So this week we entered the post-Russell Hantz era. And for those of you who complained that Russell was a sneaky, nefarious player who only made it to the finals because he had no chance to win, and that his dominance was a product of editing, and that he was a bore and boorish, well, do you miss him now? Because, say what you want about the guy, there's no denying that he made things interesting. Which is perhaps something you can't say about last night's Survivor.
The episode kicks off in typical Redemption Island fashion, with the entirety of Ometepe disgusted by Phillip's tattered, gross, falling apart by the day skivvies. But it's not just his rapidly deteriorating undies that are repulsing the tribe; it's his general attitude and demeanor, completely unaware of just how irritating he is. He's like that kid in the freshman dorm who walks around in his Adidas flip-flops and bathrobe and soap-on-a-rope and shower caddy and just pops into your room unannounced and completely misses every obvious hint that he should leave. He means well, but he's freaking annoying. That's Former Federal Agent (?) Phillip. And it's for exactly that reason that Rob is (rightly so) strongly considering keeping him around for a while. Phil's a buffoon, but his buffoonery could be to Rob's advantage.
We're quickly off to the State Farm Insurance Redemption Island Arena for the weekly duel-challenge-brawl, with Stephanie and Krista attending for Zapatera (who were probably all too happy to get rid of those two) and Boston Rob and Grant coming over from Ometepe (and we wonder if Rob was nervous about leaving his girls to their own devices. Not only could they use the time to scheme against him, they might drown without proper supervision). Stephanie and Krista already made up their mind to spill the beans on Zapatera, the beans being "There's a strong alliance of six people who are all on the same page, and then two annoying girls who would immediately jump at the chance to join another tribe, and therefore obviously can't be trusted. In case you didn't figure out, we're those two girls!"
Kristina and Matt march into the Battledome, and it occurred to us that, outside of featuring everyone's arrival at Hotel Redemption, we've seen almost none of the day-to-day on the island (we're also starting to wonder if it's actually a separate island. We know, we know, Survivor would never mislead us. But we're growing a bit skeptical. We've yet to see even one shoreline). What do they do to pass the time? Did Francesca leave her journal so the other competitors could play Dots? Has Matt been talking constantly about Jesus? Is there a Starbucks? All questions that will probably go unanswered.
ANYWAY, it's becoming clear that every Redemption Island elimination challenge is going to be some kind of interpretation/blend of a children's game and/or a puzzle. The first one was reverse ring toss, last week brought us Domino Rally, and this week featured a combination of Tetris and a Rubix cube (next week will be a Chute & Ladders/Chinese finger trap hybrid, and the following episode will offer an amalgam of Kerplunk, Hungry Hungry Hippos and that Cracker Barrel peg puzzle). Which is disappointing, because we assumed (and we think it's fair to say that were led to believe) that the challenges would be truly one-on-one, bloody, tooth-and-nail competitions in the vein of The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Alcoholic Ruins. But instead we're getting challenges more appropriate for Wild & Crazy Kids.
Despite the editing, this one felt like no contest, with Matt jumping out to a formidable lead, while Kristina sounded like Jennifer Capriati as she struggled to move and manipulate the puzzle pieces. Matt had a little tantrum in the middle when he cried to Boston Rob and wanted to know why his former leader turned on him ("Why don't you like me, Boston Rob???), but he regrouped to take the win. So it's a final goodbye to Kristina and, more importantly, Kristina's boobs. But, just like last week, the real action came after the challenge, when Stephanie made good on her promise and basically threw herself upon the altar of Boston Rob (like Rob needs anymore airheads in his harem), pretty much exactly saying "if we make it to the merge Krista and I will join Ometepe as soon we draw new buffs." Laying it on a little Alan Thicke, aren't you, Stephanie? Every heard of subtlety? Well, you'll have plenty of time to learn about it when you're voted out soon.
(We also want to note how the Redemption Island format has made the final eliminations completely anti-climactic (except for Russell's, of course). And, in effect, it's also made the results of Tribal Council somewhat insignificant. Kristina (and her boobs) leave for good and the emotional weight is diminished by the fact that her elimination comes midway through the episode, and the impact of the tribe speaking at the end of the show is undermined by the fact that the tribe has only partly spoken, that the person has not entirely been voted out of Survivor: Redemption Island. So in the end we feel kind of cheated, unfulfilled. And by this point we're already looking forward to the end of Redemption Island Arena (oh, what's that? It's now the Chipotle Redemption Island Arena?) and a return to the traditional Survivor format.)
