Survivor: Who Do You Think Will Win Next Week's 'Redemption Island' Showdown?

All good things must come to an end — even on Survivor: Redemption Island. And indeed, on Wednesday night’s episode, the delicious streak of wild, wicked, blindside-heavy Tribal Councils flamed out with the two most straightforward eliminations of the season. Still, as the six former Ometepe tribe members meticulously picked off ex-Zapateras Mike, then David, in predictable, back-to-back fashion, they also set up what could turn out to be a fascinating showdown next week at Redemption Island Arena. Will it be a three-man bout for survival among Redemption Island’s unbeaten gladiator Matt, physical powerhouse Mike (who has a penchant for runner-up finishes), and strategy-minded David? And if so, which one is most likely to prevail? Before we get to this week’s poll, let’s recount a few highlights:

* Matt’s episode-opening quote made me chuckle: “I’d like to congratulate myself on being the most naïve person ever to play the game of Survivor.” Still, it was an unintentional zinger in his subsequent chat with the man upstairs — during which he looked heavenward and made peace with the Almighty “using my stupidity for your glory” — that had me guffawing with laughter.

* Rob’s game-playing is some next-level s***! Demanding that his tribemates pair up — buddy-system style — so that none of them can be the “straggling impala,” and get picked off by opportunistic Zapatera members looking to split the vote? Smart. Instilling so much fear in them that they refuse delicious proteins and rat each other out at the drop of a coconut? Absolutely genius. (Did Grant possibly seal his fate by nibbling on that rigor-mortis-y fish?) I loved Rob’s confessional after Natalie told him how Ashley failed to report Ralph’s backroom maneuver: “You have to tell me everything. It’s my game. I’m in charge.” Arrogant? Undoubtedly. But the guy is in such total control of the proceedings right now, who can really blame him? I don’t know when or if Rob’s buddies Grant or Andrea plan to make a power play, or if they’d be happy with a potential sixth-place finish, but it seems like the first Ometepe to suggest mutiny will probably be the first one Rob orders terminated. Quite the conundrum, no?

* I also loved how Rob encouraged his alliance mates to show total arrogance and a total unwillingness to connect with the Zapateras — going so far as to set up separate shelters and eating times — the better for the veteran player to pick up his rival tribemates’ jury votes at the end of the game. The way Phillip (“there’s nothing to talk about”) and Andrea (“talk about your farm”) brutally spurned Ralph and David’s half-hearted attempts to discuss strategy made for riveting television. Aren’t these other cats aware that Ralph and/or David could hold their fate in their hands in a few short weeks?

* For the first time this season, I’m starting to think Phillip’s craziness is at least half strategy. His preposterous stories and conspiracy theories –i.e. He didn’t have a collision with a bird, but rather meditated his headdress feather into existence — are sublimely daft, and mark him as the one guy everyone wants to stand next to in a jury scenario. What surprised me was hearing “the specialist” acknowledge this as an actual thought-out plan to get ahead in the game. Could his mispronunciations — this week’s favorites were “otempo” and “atempe” — be less-than-accidental, too? Some of it’s genuine cray-cray, right?

* I’m really enjoying this season’s mix of immunity challenges. The episode’s initial showdown was a three-pronged leg that tested speed, knot-busting agility, ability to carry water in one’s mouth, and then aptitude at solving a puzzle. Grant’s narrow victory over Mike had to sting the latter player — especially because his runner-up finish marked him as his alliance’s most threatening member, and therefore its most logical victim. The second immunity challenge — a good old-fashioned “hang from a beam” endurance test was beautifully cruel. Poor David hung in there for 45 minutes before surrendering to the three women of Ometepe. I was also intrigued by Andrea convincing Ashley and Natalie to let her have the immunity necklace, which I think gives her a slight psychological/momentum edge going forward. Anyone else agree?

* I’m not sure the Zapateras were wise to take such a confrontational approach to pointing out Phillip’s low-man status on Ometepe, but his response was truly stunning. “I enjoy being on the bottom. If that’s where I am, it’s a nice place to be: You can look up and see what’s going on”

* Quiet Julie had a couple of priceless zingers during Tribal. Responding to Phillip’s contention of a blood-like bond among the former Ometepes, she made an excellent observation: “Matt thought you guys were his family, too.” Oh snap! And at the second vote, she ponted out what no one in Rob’s alliance has seemed willing to acknowledge: “Rob has complete control. It’s not even a tribe, it’s a cult.” Still, will Julie’s boldness pay dividends when the Ometepe six start to turn on each other and need a swing vote, or will it backfire if Rob targets her for elimination before Ralph and Steve?

* Best chyron/visual sequence of the week:
Elapsed time: 20 minutes
Elapsed burgers: 5
Followed by a shot of Steve burping.
If that’s not an Emmy-worthy bit of editing, I don’t know what is.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Which players are you predicting will make it to the finals? And who do you think is most likely to triumph next week at Redemption Island Arena? Take our poll below, then hit the comments to share your reasoning. And for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.