all gone, he and Matthew grab the last coconut and score Ratu’s supplies. The experience bonds the two, and Brandon and Matthew make a pact that they’ll have each other’s back in the game.

Day 1 Drama Continues into the Evening

It’s already been a big first day on the island, but Night 1 really shakes the game up for Tika. Bruce seems to have bounced back from his dramatic spill during the reward challenge but by evening he’s grown quiet, causing concern for the tribe. “My head is killing me,” he tells a medic as he struggles to open his eyes. Jeff swoops in by boat and delivers the worst news a Survivor player can hear: “Bruce, you understand we have to get this looked at. Your safety is everything.”

Bruce is strapped to a stretcher and carried off into the dark, leaving Tika down a player. “Without Bruce we’re going to need to fight harder than anyone,” Sarah says, noting Bruce is physically strong but also good for the group because of his skills as a coach, leader and organizer. “This is devastating to all of us and our tribe’s success.”

Day 2 Gets Off to a Rocky Start 

The dawn of Day 2 brings us to Ratu, where Matthew is impressing his tribe with his knowledge of the great outdoors. He boasts he’s “probably having more fun than anyone” and the family man who left his son and husband at home says even though he’s officially entered his 40s, he’s opted for a mid-life challenge rather than a mid-life crisis.

He gets more than he bargained for after he for some reason decides to climb up a jagged rock formation jutting out of the waters just offshore and takes a pretty terrifying tumble. Matthew yells for a medic and believes he popped out his shoulder. Blood flows from his cut hand and foot. “I just got ahead of myself,” he says, hoping his injury won’t spell doom for his game. 

The medics, who are getting quite a workout so soon in the season, tells Matthew his shoulder should be in a sling. Unlike Tika’s Bruce, he gets to stay in the game.  “Unprecedented body damage for Day 2 survivors,” Matthew’s fellow Ratu tribe member Kane observes.

Who Will Stay, and Who Will Go?

On the Tika tribe, drug counselor Carolyn feels the paranoia that often plagues players and she worries about alliances forming without her. “Do I wait for people to come to me? What if they never come to me?” she wonders, noting she’s aware she’s often perceived as “weird” or “the odd one.”

A boat arriving at Tika’s beach creates a diversion for her, and an envelope delivered to the tribe instructs them that they must send away one person who will return to camp later that afternoon. The group picks “straws”, or sticks and Sarah, who has so far blended in with the rest of the many players, wins her first opportunity to stand out.

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Soka also chooses sticks and awkward Matt wins, but he has fears about getting singled out. 

At the Ratu camp, Lauren shows some cunning and admits in a confessional that she rigged in her favor their decision-making game of picking a gray rock from a bunch of white ones.  

The three chosen to go to the summit — Ratu’s Lauren, Tika’s Sarah and Soka’s Matt — get off boats at a beach. A sign advises: “Enter the jungle, then follow the path to the lookout. Take this time to get to know each other.”

Arriving at a second sign, the trio reads: “You now have an individual decision to make in private. Pick a path.”

They all go their separate ways and come to bags. A note explains to each that inside the bag are three packages. Two contain a lose-your-vote penalty and one offers a secret advantage. They each must draw one package. But what’s Survivor without a twist! If they get the advantage, they can quit while they’re ahead. If they pick a lose-your-vote parchment, they have no vote at the next tribal council, but they have the option to draw again from the remaining two packages. If they draw the second “lose your vote”, they cannot vote at their next two tribal councils and will go away from the summit with nothing.

Sarah from Tika draws and loses a vote. She decides to try again and gets the Inheritance Advantage, which allows her to secretly inherit all the advantages and idols played at one tribal council. It’s a potential game-changer, and she can use it until there are seven players left in the game.

Matt from Soka also loses a vote and then, like Sarah, decides to choose again. He loses his second vote as well. “That makes me so worthless,” he laments.

Lauren from Ratu immediately picks the advantage called Bank Your Vote, which allows her to secretly choose not to cast a vote at one tribal council and keep her voting parchment to use as an extra vote whenever she wants. 

She, Sarah and Matt must now return to their respective tribes and figure out what to tell everyone. 

“It’s a very precarious situation,” Matt admits, and he decides to fib and let the other Soka players know he only lost one of his votes rather than two.

Sarah chooses to pretend the summit was similar to past years and tells Tika she risked her vote and she’s not sure what the outcome will be or if she’ll even have a vote at the next tribal council. Everyone seems to believe her.

Ratu’s Lauren, on the other hand, tells everyone she lost her vote and doesn’t reveal she has scored an advantage. “I don’t know if this is going to come back to bite me, but this is for me,” she tells the camera.

Team Player or Major Fail?

While Lauren is away on the summit, everyone in Ratu begins looking for a key for the padlocked cage. Brandon gets lucky and finds a little package and hides it from Maddy, but he acts so suspiciously that she’s instantly on alert and figures out what’s up. She reminds him Ratu decided looking for the key should be a group effort and whoever finds it shouldn’t keep it secret. 

Worrying she’ll tell everyone, Brandon resumes his now-fake search, pretends to suddenly discover the package and tells her about it. Together they decide to let the others know —but Maddy then sees what could be a golden opportunity and discusses keeping the key’s discovery their dirty little secret. “On Survivor sometimes you have to think outside the cage,” Maddy explains. 

