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It’s time for another season of Survivor, and I could not be more excited. And while I could go either way on the whole “Redemption Island” twist, I am firmly pro-Rob v. Russell. There’s been a lot of talk about how awful it is to see these lifers on the show over and over again, but 1.) I have more favorite Survivor contestants than friends, so I’m cool seeing them over and over again each year and 2.) When Jeff says we get another season of Russell Hantz, I hear we get another season of him sobbing uncontrollably from a seat squarely in the middle of the bottom row at the reunion. So game on, baby. Survivor is back.
Sweeping shots of mountains and oceans! A helicopter full of aspiring Los Angeles actors! Jeff Probst yelling at us! Yep, it’s good to be back.
The sexual tension is intense.
Time for some talking heads, starting with Phillip, who over the next hour will become my favorite Survivor character since Coach (something I thought impossible). He tells us he’s a former federal agent. It’s ok if you missed it now, because it will be repeated roughly six million times during this episode. Also, I owe the producers $5 for Russell not getting to talk about how great he is before everyone else.
I thought mocking titles were only on Big Brother, but I’m glad to see it here.
Matt is religious and wants to play the game like Jesus! Ralph is a redneck and wants to be the first dumbass to win the game!
Jeff is still sort of a huge dork!
Also, do you think they noticed he yelled “18 people” at the end there in the helicopter?
Francesca is excited to be here! Mike was in Iraq and thinks he’ll win because he has proper training, and we all know success on Survivor is directly related to survival experience.
Jeff welcomes them to Survivor and they basically make idiots of themselves, and then he drops the first bombshell: two more players! B-Rob and Russell arrive to predictable reactions, and Stephanie says something about letting Russell take her to the end and then beating him. It’s the soundest strategy we’ve heard so far so watch for her to win a million dollars in three months.
Jeff orgasms all over how great the two guys are. Boston Rob is a great guy and a bobcat in the sack, Russell masterminded two alliances but never won. Hey, I’ll give him credit for Samoa, but wasn’t HvV basically all Parvati? He didn’t call ANY shots after the merge. Anyways, Francesca speaks up and says they’re being sized up like prey, which is both true and a stupid thing to say.
Rob begins to suspect the game is rigged when he draws a yellow buff and Russell draws an immunity idol.
So they draw for teams and Rob goes to the yellow tribe with loudmouth Fran and Russell goes to the purple tribe with winner-elect Stephanie. Also, the reactions of the two tribes is reason #2,546 that Russell will never win Survivor unless he changes his strategy. Except for the old guy in the back who is really creepily excited about Russell.
Then Jeff tells them all the stuff about Redemption Island we already know (surviving alone, duels to return). Good grief there’s a lot of prelim stuff and weird twists to get out of the way. If Jeff wasn’t there and I was one of these contestants I would feel like I was actually on a weird Survivor knock-off that altered the rules just enough to avoid a lawsuit.
And then it’s finally time to hear from Russell. Because he is the best at everything, he is not scared of Redemption Island. Uh, cool? I think the point was supposed to be that you need to be nice to everyone that you vote off, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that went over Russell’s head.
Nowhere on TV but competition-based reality shows would this man find such continued success.
We’re FINALLY ready to get started, so after Jeff throws maps at them and both tribes awkwardly miss the catch (side note: Stephanie is wearing heels, confirming she will in fact be Russell’s dumbass girl this season), he tells them to head out but also start listening to Rob and Russell because they are the best ever. Also, Fran keeps talking about how she will never ever need to go to Redemption Island because she is such a good player. Man, the Fran edit is rich with dramatic irony on a second viewing.
The happy team-building music is playing as Zapatera (purple) shows up, and Russell immediately tells us what a badass he is and how he’s going to run this game. Oh, Russell. I can’t wait to see which of your allies will kick your ass all over the final tribal. Never change. So his first fiendish act is to call everyone together and tell them that he won’t be evil this time and he just wants the team to win. Then they start building their camp using a shit-ton of product placement materials from Craftsman while the camera attempts to linger on its logo for as long as possible. Ralph the redneck says he can build them an awesome camp if they listen to him, but his authority is lessened by the producers’ need to subtitle everything he says.
