Pre-credit sequence. Welcome to Nicaragua, boys and girls. It seems like only days ago that we handed Fabio his well-deserved default million bucks. And now we’re back! We quickly meet software CEO Phillip, who tells us that in a past life, he was a federal agent. He thinks that’s meaningful, so we nod politely and move on to Matt, who seems like a Fabio wannabe until he says that he’s all trying to become more like his Savior. I assume he means Jesus, but I hold out hope that he’s talking about Fabio. And then there’s Ralph. “We ain’t never had a dumbass win the game, have we?” asks self-described redneck Ralph. Well that’s a fun trio.
Full recap of the “Survivor: Redemption Island” premiere after the break…
One twist, two twist, Russell twist, Rob twist. Oooh. No time for commercials, thanks to Sprint. The helicopters are approaching the beach. Francesca becomes the first person to be amazed that she’s actually on “Survivor,” while Marine Mike says he expects to win just because of his background (two tours of duty in Iraq, two very deep dimples). Jeff Probst welcomes the tribes, but warns them that two additional players are arriving in their own chopper. OMG! It’s Boston Rob! OMG! It’s Russell! I wonder what that helicopter ride was like. I’m guessing, “Awkward.” Everybody’s happy to see Boston Rob. Nobody’s happy to see Russell. Stephanie vows to stare Russell down, because she wants to be the one person he takes to the end. Probst tells the contestants that Boston Rob and Russell have a combined 156 days of “Survivor” experience. But… If they brought back Parvati and Amanda, just think of all the combined experience — and Happy Dan — *that* would make for. Francesca dubs Rob and Russell troublemakers. The two veterans are drawing buffs to determine their tribes. Boston Rob draws an Orange buff and joins Ometepe, henceforth to be known as Team Rob, because I’m LAZY. Russell draws purple and heads to a much less enthusiastic Zapatera, which doesn’t mean “Shoe Store,” but will henceforth be known as Team Russell. Oh yeah. There’s one last twist… The whole Redemption Island thing. All we’re told is that “at a certain point in the game,” the remaining person on Redemption Island will reenter. “It’s a vacation,” Russell says of Redemption Island, vowing to win the challenges, come back and decapitate his rivals. Meanwhile, why is Steve rubbing Russell’s back? And why is Francesca the only person talking?
Meet the New Russell (probably very similar to the old Russell). We begin with Team Russell, heading off to their camp for the first time. Russell says he’s grateful to be back. “The first two, I was a schoolboy. This is the new me,” Russell says, vowing to be a leader this time around. He starts by lecturing his fellow castaways on the difficulties of the game. Nerdy David is cautious, but knows that there’s a reason Russell has played twice and hasn’t won. Redneck Ralph sees a box of carpentry tools and eagerly sets to planning a shelter. [They’ve obviously given these guys extra shelter-building tools after the misery the castaways experienced/expressed last season.] Marine Mike is actually a funny guy and he gives Ralph the nickname Steel Wool and raves about his “man sweater.” I’m amazed with how quickly I like some of these people. Ralph, for example, is kinda like a redneck Paul Bunyan. I can get behind that. Mike can be his Babe the Blue Ox and they can carve a swatch across Nicaragua and all the way to the finale.
I am an F.B.I. AGENT!. Off with Team Rob, they’re also doing well, particularly because of Rob’s history with construction. Matt-Fabio calls this Camp Harmony. Natalie has a rather major crush on Boston Rob and she’s happy with the way the chips have fallen. Boston Rob is willing to let his tribe steer itself and Special Agent Phillip is quick to fill that leadership vacuum, which rubs Francesca the wrong way. I like Adorable Andrea. She knows how to use an axe. Without hesitating, Phillip calls everybody together and outs his status as a federal agent, calling himself an expert at analyzing human behavior. Nobody knows what to make of this information. [If you don’t immediately think of this “Point Break” scene, I’m not sure you can be my friend until you’ve seen the film.] Francesca is amused that Phillip thinks his past was a big deal. “Who cares,” she laughs. Kristina’s a clever one. She’s going through their box of stuff looking for an Immunity Clue, wondering why nobody else is doing the same. Boston Rob winks and encourages Kristina’s hunt. I love Boston Rob. But Boston Rob has concerns about the gender split on Team Rob, which has five women and four guys. I have no idea what Phillip’s response is. It just confuses me and then he goes and tells Kristina that his plan is to stick with the girls and to lead Boston Rob on. Uh-oh.
