We started this week's episode of Survivor: Redemption Island with our first glimpse of, well, Redemption Island. After being voted at the first Tribal Council, Francesca arrived at her new home and quickly found a signpost describing life on the island, "Welcome to Redemption Island (
): No Smoking, No Yelling, No Swearing; Daily Menu: Breakfast - Rice; Lunch - Rice, Dinner - Rice." Francesca can't find a flint, so she's worried about freezing during night, but really she's just happy to be away from Former Federal Agent (?) Phillip.
Oh Phillip. The next morning back at Ometepe camp Phillip continues to build up his resume at as one of the craziest, least self-aware, most entertaining Survivors in history. After self-destructing his alliance during the last Tribal Council, Phillip realizes that he's now a lone lion, so he pledges his allegiance to Boston Rob, telling him "you own my vote" (and my heart?). Then, much to the cackling delight of his entire tribe, Phillip begins a conquest to capture a crafty crab, failing to understand that a spear is not the ideal weapon for securing the crustacean (also failing to put on some pants). NEWSFLASH, Phillip: You're not Tom Westman. But, you know what, Phillip wears this tough, masculine, macho lion exterior, but he's really just a marshmallow. Confessing how much the previous night's Tribal Council hurt him, how painful it was that Francesca questioned his character, Phillip grew emotional, tearing up as described his pride in his country. But he offered up a daily affirmation and restored his confidence in Phillip Sheppard. HURRAH!
Over at Zapatera camp no one is resting their laurels after the challenge win, and the game is afoot. Russell begins to employ his trademark strategy, which is to align himself with pretty, young, skinny girls who are more than eager to ride the coattails of a big, strong man. He then instructs them to do what he does best, which is look for an Immunity Idol without possessing a clue. Russell is the Mozart of finding Immunity Idols without a clue. But then Larry the Cable Guy...er, Ralph blindly stumbles upon the Idol while picking up rocks. PICKING UP ROCKS! Why was he picking up rocks? For eating maybe? Who knows? What was important was that the rock eater now has the idol, and he's just as happy as a pig in mud about it, while Russell still thinks it's out there.
The tribes convene for a combined Reward-Immunity Challenge. Luckily, it was a repeat challenge from previous seasons that doesn't involve a puzzle, so Boston Rob's brainteaser acumen served no use here. In the bag toss challenge climax it came down to Phillip and Ralph. This is what Phillip desired, what he's lives for, to go one-on-one and unleash his inner animal or beast or spirit mammal. And, of course, he was terrible and lost the challenge for Ometepe. And just then Boston Rob's mind was made up. Phillip is going to Redemption Island tonight. BUT WAIT! Matt apparently thinks this was not the second Survivor Immunity Challenge but the final game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so he calmly crosses the platform to congratulate Zapatera on once again kicking his tribe's ass. And this just makes Boston Rob sick. If there's one thing Boston Rob can't stand, it's losing. If there are two things Boston Rob can't stand, they're losing and then shaking hands with the other team. Cardinal sin in Mr. Mariano's eyes, and it shows him that Matt may be working a strong social game, already looking ahead to the merge and beyond. So while Phillip may be terrible, he may not be as dangerous as Matt (except to himself. No one can save Phillip from Phillip).
Always remember, Matt, LOOSE HANDSHAKES SINK SHIPS.
In addition to Immunity Zapatera wins a variety fishing supplies and equipment. But Russell being Russell immediately looks for, and finds, a clue to the location of the Immunity Idol. Except that everyone has seen Russell play this game before and knew exactly what he was up to. Although, for some reason, everyone feels that Russell grabbing the clue is tantamount to lying, cheating, backstabbing, and leaving a baby in a parked car with the windows up during a really hot day, even though they would all obviously do the same exact thing. That's how the game works, guys! Don't be daft. But instead "Steel Wool" Ralph, drunk on Immunity Idol power (or moonshine), confronts Russell about the clue and basically makes a very powerful, vengeful enemy. Russell lets him know "you're either with me or against me." And, for now, Ralph is against him. While it sure looks like Russell is repeating his past mistakes, playing the same deceitful game, and turning the tribe against him, we're not worried quite yet. Russell seems to always be playing from a defensive position; he seems to thrive on it. So even though the numbers are against him, he has a solid two with Stephanie and Krista, and he's capable of miracles when up against a wall. Yes, Ralph has the idol, unbeknownst to Russell, but we bet if there's another idol out there that Russell will smoke it out. He's not a guy we're in the habit of betting against.
