Carson Garrett had the social game, the strategic chops, and the puzzle expertise to win Survivor 44. The 20-year-old NASA engineering student, however, was unable to engineer a victory after his plans went up in flames — specifically, the flames of Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt.
Carson was eliminated and sent to the jury after final immunity challenge winner Heidi put herself in the fire-making competition to bolster her résumé by taking out her biggest threat. And then did so in record time.
That put Carson on the jury, where he threw out percentages to try and help his fellow Stooges secure the win. Did he vote for Yam Yam because Yam Yam helped him with fire? And would he have done the same had the tables been turned? We asked Carson that and a lot more about his journey when we spoke the morning after the finale. You can watch the entire interview above or read it below.
CBS Carson Garrett on 'Survivor 44'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKY: Tell me about your confidence level going into that fire-making competition against Heidi.
CARSON GARRETT: Oh my gosh, it was so low. Before I left, everyone else was talking and all of a sudden, Heidi and Yam Yam and Carolyn were like, "Oh, you want to stay on the beach?" This whole entire game, I've been trying to build social relationships. I would never decline someone's request to talk. But I literally was like, "Don't talk to me. I'm an introvert. I need this time."
It did kind of give me that time to get back to my own space and get prepared for that fire-making challenge. Walking in, I was so nervous, but I had already accepted that as long as I did my best, I will be proud of myself and happy with myself. And I let all the emotions out in my interview and on the island, and so I came into it with whatever I did, I would be happy. And I was very happy with how I did. I actually did way better than I thought I would. [Laughs]
I want you to be completely honest: If the tables had been turned, would you have helped Yam Yam with his fire-making skills knowing you might be taking him on later that day with a million dollars at stake?
I wouldn't. I really wouldn't have. I love him so, so much, but I would've hugged him and I would say, "I'm so sorry," but I would not have helped him. I said to him, "That is the kindest thing anyone's ever done for me in my entire life." Because it's true. I don't know what sort of sacrifice that was, but that was what was so beautiful about it. I'm forever grateful even though I didn't pull through at the end.
I usually don't have someone holding my shoulder in that way, helping me get through my own issues. Having him there holding me, literally pushing my arms to help me, it was incredible. It just speaks to who he is as a person.
Did that get your vote, or would you have voted for Yam Yam to win anyway?
My vote really was on the table, and I said that, and it was true. I wanted it to be either Carolyn and Yam Yam because I knew how awesome their games were. And I loved Heidi, too. I would just have needed a lot of information and in-depth strategy to know her game. I just didn't know it, because I didn't really play as closely with her. But I knew Yam Yam and Carolyn in and out, and so I wanted one of them to win so bad.
For me, it really came down to the final Tribal Council performance. Whoever did the best would get my vote, because I didn't want the idea of one of my two closest allies who I believe played incredible games not to win. Carolyn was awesome, and she talked about her personal journey. However, she didn't really elaborate on a lot of her strategy, and I wanted to vote for her and I wanted to vote for Yam Yam, but it really came down to Yam Yam [pulling] an amazing final Tribal Council speech compared to the other two.
CBS Carson Garrett and Yam Yam Arocho on 'Survivor 44'
I love that scene where we see you coaching Carolyn or trying to will her to say certain things or do certain things. You're making all these hand gestures and stuff.
I was kind of nervous about that because I didn't want to be like, Oh, people are going to think he thinks he knows what to do. But I really felt for her because I could sense she was nervous and I think that she was so scared to talk about the idea that, "Oh, I manipulated you." I love that she was able to own, "That was a good move on my part to secure Tika at least 50% of majority in the final six by playing an idol" on me. Because we didn't know if we could trust Lauren or Jamie, even though I tried to work with them.
You strike me as a guy who thinks about every angle before you say something, so when you threw those percentages out at final Tribal Council, was that a way to bolster your fellow Stooges against Heidi?
I think my thing was that I love Heidi, too. She is such an amazing person. However, I did see her game more from the Three Stooges/Tika three perspective where she just was riding along with us and we were able to capitalize on that. I didn't want that to be seen as, like, "Oh, there were a lot of votes that you weren't let in on. You voted for your number one Danny at some point in the game. And that was because of us."
That was just us continuing to break down bonds and cause people to have issues with each other. It's what caused Soka and Ratu to never to work with each other, because we were always instigating this tribal warfare. Going into the end with the percentages, I wanted to show how Carolyn and Yam Yam really, even though they seem so kooky and wacky and big personality, they had a very firm grasp on the game. I wanted that to be shown in that.
I also wanted to reflect on the idea that just because you don't write the person's name that goes home, if you're using your vote as a strategic weapon in order to further your game by voting differently — like we would vote differently a lot of times in the game — that's a better move honestly than just voting out the person that you could vote out. Like, we could have all voted Brandon. They didn't even need the idol. However, by camouflaging our votes, it allowed us to have more leverage going forward. I consider that being on the right side of the votes.
Robert Voets/CBS Carson Garrett on 'Survivor 44'
You were obviously so emotional as you were trying to figure out the fire, knowing that could be the end for you. What was the feeling like when it was over and you're getting your torch snuffed?