He’s also rapidly developing a bromance with Iraq veteran Mike, who displays he might be kind of a mimbo when he says he wants to “win and stay away from immunity challenges.” A bold strategy, to be sure.
“Can we good-looking fellas join your dumbass alliance, too?”
The music is sadder at Ometepe (yellow) but they are also building a pretty decent camp, and Matt shows us that Jesus would have played the game like a buffoon by asking Rob if he’s from Boston. SERIOUSLY? I feel like “Is Rob from Boston?” is the way you would confirm an obvious question around Survivor elite. Also, where the hell are our Rob confessionals?
Jeff has got to be PISSED he’s missing this.
So basically Rob is his charming self and everyone loves him, especially Natalie who totally wants to bone him later.
“You think Rob is single?”
But then it’s time for Phillip to get this party started. He makes the unforgivable Survivor error of trying to build a camp better than Boston Rob and builds on that by being super condescending to Fran and the girls.
But then for some reason he’s alone with the girls, and he chooses to tell them that he’s a formal federal agent and an expert at reading people, so he’s like superman. Also he has seven sisters so it’s OK for him to be really creepy and hug them all. Man, elements of delusion like we have not seen since, well, Russell’s last confessional.
So then Kristen, who’s a law student even though she’s like 50, says she went through all the stuff looking for immunity idol clues but didn’t find anything. Boston Rob, who may have been born at night but not last night, calls her out on it in private but she insists she didn’t find anything and now she’s worried Rob thinks she has it. Unfortunately, Rob is the kind of smart player that allies with idiots to vote out other strong smart players, so this doesn’t bode well for Kristen. He immediately goes to Phillip and tells him they should consider a boys’ alliance, who is way too eager to be all over Rob.
AND THEN, because the Survivor Gods are smiling on us, Phillip does this amazing impression of him and Rob as male lions, then starts flexing his biceps and making weird sounds I have no idea how to replicate in text form.
So Phillip immediately goes to Kristen (I can’t believe this is all before the first challenge!) and tells her Rob wants to sell out the girls so they should work together. Russell is going to be pissed that there is someone like Phillip this season to steal his precious camera time.
Phillip’s necklace would make an excellent fake immunity idol.
Speaking of Russell, he finally corners Stephanie and gets all weird about how he brought Natalie and Parvati and now it’s her turn. First, Parvati didn’t win, and second, Parvati owned you the entire game. I really wish I knew if Stephanie knows all this and is just playing to Russell’s ego or if she’s genuinely bought in to the Hantz myth because I really want to know how much to respect her gameplay. Anyways, Russell starts his issuing of ultimatums about how she needs to get with him and they seal the deal.
But this does not go unnoticed to other Zapatera members, who immediately share that he has his hooks in Stephanie and is a huge threat. As long as there are no Tysons here, it sounds like Russell’s days might be thankfully numbered.
Back to Ometepe. Rob has gained the awe of the men and a harem of women, save Kristen who wants to fight against him. Man, I feel like if this wasn’t Survivor’s golden boy Boston Rob we would all totally be rooting for Krazy Kristen. She gets this awesome Latin American horn behind her as she sets off into the wilds of Nicaragua with her shovel and bright pink sports bra to find the immunity idol and she begins randomly looking under rocks and in trees AND SHE TOTALLY FINDS IT. I would argue this is even more impressive than Russell because she found it faster and also in a more random location than he did in Samoa. I hope this entire season continues the trend of proving Russell’s “feats” pretty lackluster.
Peter O’Toole will definitely play her in the film adaption.
But my love for her sort of falls apart when she tries to build a crazy-person trifecta with Fran and Phillip to send Rob home. Phillip, because he is a former federal agent and also an expert at reading people, talks for like twenty minutes without saying anything and basically demands to know who the other votes are. Screaming “WHO ARE YOUR VOTES” is not a way to make friends.
When they try to tell him to relax because they haven’t even played the fucking immunity challenge yet, he tells them he’s a grown man and a federal agent and he just wants answers and then there’s this awesome fight between the three of them that consists of Phillip making sure he always has the last word and the slowly dawning horror of Kristen and Fran that they’ve just put themselves at the mercy of someone who might be legitimately insane.
Challenge time! What, no questions about how much they love Rob and Russell? AND WHERE THE HELL ARE OUR ROB CONFESSIONALS? Without those, he just kinda comes off as a smug prick. I want his knowing winks and nods toward me, the viewer. Damnit.
