Survivor Recap: 'Biggest Blindside Ever'?

Kudos to the Survivor editing team for giving this week’s Tribal Council a classic aura of “will she or won’t she?” suspense. Indeed, it all came down to quiet, reasoned firefighter Julie (or “the old lady,” as Russell likes to call her) and whether or not she’d sell out her alliance to join forces with the franchise’s infamous villain and his two “concubines” (Mike’s word choice, not mine).

But first, it was off to Redemptions Island Arena for a “duel” between Matt and Francesca involving sticks, ropes, locks, and plenty of dramatic violin music to alert us to the fact that this was all more exciting than it looked. Now while I appreciate the way Survivor can go all MacGyver and whip up white-knuckle thrills using stuff that can be found in the average American garage, I’ve got to admit this standoff felt a little low-stakes, kind of like a bronze medal matchup in Olympic hockey. Maybe it’s because, at the end of the day, Matt and Francesca were the first two players to get their torches snuffed — and we’ve had 21 previous seasons telling us that these types of early evictees should be immediately discarded and forgotten. Or maybe it’s because it seems pretty certain producers won’t reintroduce the Redemption Island comeback kid into the general Survivor population for at least six or seven weeks. So, really, why get too invested in the proceedings now, when chances are neither Matt or Francesca is going to win that many showdowns in succession?

In the end, while Matt’s hastiness cost him in the early stages of the “build a pole/snatch three keys” challenge, Francesca’s too-too-deliberate approach allowed her rival to come back from a two-keys-to-none deficit and pull off a handy win. Props to Probst, though, for calling out blondie on his whining about the lack of amenities at the Redemption Island camp: “It’s on you. Get back to Redemption — make it happen!” Yes, sir!

The action at Ometepe this week was pretty low-key, but mainly centered around fallout from last week’s betrayal of Matt and Andrea. Rob reassured Andrea she was still the fifth person in the dominant alliance, but she later sat down for a tearful confessional to (wisely) say she didn’t trust the master strategist. If Andrea had been smart, though, she would’ve been a lot more reassuring in her chats with Rob. Why not lie and say something like, “Rob, I totally respect your move. You really didn’t have anything to worry about, but if I was in your shoes, I’d probably have done the same thing. Power couples are a threat, so no hard feelings here — I hope you know I’m as loyal as ever.”

The other main development at Ometepe involved Phillip’s hind end — but thankfully not a wardrobe malfunction for the man with the heinous fuchsia undies. Nope, Rob lucked out and found the clue to the hidden immunity idol “right underneath [Phillip’s] ass.” Unfortunately, our Boston protagonist had trouble deciphering the message. “The clue basically could’ve read ‘the hidden immunity idol is somewhere,'” he sighed.

The real action this week, however, went down at Zapatera, where the alliance of six (Steve, David, Mike, Sarita, Ralph, and Julie) decided it was time to throw the immunity challenge in order to flush Russell, his possible immunity idol (faked by wily Stephanie), and his armpit pustules from the game. I’ll say this: I understood Julie’s hesitation to deliberately try to lose the challenge — especially since none of her five cohorts had to submit to having their heads plunged violently underwater while strapped to the Water Wheel of Doom. (Am I the only one who thinks of Gina Davis’ massively underrated action flick The Long Kiss Goodnight at the sight of this challenge?)

As for the prudence of Zapatera choosing to lose a tribe member — and turning a potential three-member lead into a one-member edge — well, that’s a tough call. Stephanie barked at her tribemates that it was “not strategy, but plain stupidity,” but it’s hard to take seriously the word of a bratty kid who huffs and puffs and eye-rolls her way through any interaction where she’s not in the driver’s seat. And then there was Stephanie’s attempt to bring Julie to the dark side. “BIGGEST! BLINDSIDE! EVER!” Stephanie squealed, thinking she’d sealed the deal with her contemplative tribemate.

But if I’d been on Zapatera, and more specifically in Julie’s shoes, I think I’d have taken the taken the same exact path: Double-crossing Russell at the last minute. After all, the benefits were two-fold: Ridding Zapatera of a poisonous presence that threatened morale more than any reduced numbers gap could do, and providing a moment of pure “suck it, Russell!” awesomeness that can be savored long after the game is finished. If I was part of the alliance of six, I’d wallpaper my bathroom with screengrabs of Russell’s surly response to his ouster. “This is my game, suckah”? Think again!

As far as post-vote reactions go, Julie’s unrepentant grin spoke far more powerfully than Stephanie’s “storm’s a comin'” hokum or Russell’s “I’ll be back, and I’ll be ready” caveat. The only question that remains now, as Jeff pointed out, is whether the decision to vote out “one of the most successful players in the history of Survivor” will come back to haunt Zapatera. What do you think? Would you have thrown the challenge and booted Russell if he was on your tribe? Were you stressed by the fact that Zapatera was splitting the vote between Stephanie and Russell, based on the possibility of them having an immunity idol, while Ralph held said idol in his pocket? Which players do you think have the potential to make the final three? And how do you think Russell will react when he discovers it’s Matt, not Francesca, who survived the Redemption Island duel? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.