In the end, Brandon opts to tell everyone he found the key, and the tribe watches him open the cage and the bag inside to find a hidden immunity idol as well as an orange decoy medallion idol with no power he can use however he wants. Brandon admits on camera he messed up since everyone now knows about his big advantage in the game.

One Player Down, One More Tribe Member to Go

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The Survivors reach Day 3, and when they gather on the beach for the immunity challenge, everyone sees Bruce is missing. Jeff lets the players know the insurance agent was taken to a hospital to be checked out and he’s in great shape but will not be returning. 

Jeff presents the three tribes their very first immunity challenge. The players in each group must push a boat into the water, jump in and paddle around a buoy. They must then dive off the boat, swim to a heavy chest, deliver it to shore, place it on a track and pull it to the end with a rope. Once that’s all done, a key inside the trunk will release giant picture puzzle pieces set in a slide. Whichever tribe first solves the puzzle wins immunity. The tribe that comes in last must give up their flint and go to tribal council to vote someone off.

With Jeff’s “Survivors, ready! Go!” everyone jumps into the water and Soka pulls ahead and clinches a huge early lead. Tika and Ratu remain neck and neck throughout the challenge.

Once all three teams are working on the puzzle, everyone appears incredibly exhausted as they attempt to move around the giant pieces.

On the sidelines, injured family man Matthew from Ratu and venture capitalist Claire from Soka secretly discuss their tribe members who went to the summit. Matthew learns from Claire that her teammate Matt showed them the parchment that said he lost a vote. Matthew is surprised and realizes his teammate Lauren just told them she lost a vote but didn’t prove it. Matthew and Claire decide they like each other and form a tentative alliance if they’re both still around for the merge.

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Continuing with the medical drama theme of the season premiere, the game is stopped when former footballer Brandon from Ratu suddenly appears to be in trouble. He tells medics he’s cramping and feels lightheaded. They determine he’s dehydrated and make him sit out the rest of the challenge, leaving Ratu to compete with three players rather than four. 

While Soka appeared to be close to winning immunity, Tika manages to solve the puzzle first, keeping them safe from the first Tribal Council. Soka then comes up with the solution, leaving Ratu in third.

“My body just couldn’t go anymore,” Brandon says during a confessional, noting he’s thankful he’s heading into tribal council with the season’s first idol, which everyone already knows he has.

Back at camp Ratu, Matthew fills Brandon in on how he found out Lauren is possibly lying about what happened at the summit. Maddy, meanwhile, already doesn’t trust Brandon because of the birdcage key incident and she tries to convince Lauren and Jaime to blindside him. Brandon calls Maddy “sneaky” and notes tribe member yogi Jaime is just lost and “running around like a chicken with her head cut off.” 

Maddy begins to lobby goofy Kane to get rid of Brandon, but Kane seems on the fence about voting him off. Maddy then goes to Matthew to convince him Brandon is playing everyone. Matthew worries the team is losing their biggest guy if Brandon goes home, and he wants the footballer to stick around because he’s secretly his biggest ally thanks to their time together during the coconut challenge. “Unfortunately, nobody really knows where the right side of the vote is going to be,” Matthew says.

The Tribe Has Spoke

At Night 3’s tribal council, Ratu’s six members arrive, dip their torches into the flames and face Jeff. The players talk about the intensity and the uncertainty of everything that’s occurred so far in the game, and Brandon says you never know who’s telling lies and who’s speaking the truth. 

The subject of Brandon’s idol comes up, and Matthew points out its power already has been diminished because everyone is aware it exists.

Jaime the yogi announces she’s playing her shot in the dark, explaining she trusts everyone is going to do what they said they were going to do so withholding her vote won’t matter. With only a one-in-six chance of winning, she’s possibly making the move to avoid getting blood on her hands so early on in the game. 

The tribe begins to cast their votes at a giant chess board, where Lauren reveals she’s banking her vote thanks to the advantage she won on the summit. 

Jaime chooses a scroll for her shot-in-the-dark chance.

Once Jeff returns with the votes, Matthew also reveals he’s playing his shot in the dark, which means he, Jamie and Lauren will have no votes in the game, likely leaving the decision about who goes home up to the remaining tribe members Brandon, Kane and Maddy.

When Jeff unrolls the shot-in-the-dark scrolls Jaime and Matthew chose, he reveals Matthew is still not safe. Defying the odds, Jaime’s scroll says she is safe and any votes cast against her won’t count.

Brandon gets up and says he might be making a mistake by using his idol prematurely, but he’s giving it to Jeff. 

The host then gets to the votes. The first two cast for Brandon to go home do not count, and Jeff reveals the third person voted out is Maddy — and with just a single ballot.

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“I put my money where my mouth is, and I just came up short, but it feels good to come out and play really hard,” she says during her final confessional. “It was a great run and I had a lot of fun doing it the way I did it, and I just wish I could have done it for longer, but I know I was walking the balance beam and it went a little topsy-turvy.” 

The game’s only getting started and there are still too many players to really keep track of everyone. On Tika, Sarah has emerged as an early promising competitor due to her secret Inheritance Advantage and the fact she’s managing to keep her cards close to her vest, at least so far. On the Soka tribe, nobody in particular really stands out just yet. On Ratu, there are several potentially promising tribe members who could go far. Kane appears strategic and the kind of player who plays a stealthy game; Lauren already has an extra vote in her pocket; and Brandon and Matthew seem to have developed a promising early alliance that’s already paying off. 

Still, Survivor can turn on a dime as the players attempt to outwit, outplay and outlast.

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