Pre-credit sequence. We begin on Redemption Island on Night 5. Matt arrives at camp and wakes up a disoriented and confused Francesca. “Why are you here instead of Phillip?” Francesca asks, somewhat incredulous at the blindside. Matt hadn’t even packed his stuff. The two bootees agree that Boston Rob is a scoundrel. Now Matt is feeling like “a goober.” But he’s philosophical. He wants to be the underdog and to return for the chance at the million.
Full recap of Thursday’s “Survivor: Redemption Island” after the break…
I Am Number 5. Back at Team Rob’s camp, Grant and Boston Rob are overjoyed at the results of their Tribal Council. Rob is particularly impressed with Phillip’s acting, offering him either an Oscar or an Emmy. Phillip’s all, “Whichever one doesn’t require me to watch James Franco.” [Too soon?] Proud to have acquired another soldier for his army, Boston Rob assures Phillip that he is now the fifth place in an alliance that also includes Grant, Natalie and Ashley. “You won’t see any flip-flopping here,” Phillip vows. But Rob knows he has a problem and that Adorable Andrea is likely to feel resentment at the Tribal Council back-stab.
Only two people enter The Arena… The sun rises on Redemption Island and Francesca have Tree-Mail. They’re told to head to the Arena for a climactic duel. To the death? Well, no. Sadly. This isn’t “Survivor: Blood and Sand” or “Survivor: Gods of the Arena.” There will be no nudity and no splashes of CGI viscera. But whoever loses is done for good. In “Survivor.” Unless they get invited back for an All-Stars season. Which they won’t.
OK, then… Only six people enter The Arena… Over with Team Russell, there’s an interesting twist. Tree-Mail says that two people from each team will get to go to Redemption Island to watch the Arena duel. They draw rocks and Steve and Dave win. Dave is pleased to have kept Russell and his alliance away from the Redemption Island. At Team Rob camp, Adorable Andrea and Ashley were the winners. “It’s probably more about seeing Matt,” Andrea admits. Her goal is to make sure Matt knows that she wasn’t one of the ones who betrayed him and, of course, Boston Rob wants no contact between Andrea and her “island boyfriend.” He’s worried.
Oh right. Jeff Probst… Fine. Seven people enter The Arena… With high drama, we arrive at the Arena. The four surviving players sit in the stands and look down on Matt and Francesca. “This is the first step in your journey to get even,” Jeff tells them. At this point, Adorable Andrea helpfully chirps, “I didn’t vote for either of them.” Well, not subtle. But effective. “I wish Matt very well in his life, but I’m definitely here to beat him in this game,” Francesca observes. The task: Using sticks and rope, they have to construct long poles and use those poles to collect three keys to open three locks. It’s definitely not a task that unduly favors any type of contestant. Francesca gets off to a fast start and collects her first key and then… her second. It’s a tense and well-edited sequence. Can Matt catch up? He gets one key. As Francesca deals with a broken stick, Matt snags his second key. It’s about as close as could be. Matt’s pole isn’t long enough. Francesa’s is long enough, but the key slips off. Matt succeeds! And your winner is… Matt. Francesca will be my first exit interview of the season tomorrow morning. “Give ’em hell,” she tells Matt, before tossing her buff onto the first. “Being by yourself, it’s definitely hard, but you’ve gotta seize the moment,” Matt says. Probst helpfully tells the observers that they can tell their fellow castways as much or as little as they want. The first rule of The Arena is not, in fact, that nobody discusses The Arena. For whatever reason, Steve sees value in possibly misleading Russell.
Sniff. Sniff. They took away my pretty puppy. Adorable Andrea and Ashley return to Team Rob first. The ladies report that Matt is angry. Boston Rob knows he has to win Andrea’s trust back. He begins by calling her “a good-hearted kid.” He tries to make it clear that it was a decision made by four people, not just him. He’s so darned earnest that he even takes off his Red Sox cap. For now, Andrea has been told that she’s part of Rob’s five and that Kristina and Phillip will be out next, but she also knows that she can’t trust Rob. Her eyes brim over with tears as she she cries, “Deep down, I’m still really pissed about they did. They took my good friend away.” AWWWW. Poor Andrea.
