After a barn burner of an episode like last week’s premiere, this week was bound to be a bit of a letdown. This isn’t any sort of preemptive slam against the season as a whole or a pessimistic eye towards what is to come, but simply a fact of life: When you have a premiere that ends with an epic meltdown from a potentially crazy person? There’s really nowhere else to go in the next episode but down.
Although the episode begins with Francesca’s arrival on Redemption Island, this year’s main narrative twist plays even less of a role here than it did in the premiere. There is still only one person voted off, so an island duel to the death isn’t possible until next week. Beyond seeing a lot of Francesca talking to herself while being filmed in creepy night vision and learning that the Survivors will be supplied with rice and drinking water on Redemption Island, nothing much was accomplished on this front.
The return of Rob and Russell, however, was front and center throughout the hour, and the two veterans could not be having a more different experience with their respective tribes. Although we got hints of it in the premiere, Rob has emerged as the undisputed leader of Ometepe, while Russell only continues to breed animosity between himself and some of his Zapatera tribemates. The idea of their big rivalry being the story of the season won’t get a chance to play out unless they both make the merge, but for now, their different game styles and personalities are certainly making for two completely different tribes, which is always entertaining to watch.
Last week, I mentioned that Rob’s ease in playing the game makes for a less interesting narrative, but after tonight’s episode, I am doubtful of my own (obviously under-baked) theory. This was especially apparent when Rob’s power led him to orchestrate an elimination that was much more about emotions than strategy and orchestrate it with ease. At the beginning of the episode it seemed clear that if Ometepe went to tribal, either crazy Phillip or idol-holding Kristina would be the target of the vote. Rob, however, took exception to Matt’s congratulatory handshakes to Zapatera after they won the immunity challenge. This, coupled with Matt’s newfound friendship and possible alliance with Andrea, made Matt’s presence on the tribe too much for Rob to bear. Easily (almost too easily) Rob orchestrated a blindside vote for Matt, while still flushing out Kristina’s immunity idol and keeping tight rein on the Tribal powder keg that is Phillip.
It was a masterful performance, truly dominating, but was it the right move for Rob in the long run? Ever since the brutal jury questioning on Rob’s first All-Star run, he has been a much more emotional player and abandoned some of the long-term scheming that helped him and Amber make the final two together. It is probably too early to discern if getting rid of Matt was the right thing to do, but it certainly seemed capricious and indicative of the way Rob less successfully played the game in Heroes vs. Villains. (Although I can’t be too hard on Rob for his exit there, since Tyson’s epic stupidity was what ultimately failed him.)
As for Russell, despite his claims to change, it seems that the song remains the same. His strategy is still to work with young girls so he can control them, first adding Stephanie last week and now working on Krista this week. His insistence on continuing the other part of his strategy, searching for immunity idols without clues, led to one of the most humorous moments of the episode, when country bumpkin Ralph found the idol while moving some random rocks around. Was he specifically searching for the idol? It wasn’t clear, but I don’t think so, which is hilarious but also a bit sad. Do the producers think the audience wants the players to just randomly discover immunity idols? Doesn’t making them so easy to find undermine the legend of Russell they’ve been trying to tell for the last few seasons, as his feat seems less and less miraculous every time someone else stumbles into an idol? Ralph manages to sound very intelligent for a few minutes after he finds the idol but makes what appears to be a crucial error by badgering Russell when he later sees Russell secretly take an immunity idol clue out of their reward basket. Ralph already has the idol, so there is no reason to bring attention to himself. Russell’s favorite thing is a vengeance eviction, and Ralph now has a giant target on his back.
Overall, this was a perfectly serviceable episode of Survivor, although not to the standard set by the very good premiere. Next week, the Redemption Island aspect finally comes into play, as Matt joins Francesca and some sort of duel to the death will occur. (One of them will actually die. I totally read it on the Internet.)
- Best moment of the episode: Phillip hunting crab in his baggy red man panties, using a spear to impale his prey as everyone else watches, quietly mocking him from afar.
- Ometepe leaving a challenge up to the fickle sanity of Phillip was not the members' brightest idea.
- Rob’s idea of keeping Phillip in the dark about how the vote was going to go by not telling Phillip who to vote for until he laid a hand on the shoulder of the targeted person at Tribal was insane. However, Phillip is also insane so it completely worked. Bravo, Rob.
- “That was one of the wildest Tribal Councils I’ve been a part of.”
- “Let it be a lesson to you: government jobs? Stressful.”
- “Calm down guys, because this is how the game is played. You’re either with me or against me.”
- “When I get to Redemption Island, I’m not going to lay down and die, because I am going to meet my nemesis.”