Won’t you be my Natalie or Parvati? Russell goes off with Stephanie, who finally gets her chance to stare him down. Instead, she flirts and giggles with Russell and flatters him. Russell agrees that they’ll go to the Merge to the end. Stephanie agrees and we can’t really tell if she’s clear-eyed about this. David and Mike are cautious and Mike sees no virtue to keeping Russell around, saying that getting Russell gone is top priority.
Forget that Jacee punk. Kristina is our American Idol. Kristina is also vowing an early departure for Boston Rob, noting that the guys are in awe of him and that he’s going after the young girls. She’s vowing to continue her search for the Idol. She doesn’t have a clue, but she has a shovel and she walks off into the wilderness, using only her Immunity Idol antennae. She seeks out landmarks and rather short order, she finds an Idol. Wow. Remember when Russell found all of those Idols without a single clue and the producers vowed to make it harder in the future? How the heck did this happen? This also makes me sad that Kristina and Russell aren’t on the same time. “Rob’s good, but I’m good too,” Kristina says. She mobilizes Phillip and Francesca’s support, though Phillip refuses to sign on without more information. Phillip demands more details from Kristina and they don’t take well to his interrogation. For some reason, the problem is his personality and it isn’t his tighty-pinkies. Ick. Wear boxers on “Survivor,” dawg. “How did I get stuck with the old annoying guy in the droopy fuchsia briefs?” muses Francesca, who I’m also growing to like. Wow!
Steps by steps, Oooh baby. And yes, I’ve used this NKOTB joke before. Challenge time! Immunity is up for grabs. The task involves building a set of steps, chopping some rope knots and making a puzzle. We all know that any team with Boston Rob has a puzzle advantage, but will that be a deciding factor? Let’s see! The early lead goes to Team Russell and Probst expresses some concern over Team Rob’s effort. Team Russell has a big strength advantage and it makes this one look like a rout. Adding to Team Russell’s advantage? Redneck Ralph’s dexterity with an axe. Wow. This is pathetic for Team Rob. David leads Team Russell on the puzzle, but Team Rob at least gets to the puzzle with the chance to equalize. Russell pushes David aside and takes control. Is that the deciding factor? It’s hard to know, but Team Russell wins! “We’re stronger than they are. We’re faster than they are. And we’re smarter than they are. I know how Boston Rob thinks and right now, he’s thinking, “Oh crap. I’m stuck with a bunch of weenies,” Russell cracks. Sadly, he’s probably correct.
Kristina’s playing Rob who’s playing Francesa who’s playing Phillip who’s playing the role of Keanu Reeves in the cinematic classic “Point Break.” “Yeah, so we lost the first challenge today, which totally sucks,” says Ashley, who feels like they let Rob down. Kristina makes her decision and tells Francesca that she has an Idol. Francesca is very correctly confused by the idea. Kristina’s plan is to lure the young girls into voting for her, setting up her alliance to vote for Rob, playing the Idol and sending Rob home. Francesca, though, knows that the tribe actually still needs Rob. She proposes voting Natalie out instead. Kristina knows that voting Rob out would be worse for the team, but she doesn’t care, because she wants to blindside Rob more than she wants to keep the tribe strong. Fair enough! Rob’s first instinct is to vote Francesca off, but he also realizes that Kristina is dangerous and knows strategy. Rob suspects that Kristina may have an Idol and he proposes a vote-splitting strategy between Kristina and Francesca. Referencing Tyson’s idiotic voting blunder from “Heroes vs. Villains,” Rob goes over the splitting strategy multiple times. Phillip, meanwhile, still wants answers, forcing Kristina to show him the Idol. Phillip’s faith restored, they hug, though Kristina isn’t pleased with her final alliance. “Good-bye Rob and you’re looking at the new leader of our Tribe,” Phillip says, cockily.
