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Pop Crave had the opportunity to chat with Survivor 44 fourth-place finisher Carson Garrett following Wednesday night’s finale to discuss why he thinks he would have won in an all-Tika final three, motivating Carolyn through the final tribal council, advice he has for future young players, and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!

Congratulations on such a masterful run on the show. Did you expect to have such a hold over the game going into it?

No! I really came into the game open-minded. I knew a lot of people were like, “Oh, you have to have a strategy going into it.” I came in with, like, “I have a lot of resources, and I know who I am as a person; I’m just going to do the best that I can.” And I think that knowing that and being able to say, “There’s no set strategy; I’m just going to be myself and play the game like I would any board game,” gave me the freedom and ability to trust myself and just get far based on my own intuition. And a lot of that was just on-the-fly thinking, so I didn’t expect to get to the final four, much less the merge, honestly. I was hoping, but I definitely did not come in saying I was gonna win or I was gonna get that far. I was just so proud of myself each and every day as I was getting further and realizing what I was capable of.

One thing we usually hear from the jury at the final tribal council is that their minds aren’t made up on who to vote for. Was that the case for you?

Yes, it was not made up. I had witnessed in person Carolyn and Yam Yam’s games, so I knew I could attest to both of them and argue for both of them. I’m one of those people that can see a lot of different sides to a story, and so I think I came in thinking of it as, “Okay, I want either of them to win; whoever is going to give me the best final tribal council speech will get my vote because I love them so much.” It’s like choosing between an arm and a leg or a mom and dad; it was so hard.

Courtesy of CBS

At the beginning of the season, you were in a position at Tika where you had to decide whether or not you would side with Sarah and Helen or Carolyn and Yam Yam. What ultimately led you to move forward with Carolyn and Yam Yam?

I love Helen and Sarah first of all; they are so amazing. But I also think I had that connection with Carolyn and Yam Yam. And I felt that for me, I came into the game saying, “I want to work with people that are going to be loyal.” People that I feel like are maybe more emotional because they are more likely to be loyal the whole time. And that turned out to be true. I’m a loyal person at heart, so I think I saw more of that in both of them. But also game-wise, I knew Sarah didn’t have a vote, so it would have been harder to try to… I think Yam Yam and I would have voted together regardless. I think it was easier to just make that on-the-fly decision when I knew that Sarah didn’t have a vote, and it would have been easier not to try to loop in Yam Yam and take out Carolyn. It’s crazy that that one decision caused a ripple for the rest of the game and how it turned out. It’s crazy how things turn out that way; you know, those little splashes can turn into tsunamis.

The way you were almost coaching Carolyn at times during the final tribal council was hilarious. What did you think of her performance?

I think throughout the game, Carolyn was so emotionally in tune with herself. She might lash out and, like, have a little bit of a moment, but then she’ll say, “I know I shouldn’t do it, but that’s me.” That’s Carolyn, and I love her and that she’s so authentic in that way. I think for me, I saw so much of her and how she was able to use her emotions as a weapon, in a similar sense to how Yam Yam was able to use his humor as a weapon. And so at the final tribal council, I really wanted her to own that for the other jurors, but she kind of struggled with it because she didn’t want to be seen as someone who was evil or bad. I think she got in her head a little bit, but she still talked about how much she grew out there, and I think that really attested to who she is as a person. I think that she had room for growth in terms of just being able to talk about what she did out there. But you know, she did the best that she could, and I think she was in her head a lot at that final tribal council. She’s an awesome person, though, and I don’t think just because of what she said there, it discredits anything else that happened. But I do wish she could have explained it more. It could have been more of a close thing between the two of them, but I love them both, like I said. I’m just glad either of them would have won.

Courtesy of CBS

I also loved seeing you pull out the voting statistics for each player in the final three. How did that idea come about?

I didn’t plan to do this before the season or anything. I was literally graphing out where every single vote had gone throughout the merge and the pre-merge, and I wanted to see the overall narrative in terms of how voting had gone. And then I realized, “Well, wait, now I can track who’s voted which way.” Have they been on the right side of the vote? Have they been in tune with the plan? Blah, blah, blah. How many times have they gotten votes? I was like, “These are statistics that I love to look at as a fan, like on Reddit or on Twitter. And so I thought, “Why not bring them into the game?” because they’re important. They reflect how someone has played the game, and I think that a lot of the jurors didn’t see Carolyn and Yam Yam as being very strategic. But those numbers highlighted how they were on the right side of the vote pretty much the entire time. The only time they were not on the right side of the vote was when they blindsided each other! So I think that it just spoke to how they had gotten through the game, and I wanted that to be reflected.

You seemed pretty confident in your ability to win at the end, regardless of the rotation of players you were up against. How much of a fight do you think it would have been against Yam Yam now that you’re out of the game and have had those conversations with the jury?

Yeah, I think that a lot of the game from a viewer’s perspective has been through Yam Yam’s eyes because of the outcome and because it needs to explain how he wins. But I do think a lot of my game was having a lot of social relationships, so it was a little bit harder to show. I was so close with so many people throughout the game, and I was seen as more of the leader of Tika in the sense that, if you wanted Tika to vote with you, go through Carson. All the information traveled through me. I was like a connection piece, so I think everyone else was more aware of my game than they were of Carolyn and Yam Yam’s, and I could speak to that pretty well. I think that, paired with my relationships and how a lot of people had close relationships with me than anyone else, if it were an all-Tika final three, I would have been able to secure the win. And because a lot of the jury didn’t care about things like your age. They wanted to see the best game win. I don’t think Carolyn and Yam Yam necessarily played a worse game than me; I just think that my game was more present. And once I was identified as a threat starting at the final seven, having that perception on your back every tribal only furthers your threat level. So by the time that I was actually in the final four, there was such a big target on my back that Heidi was willing to risk her entire game and leave the game from fire just to take me out. I think that even with my relationship with each and every person on the jury, I would have definitely secured it. I have a fight, I can articulate myself, and I would have stood my ground.

We sadly have to end this chat a bit early, so here’s my final question. You played the game at 20 years old and completely dominated it, which isn’t absolutely common for contestants your age. What advice do you have for future young players hoping to play as successful a game as you did?

I think a lot of young people, even myself, come in with the idea that they need to prove themselves. I came in with the idea of, “I just want to have fun, be myself, and play the game like I would a Monopoly game or a Catan game or any board game.” And I’ve always been someone who’s been good at those sorts of games. So I really don’t know what separates me from other people. I think I have a really in-depth perception of myself, and I think I’m good at connecting with people that are older than me. I think I’ve been told many times I have an “old soul,” so maybe that’s why it’s a little bit easier for me to connect with people that are a lot older than me, like Carolyn and Yam Yam—not a lot older, but there’s like a 15-year difference. I’m literally closer to Carolyn’s son’s age than I am to her age. So I think that gives me the opportunity to rely on those instincts. But I really don’t know; I’m just myself! That’s all I could say [laughs].

Courtesy of CBS

Survivor returns for its 45th season this fall on CBS.