[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for the Survivor Season 44 finale.]
Yam Yam Arocho was an early fan favorite from the Survivor Season 44 trailer. From the very first moments shown in the Season 43 finale, viewers knew he would be one to watch. He inspired countless Survivor memes and had one fan so hooked, they tweeted weekly updates on his tribal council fates.
“Yamil ‘Yam Yam’ Arocho will not be the [insert elimination number here] person voted out of #Survivor,” the weekly tweets would read. As fate would have it, Yam Yam would never be eliminated! Through his impressive pitch, Yam Yam was declared the winner of Survivor 44.
TV Insider chatted with new reigning champ the day after the Survivor 44 finale on CBS. Here, learn the strategy behind his winning pitch, the truth about the Tika Three, and why he could never bring himself to vote for Carolyn.
You were a fan favorite from the Season 44 trailer, and now you’re a winner! That’s so exciting.
Yam Yam Arocho: Oh, girl!
Is it surreal?
Oh my God. Is this surreal? I cannot believe it. Oh my God. Yesterday, I was like screaming to my mom. I was like, “I won, I won, I won, I won, I won!” And she was like, “I know!” I was like, “I won, I won! I can finally say it!”
Yamil “Yam Yam” Arocho will not be the fifteenth person voted out of #Survivor pic.twitter.com/OS10awIyiW
— Brian Scally (@Brian_Scally) May 25, 2023
You won without ever having found an advantage in this season. How does it feel to have won purely by the strength of your game?
I said this a hundred times. I have the personal relationships and the connection with people that there could be a hundred idols hidden and none of them are gonna be used against me. I would constantly tell this in the confessionals. I was like, “There’s an idol out there. You need blah, blah, blah. What are you thinking? Blah, blah, blah.” I was like, there could be a hundred. None of them are gonna be used against me because I was always very sure of my relationships with everyone, to the point that even if that was the case, I could do something about it. Like that final five when Lauren voted for me, that’s why I voted for Heidi. I was like, just in case there’s like a little idol here. They obviously want four votes against one, and then that person. I [voted for Heidi] just in case. Just in case. But I didn’t need it, so it was cool.
You really positioned yourself so, like you said in your pitch, you could make any decision you wanted because you were right in the middle. And you weren’t secretly a middle man playing both sides. Everyone knew that they all liked you.
You know, it’s so amazing. It’s so amazing. I played with such an amazing group of people that are so successful in everything they do in their lives. And I’m like, why am I here? [Laughs] I’m still in awe of them. Anybody could have won. I’m so happy it was me. [Laughs]
It’s a very special season. I think this is one of the more memorable casts for sure. During the pitches, you know what you said, you were hearing Carolyn and Heidi pitch. Was there a moment when you knew you won?
I loved the moment when I’m explaining how I read people, and Frannie’s reaction to what I said gave me a lot of energy. It helped boost up the rest of my speech. But I actually knew, like I felt inside my heart I had won when they stopped asking questions and they started going up to vote. There was something about the vibe of what was going on. I was like, “I won. I won.”
You had a gut feeling.
It was very, very, very, very weird. But I knew it.
I do think that you explaining the difference in the looks in people’s eyes, that whole analysis, was the moment when you won, truly. Because Carolyn’s game wasn’t dissimilar to yours in that sense. She could read people really well, and both of you were very often like, “are you telling me the truth right now? Are you lying to me?” You both acted that way with people, but you described it better, I think, than Carolyn did. And that’s part of winning. It’s one thing to play your game really well, and then another part is how you frame it.
I appreciate you saying that because that’s exactly what I think happened. People go like, “why you thought Carolyn was the biggest threat and not Carson?” I was like, “‘Cause I know Carolyn’s game, and I’m afraid it’s all a cover and she’s gonna get to the final trouble council and like reveal herself and be like this mastermind, which she is, had she put it into the right words. So that’s why I was afraid of her. And I knew I had to talk about it in a way that people could understand it, you know?
The differentiation was important, and I think you nailed it there. Did you notice Carson acting like a dance mom in those moments? He was so excited when you and Carolyn were succeeding in your pitches.
I don’t remember him doing that. [Laughs]
I’m sure you had a lot of other things on your mind.
Carson is amazing. We love him so much. I love him. He’s great. Carson was our biggest cheerleader in the jury. I don’t know if they show it ’cause I don’t remember the episode that much yesterday — [the watch party] was a huge thing. But there was a moment where Danny said to Carson that he was leading the questions, like he was asking the questions to help us, but then Danny did it to Heidi and I called Danny out. He was excited for us and everything, but he did it because he also knew our game, you know? So he was excited for us, as any friend would be for another friend.
So, that Tika Three was really as genuine as it seemed? As viewers, we could tell that the three of you were always really close, but you did play it up with other team members to kind of sow some doubts. There were multiple moments where you considered voting for Carolyn. Was that real, or was that all a cover?
It was real. When I was talking out with Carson about it, it was real because again, I played with Carolyn every single day, right? We were always together. Carson got to switch to Ratu at one point, so I wasn’t with him for like a week or five days. I don’t know. I knew that Carolyn had it in her to win it, so it was real, but I was also crying that day. Not only because of Carolyn, but because it was Jaime. I’m super close with Jaime, and I was also working with her really closely. So, that battle with the brain and the heart, it was for both of them. It’s just the way they showed it was Carolyn.