Pointless misinformation. There’s a shark in the water. Somewhere. Probably not anywhere near Team Russell, but it’s symbolic. Steve and Dave recount the excitement for Russell, but when it gets to the end, Steve tells Russell that “the black chick” won and that “the blonde dude” went home, but tells the truth to his alliance of six. “Right now, the most important thing for me is finding the Idol,” says Russell, who knows he’s down 6-3. Russell, who never used to need clues to find Idols, is frustrated at how vague this clue is. All the while, Ralph hides in the bushes. “It’s not Russell’s game no more. It’s my game,” Ralph says confidently. Russell gives up his search, but Stephanie proposes that a fake Idol would be just as good as a real one. They get together and make a faux Idol and put it in a bag that Stephanie makes a great show of protecting. Steve distrusts Russell and “his little harem” and looks forward to cutting out this cancer.
Now he’s a sores loser. EW. No. Really. EW. No. Seriously. “Survivor” should have its HD license taken away forever for beginning a segment with a tight close-up on the red welts popping up in his armpits. EW. As Marine Mike succinctly puts it, “Russell has got some funk going on with his armpits. Pus-filled rash all over the place. It’s disgusting.” Yes. It is. Mike adds that Russell, “Sits in the tent with his concubines and does nothing.” Steve, Ralph and Mike agree that their best bet is to get Russell out as soon as possible. Steve tosses out the possibility of throwing a challenge just to get Russell out. Dave is vaguely receptive to the idea. Julie, whoever she is, doesn’t like the idea, because she doesn’t want to give Team Rob momentum. They set a code in which one thumb-up means that they’re throwing the challenge.
Spit or swallow your pride. Once again, Immunity is back up for grabs. It’s another of those challenges where contestants are strapped to a giant wheel and have to go under water, grabbing water in their mouths and spitting it out. They have to fill a tube, which will drop a ball into a slide-puzzle that then has to be solved by one contestant. They’re also playing for reward: A lot of comfort items including chairs, pillows, tarp, blankets and a lantern. The the agreed-upon gesture, Steve and his team agree that this is one to throw. They task Julie with mis-spitting, perhaps unaware that she’s the unwilling Shoeless Joe Jackson in their fix. Whether intentional or not, Team Rob gets out to a big lead and with Boston Rob on puzzle duty, it’s over, right? Dave makes a big show of being stymied by the puzzle for Team Russell, as Boston Rob completes the task and pumps his fist enthusiastically. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that they threw the challenge,” Russell says, adding, “I’m dealing with a bunch of bitches.”
There’s value in cock-eyed lounging. Boston Rob is happy to have won the challenge, but he’s much less happy by the possibility that their reward may have introduced another clue to another Immunity Idol. Rob scoffed at Hidden Idols in the “Heroes vs. Villains” season and he saw how that turned out, so now he’s doing his due diligence, searching through everything. Nothing. Then he sees Phillip sprawled in one of their new chairs like a beached former federal agent and Rob somehow recognizes that Phillip isn’t sitting exactly straight. The Idol clue is sewed up in the chair. Phillip returns to relaxing and Rob finds his clue. “Had Phillip not been so fat, that chair wouldn’t have been bending so much and I wouldn’t have told him to move,” Rob says, practically dragging the cameraman off into the jungle with him. But having the clue doesn’t really help Rob, because as Russell already discovered, those suckers are not so specific.
