Natalie gets pulled in two directions as Rob tries to keep control of the tribe. Plus: Where does this season rank in series history?

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Credit: Michael Yarish/CBS
S22 E13

If you want to perfectly sum up the entire season of Survivor: Redemption Island, you can basically do it in one very short and simple back-and-forth from last night’s episode, and here it is:

NATALIE: “I’m scared.”

BOSTON ROB: “Don’t be scared. All you have to do is do what I say.”

I mean, that’s basically it, right? Whether you love this season because of the strategic clinic put on by Boston Rob on how to control every single movement and thought of the entire tribe, or loathe this season because of the inability of anyone on Ometepe outside of Rob to offer even a shred of competition or initiative, that quote pretty much sums up the entire arc of the season and your feelings on it. As for my feelings, you’ll have to keep reading till the end as I present my updated season-by-season rankings! And seeing how those rankings take up quite a bit of space, let’s get straight to the penultimate episode of Survivor: Redemption Island, shall we? We shall.

We start off at Murlonio as Ashley and Natalie celebrate being “the last girls standing.” Quite an accomplishment, young ladies. You should be very proud of your subservience. Andrea was proud of it as well…until she ended up at Redemption Island, and look at her now. Now she’s busy arguing with Matt about what kind of looks they’ve been giving each other. As far as I can make out, Andrea is calling Matt dirty and Matt is calling Andrea a dog. Although Andrea is going to be getting a bit dirty herself seeing as how Ralph is now making her sleep on the ground. His logic is that if it were his house, he would let her sleep in it, but it’s not his house so he won’t let her sleep in it. Honestly, I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about. Let’s just get to the duel.

Off to Redemption Island Arena we go as Andrea comes face-to-face with the people who just voted her out. She tells Probst that she finds it “shocking” that everyone looked her in the eye and lied to her. Because that was completely unlike what she did to Matt. She also says how “I really trusted people and opened up to people.” Again, nothing at all like what she did to Matt. Not even close. (The double standards people hold on to when the game does not fall their way never cease to amaze me.)

This week’s duel involves moving a handle through a maze, smashing a box to retrieve pieces, and then using those pieces to solve a puzzle. Whether you like the duel or not, the entire thing is worth it just to hear Probst tell the three men (and one woman) “All right, put your hand on your handle.” Perhaps not as snicker-worthy as this season’s other gem — “It’s like those balls are glued to his disc” — but still pretty damn great. (Yes, Probst, I have the mind of a 12-year-old delinquent.)

NEXT: Phillip has another meltdown over rice

Mike wins the challenge, with Matt and Andrea following. This means two things. (1) Ralph and his frightening facial hair are now out of the game. (2) This marks the third out of four times that Mike has beaten Matt. I’m not a fan of these group duels. As Probst said himself during it, “You don’t have to win this challenge. You just don’t want to lose this challenge.” That’s kind of the problem: It’s far less impressive sticking around when you are simply not losing.

Back at Murlonio, Boston Rob is worried about how RI could impact his game. In words that have sprung from the lips of many a Survivor fan, he says, “I want Redemption Island to be over and done with so it’s not a factor anymore.” Phillip is not worried about RI, because there is only one thing Phillip is ever worried about: rice. I don’t know why every argument this guy has is started over rice. Did he get shunned by baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rice as a kid? Did he flunk out of Rice University? Did he mistakenly attend a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and get rice thrown at him during the big Brad and Janet wedding scene? Whatever the reason, this guy loses it when it comes to white stuff.

This time Phillip tells Ashley and Natalie that they should let Grant eat some of their rice so he can be strong to beat Mike should the Marine come back from Redemption Island. “The average woman can survive on 1700 calories per day,” he yells. Where he got this number from, I have no idea. Also, how much rice would they have to eat to get up to 1700 calories? That’s a lot of damn rice! Anyhoo, the girls storm off in a huff (no doubt to do some more body-hair grooming) and we’re back to the real drama of the episode — Rob trying to drive a wedge into Natalie’s friendship with Ashley. After telling Natalie to do what he tells her to do and promising to take her all the way to the end, he also tries to manipulate her into thinking that Ashley is playing her. “I can’t stand what she’s doing to you,” Rob says. “She’s trying to tell you what’s in your best interest.” Now, of course, anyone with any intelligence would see right through that and realize that that is exactly what Rob has been doing to her all season, but…well, this is Natalie we’re talking about. As Rob himself points out, “Natalie may not be the brightest player to ever play this game. We all know that.” That, we do.