While Rob was witnessing Kristina's second exit, Phillip took the opportunity to try to ingratiate himself with the female members of Ometepe. Unfortunately, he's still the creepy guy from the freshman dorm who seems like he's hitting on every girl when in actuality he just wants someone to talk to, because he's really just a lonely, sensitive dude who doesn't understand why no one likes him. But we're not the only ones here who can craft an apt analogy, as the Former Federal Agent (?) notes that the girls of Ometepe are akin to crabs. Because they scurry away whenever Phillip comes near, and because (insert STD joke here). But to our surprise (and likely to his) Phillip actually finds a somewhat willing shoulder to cry on in Andrea, who is fed up with listening to Ashley and Natalie talk about Uncle Ben's rice and watching them sunbathe while she collects firewood (something tells us that Stephanie would get along FAMOUSLY with Ashley and Natalie. Too bad that'll never happen. Actually, it's great that'll never happen. Because that would be pretty much unbearable). Phillip might not have made a true ally, but he at least found someone who would prefer to keep him over the Valley Girls.
It's challenge time, and it's another familiar test, blind mice in a maze followed by a word scramble. Zapatera, at the suggestion of Sarita, instates Stephanie as the caller, because she never shuts the hell up so they might as well use that to their advantage in the challenge. But she's going up against Rob, and the only thing he's better at than leading blind players in a maze is solving puzzles. Stephanie makes it close, closing the gap after Rob gets a significant head start on the word scramble (even though it seemed like Stephanie had way more coffee beans in her bags of puzzle pieces), but Boston Rob takes it, and Ometepe takes immunity and the reward (an assortment of pastries and donuts, along with coffee and tea. Which begs the question: if you're living out in the jungle for two weeks subsisting only on rice, crabs and the occasional fish, do you really want to start pumping coffee back into your system?).
And with that reward is another Immunity Idol clue, which Grant spies in said jar of coffee beans. But this just turns into another moment for Rob to prove just how well he's playing this game, as he casually procures the clue from Grant and then swaps it with his old clue, completely throwing Grant off the trail. Meanwhile, Grant thinks he and Rob are in this hunt together. Brilliant. If anyone on Ometepe ever figured out all the tricks Rob's been pulling then he could be in trouble. But he's playing such a flawless, tight game that we can't see that happening. As each week goes by it seems like Rob's chances only increase. He's still a long shot to win the million, but there's no doubt he's playing the best game, masterfully exploiting the inexperience of his tribe. Including Grant, who we initially thought was going to let Rob call the shots so he could fly under the radar, but now seems just as oblivious as the rest.
And while Ometepe gorges on donuts (but save the croissants for breakfast. Great call, Ashley!), Zapatera has the unenviable task of deciding between Stephanie and Krista. Although David doesn't seem to care who it is, he's just furious that he wasn't tasked with the puzzle during the challenge, and proclaims that he's "the only one doing puzzles from here on out, period." And Steve whole-heartedly agrees, because David's a lawyer and everyone knows that all lawyers are experts at puzzles. We all remember the late Robert Kardashian working out brainteasers during the OJ trial, right? Lawyers = Puzzle Pros. That's just Law 101. And for that mistake Sarita gets an earful from David and Steve, and Stephanie just might go home.
Not that Krista doesn't make a case for herself to be voted out first, criticizing the tribe at Tribal Council for failing to play the game (and giving us our first "I'm not here to make friends"). Hello, Krista? That's the benefit of winning every challenge. You keep the tribe strong and don't have to over-strategize. As we pointed out last week, that's how Tom Westman won it all in Palau. If anything, Krista failed to play the game, not saying a word for the first ten days, and then making little effort to scramble once she finally opened her mouth. In fact, instead of trying to build useful relationships, she just castigated and condescended her tribe members, and in doing so only put a bigger target on her back.
So the only drama, and there was very little of it, was would it be Krista or Stephanie? And by the time the votes were to be counted it was clear who it was going to be. Stephanie has proved to be incredibly loud and abrasive, but Krista demonstrated that she's the most divisive, dangerous personality. Even though she has no personality.
REMEMBER, KRISTA, TIGHT LIPS SINK SHIPS!
All and all, a very tame, predictable, forgettable episode, and we're definitely ready for a tribe shake-up.
So do you miss Russell yet?
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.