Before we start this Survivor: Redemption Island recap CBS would like us to visit www.cbs.com/jeffprobst. Normally we'd demur that kind of blatant and heavy-handed promotion, but we love Probst too much to complain in this particular instance. So go, now, and then come right back here.
Back? Okay, good! You got back just in time to listen to Stephanie list every food item ever, which, as any survival expert will tell you, is the best way to stave off the hunger of being by yourself in a sweaty jungle for two weeks. Right, Matt? Isn't she helping? Isn't Stephanie detailing every flavor of Pop Tart just melting your hunger away? But Matt totally wins us over by quoting The Sandlot, telling Stephanie "You're killing me, Smalls." GREAT REFERENCE. You know what, Matt, you're okay by us. Just don't start talking about how God is on your side again and how your faith will help you succeed in this reality TV competition. Oh, no, there you go. Nevermind. That didn't last long.
Meanwhile, tensions are high at Zapatera after that night's Tribal Council and the tribe's choice to oust Stephanie over Sarita. David's put all his cards on the table and he's totally cool with it. You might say he's rested his case. Sarita, safe for now, is concerned that David the Lawyer has been corrupted by the Emperor and gone over to the dark side. Is David's (purported) aptitude for puzzles due to his heightened level of midi-chlorians? Also, this may or may not be related to her Star Wars reference, but we just noticed that Sarita is a Special Effects Producer. Industrial Light and Magic? Hey, Sarita, what's George Lucas really like?
It's totally Central Perk at Ometepe camp, where everyone just hangs out all day with their oversized coffee mugs, commiserating over their white people problems (would Ashley be Rachel or Phoebe?). But tree mail arrives and it's time to send two representatives to Redemption Island. Former Federal Agent (?) Phillip volunteers himself, presenting the airtight argument that it's his turn (now that, David, is how you lawyer). Boston Rob, realizing that Phillip possesses the rare combination of recklessness and obliviousness, requests to accompany the Gorilla-Lion-Sheppard. But before they go we find out that not only is Phillip a warrior, he's also a scholar, quoting the work of a Japanese horseman. Dude totally sleeps with Sun Tzu's The Art of War on his nightstand. Unfortunately, it seems he never read the Rules of Etiquette for Redemption Island, because Rob had to remind him to wear a shirt.
So we're off yet again to Jimmy Buffet's Land Shark Lager Redemption Island Arena. They really need to start inviting more than two players from each tribe to spectate, because there are just too many empty seats in the bleachers; it's looking like Nassau Coliseum (take that, Islanders fans!). And what classic children's game will serve as the basis for this week's elimination challenge? Concentration! (Still no Jenga. C'mon, Survivor!) And it's the first memory-based challenge on Redemption Island, which will certainly be Matt's downfall. No way he can keep up his winning streak. Maybe if it was an athletic competition he'd be able to prevail, but his brain must be so tweaked from basically living in solitude for two weeks that he'd find it hard to concentrate on Tic Tac Toe.
Or maybe all that time in isolation has helped him focus, allowed him to maximize his brain potential. Or maybe God really is on his side. Because he basically made this one look easy. Sure Stephanie appeared to make it close at the end, but she got lucky. Matt had some otherworldly control over this one, and his victory was never in doubt. It was like he could see right through the game pieces (maybe by use of the Force???).
So Matt survives once again and once again it was a rather underwhelming, anticlimactic Redemption Island duel of the fates. The stakes should feel incredibly high, but they consistently fail to reach the level we would expect. Maybe it's because Matt's victories have become a foregone conclusion. Perhaps that's because, with the exception of Russell, he's battled only weaker females. Perhaps that's one of the flaws of Redemption Island, that typical early on in the game the majority of eliminated players are the weaker competitors, so a particularly strong player (and there are nearly always one or two voted out within the first few Tribal Councils) has a good chance to run the table. Is Matt really a strong, formidable competitor, an honorable samurai (in Phillip's words) or has he just consistently faced lackluster opponents?
Speaking of flaws with Redemption Island, we're growing increasingly weary of the habit of eliminated players revealing the "secrets" of their respective tribes. There was a time when players could only gleam information about the opposing tribe by observing their behavior and interactions during challenges and through the occasional joint reward. Now the tribes are getting weekly intelligence reports at Farmer's Insurance Redemption Island Arena. It removes the unknown, and further undermines the final elimination on Redemption Island. Instead of a proud walk through the dark, now the players have a tattle session before they drop their buffs in the fire and head off for a buffet lunch. Just kinda seems like juvenile behavior, and unfairly rewards players who might not normally have the skill to infer important information.