Meanwhile, alone on Redemption Island Francesca is journaling. And that's about it.
Back at Ometepe Phillip knows that he asked for the ball with the game on the line and promptly failed, so he apologizes for his ineptitude and praises the rest of the tribe for performing "gallantryly." But nothing Phillip says really matters at this point, as the camp is completely under Rob's thumb. Andrea, Ashley, Natalie, Grant and Matt are letting Rob call all the shots; Matt was like "Whatever you say, Boston Rob! I don't quite understand what's going on, but you're super smart, so just tell me what to do!" as Rob was at that very moment contemplating voting him out. But since Rob's mind isn't made up quite yet, he tells Phillip to just shut up, and wait for his signal at Tribal Council, which seems unnecessarily complex, but Rob can't trust Phillip not to implode again at Tribal Council. So he placates Phillip for the time being with a hug.
And for the most part Phillip behaves himself at Council that night, but still manages to be ridiculous, oblivious quote machine we've quickly come to adore. Phillip explains to Jeff Probst the meaning of his Gorilla and Lion tattoos (don't mess with Phillip's family - or his country - because then you'll get the lion). He goes on to tell Probst, it's "survivor of the fittest" (lay off, okay? Phillip has a dry mouth problem that he's getting treatment for, that's why he butchers the word "gallantry" and fails to have a rudimentary grasp of common idioms. Glass houses, guys). Rob knows that Phillip is more of a baboon than a silverback, but that's also why he poses less of a threat. And, after all, Rob does own Phillip's vote. So instead of sending Phillip to Redemption Island to exact "payback" on his "nemesis" (really, Phillip, what did Francesca ever do to you besides having a name that you can't pronounce), he directs the majority of the tribe to vote off Matt, even though it might weaken the tribe. And there we have it, our first vicious blindside. Sandra Bullock would be proud. And Rob orchestrated the voting brilliantly so Kristina played her Immunity Idol, even though it looked so nice around her neck. So Rob is in complete control, Phillip is safe, Kristina is now vulnerable, and Matt was off to Redemption Island to wake up Francesca ("Francesca...are you awake? Francesca? Francesca? FRANCESCA!...Oh, good, you're up.") and prepare for their impending battle.
And about that battle, we realize now that Redemption Island is going to fundamentally change the structure of the episodes, and, to some degree, the nature of the game, as it appears that the Reward Challenge typically found in the first half of the episode will be replaced by the Redemption Island one-on-one duel, followed by a combined Reward-Immunity Challenge later in the show. What these means is that the Survivors might a) compete in fewer overall challenges and thus conserve more energy as the season progresses and b) have more time back at camp to plot and connive. We could be wrong, but we doubt they'll squeeze three challenges into a single episode. So it'll be very interesting to see how this plays out.
It'll also be interesting to see how long Boston Rob can rule his tribe with full autonomy. At some point we think he'll either outplay himself or someone else (Grant, perhaps?) will step up and blindside the blindsider. Rob's masterfully pulling the strings right now, but we can't help but think he's setting up the pins for someone else to knock them down. Glory fades, Boston Rob. Glory fades.
Seth Keim: Weaned on Growing Pains, the Muppets and Mister Salty Pretzels, Seth developed his affinity for pop culture at a young age, lulling himself to sleep with Welcome Back Kotter reruns. At 13, he cut his chops playing Six Degrees of Bacon at Kutshers Sports Academy. He then majored in English and minored in Film Studies at Tufts University, where he was the campus' foremost TGIF scholar. After spending several years producing corporate videos in NYC he moved to LA, played an extra on one episode of The Big Bang Theory, and promptly moved back. Seth resides in Brooklyn and recently purchased a beta fish. Follow him at Jumped The Snark and on Twitter.