There wasn’t a pre-credit sequence tonight, of course. Instead, we got a seven-minute recap of the season dedicated nearly 100 percent to either Rob’s dominance or Matt’s alliance with God. Which of those narratives would dominate Sunday’s (May 15) finale?
There’s no need to fear! Underdog is here. It’s Day 35 and Grant arrives at Redemption Island. Grant says he’s “A-OK,” regardless of who betrayed him. “You’re the one I least wanted to come,” admits Andrea, who knows that the next Duel is going to be tough. But she’s prepared to be an Under-Underdog. “Throw it at me,” she says.
Bad Bromance. Murlonio returns to camp and although Phillip is jovial, Boston Rob is bummed. “I’m sure he’s not happy right now, but what’s done is done,” Rob mumbles. Rob misses his boy. “I got a heart in there somewhere,” Rob admits. Rob is confused by the strategy of what will have to be done to the person coming back from Redemption Island, but he knows that if he gets the chance, Ashley has to go.
No diggity. “I feel so great right now,” says Matt, celebrating his 29th day on Redemption Island. He’s moved into a zone of peace with this “special place” he’s been residing. Tree-Mail tells them that their final Duel is approaching. It promises that “digging deep” will be required. Mike has now spent two weeks out on Redemption Island, which he calls “a life-changing experience,” referring to it as Purgatory. They gather around the fire and pray with Matt. “Two blindsides, seven days in the actual game of ‘Survivor,’ 11 Duels,” Matt lists. What a very strange game of “Survivor” Matt has had.
Where’s your Messiah now? [This section title is only meant as an Edward G. Robinson/Chief Wiggum reference, not as a way of questioning the amount that any religion’s messianic figure happens to be invested in reality TV.] The final Duel involves a teeter-totter. On one end? A vase. On the other end? The competitor’s foot. If the vase falls, you go home. And *this* is the challenge that’s culminating the Redemption Island gambit? Seriously, “Survivor”? We may need to have a conversation about this. Yes, this is clearly a tough challenge in its own weird way, but I wanted something bigger. After 40 minutes, everybody is clutching their legs, but nobody has gone out yet. Grant wobbles and out goes Grant. That’s a little sad. Of the people on Redemption Island, Grant was the one I could have tolerated winning the million. WOW! Matt wobbles. His vase crashes. After 29 days on Redemption Island. That’s it. Wow. You know a moment like this was always potentially around the corner, but when it happens… It’s down to Mike and Andrea, both experiencing some twitching. Mike goes out. And Andrea’s going to re-enter the game next. “Hell of a job, Matty,” Boston Rob says, magnanimously. Grant burns his buff first and says that there were gifts to this experience. Matt burns his buff and earns a round of applause from everybody. “God was with me every step of the way and I think His will was ultimately done,” Matt says. “It wasn’t meant to be and that’s alright,” Mike says. Andrea’s back in the game and says she needs to prove herself. Boston Rob says he still thinks of Ashley as a bigger threat than Andrea. For me, Andrea and Ashley are equal threats, because I plan on transposing/confusing their names at least five times throughout the rest of this recap.
Can the puppets become the puppet-masters? “It was awkward coming back to camp,” admits Adorable Andrea. “They’re not necessarily happy to see me,” she admits. Andrea instantly begins her strategizing, approaching Natalie and Ashley, saying that they’re being viewed as puppets. She says that several of the people on Redemption Island told her they’d vote for Phillip over the girls. It’s a lie, but good for Andrea for telling it. Ashley thinks that with Andrea and Natalie, they can move against Phillip or even Rob. “Ashley drives me nuts, but her tactics are so amateur hour,” Rob says. He adds, “I can’t wait to vote her ass out.” This new resentment against Ashley, which started last week, is so out of proportion with what we saw for the first 34 days of this game. Weird.
Beam me up. Immunity is back up for grabs. The challenge is a race across a balance beam, collecting tiles number 1 to 100. They then have to put the tiles in order. That’s not a very hard puzzle, is it? Wait. And the numbers are in order by bag? Oh come on! I wanted the numbers to be totally randomly distributed. That might have been vaguely tough. Because it’s an obscenely simple task, everybody’s in a close bunch, other than Natalie and Phillip. Ashley, Andrea and Rob are down to their last bag. Ashley wins. It’s not very dramatic. This will complicate matters. “I’m kinda at a loss for words,” says the suddenly unbeatable Ashley. “I’m on the chopping block, but it would make so much more sense to vote out Rob,” Andrea says, calling this an opportunity for the girls to actually do something in this game. And I guess I’m seeing this an an opportunity for Rob to make some use of that Immunity Idol he’s had kicking around all season. Presumably this is the last Tribal Council it’s usable?
