Survivor Recap: The (Vicious) Blindside

We’ve witnessed a lot of despicable behavior on Survivor over the years, but I’m not exactly sure that shaking the hands of an opposing tribe’s members after their win in a challenge would qualify. Annoying? Maybe. Ill-advised? Yeah, definitely. But Boston Rob’s reaction to Matt’s gentlemanly move seemed a wee bit overzealous from where I was sitting.

Sometimes, though, you’ve got to make a power move early in the game, and sometimes you’ve got to justify said power move in a way that doesn’t leave you looking downright dastardly. And so Boston Rob found a way to villainize his one-time ally, to use his general good nature and sportsmanship against him.

“I didn’t want to play Survivor like this,” protested Boston Rob. Which is kind of like declaring “I’m not going to drink at the party tonight,” immediately after downing a six-pack of beer. But I don’t mean any disrespect. Boston Rob is a guy who clearly loves playing the Survivor game, and who’s already writing the grad-school thesis on strategy while guys like Matt are reading the freshman-year textbook. Matt presented a legitimate long-term threat, not only from a physical standpoint, but also in terms of the close relationship he was forming with fellow alliance member Andrea, and by virtue of what the guy probably thought of as a few utterly benign handshakes. “Matt’s going to play the good Christian game and the social game and the end game on Day Freakin’ Five?” huffed Boston Rob. “Wake up, brother!”

Whether the very early blindside against Matt turns out to be a wise one remains to be seen. In terms of raw numbers, the timing may have been perfect. From the eight players on Ometepe, Rob had an alliance of six, and was part of a stronger sub-alliance of four (Natalie, Ashley, and Grant, plus himself). Add loopy Phillip’s “you own my vote” promise, and Rob actually controlled the destiny of all but one Ometepe member. So, yeah, I can see why Boston Rob’s initial game plan — “Let’s get to six, and then we can play all the strategy we want” — went the way of Phillip’s shorts the second he began to see Matt and Andrea forging a closer bond.

Over on the Zapatera tribe, it was all about Russell and Ralph squaring off for the title of Baddest Good Ol’ Boy in All of Nicaragua (not that there are probably too many of ’em). Russell said he thought Ralph was possibly the dumbest person on earth (and yet somehow, he himself was under the impression that he could take Stephanie and Krista for a stroll without arousing suspicion). But Ralph was apparently smart enough to find the Hidden Immunity Idol without so much as a single clue. (“That was as simple as wiping your hiney with toilet paper,” he stated.)

Cut to Ralph, approaching Russell after the immunity challenge, and asking if he’d found the clue to the location of the immunity idol in the basket of fishing supplies Zapatera had won, followed by a whole lot of grunting and posturing and possibly even some territory-marking using surplus body hair. “I know how to play this game,” growled Russell. “This ol’ boy right here does, too,” said Ralph. I loved how Russell got super-egotistical in the confessional — “You just did that to me, Russell Hantz, and you know how to play this game?” — without knowing the secret weapon in Ralph’s pocket. Survivor‘s Big Bad may be in for a bit of a shock whenever Zapata makes its first trip to Tribal, eh?

Other highlights this week:

* Rob’s assessment of Phillip’s unpredictable emotional state: “Let it be a lesson to you — government jobs are stressful.”

* Phillip hunting for tiny crabs in a “primal state” (aka his fuchsia undies).

* This brilliant exchange right before the immunity challenge.
Phillip (sizing up the Zapatera tribe): I will outlast any man over there!
Jeff Probst: What about the women?
Phillip: That’s another day. We’ll see.

* The way Grant’s dive into the water during the challenge took him 90 percent of the way across the pool.

* Phillip’s long and winding monologue at tribal council centered on his gorilla and lion tattoos, including this pearl of wisdom: “I don’t think a lion ever feels it screwed up.”

What did you think of this week’s episode? Are you liking how intense Tribal Council has been these opening two weeks? What did you think of the way Stephanie was taking major pot shots (“You suck at life, okay?”) behind Sarita’s back? And how about Matt’s absolutely stunned expression when his name came up at Tribal Council, followed by a smile of almost begrudging respect? “Good work, guys!” he said. “My goodness!” My goodness, indeed!

Slezak on Twitter: @MichaelSlezakTV.