Two more final notes on Matt before we move on from Redemption Island for the week: 1) Boston Rob is clearly wary of Matt rejoining the game, especially after twice witnessing his dominance in the Island duels. However, it would be somewhat foolish for anyone to form an alliance with Matt, because if he makes it back into the game, and then somehow makes it to the final three, then he's a lock to win the million. They're better off letting him continue to be a lone wolf, or else Boston Rob's initial sense that Matt would be very hard to beat in a final three will prove to be a particularly prescient conclusion. 2) Isn't Matt going freaking insane by himself? What does he do all day (besides read Krista's bible)? He doesn't even have a volleyball to talk to.
The tension continues to mount at Zapatera when David and Ralph return from Redemption Island. Ralph voices his distrust of David, clearly suspicious of any fancy, big city lawyer. Obviously, David should have made a point to hook his thumbs around his suspenders whenever he spoke at Tribal Council. Realizing that he might be in danger, David suggests that they go fishing, but everyone else is like "Ew, no! Stop being so annoying!" They point out that Ralph doesn't think it's a good time to fish, and Ralph is obviously the expert at fishing because he lives on a farm, even though he's from the completely landlocked town of Lebanon, Virginia. But farmer = fisherman, right, guys? Who's the racist now? Also, Sarita says he wants to punch David in the face. And they thought she wasn't cut out for this game.
While Zapatera refuses to believe that a fancy big city lawyer who may or may not be good at puzzles knows more about fishing than a redneck who has two houses on his farm, it's lunch time at Central Perk. The menu? Rice with a side of crispy rice. But hold up, Phillip, that crispy rice is for Rob, not for you. You know how much he loves the crispy rice. But, not surprisingly, Phillip doesn't stand for this. He served his country for 4 years, 11 months and 13 days, and no beauty pageant queens are going to tell him that he can't have the crispy rice. He (allegedly) gave nearly half a decade to this nation, damn it, so if he wants crispy rice he should get some! So, of course, Phillip throws a temper tantrum, and even though he says he doesn't want to make a mountain out of a molehill (or "mohill"), he does exactly that. The unfortunate thing is that Phillip is actually right; Rob has these girls wrapped so tightly around his finger that they're basically his servants, his mere courtesans. Phillip totally recognizes this, but he's too stubborn, too petulant and too thick keep his emotions in check, bite his tongue and quietly orchestrate Rob's ouster. Instead he acts exactly like the child they treat him as, even though Phillip explains that as the senior member of the tribe he should be tended to like a helpless, useless, decaying old person. Good call, Phil!
Another negative we've noticed in sending tribe representatives to Redemption Island: it's taken away the suspense of learning who was voted off at the previous Tribal Council. In prior seasons there'd be a wave of shock when Probst brings in the "guys" for the Reward/Immunity Challenge and one tribe realizes who is missing from the other. Now, they already know. Which might explain why Ralph and Julie seemed so fixated on what they were playing for, promptly inquiring about the reward when Probst checked if there were any questions. Way to be on top of that, guys! They already knew who went home, so their focus moved on to the potential of a delicious meal.
The challenge itself is a huge upgrade over the Redemption Island duel, re-purposing elements of last season's brutal Sticks & Stones obstacle course (we think Jane is probably still recovering from that one), adding an awesome cargo net aspect, as well as your standard bag of balls to be tossed into a basket as the final phase of the course. Phillip struggles mightily, exhibiting the qualities of neither a gorilla nor a lion, with Rob literally having to push, pull and drag him to the finish line. Instead, it's Grant who, once again, demonstrates some animal quality, a Minotaur perhaps, because that dude is a beast. The challenge basically comes down to a round of hoops between Grant and fellow former NFL player Steve, but Grant shows that he was definitely the two sport star (at least two), yet again nearly single-handedly winning a challenge for Ometepe. Both teams end the match-up battered, bruised, muddy and exhausted. But only one gets to head off in a helicopter for lunch in a volcano.
