Pre-credit sequence. We pick things up on Redemption Island, where Matt and Mike welcome Ralph, who briefs them on Ricegate and other happenings around camp, including Steve’s deteriorating condition. But just at that moment… in walks Steve! Laughter abounds. “Redemption Island just keeps getting crazier and crazier,” Mike says. For his part, Steve is perfectly happy not to have gone to camp with the Ometepe Six. Sitting around a Redemption Island fire, they realize that the Jury will end up being a Zapatera majority. Ralph somehow interprets this information as meaning that if a single Zapatera can make it to the Finals, they’ll be guaranteed to win. He may be right. This would be an epic abomination, so let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
Speed 2: Cruise Control. The remaining Murlonio tribe returns to camp. They’re excited, but also aware that it’s soon going to be time to turn on each other and to end what Adorable Andrea calls “cruise control.” It should be a happy moment, but suddenly Natalie starts bawling, crying what she calls “hormone tears.” I initially read the subtitle as “Hermione tears,” which was confusing. Natalie’s missing regular life, but she tries to reassure Rob and the rest of the tribe that she still wants to play. “She’s 19. Being out here for 30 days, it takes its toll on you,” says an ostensibly understanding Rob. He knows that he has eight days to keep everybody happy and to keep everybody from plotting against him.
Amber waives. The next morning, Grant is out fishing, while Andrea and Ashley open a Sprint-branded piece of Tree-Mail. Inside a box, they find a Sprint phone telling them to go to Redemption Island for the Duel. But their Sprint phone also includes videos from home. Thanks, Sprint! Natalie’s mom makes her cry. Andrea’s dad makes her cry. But why do the videos all have the same production values as a hostage proof-of-life document? Thanks, Sprint? Why the heck is Rob getting a video from his sister as opposed to Amber? That’s such a missed opportunity. She couldn’t find a babysitter? Finally, everybody is crying.
Somebody was choking the chickens. The Redemption Island Four also get a Sprint phone and Sprint videos. Ralph’s video, from a friend (a “friend”?) contains the tragic news that several of his chickens were killed. But the cows are OK. Whew. Does nobody (other than Rob and the absent Amber) have a spouse this season? How strange. Lots of parents and siblings. Sadly, Matt’s message isn’t from Jesus. But his brother wishes him well. “If there’s a chance I can spend any time with my brother, I’ll do anything I can to win today,” Matt promises. I know Redemption Island gives everybody a second chance, but why are the losers entitled to Sprint electronics and possible visits from home? Sorry. Am I cold?
WWJD, Brought to You By Sprint. It’s the first four-person Redemption Island Duel in history. Or something. Jeff Probst collects their phones, praising the magic of Sprint. So the winner of the Duel will get to spend time with their loved one in person. It’s pretty basic: You have four balls and four tiles. First three people to break all of their tiles stay in the game. The first person to finish gets love from Sprint… errr… home. Mike draws first tile-blood and holds that lead through three rounds. On the fourth round, Mike wins the Duel and also earns some “in-person, up-close love.” Matt doesn’t win, but he finishes second, with Ralph coming in third. That’s it for Steve. He tosses his buff on the urn and limps off into the wilderness. Out comes Mike’s mom, but there’s a catch. If Mike wants to, he can forgo his love to let Matt and Ralph have love. He has a third choice. Mike can give love to the six people still actually in the game. It’s an interesting strategic choice. Mike has been reading his Bible and the Bible tells Mike that if he gives the most love to the most people, that’s the righteous choice. Probst is incredulous. Mike’s mom, however, isn’t at all surprised, calling her son a hero. “Don’t vote me off again,” Mike tells the Ometepe Six. May I just point out what a bizarre decision it was to allow the players still actually in the game to have no control at all over the family visit?
No love on Redemption Island. The family-free Redemption Island Three come back to their camp. Ralph isn’t magnanimous about Mike’s decision. Ralph isn’t bitter that Mike didn’t give him time with his friend, but he says that if he’d been in Mike’s shoes, he’d have spent the time with his mother. Matt’s faith is tested. “I’m glad I didn’t win, because I couldn’t have done that,” Matt says. “I asked God to help me win and I think that’s what he asked of me,” Mike tells his friends. He tells us that he didn’t do it for the game, but because it was the right thing to do. “It’s hard for me to know I’ve let my friends down,” Mike admits. No matter what Probst says, Mike really only had the two choices, right? He either would give the love to the six or keep it for himself. There couldn’t have been any value at all to letting Ralph hang out with his friend?
Amber, encased in t-shirt. The music is so happy for the Murlonio gang! “It was just everything I needed and so much more,” raves Ashley. “How do you keep your hair so nice?” asks Andrea’s dad. Natalie’s mom is convinced that God was looking over her. [Some people don’t cry “pretty.” Natalie cries “pretty.” It’s a skill.] Meanwhile, off to the side, Phillip is explaining to his sister that he’s prepared to play crazy if necessary. I love how everybody’s having conversations about hair and God and stuff and Rob is explaining to his sister how he’s going to take Phillip to the end, because nobody’s going to vote for the whacko. [Gratuitous shot of Natalie smacking her own butt.] Rob’s proud of the game he’s playing, but he insists it’s meaningless if he doesn’t win. “I need this. It’s to make a better life for my wife and kids,” he says, looking at an Amber t-shirt. “I want to win ‘Survivor.’ This is something I’ve been trying to do for 10 years now,” Rob notes.