Tribal Council. The torches are dipped in fire. But why, Jeff? Oh yeah. Fire represents life, “with a slight exception this season.” Rob begins by “praising” Phillip for taking the leadership role and Matt agrees. Francesca briefly acknowledges that some logic says that sending a woman home would be a good idea. Kristina says she’s wary and Rob says he’s wary. Everybody’s wary. Then the awesomeness begins. Francesca says that Redemption Island means that if Rob gets voted out — and she’s quick to say he won’t be — he could still be OK. And Phillip jumps in by outing their plan to vote Rob out. “You are a crazy person,” Francesa says to Phillip. “Jeff… I’m a former special agent,” Phillip declares, doing nothing to debunk her theory. He then announces his intention to cast his vote for “Franchesqua.” Kristina’s perplexed and points out Phillip’s potential instability. Then, as Jeff Probst’s eyes bug out and as Boston Rob’s smile grows from a grin to full-on Cheshire Cat, Phillip also outs Kristina’s Immunity Idol, which she’s chagrinned to admit to everybody. With chaos ensuing, Francesca and Kristina swear they were actually going to vote Natalie out, which is completely possible. Then things get BETTER. Rob asks Kristina to see the Idol. She hands it to him. Without hesitation, he offers her the deal, “Give me the Immunity Idol” and you’ll stay.” Oh my. Probst is amused and flummoxed. You can practically see him saying, “Whew. We’ve got a season here. I won’t have to coach these guys on how to be entertaining.”
The vote. “It feels so good to play with you amateurs,” Rob laughs, writing Francesca’s name down and adding, “Thanks for the memories.” Natalie writes Kristina’s name down. Francesca writes Phillip’s name down. Will Kristina play her Idol? She opts not to. That’s a BAD idea. Leaving aside the issue of what happens if she gets voted out now, she put a target on herself this episode and the only way to remove it was by playing the Idol. Even if she survives, she’s Kristina With The Idol, But No Allies from now on. Probst tallies the votes. Kristina. Kristina. Francesca. Phillip. Francesca. Phillip. Kristina. Francesca. The first person voted out is… Francesca. Her torch is snuffed, but she’ll have the chance to return. Her parting words are to tell everybody not to trust Phillip. In her exit, Francesca says that her mistake was not to trust her instincts regarding Phillip.
The Bottom Line: Oh “Survivor.” How I missed you last fall. Welcome back. And the secret, “Survivor” producers, had nothing at all to do with the return of Boston Rob and Russell. Sure, I was happy to have them back and Rob demanding the Idol at Tribal Council was a brilliant bluff, but neither man proved to be the heart of the episode. The episode was all about how instantly ambitious Kristina was, how instantly crazy Phillip was, how instantly chatty Francesca was and how instantly colorful Ralph was. The episode was a triumph of terrific casting, which has *always* been what set apart the best “Survivor” seasons from the worst. Throw in a couple tentatively interesting folks like Mike and David, Matt and maybe Stephanie (depending on whether or not she’s using Russell), plus a solid supply of eye candy (more Adorable Andrea and her Axe, please) and I’m feeling good about the possibilities for this season. And yes, that was a terrific Tribal Council full of heaping spoonfuls of lunacy and interesting strategic gambits. I honestly don’t have a clue what set Phillip off, or what he hoped to achieve. I appreciate that Rob’s alliance was able to maintain their vote split even after the madness, which meant Phillip was the deciding vote.
So, are you pleased? Yes. Of course you are… Right?!?