The new era of Survivor has changed advantages but not puzzles or challenges. Showbiz Cheat Sheet talked to Helen Li over Zoom on March 9, 2023, about her experience on the show, and why producers should consider switching things up.
[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from Survivor 44 Episode 2, “Two Dorky Magnets.”]
How Bruce’s injury affected Helen’s ‘Survivor 44’ day 1 strategy
Q: Well, let’s start from the very beginning of your survivor journey. So your tribe had a rocky start because of Bruce Perreault’s injury. How did that affect the first days? Strategizing, socializing at camp? And was there any alliance talk, or was it more we have an injured man that we need to, like, keep an eye on?
Helen: I mean, it was a really devastating start to the game and definitely not what anyone envisioned, especially so quickly and so early on. Bruce, I think even his few hours at camp, was like very clearly a leader and someone that we look to for guidance. So to have him especially like go out like that was really tough to watch and tough to experience as a tribe.
So to answer your question, I think the first day we had very little alliance talk. I think the conversation you see between myself, Sarah [Wade] and Carson [Garrett] happened day one when we were gathering bamboo and like trying to get materials to build our shelter. But, like, you see, like Bruce quickly deteriorates. And because of that, like basically, our entire rest of the day was really just spent making sure he was OK dealing with medical having Jeff come in. And that took a lot away from the first day.
Helen wants ‘more original puzzles’ in the game
Q: We see Carson talk a lot about preparing for the show, 3D printing these puzzles. Matthew [Grinstead-Mayle] also let it be known that he built one of the challenges to practice on. So I think this can lead to like a bigger conversation about, does Survivor need to switch up these challenges.
Helen: Yes. Yes, they do. I think I mean, this is no shade to any of the players. I did the same thing. I bought replicas of puzzles and like did a ton of slide puzzles, and like everything that you can do to try to give yourself an edge, you do. So this is not on the players, but I do think it makes it hard because it makes it like there is a gap of accessibility.
If you don’t have a 3D printer, you’re not able to buy every single puzzle out there that’s on the market that each costs $40. It becomes really hard to prepare and give yourself that edge. Like the snake puzzle. My boyfriend was joking as we were watching it. He’s like, ‘If you tried to build that in our tiny SF apartment, I would have said, Get the hell out of here. Like, no way.’
So yeah, like more original puzzles. I think that puts things on a very much more even playing field, just in terms of getting people to actually adapt rather than just memorize everything that’s happened in the last 20 years.
Helen says she was open to working with Carolyn
Q: Carolyn [Wiger] did approach you because she noticed people weren’t really talking to her. She said she knows that she’s usually the weird one in a group setting. Did that talk, and you seemed very open to hearing her in that conversation. But did that actually change anything with your socializing or gameplay?
Helen: So my mindset out there is like, I want to have everyone want to work with me. So if she’s approaching me and saying I feel left out, I feel like no one’s talking to me. And she’s saying like, I feel like we have a good thing going on. I was super open to that. I was absolutely down for that.
I think you don’t see it as much on the show, but I was definitely like, ‘Let’s work together like you tell me what you want to do. I’ll tell you. And we can we can make something happen.’
I think as time went on a little bit, it felt to me like she didn’t fully trust me. I, I felt like she was closer to Yam Yam definitely. And then, out of the three of us, myself, Carson and Sarah, she definitely was closer to Carson. I think she like, saw kind of like her son and Carson, the young guy out on the island.
So it became clear to me that she didn’t trust me that much. She would tell Carson things that she wouldn’t tell me, and we would just like hear things that she would say that made it clear that she didn’t want to work with me. So it’s kind of a bummer that that’s the direction it went, because she’s a bad a** and is super cool. But I was definitely open to like anyone and everyone, please work with me.
Q: So how the episode was edited, it seemed like Carolyn was the obvious suspect of who opened the cage. You did suggest it might be her since she was alone while everyone else was together. But Yam Yam throws that out of the window. He’s like, ‘her stuff is all over the place, can’t possibly.’ Did the accusation on Carolyn ever go back to that?
Helen: We look kind of silly because in that episode, it’s like, ‘Of course it’s Carolyn. And like, who else is going to be?’ I think it was edited to be probably a much tighter timeline than it was in reality. Like the time between her taking the idol, putting it back, and then us actually finding out that it was tampered with. It was probably over like a day or so.
I remember waking up and someone being like, ‘Oh, this looks different than it did yesterday.’ So it wasn’t so obvious. There was enough time that elapsed that we didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, well, that one person wasn’t there and all of the rest of us were there during that time period.’
So there was a lot of finger-pointing. I think I suspected it could be any of the other four people because I knew I didn’t have it. Carolyn, I don’t think it actually ever really went back to Carolyn because she did a really great job of playing down like the strategic self-aware part of her out there. And so we saw this like super unfiltered, like very authentic, like screaming in the jungle all the time person. And at least to me, I was like, I feel like I would know. Carolyn found the key like something would tip me off. I don’t know. She wouldn’t like hide it that well, which is obviously a mistake now, looking back on it and what happened on TV. But she did a great job of just keeping it on the DL.
Q: Based on episode two, who would you say is playing the best game on your tribe?
Helen: I will say that Tika came to play like that. None of us were messing around with this. Like we took it very, very seriously. I think, obviously, you see this like mini alliance of Yam, Carson, and Carolyn in episode two. And I think they all there’s like an argument for all of them.
Carson, I will maybe talk about really every single person that’s on my tribe. But Carson did a really good job of kind of playing down his strategy part. He seemed more timid and like unsure of himself. He’s only 20 years old at that point. So he did do a great job, like kind of playing down how strategic and how much of a threat he was.
I think Carolyn, like I mentioned, she just has this like super easy to underestimate, like field and exterior where you’re like, ‘OK, like, she’s not really, like doing that much.’ But under the surface she absolutely is. So she’s in a great position because she just has that going for her.
Yam is extremely, extremely perceptive, and he has a really good knack of kind of putting people on the spot in a way where you’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know how to answer that.’ And then he can read you really quickly from that.
And then for Sarah, I think she and I are really similar. We think about the game in a really similar way, and she’s someone who is so personable, so likable that, like you spend a few hours with her, and you’re like, I want to be your best friend, and I want you to be around. And I think that aspect for her is like definitely like almost an underestimated part of her game because she is like such a social threat, and she has that OP inheritance advantage. And so I think she’s got a lot of inroads, even if it might seem like she’s not on the end of that three-person alliance.
This interview has been condensed for this article.
Other Survivor 44 Exit Interviews:
‘Survivor 44’: Bruce Perreault’s Memory Was Shortly Affected By His Concussion, ‘I Find Some Pieces That I Still Do Miss’
‘Survivor 44’: Maddy Pomilla Knew Her Exit Would Be a ‘Crazy History-Making Thing’
Helen Wants ‘More Original Puzzles’ and Talks Accessibility for Pregaming
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