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Survivor 44 Episode 12
Courtesy of CBS

The following contains spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of Survivor.

The penultimate episode of Survivor 44 saw the majority Tika alliance barrel straight toward disaster, as Yam Yam considered cutting ties with his island bestie Carolyn in what would’ve been the season’s greatest betrayal thus far. After Lauren won the highly coveted immunity necklace, Carolyn and Carson also entertained conversations from others about potentially turning against each other for one giant #blindside. But in the end, Heidi, who had zero trust left for Jaime, joined Tika at the voting urn to send her island nemesis straight to Ponderosa. (Read a full recap here.)

Below, the Plant Lady herself talks to TVLine about idol shenanigans, her burned bridge with Heidi and the one thing she wishes she’d handled differently.

TVLINE | When did you find out that your idol was fake and what was your reaction to that?
JAMIE RUIZ | I learned pretty shortly after I left. Tune in to find out!

Survivor 44 Episode 12TVLINE | You told everyone the truth about what happened after Kane left the game with your idol and no one believed you! But at the time, did you think they bought it? 
It was such a public conversation. I had individual conversations with everybody about the idol and coming clean, and then everyone continued to ask and continued to tell me that I was a threat because nobody believed the story. “There’s still a target on your back.” So I needed to make it even more public. Like, “By the way, I don’t have the idol, I promise.” Once I went with that, I had to commit to it. There was no backpedaling. And to me, I wanted to be perceived as a low threat level. I needed to always manage my threat level and having an idol that is publicly known, it automatically increases your threat level, especially getting this far in the game. It’s something I knew I needed to try and get off my back. 

TVLINE | So the Tika three were once a minority, but that’s clearly not the case anymore. Were there any serious efforts or conversations in the early merge about trying to get out Yam Yam, Carolyn or Carson? How did these players get so far?
Yes. I think what’s missing from the story is my relationship with Yam Yam, and Lauren’s relationship with Carson. We were working together. I was very close with Yam Yam and Lauren was close with Carson. We had our own little circle of trust where we did vote together a couple of times. It was hard to turn on that because they were numbers for us. But towards the end and looking at everyone, it’s like I said on the show, nobody is going to win if we are at the end with Carson, so we have to turn on him. Although Lauren and Carson had a relationship and I had a relationship with Carson as well… he was very, very, very good at managing that. We knew we would have to turn on him and get him out eventually. They painted the picture last night of Carolyn being a bigger threat, which was news to Lauren and me. For us, it was just, “Let’s go with it.” If the guys perceive her as a bigger threat, we’re just gonna maintain our threat level and just go with the flow of voting. Carolyn is what we thought was going to happen. 

TVLINE | Were you aware that Heidi distrusted you so much? What was your relationship with her like out there?  
I love Heidi so much. We had written her name down for the split vote so many times. That’s just kind of how it happened. And so that last day, it was really hard and obviously didn’t work, we tried to build a relationship and paint ideas of like, “Hey, this is why we should get Carolyn or Carson out. Heidi team up with us.” At that point in the game, I know she was feeling very alone. So playing her idol made sense for her, and to keep it to herself and play it for herself because at that point, she was on her own. I don’t blame her for that at all, especially after leaving each Tribal and seeing Lauren and me write her name down. We obviously weren’t working together, strategically. It was already a bridge that was burned and we weren’t able to repair it with the short amount of time that we had in those final days. 

Survivor 44 Episode 12TVLINE | When I spoke with Danny, he gave you tons of props. He said if you had just been left out there in the jungle, you’d still be surviving to this day. Did you know you’d thrive out there or was that something you discovered throughout filming?  
I knew that I could handle the elements. To me, that wasn’t ever going to be an issue. Sleeping outside, having the sun, the heat, the humidity. To me that was the fun part. Collecting firewood, maintaining the fire, gutting the fish, cooking the fish and kind of managing the household. I had my little house plant there. It was making the best of it. And truly, I looked forward to sleeping by the fire every night. I would dig a little hole for my shoulder and for my hip, and then have my spot next to the fire and cozy up. You kind of just make it your home. You have to make it feel like home because you’re so out of your element and you’re playing this really cutthroat game. If you don’t let the elements get to you, then it leaves space for you to perform in other ways, like building social relationships and saving energy for other parts of the game. So I knew that it was going to be a mind over matter thing for me. I could survive anything. Any rain, sun, whatever it was, it was going to be OK. 

Jaime Lynn Ruiz from SURVIVOR Season 44TVLINE | So if jungle living wasn’t a big issue for you, what was the hardest part of the game for you?  
Oh my gosh. The hardest part was just never knowing who to trust it. It’s so wild because you are playing a game, but you’re also building true real-life relationships. You’re always thinking, “Are they lying to me?” and your intuition is heightened. Everybody isn’t being honest or authentic, so it’s manipulated. The hardest part is always like, who do you trust? Because everybody’s in it to win it. So you have to have an element of trust to get far enough. If it’s just one person, that’s great, but then every conversation, you have to be playing everybody else’s game. What do they value and what’s important to them? I need to make sure that either I’m highlighting that in myself for them or I’m downplaying that in myself to manage my threat level. So it’s just a lot of juggling. That’s the hardest thing to finesse and balance in the game. 

TVLINE | Was there anything you wish you had done differently?  
I wish I would have focused more on my strategic relationship with Heidi. I had a relationship with Yam Yam, with Carson, and if I would have really explained it to her or been solid with her and maybe talk to her more… especially that last day because we weren’t aware of the idol. If we knew about the tools we could leverage, it would have been very different. I think that’s the one thing. But other than that, I had a great time. I have best friends for life. I played the game that I love more than anything on the planet. And so it’s hard to have any regrets because you are out there giving your all and trying your very best. I’m very, very proud and it’s still surreal. Like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I was just out there! It’s wild. 

TVLINE | So now that you’ve transitioned from player to juror, which of the five remaining players do you think is the biggest threat?  
Lauren has won two challenges, so automatically she’s a threat. She’s had an amazing social game. When you’re looking at the jury, Lauren and I navigated the game by building these relationships, so she is a major threat. Carson, obviously. I wanted to make it known that he was a threat. His game compared to anybody else’s game that’s there, he’s a threat. And Yam Yam, absolutely, with seeing the relationships that he has had with everyone and his charm. It’s very easy to fall in love with him. People remember how you make them feel, and I think that he’s made everybody feel very comfortable. And so to me, those big social moves can say a lot about somebody’s game and how they’re perceived in that final Tribal Council. 

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