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Let Yam Yam Host ‘Survivor’

12:34 PM EDT on May 26, 2023

Photo of Yamil "Yam Yam" Arocho in a bright purple sweater.
CBS via Getty Images

Laura Wagner: I’m so glad we all watched this season! I loved it! What were your impressions of it?

Sabrina Imbler: I also loved it, especially after a slew of recent seasons with winners that I found very questionable—when Gabler won I simply turned my TV off. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so excited for a final three, or even a final five. Also this feels like the season where Jeff Probst and the producers realized that the more gay people you cast on reality TV, the better it will be.

Giri Nathan: Yeah, I think I needed this season after three highly dubious winners in a row. I get the sense that the jury’s taste has shifted, but almost in a trolly way. It’s fine to prefer more under-the-radar players, but we’re in the era of straight-up sacrificial-goat dominance. With Erica, I was like, huh, she didn’t do much, but maybe it’s a weird edit. With Maryanne, I was like, OK, seems like your savviest gameplay move was becoming slightly less annoying? The Gabler win was just a bridge too far—almost insulting to witness. I was ready to give up on the show. But Yam Yam won me back. A king.

LW: I didn’t watch the recent seasons. Actually this is the first season of Survivor I've watched in a couple years. After rapidly consuming many seasons in lockdown time, from the early ones up through the late 30s, I kind of developed an allergy to it such that even if I sat down to watch, I wouldn't absorb any of it. (You know your brain is not in tip-top shape when it doesn't even have the attention span for reality TV.) So I stopped trying and didn't watch any of seasons 40-43. I came back to this season on a whim, and it was a delight. I am so happy Yam Yam won.

SI: Totally—I am so here for Yam Yam, a truly deserving winner, deeply kind person, and fashion icon with amazing taste in sweaters. But Yam Yam played a more traditional social game that felt resonant of some other recent seasons, while I think Carolyn changed the game.

LW: When Yam Yam helped Carson learn how to make fire, that was touching. I don’t think it was about shoring up a jury vote either! Carolyn was the more outwardly emotional player, which I loved, but Yam Yam was very attuned to everyone else and how they were feeling at all times. One of Yam Yam's strengths, which I think is shared by other Survivor winners, is his ability to make jokes even in high-stress situations. And he's funny too, so it really works.

GN: He’s crushingly charismatic, always had a self-deprecating one-liner to defuse a tricky situation, and struck a fine balance between genuine care and manipulation. His friendship with Carolyn is my favorite in any of the seasons I’ve watched. It actually resembled a normal friendship in its intimacy, its ups and downs. They could get their own show.

LW: Yes. I wish Carolyn had gotten votes in the final council. I loved her heart-on-her-sleeve way of being and her self-awareness. And how she screeched and yodeled whenever she was behind in challenges or feeling any strong emotion. And I really loved her relationship with Yam Yam. It was honestly beautiful. I thought their friendship was encapsulated well in the scene with the two of them on the beach practicing making fire. Their affectionate bickering and competitive edge and sweetness reminded me of siblings.

SI: I was so surprised Carolyn didn’t get any votes! I thought Frannie would be a lock for her. It seemed like the jury was being honest about having their votes on the table. Yam Yam is a great talker, and his responses were very impressive and convincing, particularly his close watch of the twinkles in everyone’s eyes. But Yam Yam could talk his way out of the realm of Hades.

GN: I absolutely thought Carolyn deserved votes and I was surprised she didn’t get Carson’s after he stage-mommed her through the Final Tribal Council. Frannie’s, too! Carolyn said at the outset that she struggles to conceal an emotion that she’s feeling, and saw that as a liability, but over the course of the season she learned to use that as a strength. (Also her direct conversations with the producers were fun, R.I.P. the fourth wall.) Despite the outward appearance of chaos, her gameplay was consistently killer, and by the time the rest of the cast realized what she was up to, the Tika Three were already on top. When Yam Yam dropped that “twinkle in your eyes” bit in making his case to the jury I knew he had it in the bag.

LW: I was dying at Carson coaching her! Good son. 

