Imagine waking up in a beautiful seaside location, the crashing waves slowly lulling you out of your slumber, the faraway echoes of exotic birds gently coaxing you out of dreamland, a warm, refreshing breeze serving as nature's alarm clock.
And then imagine waking up after nine hungry days in a hot, humid, bug-infested jungle and the first thing you see is Phillip's nasty, tattered, ill-fitting, sun-faded red underwear. Because that's exactly the waking nightmare for the members of the Ometepe tribe as we begin this week's Survivor: Redemption Island. Any momentum they had after defeating Zapatera last week is immediately erased by the actual sight of Phillip's junk escaping from his delicates, forcing the Survivor editing team to employ their best blurring skills. But, to Phillip's credit, he seems entirely comfortable just flapping in the wind. And completely oblivious. But since we're watching this from the safety of our couch (and, thankfully, with the strategically placed blurs intact) we're not complaining, because, besides Russell, Phillip is the most entertaining player on the show.
And speaking of Russell, it's for whom the bell tolls time for him on Redemption Island, as he needs to defeat Matt in a one-on-one challenge-duel-inferno-gauntlet-cage match-staring contest or go home early for the first time in his Survivor career. Like last week, two members from each tribe are permitted to attend the death match. Phillip, having been the early bird who catches the worm (the worm being tree mail), suggests that he and Kristina represent Ometepe at the elimination challenge, because as a Former Federal Agent (?) he's an expert at obtaining intel. The rest of the tribe, clearly seeking any excuse to rid themselves of Phillip for any amount of time, gladly obliges. Over on Zapatera, their chests still exceedingly puffed out from voting out Russell, they were licking their chops to see him leave the game for good. Ralph and Sarita giddily volunteer to accept the invitation, their desire to see Russell suffer apparently knowing no bounds. And, with the confidence of the Zapatera Six at an all-time high, Ralph decides it's time to reveal his Idol. Ralph had said he had it under control, but Sarita didn't realize he "had it UNDER control." Which doesn't make much sense, but whatever. Enjoy your victory, guys, because you all seem like terrible people and we hope none of you win.
Oh, and Krista can talk! And what she says, criticizing the other tribe members for throwing the challenge and weakening Zapatera, actually is articulate and insightful! Who are you and what have you done with that blond girl who couldn't speak or emote?!
So it's off to Redemption Island for the Russell vs. Matt challenge. But Russell can't lose, right? As long as the challenge isn't a Fabio Birza look-alike contest. Or a who loves God more competition. If it's none of those two, then Russell has this thing on lockdown, right? Well, what about dominoes? Or, more, specifically, Domino Rally, because that's the challenge this week. And after Probst explains to Matt and Russell that they have one shot, and they better lose themselves in the music, the moment, they own it, they better never let it go, they only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo, they get to the challenge (to be fair, Probst has copped to Eminem's influence on his Redemption Island spiel). And as Matt jumps out to an early lead we learn that Probst's subdued delivery during last week's Redemption Island duel was not an aberration, or the result of accidentally switching his DayQuil with NyQuil, but in fact a specific aesthetic choice for the more intimate one-on-one challenges, clearly in hopes of building the dramatic tension. But with Russell fighting for his life, Probst could have been sounding a bicycle horn and playing a kazoo and it wouldn't have diminished the intensity of the moment. Matt's far ahead! Matt sets off his dominoes! No good! Russell is still alive! Russell sets off his dominoes! No good! Russell is still in danger! Matt sets of his dominoes! They're going. Going. And Russell is gone. For the first time in the history of Survivor, Russell Hantz, the evil unbeatable genius, is sent packing. Clearly, the emotion of the moment was too much even for Russell, as he immediately broke down in tears, covering his misty eyes with his trademark fedora.
And, now, a moment of silence for Russell…
BUT we'd be silly to think that Russell would go quietly into the night. No way. Not Russell Hantz. Nope. Instead, he quickly composes himself, understanding that even though he's out of the game he can still have an affect on it. So he goes ahead and spills the dirt on Zapatera to Kristina and Phillip, revealing the alliances and identifying the leaders as Sarita and Ralph. And, by blaming his exit on playing with Pee-Wee league players who intentionally threw the last challenge, Russell brilliant goads Ralph into divulging that he found the Immunity Idol "fifteen seconds at the game" (whatever that means). But before Ralph can pull out the Idol in a foolhardy bid to prove his superiority Sarita wisely advises him to shut up and Ralph recants, claiming he was just faking. Of course, this convinces no one. ESPECIALLY not the human lie detector, Former Federal Agent (?) Phillip, who sees right through Ralph (or so he thinks), and can't wait to run back to Boston Rob with this information. Watch out world, here comes Former Federal Agent (?) Phillip! His wheels are spinning, and there's no telling where they're going to take him (although a good guess would be Redemption Island).