A 75-Step Program. The Immunity Challenge is a daunting one. There’s a huge puzzle/pyramid staircase that has to be completed. I’m exhausted just looking at it. But I’m a lazy TV critic. It’s like running up and down the stairs at a football stadium. In the sun. After barely eating for 32 days. Carrying heavy planks. Andrea, Grant and Rob get out into a lead. “It’s about 110 degrees today,” Probst says kindly. Phillip, Ashley and Natalie aren’t really in the race at all. Of the leading contenders, Rob is fighting against a kind of fatigue I can’t even imagine. Rob just needs one more puzzle piece. If. He. Can. Just. Make. It. To… The… Top. He does! Immunity for Boston Rob. Yes, he looks like he’s on the verge of death, but Grant and Andrea look nearly as bad and they don’t have Immunity to show for it. Rob is cramping and requires a water assist from Natalie. He declines medical assistance, instead getting help from Grant standing. But again, his knees buckle. Yikes. That’s some drama. If you’ll recall, Rob also passed out mid-jungle in “Heroes vs. Villains.” The boy tries hard.
Phillip’s full-blood Cherokee great-grandfather has written a killer closing argument. “Oh man, my legs are like Jell-O,” Rob says as he stumbles into the camp, content that not only is he not going to Redemption Island, but nobody else has Immunity as an impediment to his plans. In the shelter, everyone agrees that Adorable Andrea has to go next. Well, Adorable Andrea doesn’t agree. She’s convinced that Phillip is being voted out next. If she’s as smart as Rob seems to think she is, why is she not anticipating this? “Lovers are gonna be reunited,” Grant cracks about Andrea and Matt. [Wait. Whose shoe was that tarantula crawling into?] Perhaps feeling too comfortable, Phillip decides this is a great chance to annoy absolutely everybody. Phillip tells the camera that he made himself the villain from the beginning and that these little moments of seemingly pointless instigation are part of his ongoing plan, a plan that includes a strategy to beat Rob. “I know exactly what to say to make everybody else think twice about voting for him. Regardless of everything else I’ve said. Honestly, I think I can defeat Rob.” Color me curious. Suddenly, Rob isn’t sure who he wants to sit with at the end, acknowledging that Phillip is good with words and could be playing him. “If I make the wrong decision, 32 days of hard work could be gone just like that,” Rob admits.
Tribal Council. Enter the Jury. Probst is giddy to watch the alliance fall upon itself. “I feel confident in the relationships I’ve built,” Andrea says. “It’s a totally different Tribal Council tonight,” says Natalie, who says it isn’t fun. Probst tries mocking Phillip’s performance in the challenge to emphasize how little of a threat he is, but Phillip says that he’s just waiting for something that requires upper body strength. Andrea makes a point nobody’s brought up: If they keep their core alliance strong, they’ll be able to fight off the person returning from Redemption. The problem being that nobody knows when that person is coming back and if they’ll even have a chance to crush them. Rob appears to be considering this idea. Lots of blather. And then, because Probst is capable of being a gleeful sadist, he says, “Phillip, before we vote, share one little nugget that you think your great-grandfather would say if he were here now?” Phillip responds, “He’d say, ‘You’ve done everything right to get to this point, hold the faith.'” Wise words.
The Vote. Nobody plays an Idol. Probst tallies: Andrea. Phillip. Andrea. [“Oh my God,” Andrea says, because she knows what this means.] Andrea. Andrea. “Tricky, tricky,” Andrea says. Cutest. Blindside. Ever.
Bottom Line: I’m still irked by the loser-controlled family visit, but relatively speaking, this year’s Sprint product placement was far less than usual. So I’ll get over that. I’ll also ignore what was another really dismal Redemption Island Duel. Shuffleboard? A beanbag toss? Are we not going to make these losers earn their place back into the game at all? Weak. Meanwhile, in contrast, Boston Rob’s Immunity Challenge performance wasn’t “heroic,” because I’m reticent to use the word “heroic” to describe a reality TV performance, but it was sure awesome. As for the move to blindside Adorable Andrea? Well, it was inevitable, but we only saw hints of why it was essential. Andrea’s failure to even consider that she might be targeted this week undermines her intellectual standing in my book. There was nothing she could have done once she realized it, but it would have been good to see that light go on in her eyes. Of bigger concern, Ralph raised an ominous specter: The Zapaterans consistently showcased minimal understanding of the game of “Survivor,” an obliviousness that led to their annihilation. They could be just dumb enough to vote for a Zapatera in the Finals out of pique, or to vote for Matty because he led them all to God on Redemption Island. Other than David, which of those people would have sufficient respect for Rob’s game to vote for him with anybody even vaguely sympathetic sitting next to him? This makes me really worried…
What’d you think of this week’s episode and of the current lay of the land?