You never ended up actually voting for Carolyn whenever you did campaign for that, right? Why couldn’t you?
I just couldn’t. It’s like, why did I help Carson with a fire? It’s just who we are.
They’re really your friends in the end. Jaime had said that “the era of alliances” was over. I was like, not for Tika! These people are the real deal. You three knew you were playing a strong game and that your plans were working behind the scenes. Did you ever look around and be like, “Oh, these people do not realize that they should be targeting us. Uh oh. Sucks for them!”
Every time! Every time we were like, “it’s working. Oh my God, it’s working. We got back again. They still keep us here. Oh my God, now we’re in power. Oh my God, now we choose to do whatever we want.” They would see weak Tika, poor Tika, lonely Tika, and they would not understand that because everybody saw us as weak, they were giving all the information. And in a game of secrets and strategy, information is power, so we were like, we wanna do this or this, this, we wanna do this or do that. You know? So it just, it worked out.
They just saw you as numbers to get onto their side and not as actual threats, which is so odd to me because once again, no matter how many seasons of Survivor we have, people make similar mistakes. There must be something about actually being in the game and on the island that makes it so impossible to realize when you’re making the common mistakes. Do you think that’s true?
I think yes, and that’s because people value Survivor, or they see worth sometimes where they’re not supposed to see it, or do not take into account that what they don’t think is valuable to them might be valuable for somebody else. They saw the best Survivor game as this way instead of watching what everybody was thinking. You understand what I’m saying?
Yeah. Do you mean it’s like they were waiting to see someone act in the way that they thought was best instead of actually evaluating what was happening?
Exactly. So, they would see the threat only in one way, when we saw the threat in many ways.
So, the Tika strength was that you three were looking at the game as it was?
Like for example, someone that likes old-school Survivor, or someone that likes early, early, early seasons, they were like, “Oh, we like the person that just wins immunity, so that’s the best survivor.” You know? It’s not about that anymore. It hasn’t been about that forever, but people still think about it like that.
Yeah. Since Season 41, I’ve kind of been less and less impressed by physical performances. Anyone could win a challenge, but not everyone could campaign for a vote. Not everyone could orchestrate a blindside. Not everyone can make friends with everybody and position themselves the way that you did.
Exactly. I said too, when Frannie won — I think it was her second thing she won — I was like, “you can win and that can be cool, but how do you smoke and mirrors that you’re winning?” It’s a game of perception, and if you are being perceived like something that is threatening, then obviously you’re gonna get booted off. But it’s not about winning the challenges. Proven! [Laughs]
It’s not about winning the challenges, it’s not about having hidden immunity idols. I mean it can be, but you don’t need that to win.
Actually, it’s even worse if you find a hidden immunity idol and you use it incorrectly. It’s like, girl. It shows how on unaware you are of what’s really happening. You have this amazing power, and you did nothing with it.
With the Last Gasp challenge, you were really in danger in that episode. Danny was gunning for you. I think, throughout the whole season, that was probably the one episode where you truly were at risk of being voted out, but you want immunity. So, winning challenges is good when you really need it. Did you know that you had just saved yourself from elimination?
I had no idea that was the name. I would’ve probably found out, and I would’ve done something about it. [Laughs] Carson asked me about that at Final Tribal Council. He was like, “how did you use your immunity win?” Because they were obviously referring to Heidi’s immunity win. “How do you guys use your immunity win to move the game where you wanted it to move?” And Danny was the last person that wasn’t working with me, always. I was working with Danny through Heidi, but not with Danny.
So, after Danny left, me having the immunity necklace, Carolyn playing the idol for Carson, just in case Jaime and Lauren switched, I knew I was gonna get to the final three with those people. Any of them would’ve taken me to the final three. And like I said in the jury, I was like, it’s amazing you play a great game, but if you don’t get here, that’s the point. That’s the first thing. Get to the three, and then figure it out.
Going into the final pitches, did you know you needed to explain how you spotted lies in people in your pitch? Or was that something that came naturally in the moment?
It came naturally in the moment. I say a lot of sh*t, and sometimes I was like, “did I say that?” [Laughs] I was more prepared and focused to explain where my motivation was in every conversation. But then … I remember in the episode, [they asked] how you used emotions in the game because they wanted Carolyn to say how she used her emotions in the game, but she was so exhausted. I don’t think her answer was the right answer for her game. But I was like, “how can I twist this in a way that it makes sense?” So that’s when I figured it out as I talked.
Had you been in the jury, based on Carolyn and Heidi’s pitches, who would’ve you have voted for?
Carson. [Laughs] That wasn’t the question. Between the two of them, I would’ve voted for Carolyn. I think Carolyn played a great game. I love Heidi, and seeing her confessionals helped me a lot to understand what was going through her head. But again, with the thing with the idol, it’s like you had an amazing power and it didn’t work out, you know? She could’ve beat Carson with the idol, and then gotten somebody else out. Like have a Denise Winners at War move getting out Sandra with one vote. That would’ve been amazing.
Survivor Season 44, Streaming Now, Paramount+
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