Ladies and gentlemen, we are merged. Now the game starts for real. And you know? For a minute there I thought Matt was really going to start playing it. Andrea’s reaction when he uttered the phrase “blindside Rob” was absolutely unforgettable. You could tell she had never considered voting out Rob for even the briefest of moments. Indeed, she was so shocked she may have thought such a thing was a physical impossibility.
Jump back a tad. Matt’s back in the game? Yes, that’s a thing that happened! For the pre-merge twist, both tribes were invited in full to witness the final redemption duel, where Sarita was completely impotent to put together a win. They tried to play up a little drama by showing Matt picking at a bloody flap of skin on his injured foot, but honestly, I think the bandage helped him more than hindered him. The challenge involved standing on very tiny footholds, and he didn’t have to contact one of those footholds with his bare feet. Advantage: Matt.
The numbers in this merge were very odd. Six orange Ometepes to five purple Zapateras… with Matt right there in the middle of it all. Usually the merge happens at ten players, giving each tribe at least a theoretical shot at entering phase two of the game with even numbers. Merging at twelve in this season, however, guaranteed one tribe was going to have an advantage over the other. I mean, technically Matt is from the Ometepe tribe, but they ousted him once. He can’t really count as being orange or purple, and indeed, that’s how everyone in the episode saw the situation.
What I’m trying to say here is that Matt was in a very unique situation — one no Survivor player had ever been in. He’d been fed information from the ejected members of both tribes. He stood to gain by staying with his original people, or by flipping. He was an anomaly in a game that had no idea what to do with him. I was curious to see what God told him to do with this situation.
We’ll come back to that. First, some fluff: the merged tribe is black (or grey? hard to tell) and was named “Murlonio” by Rob. He told everyone it was a Spanish word with some deep, symbolic meaning. In reality, it’s the name of one of his wife Amber’s stuffed animals. Rob is the grandmaster at screwing with heads for no reason other than the sheer, unmitigated joy of screwing with heads. It’s as he said a few episodes ago: he’s gotta keep himself entertained somehow.
Individual immunity involved balancing balls on plates. Hardly worth mentioning since the player who won wasn’t in any danger whatsoever of being ejected, but it was a fun challenge to watch. I usually have nothing nice to say about the army of nondescript skinny white girls that infest each new season of Survivor, but it does make me smile to see one win individual immunity much to the chagrin of the big, hairy alpha males. Which one was it this time? Natalie? Ashley? Do we have an Ashley this season? Whatever your name is, you go girl.
So let me describe Matt in a little more detail. My previous assessment of this kid was that he did not know how to play Survivor. Matt’s strength, I thought, was in his ability to keep uncommonly cool under pressure, which gives him a huge leg up in the individual challenges he was facing on Redemption Island. The key here, though, is that I didn’t feel like he knew how the game was played, or how to do well in it. In any other season he would be knocked out early (like Kristina was), or used as an oblivious pawn by a much better player (like Grant is).
However, I was wrong. Matt has a great sense of how to play this game. He demonstrated this in his little chat with Andrea. He first identified his correct position in the Ometepe pecking order: the very bottom. He next identified his best chance of getting to the final four: flipping on Ometepe and helping Zapatera blindside Boston Rob. The real smart bit, though, is that he suggested getting rid of one of the Zapatera gang first. And then Phillip. And then blindsiding Rob.
I want to explain in detail what I liked about this plan. It’s easy to just come into the merge and flip on your old tribe. If the numbers now are seven-five, and Matt and Andrea both flip, the numbers flip straight over; seven-five in the other direction. This is all well and good for the short term, but note that Matt hasn’t actually improved his position any. All he’s done is stuck himself as #6 in a differently-colored alliance.
By picking off a Zapatera member, though, he improves his odds. For one, the numbers look better when he flips; he’s now #5 instead of #6. For another, he helps prove his loyalty to the former tribemates he intends to backstab. Show the top dog you can lick his boots, and maybe the top dog doesn’t look so hard at you anymore. So now the numbers are seven-four, which is a damn good lead for Rob’s alliance.
Now the crucial bit: with Rob’s alliance in such a great lead, there may be pressure to get rid of one of the more unruly Ometepe members. Namely: Phillip. Phillip can’t flip; Zapatera doesn’t care that he’s leaving, and nobody would go over with him, so there’s really nothing he can do except skulk off to Redemption Island with his tail between his legs. Now the numbers are six-four, and Rob’s got a solid grip on final six.
And that’s when Matt wanted to spring his trap. He and andrea flip the numbers around and send Rob home. Or, if idol shenanigans are an issue, Grant or Natalie or someone instead. It doesn’t matter which Ometepe member they cut, only that it’s a blindside; the numbers are now six-three, with Matt firmly in the power position (and a built-in Andrea vote, to boot!).
Matt’s plan probably would not have worked — at least, not exactly the way he designed it. He’s still up against Boston Rob here. My point is that it was a good plan and the simple fact that he thought it up proved he knows what’s what in this game, and that he spent his fifteen days on Redemption Island doing something other than rubbing his dick on things to see if it changed colors.
Matt’s screw-up, of course, was caring about what Jesus thought of his plan. He asked Jesus, and Jesus said it was mean and amoral, so Matt backed out. He did the good Christian thing and spilled the beans to Rob, then promised Rob he would fall in line just like a good little sheep. (In this metaphor, Boston Rob is Jesus.)
This confirmed two things to Rob: 1) Matt is a good player, and 2) Matt is a moral player. Is there anything more dangerous in Survivor but an exceptionally nice guy who can make big moves? Tina and Todd and Natalie and Earl and J.T. and Bob and several others might have a thing or two to say about that.
Rob did the right thing: he and the Ometepe alliance shipped Matt straight back to his dirt hovel on Redemption Island. And since he didn’t need any Zapatera votes to do it, he let them believe they were in danager and flushed out Ralph’s idol.
On the way out of tribal, Matt muttered something like “What the hell, guys?” Where’s your God now, Matty!?
Who’s gonna win? Rob or Matt.
Rob is the better player, for sure, and if playing was all this season cared about I think I would just call it here and not have to watch the rest. However, we don’t know when Redemption Island is going to resolve itself. Matt is a strong competitor and a huge immunity risk. If he sweeps the duels again, and re-enters the game just in time for the final five or final four, he and Jesus might actually find themselves in the winner’s circle without ever having to play any actual Survivor.
That’s not my ideal outcome; I want the best player to win. But hot damn wouldn’t that be something to see?