You’ve gotta know when to hold ’em. “I kinda wish that this challenge was tomorrow’s challenge,” Ashley says. “Sorry Andrea, you’re next,” Rob says coldly, pulling his alliance aside. Andrea smiles understandingly. Rob knows this is the last night he can use his Idol, but he’s convinced he doesn’t need to use it. Is that going to be his undoing? He goes off fishing and leaves everybody behind. Natalie and Ashley make a vow that they’ll stick together and vote Phillip out next. They exchange pinky-swears and agree that they love each other. Phillip sees the conversation and when Rob returns, he reports back that something is brewing. “There are really weird things happening,” says Andrea, who’s sitting directly across from Rob and Phillip as their discussion progresses. The men go off to the woods and Andrea comes over to make one last stab at Girl-Power, saying that going against Rob in the Finals wouldn’t be good. “We have three votes,” Adorable Andrea explains. Lemme think… Yup. Her math appears to be sound. Rob isn’t even slightly fazed by what he’s heard. “I can still dictate this vote. I don’t even need the Idol, as long as I have Natalie,” he says, adding that he’d like to keep the Idol as a souvenir. “What can I say? I like to gamble. I’m sick! I’m so sick!”
Tribal Council No. 1. Grant’s beard is gone. Matt’s hair is well-conditioned. Rob tells Jeff Probst that paranoia is running high. Ashley notes that Rob has had a Target on him from Day One and Andrea agrees that the three women would be wise to bond together and do something strategic. Andrea says this is their only chance to show the Jury they know what they’re doing. Then Natalie acknowledges that Rob is a threat. Seriously, if Rob doesn’t play the Idol, I’m going to beat him up.
Vote No. 1. Andrea writes Rob’s name down. That’s all we see. Probst goes to tally the votes, but first he offers them the chance to play an Idol. “You know what? My mother always told me better to be safe than sorry,” Rob says and plays the Idol nobody knew he had. Andrea’s eyes go back into her head. The votes: Rob. Andrea (with a heart). Andrea. Andrea. Andrea’s done. The girls stuck with Rob. And that’s what the Redemption Island twist earned us this season. Let’s not do that one again, eh “Survivor” producers? “The girls could have done something,” Andrea says, adding that she wouldn’t change her experience for the world.
Final Four deja vu. We’re back down to the Final Four. Again. That means that the first hour of tonight’s “Survivor” amounted to nothing. Phillip says that he suspected Rob of having an Idol all along. Yup. Sure you did, Phillip. Meanwhile, the girls are all happy and huggy. Ashley’s pissed off that Andrea tried throwing her under the bus. As Phillip goes to get water, Rob tells Ashley and Natalie that they’re going to the Finals together. But Rob also knows that if he doesn’t win the last Immunity Challenge, he may be doomed.
Maybe I’m A-mazed. Immunity, as we say, is back up for grabs. It’s the challenge where you race through a maze to collect four puzzle pieces and then to solve said puzzle. It seems like there needs to be one more twist, right? Blindfolding? Nope. Oh, poor Natalie. So easily confused. In an interesting strategy, Ashley basically decides to follow Rob around the maze. Rob gets his fourth piece first, with Ashley close behind, as Natalie is basically running around in tiny circles. Poor Natalie. Rob and Ashley are basically tied as the puzzle-making begins. Rob’s supposed to be the puzzle master. Surely he’ll come through when it counts, right? Rob proposes to Ashley that they work together, but she isn’t sharing. “Only You Are Safe.” Rob wins! Finally poor Natalie, who got only one puzzle piece, gets to cry and hug people. Rob is also in tears. This is pretty much the best scenario Rob ever could have hoped for or dreamed of. Barring a blunder of epic proportions, he should actually win this thing. “It’s cuz of her. Whatever happens now, I’m OK. Even if I don’t win. Which is ironic, because the only reason I ever wanted to come back to play again is to win,” Rob cries, saluting Amber.