Of course, we’ve all figured out by this point that Ashley is in no danger of being voted out. We know this for three reasons. (1) This quote from Grant: “If Ashley doesn’t win immunity, she’s out of this game.” (2) This quote from Rob: “Ashley’s had a free ride for 35 days, and her fairy tale’s about to come to an end. Real abruptly.” (3) This quote from Rob: “”It’s day 35 and after 35 days of this pain in my ass, I think I’m finally gonna get some relief tonight.” All that certainty about a player being voted out that early in the episode means that the player is not getting voted out.

NEXT: Who deserves to win?

And sure enough, Ashley indeed does win immunity in a challenge that has the contestants make a fish-skeleton puzzle with one arm tied behind their back. You could have actually tied everyone else’s other arm behind their back and they still would have beaten Natalie, who is mocked by Probst for her weak effort. “Natalie, still inexplicably working on her first section!” he barks at one point. “Natalie, out of this challenge! You might as well sit down and watch!” he notes at another.

It doesn’t matter how awful Natalie is, because she is still going to be rewarded with a feast, as winner Ashley selects her as her companion for a little Survivor room service — 1700-calorie count be damned! The food comes, and after devouring it, both girls look like they’re ready to hurl, mirroring how most of America has felt about them all season. Rob is feeling sick about having to cut loose his buddy Grant. In between talking about how awesome he is (“It seems like no matter what the situation on Survivor I have to do the dirty work. Because everybody else is too stupid to do it,” and “One man should not have this much power in this game. Luckily, I’m no ordinary man”), Rob entertains thoughts of jettisoning Natalie to break up a possible girl alliance, but it feels a lot like a misdirection. Sure enough, at Tribal Council, after showing off his homemade Amber T-shirt and no doubt wondering why all the male members on the jury still haven’t bothered to shave, he votes out Grant.

But does it really matter? Grant is still in the game and can get back in by winning the duel at Redemption Island. And eight different people still have a chance at the loot. My preseason pick to win it all was Ashley, so I should be rooting for her to make myself look smart, but I’d rather have to live with the Medallion of Power around my neck for the rest of my life than do that. Natalie? In my book you have to be able to spell the word “win” to earn it. Phillip? Entertaining, but the guy was brought along as a joke and it would be a joke if he won. I also personally have a hard time rooting for anyone already voted out of the game and at Redemption because of the huge advantage with the jury they get, although if one of them has to take it, I’d like to see it be Mike, because — unlike Matt — he actually attempted to strategize, and he also has beaten Matt in three out of four challenges. But the person who clearly deserves to win it all is Rob. He has dominated from start to finish. In fact, you’d have to call it one of the most dominating performances in Survivor history, if not the most dominating performance. Granted, the competition was nonexistent, but that’s not Rob’s fault. Plus, he’s the one who made them nonexistent.

NEXT: Let the ranking of Survivor seasons begin!

Rob may have been amazing to this point, what about the season itself? It’s time for my updated season-by-season rankings. Keep in mind these can change depending on what happens on Sunday’s finale. Where does Redemption Island rank? Read on and see.

1. Survivor: Borneo (Winner: Richard Hatch)

Think back to when this show first came on the air — and how we had never seen anything like it. The season may not quite hold up when watched next to some later ones, but nothing will ever be able to duplicate that sense of wonder and excitement…

2. Survivor: Micronesia — Fans vs. Favorites (Winner: Parvati Shallow)

…although this one came damn close. It wasn’t just the most insane four-episode run in Survivor history (with Ozzy, Jason, and Erik all getting blindsided, and then Amanda pulling out one last hidden Immunity Idol). It was also great characters (Chet and Joel are the 21st-century Odd Couple) and the perfect mix of solid and stupid gameplay.

3. Survivor: Heroes vs Villains (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

The Russell-versus-Boston Rob feud made for the best pre-merge run of episodes ever. And the greatness just kept on coming. Filled with huge memorable moments like Tyson voting himself off, J.T. giving Russell his Immunity Idol, and Parvati handing out two Immunity Idols at one Tribal Council. Loses a few points for having so many three-timers, though, including a few (Amanda, James) whom we simply didn’t need to see again. The fresh blood of Micronesia keeps that season one slot higher.

4. Survivor: Amazon (Winner: Jenna Morasca)

Probably the most unpredictable season ever from week to week. Some people hate on Morasca as a winner, but she won challenges and played a great social game.

5. Survivor: Pearl Islands (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

Rupert stealing shoes. Fairplay getting drunk at Tribal Council. Osten sucking at everything. It was all delicious. Loses points, though, for the awful Outcasts twist, which also led to a disappointing final two.

6. Survivor: Palau (Winner: Tom Westman)

I loved watching one tribe decimate the other, culminating with Stephenie becoming a tribe of one. And the challenges may have been Survivor‘s best ever.

