Survivor: Phillip and Steve Squabble Over Rice, Race. Who Wanted to Change the Channel?

I’ve been absolutely loving the current season of Survivor: Redemption Island, but am I the only one who wanted to switch off the TV during Wednesday night’s heated “rice wars” argument — in which Phillip insisted that Steve calling him “crazy” was his coded way of using the n-word?

Things got heated when Steve, Julie, and Ralph — the three remaining members of the former Zapatera tribe — kept their rice rations separate from the six former Ometepe players (a divided lifestyle that was openly encouraged by Ometepe ringleader Boston Rob, for those of you keeping score). Phillip and his fellow alliance members became increasingly agitated by the Zapatera players’ heaping portions of carbs, and when their own rice container got infested with maggots, Phillip asked if the two factions could combine their uncooked grains in the Zapatera container.

When Steve didn’t immediately say “yes,” and explained he’d have to talk things over with Ralph, Phillip became completely incensed, insisting he would hide Zapatera’s rice rations at the first possible opportunity, then seconds later adding that “unless you [Steve and Julie] walk with that f***** can everywhere you go, I’m gonna put the [Ometepe] rice in there.”

Steve, relatively unrattled by Phillip’s patented brand of ridiculousness, barely shifted from his “reclining dude” pose and called Phillip a “f****** lunatic.” And that’s when the feather-wearing, incessantly chattering special agent ratcheted up the rhetoric. “That’s your perception, anytime somebody of my color gets up in one of your faces, then you feel like I’m a lunatic. I’m crazy!” Phillip’s own ally, Andrea, tried to cut off his ugly accusations, but Phillip rambled on, arguing that “some white folks like to take a black man and make him crazy,” and dropping the n-word into his rant on two separate occasions.

Look, Survivor definitely doesn’t have the world’s greatest track record casting rational African-American players — oh, Na’Onka, how I try to forget about you! — but as Rob so succinctly summed it up, “Phillip somehow managed to make a war about white rice racial.”

At Tribal Council, host Jeff Probst did his best to navigate the feud without escalating it further, acknowledging that he was unable to put himself in Phillip’s position as an African-American man who’d experienced racial prejudice in the past, and whose experiences with said prejudices informed how he views the world. “It’s very tricky when you have a white guy and a black guy talking about race and the n-word,” Probst said, adding “it’s quite possible both of you are telling the truth.”

I dunno. Without intimate knowledge of the players involved, it’s hard to weigh in with any kind of confidence. But as someone who’s in an interracial marriage with a black man, and who’s generally got his antennae tuned to pick up on subtle and not-so-subtle instances of racism, I tend to think Phillip made a race war out of a molehill of rice. When Steve said that as a 13-year NFL vet, “there is no line of black and white in my heart,” I really believed him.

And come on, Phillip — with his visions from his ancestors, his crab-hunting, and his talk of the “stealth alliance” and all its wacky nicknames — knows that on some levels, his behavior is absolutely cray-cray. Last week, he even admitted his openly loopy (and often annoying) demeanor was a strategy to get Rob or any other power players to carry him to the finale. So it seems a bit disingenous at best — and appalling at worst — for him to accuse Steve of n-word-level treachery based on a simple “f****** lunatic” bomb. What do you think?

Other highlights of the episode:

*Julie burying Phillip’s shorts in the woods — a totally offensive move considering Survivor viewers will now have to look at the guy’s saggy pink skivvies for the remainder of the season. Still, while I think it was probably smart for Julie to push Phillip’s buttons — and make him a less appealing presence at camp to his alliance members — why on earth did she cop to being the culprit at Tribal? I wonder if the Ometepe Six has planned to vote her out before she confessed to the thievery. That said, she did get the season’s choicest parting shot: “Guess you’re not ever gonna find your shorts!”

*Apparently, God is still DVR-ing Survivor. Despite Matt’s prayer lamenting “how much I want out of this game” he survived his seventh straight Redemption Island duel, as he and Mike both built eight-foot houses of tile cards faster than initial jury member David.

* Matt should probably dial back the dramatic talk in front of Ometepe. I know those six players will probably never really trust him (or vice versa), but if he makes his way back into the game, he’s going to have to forge some alliances somewhere. So while a comment like, “I never knew that strangers could hurt me so deeply,” is probably honest, it’s probably not beneficial to his overall game.

* Let us pause to consider Ralph’s spelling of Phillip’s name at Tribal Council: P-H-I-L-E.

That is all. What did you think of this week’s Survivor? Is there any stopping Rob, the Godfather with the immunity necklace and the immunity idol? At what point will the producers do one of those “pick two buddies” tribe-splitting moves that expose the game’s alliances with alliances? And what do you make of the escalating rice wars? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.