The five-percent solution. More hugs. Rob’s taking Natalie to the Finals, but he has to make both Ashley and Phillip think they’re coming with him. Ashley’s confident, but she admits there’s five-percent where you never know. Natalie’s already looking forward to spending the next day with Rob and Ashley, Phillip-free. As the girls cuddle, Rob is having doubts, particularly about Ashley’s ties with the former Zapateras. Decision made! “It’s Ashley,” Rob says, walking over Natalie. He doesn’t ask. He tells. “It’s part of the game that sucks, Natalie,” Rob tells her. “But why?” Natalie says, sticking out her lower lip. “I didn’t come out here to make friends and I came out here and I did,” a very sad Natalie says. But when Ashley approaches Natalie, Natalie keeps the faith and doesn’t reveal Rob’s plot. But Natalie’s last words are telling: “I would rather lose this game than lose a friend in Ashley.”
Tribal Council No. 2. “It was a definite bummer, obviously,” Ashley says of how close she came in the final Immunity. “Ultimately you want to sit with the people you think you can beat in the end,” Rob says. “I’ve been to this point before and it didn’t work out.” Natalie is confident that she’s been with Rob from the beginning. Phillip touts his status as The Specialist and notes that he hasn’t won a challenge all season. Ashley says she hasn’t betrayed Rob all season and that she has a better chance to win than Natalie or Phillip.
The Vote, No. 2. Phillip, admiring Ashley’s ability to stay in bed each day, writes her name down. “I can’t believe it’s taken 38 days to finally write your name down,” Ashley says, writing “Phillip.” Time to tally the votes: Ashley. Phillip. Ashley. [Ashley’s smile vanishes.] Ashley (with a heart). Poor Natalie. Ashley blows Natalie a kiss. Natalie mouths, “I love you.” Alas, there’s no final kiss between them. “I honestly didn’t know I was going home,” Ashley says, but insists she’s proud of how she played the game. This was the right move for Rob. He can’t lose, can he? Who amongst the Zapateras is going to vote for Phillip? Nobody. So that means that Steve, Julie, Mike and Ralph are going to have to look the camera in the eye and say, “Natalie deserves the million dollars.” And that assumes Natalie is going to be able to find her way to the Final Tribal Council.
Talkin’ ’bout Natalie’s G-g-generation. Day 39. Can you believe we made it? Phillip is celebrating the fulfillment of his great-great grandfather’s vision. “I learned that it’s OK to tell the world that I have a relationship with somebody who’s been dead since 1870. It’s OK!” Natalie is celebrating being really cute and malleable. “I stand for my generation,” Natalie says proudly. Breakfast! Rob has played 117 days of “Survivor” over the past 10 years. Rob regrets apologizing last time. “I should have stood up and said ‘Hey, kiss my ass,'” Rob advises Natalie. It’s time to set Phillip’s tighty-pinkies on fire, “I want to say that I was never proud to wear plum-colored underwear.” It’s amazing that demons don’t come screaming out of the smoldering undergarments. Wait. No Rites of Passage? The hell you say! How am I suppose to remember Francesqua? And several people whose names start with “K”?
Final Tribal Council – Opening statements. I can’t tell if that’s real lightning in the background or “Survivor” theater, but it works. Natalie’s up first. She’s so cute. “My strength in this game was my social skills,” Natalie says, basically saying her strength was being a barnacle on Rob’s undercarriage. “I would be the youngest female ‘Survivor’ winner,” she adds. Phillip’s up next. Phillip says that he revamped his whole strategy when Boston Rob arrived and that he wouldn’t be sitting there without Boston Rob. He also takes credit for implementing the strategy of Stealth, though he praises Boston Rob as the Mastermind. Rob admits that if he had been on Zapatera from the beginning, he might have been less likely to succeed. He lays out a basic platform of strength in challenges, hard work around camp and a slew of alliances. Rob insists that “Survivor” doesn’t define him, that it’s all about bringing something home for his wife and his child.