7. Survivor: Samoa (Winner: Natalie White)

Russell’s controlling the game (especially post-merge when his side was down 8-4) was truly a work of art. Evil-genius art. He was robbed in the end, though, in the most controversial jury decision ever.

8. Survivor: Marquesas (Winner: Vecepia Towery)

An underrated season that saw the first totem pole shake-up: where people on the bottom got together to overthrow those on the top. Yes, it was a weak final two, but it also had a woman peeing on a guy’s hand. Plus: Purple rock!!!

9. Survivor: Cook Islands (Winner: Yul Kwon)

What a difference a mutiny makes. It was listless until that fateful moment when Candice and Penner stepped off the mat. Then we finally had underdogs to root for. The Tribal Council fire-making tiebreaker between Sundra and Becky may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

10. Survivor: Australian Outback (Winner: Tina Wesson)

An overrated season. Probst loves it. I didn’t. Solid but unspectacular. Pretty predictable boot order as well. Dude did burn his hands off, though.

11. Survivor: China (Winner: Todd Herzog)

Really good cast. Really bad location.

12. Survivor: Tocantins (Winner: J.T. Thomas)

Okay, you may roll your eyes at Coach. But imagine for a second this season without him. Bo-ring! His unintentional comedy single-handedly lifts this into the middle of the pack. Seriously, other than Tyson getting blindsided, were there any memorable moments that didn’t involve the Steven Seagal wannabe?

NEXT: The bottom 10

13. Survivor: All-Stars (Winner: Amber Brkich)

Overall, a bit of a letdown, but man, were there some hate-fueled fireworks at those final few Tribal Councils. Plus: Best. Reunion Show. Ever. (Remember Jerri getting literally booed off the stage?)

14. Survivor: Panama (Winner: Aras Baskauskas)

Ah, just writing the word Panama gets me daydreaming about Survivor Sally and her intoxicating knee socks. Terry was robbed on a final challenge that may or may not have been completely fair. Another unmemorable final two.

15. Survivor: Gabon (Winner: Bob Crowley)

It got better near the end, but it was still a case of too little, too late. The fact that so many unworthy players went so far is simply too damning.

16. Survivor: Redemption Island (Winner: ???)

The first three episodes were dynamite, but then the fuse blew out. It’s certainly been entertaining at times watching Rob strategize and Phillip philosophize, just not very dramatic. Most of the vote-offs were clearly telegraphed, and I’m still not sold on the Redemption Island twist — how it sucks some of the life out of the vote-off, and the group duels where you don’t even need to win to stay alive. Again, this could move up or down a few spots depending on what happens in the finale.

17. Survivor: Africa (Winner: Ethan Zohn)

Some great challenges. Not that much else was great.

18. Survivor: Guatemala (Winner: Danni Boatwright)

One of the more unlikable casts so far. (Remember Judd? Jamie? Stephenie’s evil twin?) Rafe was good for a few laughs, though. Especially on rope obstacles.

19. Survivor: Vanuatu (Winner: Chris Daugherty)

I don’t blame producers: The battle of the sexes worked well the first time around.

20. Survivor: Thailand (Winner: Brian Heidik)

The fake merge and brutal last challenge (where the final three had to hold coins between their fingers in a crazy painful pose) keep this dud out of the bottom spot. Barely.

21. Survivor: Fiji (Winner: Earl Cole)

With the exception of Yau-Man and Earl, a true bummer of a cast, and the ”Haves vs. Have-Nots” twist was one of the worst creative decisions in Survivor history. Speaking of awful creative decisions…

22. Survivor: Nicaragua (Winner: Jud “Fabio” Birza)

It’s at the bottom for a few reasons. (1) Splitting the tribes up by age and the Medallion of Power were both enormous flops. (2) Like Thailand and Fiji, just too many unlikable players. (3) Two people quitting with only 11 days left. (4) No big memorable moments. Even Thailand had the fake merge and Fiji had the big Yau-Man/Dreamz free-car deal gone bad, but what was Nicaragua‘s signature moment? Unfortunately, it was people quitting, and that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

So there you have it. Let the debate and discussion begin. Is Redemption Island too high on the list? Too low? Hit the message boards and let us know. But first, make sure to check out my weekly Q&A with host Jeff Probst, as he reveals just how hot the pizza was at Ashley and Natalie’s Survivor feast. Also make sure to check out the exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode (as well as my pregame interview with Ralph) in the video player below. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. Now let us know what you think. Whom are you pulling for to win? And what are your season-by-season rankings? The message boards are open for business, and I’ll be back with another scoop of the crispy on Sunday night, recapping the three-hour Redemption Island finale and reunion show. See ya then!

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Survivor

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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