Survivor: Redemption Island (week nine)

Survivor: Redemption Island

Hell no, I haven’t given up on Redemption Island! This season has been great so far! I knew I’d want to go back and finish it up later, and so here we are. I went back and read through my write-ups to this point, and was delighted to find I still had the whole season up to this point in my working memory. It could be that my posts this season have been especially detailed and informative, but I’ll be gracious and share the credit with the editors. There were a few seasons in a row where I felt the editors did a terrible job establishing characters and giving equal weight to plotlines, but they’ve really been on the ball on Redemption Island. By the time the “previously on…” recap was over I had the whole game straight in my head again; it was as though I’d never left.

The editors deserve a little more credit than that, actually! This was a double episode, with two immunity challenges and two tribal councils. This is my preferred way to eliminate two players in one episode, but of course, thanks to the Redemption Island mechanic we really didn’t have to eliminate anyone. Two people voted out, both of whom are sent to join Matt. We end the episode with exactly as many players as we started with, despite seeing two elimination votes. That’s a great way to wring a lot of drama and tension out of the game. I love it.

This episode was all about reinforcing Rob’s stranglehold over his tribe. Previously, he had the Ometepe members on lockdown. He still does, only now he’s got them bound, gagged, lashed together in his soundproof basement… and the basement door has been bricked over. He’s got his people pounded so far down into a hole in the sand that they can no longer remember sunlight. Was there a time in their lives before Rob? In that hazy past, that long-long-ago, was there an existence before Survivor? Rob calls them his little soldiers; Julie likens them more to a cult. I think Julie is closer to the mark.

I want to say the Ometepe six is the tightest alliance I’ve ever seen. That’s not precisely true, but I think it’s the tightest six-player alliance I’ve ever seen. To the players outside of the alliance, despair is really starting to set in. Ralph fumbles around for words, lashing out randomly, seeking purchase. Julie mopes and whimpers. David sits back with what I swear is a kind of stunned, respectful admiration.

This rock-solid alliance did not arise spontaneously. Rob has played this game many times, and he has learned from his many mistakes. He knows alliances fall apart when people get bugs in their ears, so he instituted a buddy system. No Ometepe member is allowed to go off by themselves for any reason, lest a desperate Zapatera appear and promise them the moon and stars.

Rob does have one weakness, which he freely admits to: idol paranoia. Upon returning from the immunity challenge (where Rob nearly blinded Probst with a shattered tile, and Grant won a boring victory) the Zapatera dudes began digging up the tribe flag for no apparent reason. When Rob and Phillip noted this, they retrieved shovels and joined in the fun. Rob was so frazzled over whether or not Zapatera had managed to unearth another hidden idol that he second-guessed himself at tribal council.

Actually, the thought process feeding into that decision was pretty complex. Gone were the days when you could simply boot someone out of the game and not have to worry about anything but a possible jury backlash. First off, Rob had to figure out which Zapatera was least likely to have an immunity idol, if one were indeed in play. That alone could run a man in circles, but he also had to figure on beating Matt at the inevitable redemption duel. So he couldn’t eject or the strongest Zapatera (who might be immune), nor could he eject the weakest (who wouldn’t do well against Matt).

In the end they ejected Mike, with the votes coming exactly down former tribal lines.

The second immunity challenge was a fun stamina game involving people dangling from wooden bars by their legs. Phillip and Steve opted to sit out of the challenge and eat cheeseburgers. This made sense for Phillip, who couldn’t have won and wasn’t in any danger anyway. It made less sense for Steve who, well, also couldn’t have won, but who should at least have made a show of it for the sake of his defeated tribemates.

David gave a hell of a go at this challenge. He was in absolute agony by the end. Once he was gone the remaining three girls, all Ometepe members, giggled their way to a decision to simply drop out and let Andrea win. These girls are on vacation, and David is fighting for his life. They may as well have set lions on him.

(One last thing I loved about this challenge: it featured the “Elapsed Time” counter, as these stamina challenges always do, but also gave us an “Elapsed Burger” counter, letting us know exactly how much beef Phillip and Steve had packed away. Little things like this make me smile. Most of the players aren’t taking this season seriously; it’s good to know the guys in the cutting room aren’t necessarily doing so, either.)

Tribal councils were about what you’d expect; Zapatera slung as many arrows as they could, but Ometepe held firm. David kept a great sense of humor about his exit; his vote card read “Rob Rob Rob Rob. Please count as four votes.” Probst didn’t, of course, but the rest of us got a kick out of it. I imagine it takes a great deal of character to keep one’s chin up in the face of that kind of adversity, though. How David managed it, I don’t know. His tribemates have all been completely flattened; they’ve cashed in. He headed off to Redemption Island with his head held high, and a recent smile on his face.

And make no mistake, I mean flattened. I mean, Zapatera is completely shattered, completely demoralized, and completely lost. Rob has orchestrated their destruction on such a primal level that it almost makes me hate him. (That’s almost, mind you.)

And Phillip! I am convinced Phillip is lying about his job as a federal agent. And his spirit visions, and his Cherokee grandfather, and his preference for being on bottom. I’m not even convinced he can’t pronounce “Ometepe” and “Zapatera” properly. No, I think Phillip is playing us all. He’s not a Survivor player; he’s a performance artist. What a joy he has helped to make this season!

So that’s the story: Mike and David set out to pasture, but neither are out of the game yet. Does that mean a three-way Redemption duel next episode? Should be interesting.

Who’s gonna win? Rob says he wants to bring Phillip and Natalie with him to the finals. If that ends up happening — and this is Boston Rob’s decree, so it might as well be scripture — I think Phillip has a no-bullshit serious shot. The Zapatera jurors might give it to Phillip just to spite Rob. And the Ometepe jurors will probably finally see their bullshit game for what it was, just after Rob cuts them free. That’s a lot of anti-Rob spite, and I don’t know if he intends to do anything to redirect it anywhere. It’s gonna be fireworks. I can’t wait.

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