Final Tribal Council – Angry Jury Questions. Let the madness begins, starting with Andrea. “First of all, I’d like to start with Phillip. You are weird…” Her question? Who is the real Phillip? “You’ve had 39 days to understand who I am. If you don’t, don’t vote for me,” Phillip says. Andrea then calls Natalie “borderline creepy” in her relationship with Rob. Natalie says it was about making alliances. Andrea doesn’t say a word to Rob. Ashley says she’s going to speak and Phillip is going to listen. She’s wrong, but she praises Phillip for teaching her patience. “You sound like a little whiny child,” Phillip tells her. Ashley tears into Rob for having put him on a pedestal, saying she doesn’t know him at all. HUH?!? If you put him on a pedestal, what the heck were you putting him on a pedestal for?!? Oh, Ashley. Grant comes next and he wants to know why Rob valued his ties to Natalie more than to him. Rob says he didn’t want Grant to kick his ass. Ralph shambles up next and also brings up Natalie’s co-dependent relationship with Rob. Ralph is sad that Natalie wouldn’t talk to him. In a nice moment, Ralph expresses disappointment that Phillip didn’t wear a chicken on his head and Phillip says that he liked Ralph best of the people on his tribe. Matt asks Rob where the line is drawn after 117 days and 10 years and four season. “The line is drawn as soon as I’m back in my real life,” Rob says simply. “All the people you betrayed are having a hard time understanding who you really are,” Matt tells Rob. Julie then instructs the Finalists that none of them played a respectable game. Julie tells Natalie that she would be sad to see her daughter “be a servant to anybody the way that you were a servant to Rob.” And then Julie tells Phillip that his son should be embarrassed for him or by with him. “To hell with you,” Phillip tells Julie. “As a father, teach your daughters to grow up to be strong women and not be treated the way you treated Natalie,” Julie instructs Rob. YIKES. Mike talks about his new faith and the friendships he made in “Survivor,” but he wants to know what the Finalists learned about themselves. Natalie plays the, “I’m fresh out of high school” card. Uh-oh. It’s a good answer. She’s winning votes with that one. “I need to stop playing games,” Rob says, declaring that this will be his last day in “Survivor.” Phillip learned he can stand on his own. Or something. Steve commends Natalie for being 19 and commends Rob for 117 days. And then Steve calls Phillip “a pretty shameful, sorry man” and wishes Natalie and Rob luck. Dave flips the script. He makes a closing argument on Rob’s behalf. “He controlled all of you,” Dave tells them. Oh God. Is Dave costing Rob a million dollars? He may be. Wow. I would *not* want Dave lawyering for me in this particular circumstance.
The Final Vote: So many bitter, angry losers. Who will the smug losers vote for? “No big surprise here,” Dave says, writing Rob’s name down. Ralph votes for “Phile.” We don’t see anyone vote for Natalie, but why do I suspect that that’s because her name is going to be on most of the rest of the ballots?
The Results: Probst begins by asking Natalie if she thinks she has a shot. “Yes,” Natalie agrees. “I hope so,” Rob says, asked if he could win. Phillip says he also could win. The votes: Rob. Phillip. Rob. Rob. Rob. [OK. This is feeling right.] BOSTON ROB is the winner of “Survivor: Redemption Island.” Re races down to Amber and his two daughters. Awwwww.
Bottom Line: Not much to say here, other than “WHEW.” This was, start to finish, one of the most dominant winning performances in the game’s history, made all the more impressive by the size of the target on Rob’s chest coming in. Did he get lucky with the tribe he was assigned to? Sure. But do you really think he couldn’t have taken Dave, Stephanie and Krista and crafted a winning alliance around that? He certainly could have come close. Regardless, all you can do is make the most with the cards you’re dealt and Rob didn’t just make the most, he ran the table without being in real jeopardy for a single second. Think about that, given the reputation he came in with. And good on the jury for recognizing that Rob’s game was physical, mental and strategic. Was it a cult? Sure. Could a player without Rob’s iconographic status in this game have enacted this strategy? Of course not. Still, all respect to Boston Rob, who was the only deserving winner for this season. There’s something a tiny bit anticlimactic to this level of wire-to-wire domination, but I prefer “slightly anticlimactic” to “embarrassing abomination.”
Bottom Line, Part II: Never again with Redemption Island. Please? Never. Again. [Post-Script: Redemption Island will be back next season. Sigh. Because it was such a big success. And two former losers will return for another shot. If one of them is Amanda Kimmel, I’m OK with this. Otherwise? Hell’s no.]
What’d you think of the “Survivor” results? And what’d you think of the “Survivor” season as a whole?