And what a lunch! Stephanie would have loved it! (Of course, by this point she's already gorged herself on lasagna and mac'n'cheese and rolls and hot dogs and cake and three kinds of pie back at Loser Hotel, so she's probably not too jealous.) And they don't even get to slide down into the active volcano like they did last season (Remember? That's when Jane unfortunately clued us into her history of mechanical bull riding, so, even though Rob suggests this may be the best reward he's ever had, this one is totally not as good. Although, the danger of perishing in an active volcano is still ever present, as Grant (with a disquieting amount of glee) notes that he could easily fall into the center of the volcano, break every bone on the way down, his mangled body arriving in pieces at the core of the geological phenomenon only to be covered by red hot liquid magma, disappearing into the earth without ever having the chance to say goodbye to his tribe, friends and family, never to be heard from again until thousands of years from now when alien archeologists uncover his carbon-based dust below layers and layers of molten ash. So many dark thoughts, Grant! Meanwhile, while everyone else compares his or her condiment preferences, Rob discovers ANOTHER Immunity Idol clue. C'MON, GUYS! Get in the game! Are any of you even playing Survivor right now? And then Rob just goes ahead and throws the clue into the heart of the volcano because why not? It's just child's play for him right now.
And this just underscores even more how well Rob is playing this game, and how he has set up his tribe exactly as he wants it. He has a trio of weak, dependent females who will follow him wherever he goes. He has a hulking, physical freak in Grant who will win team challenges for him, and then likely will protect Rob when he wins individual immunity. And when they make it to the merge Grant's physical prowess might overshadow Rob's mental and social gifts, making Grant the bigger target. And, to top it off, Rob has Phillip, who is universally reviled, but which only makes him an excellent candidate to take to the end. Obviously, things will change when the tribes merge, but right now Rob has his tribe aligned pretty much perfectly.
And this just underscores the deficiencies of the Zapatera tribe. Over there no one is playing the game, there's no leadership, and there's no long-term plan. That kind of strategy can work when you're running the table, winning every challenge, but that's no longer the case for Zapatera. No, after this Tribal Council they'll actually be outnumbered by Ometepe, an epic collapse (although, to be completely fair, we don't think the presence of Russell would have made much of a difference, as there's just no stopping Grant). Right now, Zapatera is just a tribe of mediocre players with mediocre strategy, who are lining themselves up to get smoked by Boston Rob come merge time.
So, much like the Krista or Stephanie episode two weeks back, the drama here was will it be Sarita or David. Which is to say, there wasn't much drama, because even though we didn't know which player they'd vote out (although, our money was on Sarita, mostly because the editing painted David as the likely ouster), we knew it was between the two, neither of whom we care very much about. So it came down team loyalty vs. team strength, and honestly, we're not sure which is the right choice. Steve thinks David did great in the challenge, because he observed and then appropriated Rob's method for threading a bag of balls through a metal spiral, but he was only marginally better than Sarita. Although, he is (allegedly) the best ever at solving puzzles. So he has that going for him.
The real action at Tribal Council comes from Ralph, who proves, once again, that he's not only the least educated player in Survivor history, but he's just about as dumb as they come, as he proudly admits to not knowing five-dollar words like "cohesive" and doesn't seem to grasp the concept of a question. Get this guy a dictionary and The Elements of Style! Probst certainly has his hands full with this one, a hillbilly who answers "yes or no" questions with "I disagree" (unless, of course, this whole dummy routine is just an act, Ralph's strategy for making it to the end. We've seen this angle before, playing the simpleton, but this is far beyond any previous iteration, and if it is a put-on, it's extreme overkill).
So, after Probst's lesson on interrogative clauses, Zapatera votes, and they decide to value team strength over team unity, which means Sarita goes home (sorry, we mean she goes to Redemption Island). Sarita, upon her exit, makes a perfectly valid point that perhaps it would be wise to keep around a weak player like her, especially as they approach the merge. However, clearly no one on Zapatera is planning for the endgame. A few weeks ago we criticized Krista for criticizing the tribe for not playing the game, for not thinking weeks ahead, and while we stand by those sentiments then, she would certainly have a valid case now. Zapatera is playing day to day, and, at this point in the game, that's just not good enough.
However, despite her reasonable argument, Sarita deserves to go home because she didn't bring her stuff to Tribal Council. Hubris, Sarita! It'll bring down even the greatest of empires.
ALWAYS REMEMBER, SARITA, LOOSE TOOTHACHES SINK SHIPS.
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.