So the challenge is a standard physical thing and then mental thing. And there’s some rope-cutting that doesn’t amount to much. It is notable that this is a challenge on like a giant pyramid thing, which I feel like the challenge department hasn’t done since like Guatemala. Anyways, Zapetera gets a big lead in the physical part and even though Rob is a puzzle superstar they can’t catch up. Immunity and flint to Zapetera!
So back at camp, Kristen tells Fran she has the immunity idol and she wants to convince everyone to vote for her while “you, me, and bigmouth” blindside Rob. Why would you try to include Phillip at all in this plan? And yes, this does seem like way too fast, but if she and Fran are on the outs anyway I guess they might as well do this.
But Fran makes the very valid point that Natalie is weaker and Rob helps them win, so they should blindside her. But she will commit to whatever Kristen wants. Ugh, I hate that these two are such good gameplayers but they’re getting screwed over by Phillip and Rob’s harem of nameless women + Jesus. After Kristen asks who Rob is voting for and he just tells her he doesn’t know, Kristen correctly interprets that that means it’s going to be her anyway.
And we finally finally finally get a Rob confessional. He tells us what we already concluded: Fran revealed she was too smart way back when they first met Rob and Kristen revealed she was too smart when she was looking for the idol, so they have to go. Rob rallies everyone against them and asks them to split their votes 4-3 between them in case they have the idol, and then tells them to make sure they do it correctly.
I WONDER WHY HE EMPHASIZES THAT.
Back to Phillip, who’s talking about everyone’s “hyper state of arousal” and AGAIN wants to know about the vote numbers, and Kristen is awesomely like, “come on, I have something to show you.” I guess she’d be screwed if she didn’t pull him in because he would have helped with the vote split, but no matter what Rob way too effectively blocked Kristen and so she never should have taken the risk in trusting him. It’s just frustrating to see good players go down to other good players while people like Natalie and Jesus slide through as blandly as possible.
Tribal council time: Rob gets the first question, because this is Jeff Probst. Rob, who knows how to play oh so well, strokes Phillip’s ego as a hard worker and they all sort of identify him as a leader, though Jesus notes it wasn’t well received. Fran says a woman will probably go because of strength and Jeff takes the opportunity to talk about Rob some more and ask if he’s nervous. Rob says he is.
So here’s where it gets awesome: Answering a question about Redemption Island, Fran casually mentions that Boston Rob would be fine surviving on his own but isn’t going home. Phillip, perhaps never having learned that people don’t always mean everything they say in his many years of federal agent-ing, FREAKS out and reveals that they had a master plan to vote Rob out. Fran and Kristen deny this and call him crazy, but Phillip reminds them all that he is a federal agent and he doesn’t lie and now he’s voting for “Fransesqua.” Kristen whispers to Fran that they should now vote for Phillip as Rob laughs his ass off.
“Man, this is easy with no Parvati or idiotic Mormons around.”
So Kristen, trying to swing the tribe vote, throws Phillip under the bus as mentally unstable, but Phillip tells the tribe that she has an immunity idol. It is worth noting that this entire time he cannot pronounce ‘Francesca’ to save his life, and also that everyone in the tribe who is not Fran, Kristen, or Phillip is loving this.
Kristen confirms this to Jeff and then Rob confronts her, but Kristen and Fran both say that they were planning on blindsiding Phillip and not Rob. Basically Fran and Phillip both appeal to Rob that the other is lying, and Jeff takes the chance to let Rob run things. Rob says he doesn’t trust Kristen and asks her to take out the idol, then says if she gives him the idol then she’ll stay. This is SUCH a ballsy thing to do and Kristen and Fran, who are at their first tribal council EVER, basically have no idea what to do and kind of lamely refuse. Then it’s time to vote!
Kristen interestingly doesn’t play the idol and the votes are 4-3-2 for Fran/Kristina/Phillip, so Fran is off to Redemption Island. Man–what an intense first episode! I maintain that Fran and Kristen are good players that got in wayyyy over their heads, so I’m excited to see what they do moving forward. And Phillip: what can I say? I just hope he stays with us for quite some time.
What did you think? Were Rob and Russell even necessary?