But while Kristina and Phillip were off witnessing Survivor history, Rob continued his pursuit of the Immunity Idol back at Ometepe, suggesting a "beach day" so he could get the rest of the tribe - Grant, Ashley, Andrea and Natalie - away from camp. Of course, the dummies think it's a great idea, so they pick up their beach chairs, fill the cooler, grab the sunscreen, put on their sunglasses, pack the badminton set, throw the boom box on their shoulder and merrily skip down to the shore. And, as soon as they arrive, Rob complains of stomach cramps, which is basically the airtight excuse get out of anything (the only thing better is "women problems," which, or course, is not in Rob's arsenal. Yet). It's pretty clear at this point that Rob is playing the game every second of every day, and he might be playing his best game yet. Of course, that just goes to show that it might not be fair that Rob has already competed three times. Nevertheless, he's clearly head and shoulders above the rest, playing on a totally different level than everyone else. However, in his previous three seasons he's never looked for the Idol, so he digs deep ditches and climbs high into trees, not knowing that the Idol is usually pretty conspicuous when you finally look in the right place (or just stumble upon it, like Ralph). But, with time running out (although we're not sure why Rob was so worried about getting back to the beach. If someone went off to relieve himself or herself after suffering from constipation, I'd give them all the time they wanted. I'm not rushing over to see that), Rob spots the Idol, just chilling in the crux of a tree. And, just like that, he's increased his already immense hold on Ometepe.
With Russell now gone we have to root for Phillip to stay in the game, because he's far and away the most interesting personality left. Unfortunately, Phillip just can't get out of his own way, returning to Ometepe from Redemption Island and offering Rob and Grant information on Zapatera in exchange for some kind of guarantee of Kristina's safety. Which is absolutely insane because Kristina is the ONLY player not in their alliance. That's like saying, "I'll give you information on Bin Laden, but you have to promise to take care of Saddam," which is probably something Phillip actually said (and with guy that securing intel for three of our federal agencies no wonder our foreign affairs are so fucked up). So Rob and Grant agree to barter for the information, but realize that Phillip can't be trusted (even though Phillip will tell you he's easily the most honest man in these United States. Hurrah!). Phillip just put a huge red bull's-eye on his chest, right above his gross red undies.
It's then time for the Reward/Immunity Challenge, which is basically a Craftsman commercial disguised as a carpentry challenge (the reward? Sears brand BBQ feast). Curiously, despite our growing distaste for the Zapatera tribe, we were pulling for them to win. Not because we prefer them to Ometepe, but it's just more entertaining if Rob's tribe loses. We honestly don't want to see Phillip, or Rob, go home yet, but the drama is just so much better in their camp. Luckily, despite a last-minute comeback attempt, Zapatera earns another victory, and in doing so swings the momentum back to their side (and perhaps proving us wrong in our assessment that throwing the last challenge was a terrible move). Really, at this point, Zapatera is just a vastly stronger tribe, and if they hadn't taken a dive last week they possibly could have run the table like Lt. Tom Westman's Koror tribe in Palau. At this point, the Ometepe tribe is so weak - with the exception of Rob and, especially, Grant (who resembles da Vinci's Vitruvian Man) - that they probably don't even stand a chance in a puzzle-based challenge, and it might not be long before the show is forced to mix up the tribes. Another one or two wins for Zapatera and we could definitely see a shake-up taking place.
Zapatera lug their Sears hot dogs, and Sears chicken and Sears beef and Sears sausages and, from what it sounded like Ralph said, Sears Funions, back to camp and just PIG OUT. And Mike says something about not thinking about sex in two weeks, which was a) a little too much information, and b) hopefully obvious, because we can only imagine that a dozen days in a dirty, dusty jungle with total strangers and very little sleep is the equivalent to about one thousand cold showers.
But while they're feasting over at Zapatera, the real heat is over at Ometepe camp, where Kristina realizes that her only chance for survival is if Phillip has completely worn out his welcome, just become totally intolerable to the rest of the tribe, especially with his laughable post-challenge pep talks. But she immediately goes and ruins her chances by speaking cryptically about the Immunity Idol clue, leading most of the tribe to think that she might have the Idol, and proving to Rob that she might be onto him, and thus she's more dangerous than Phil. Phillip, as Grant points out, is a loose cannon, but it's really the lesser of two evils at this point.
So we go to Tribal Council still unsure if it'll be Phillip or Kristina heading to Redemption Island. But despite the drama, whatever Rob says goes. At this point Rob has so much control over Ometepe that there was no way that he was going to be overruled. So, despite a last-ditch effort by Phillip to get himself voted out by talking nonsense about something called the "Sheppard Stamp," which involves being one of twelve kids, losing his mother at an early age, being discharged from the Army and earning a medal for picking up garbage (WHAT???), Kristina goes to Redemption Island, because that's what Rob wanted (however, Phil seemed so disoriented by no one sticking to their word, including himself, that we're surprised he didn't write his own name down).
Thus Kristina is off to Redemption Island to wake up Matt from his beauty rest, and prepare for their impending Battle Dome. Call us crazy, but we think that Kristina wins the next one. If only because we're chomping at the bit to see a Kristina-Phillip fight to the death.
But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves looking toward to next week, we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge, once again, the man, the myth, the living legend, Russell Hantz. Because that's really what this episode was about. The end of an era. We're truly in uncharted territory. A Russell season that doesn't see Russell scheme his way to the end. It feels weird. It feels wrong. And we feel numb. We feel empty. But we'll carry on. Russell would want us to. It just won't be the same. So, Russell, if this is truly your last game of Survivor, as you claimed, thanks for the memories. And we can't wait to witness you eviscerate your former tribe during the reunion show.
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.