SI: From the very first moment we saw Carolyn at her first confessional, I was captivated. As Wags mentioned, she has a very fluid relationship with sound, screeching and yelping almost constantly, and while I found this very funny I also underestimated Carolyn as a viewer, just like so many others on the jury. She really did play a strategic emotional game while also doing wobbly handstands on the beach and famously getting trapped in a net like an enormous wrapped candy. When everyone began throwing out Carolyn’s name as a threat a few episodes before the finale, I totally agreed, and was surprised to see that sentiment fade away.

LW: Yeah, I thought she could definitely win it. I was impressed by Heidi’s decision to make fire, but I thought the Tika Three in the FTC would’ve made for great TV. Do you think Carson would’ve won? 

GN: I am not really into voluntary fire-building as a resume-builder, which seems to be a newish phenomenon. Also, Gabler and Heidi set the all-time fire record in successive seasons which makes me think it’s been “solved” and they could use a change in the structure of the show. I also really wanted the Tika Three to go into FTC because I think it would’ve been really fun to see them try and disentangle their gameplay from each other’s.

SI: Yeah, I found fire-making fun the first time but now that’s it’s standardized, everyone’s a little fire-making machine, and watching the fastest fire is a lot less fun than watching someone who has never made fire try to get a spark going. I too would have loved to see the Tika Three in the final, and I do think Carson would have won.

LW: Speaking of show structure, I think they need new challenges. I like the classic challenges, except for the waterboarding one, but I they could get more creative with the obstacle courses and how teams are split up. I first got hooked on Survivor because I like games and physical competition, but for example, holding the ball on the pole while standing on the beam is not very interesting.

GN: I find the animal- and tree-shaped puzzles incredibly beautiful, I want to own some of them. But I agree that they could be freshened up now that everyone is gaming them out at home. 

SI: Ask Carson for the 3D recipes lol.

LW: The reaction to the “Carson works at NASA” reveal in the post-show was so funny.

GN: They’ve done a pretty good job diversifying the challenges so that they reward different skill sets, which is crucial for keeping post-merge interesting, but not every challenge makes for compelling TV, it’s true.

SI: Carson writing out his little NASA font in every vote made me laugh, and then roll my eyes, and then laugh again. I love a commitment to the bit! And I do agree the ball on the pole is not the most visually stimulating challenge as a viewer, but I do appreciate the trend away from the “you’re blindfolded and tied to another person in a sharp obstacle course” challenges from years ago. I don’t find medical evacuations as exciting as Jeff Probst seems to.

GN: Probst doing grindset speeches while someone is experiencing heat stroke is probably my least favorite aspect of the show right now. He feels increasingly vestigial. Every time he talks I wonder what he is trying to accomplish. Can we make Yam Yam the host?

LW: When I interviewed a Survivor "dream team" member a couple years ago, she said that a question looming over the Survivor franchise is basically, Can there be Survivor without Jeff Probst? I think definitely yes. I agree his contributions seem less useful and more forced than they used to. Yam Yam for host! Or president! 

SI: Giri, I love that idea. I didn’t grow up watching the show, so I have no allegiance to Probst, and often actively tune him out when he’s speaking. (And did anyone see him bump into a player in the penultimate challenge? Get out of the way, Jeff!) I feel like more people would watch Survivor without him, and I couldn’t think of a better host than Yam Yam.

GN: It could be the edit, but this was an unusually civil, even nice season. Aside from the common pattern of players gunning for other players who’d written their name down, there wasn’t much beef. Nobody seemed all that wounded as they got their torch snuffed. And yet it was still an interesting watch. I wonder if this is a new era or whether this is just an anomalously friendly cast.

SI: I wondered if they had intentionally cast kinder, more supportive people, because it seemed beyond the realm of an edit. Maybe instead of casting for villains, the producers are casting for chaos, which I love. And before we go, I have to say that Jaime’s face upon discovering her precious, unused idol was fake—an unshakeable grin, but terror mounting in her eyes.

GN: I have to hand it to Probst for that—well-executed fake-idol news bomb. Maybe they can just keep him on the show for those.

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