Yeah, I told Jeff, "I don't know why I'm smiling." Because it's supposed to be so hard and tragic. My thing before I went out there was, as long as I did my best and I put it all on the table based off of what I prepared for, then I have no regrets. And I really don't. I don't think the million dollars was necessarily everything to me.
I mean, I really wanted the title of Sole Survivor, obviously, but I put everything on the table, I played my heart out and I checked almost every bucket list item I could have out there. I was just feeling proud. Even afterwards everyone was like, "Why are you so happy?" I was talking to everyone at Ponderosa and I'm like, "I dunno." It was just like such a really cool experience, and I still to this day have barely shed a tear about it.
How do you think you do if you win at fire and take on Carolyn and Yam Yam in the final three?
I think the difference between me, Carolyn, and Yam Yam — even though we all had our own kinks and things that we did to secure our position as an alliance throughout the game — I think what stood me apart from them and why I was perceived to be a bigger threat than the two of them was that my relationships were a little bit stronger with a lot of the jurors.
I was really close friends with Brandon. I was great friends with Danny. I was close with Matt and Frannie and I had a dorks alliance at the beginning. I had a bro alliance with Kane. We called it the Golden Doodle alliance. So, especially coming into the merge, I had built all these connection points so that I would take out the people that I was closest with and leave people I was not as close with, like Heidi and Jaime — except Lauren I was very close to. And I think if you add up the amount of jurors, I think that I would've gotten Brandon, Danny's, Kane's, and probably Lauren's vote, too. Me and Lauren's relationship wasn't really shown there, but we had a very close bond.
Carolyn and Yam Yam played amazing games, but I think my relationships were stronger and it would only have taken me to convince Matt or Frannie to vote for me, or I could've split those votes between Carolyn and Yam Yam. So I do think I would've pulled it out, but I don't think that would in any way discredit Carolyn and Yam Yam because they played amazing games. I just was maybe seen as more of the, "If you get Carson's vote on board for whatever we're going for, then you'll get Carolyn and Yam Yam's, too."
CBS Carson Garrett on 'Survivor 44'
Did you share any of your fourth-place prize money with your 3D printer?
[Laughs] I have it. It's at my house right now. It is the same $200 one I have had since December of 2021. It's great. I love them. I honestly now just go and print at my school and one of my best friends works where you can 3D print stuff and I 3D print things all the time there. It's so fun. I know everyone's like, "Oh, it's a really difficult hobby to get into," but it's really fun. I highly recommend it. Like, you can print anything!
Do you think you broke Survivor because now all these people are going to be 3D-printing puzzles and practicing before they even get out on the island?
Yeah, I hope. I mean, I love Survivor, and I don't love the idea of everyone having to 3D print a ton of things or learn how to do that. I do think that kind of takes away from the fun of it. If I didn't know how to 3D print, I wouldn't want the idea of me having to go out of my way to 3D print things. So I hope going forward we get to see some new stuff that might not be as easy to replicate. If I did break it, that'd be so cool. I'd be honored.
What's something that happened out there on the island that never made it to TV that you wish we had gotten a chance to see?
Because Ratu didn't go to Tribal, you didn't need to see a lot of what I was doing at Ratu to really forge a lot of the relationships I did. Right when I was on the boat from the journey to Ratu, I was thinking: Okay, I have this idol in my pocket, I just switched tribes. It doesn't make sense that I just switched tribes on a journey and I don't have some sort of protection advantage or something. If I go there and I'm like, "Oh, I just switched tribes," any strategist would be like, Hmm, there's probably something more.
So I wanted to add [something] extra, but I didn't want to reveal that I had a temporary idol. I was like, what can I do that doesn't have a note that won't get me in trouble? So I was going through all these things, and I came up with the Shot in the Light advantage. All it is is it just increases your Shot in the Dark chances from one out of six to one out of two. It was basically like a 50-50 coin, but you can't vote.
So, I came up with that, and the purpose of it was that when I got there, I was open about it. I said, "Okay, I switched tribes, but I did get the Shot in the Light advantage where my Shot in the Dark chances are now one out of two instead of one out of six." Because if I were in their position, I wouldn't put my game up to a 50% chance. I'd want to bond with this guy to get his vote. It effectively allowed me to get right in the middle of them between Kane and Matthew and Lauren and Brandon. And I was super close with them.
I even told Lauren and and Kane separately that it was actually an idol so that when we got to the merge, they knew that they could trust me going forward. It really gave me a lot of foothold in the Ratu tribe and everyone wanted to work with me, because who wants to put their game up to 50% chance if we went to Tribal? It was really fun. I like making up little fun things.
CBS Carolyn Wiger and Carson Garrett on 'Survivor 44'
Would you play again?
Oh, absolutely. I love it. Obviously, I would practice fire a little more, but I was thinking in my head the other day: Even if I practice fire for the whole year, I still don't know if I would've beat Heidi. She was so fast. You saw her build it in, like, 10 seconds. That was legit. It was so quick that I'm just proud I had a flame going next to her. Like, I can't believe it. [Laughs]
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