You are No. 4. “He’s not my boss and he’s not bossing me,” Ralph says, agreeing that the plan is to get rid of Russell. Their strategy is to split votes and go three for Stephanie and three for Russell. Meanwhile, Russell is irate at the thrown challenge. He knows exactly how the main alliance will split and he and Stephanie correctly determine that if they can just get one member of the main six to flip, everything gets reversed. Russell sends Stephanie over to talk to The Old Lady, that being Julie. Stephanie makes a case built around giving Julie a better place in a smaller alliance, luring her further by telling her that they have the Idol. Old Woman that she is (she’s 50), Julie also respects Russell’s experience in the game. “This is going to be the biggest blindside ever!” Stephanie giggles enthusiastically before sending Russell over as the closer. “If you do this, if this goes the way it goes, I’ve got your ****ing back,” Russell vows, before instructing Julie to write Ralph’s name down. “If this happens… Game On,” Russell gloats, saying this would be his biggest move ever. “Keep Hope Alive” reads the new tattoo on Russell’s arm. Interestingly if you look really closely, the oozing sores under Russell’s arms read, “Abandon All Hope.”
Tribal Council. It’s time for Tribal Council and we really don’t know how anything’s going to play out. Because this is Team Russell’s first time at Tribal Council, Jeff Probst helpfully tells them that fire represents life. The players agree that there is a division in their tribe, which Sarita attributes to Russell’s legacy. “I’m not playing that game. I came in to win challenges, not lose challenges,” Russell says, calling out the challenge-throwers. “I would say we didn’t go 100 percent,” Mike acknowledges. Stephanie is left to make the case for Russell and his valuable role in the game. It’s a good speech and when Dave tries interrupting her, she’s having none of it. As Russell smirks, Stephanie declares, “Throwing today’s challenge is not strategy. It’s plain stupidity.” Russell’s like the proudest papa ever. Probst chides Dave a little bit for being blown out on the puzzle, before moving back to Russell’s unpredictable nature. “It’s like a sickness almost. It’s a huge black cloud over everything we do,” Sarita says. Again, Stephanie is Russell’s pit bull, protecting her man. I kinda like Stephanie. Probst pauses to predict that this tribe is in trouble after the merge. “It never is as it seems,” Russell says and exchanges a look with Russell. Shades of Jerri and Danielle in “Heroes vs. Villains”? Let’s see…
The Vote. Ralph writes Russell’s name down. Or he does the best he can. What he actually writes is “Ressell.” Sarita writes Stephanie’s name, calling her “misguided” and “rude.” “This is my game, sucka,” says Russell, writing Ralph’s name down. Time for Jeff to tally the votes. Will anybody play an Idol? Apparently not. Russell. Ralph. Stephanie. Russell. Russell. Stephanie. Ralph. Ralph. One vote left… [Russell and Julie exchange s smirk.]… STEPHANIE. Oh snap. Julie played Russell and Stephanie. Love it. Time to revote. Ralph. Russell. Russell. Russell. Russell. DOWN GOES FRAZIER. DOWN GOES FRAZIER. “I’ll be back. Be ready,” Russell says. Stephanie looks at the rest of the tribe and warns, “Storm’s a coming.” She’s got fire in her eyes, that one. As he departs, Russell reflects on his first time ever being voted off on “Survivor.” “I was pissed off. I wanted to bitch-slap every single one of them,” Russell grumbles.
Bottom Line: Part of me wonders if Julie wouldn’t have been better off sticking with Russell’s harem. I mean, you can’t argue with how well Russell has protected people who have protected him, at least for a while. But leaving that aside, what a very satisfying result. From here, the best possible course is for Russell to win three or four or five straight challenges on Redemption Island, to go totally Kurtz in the Arena, slaughter a live cow or something and then to lose in the last possible challenge before re-entering the game? Or would we prefer for Russell to go full Kurtz, win his way back into the game on a grand crusade and then be instantly, unceremoniously, anti-climactically voted out at the first allowable moment back at the Tribe, like Scatman Crothers racing back to save Danny in “The Shining.” Big respect to Julie. But, heck, big respect to Mighty Mite Stephanie as well. She tried hard and none of her arguments were per se wrong. And, of course, big respect to Boston Rob for recognizing that Phillip was lopsided. Another fine entry to start this season.
Fun, right? What’d you think of Wednesday’s “Survivor”?