Russell gets emotional at Redemption Island, and then baits Ralph into a big-time blunder
Credit: Image credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

The harder they come, the harder they’ll fall, the master philosopher Jimmy Cliff once said. Russell Hantz came into Survivor hard. Harder than anyone we’ve ever seen. He burned socks. He poured out water. He lied about being a Hurricane Katrina victim. He found Immunity Idol after Immunity Idol. And when he couldn’t find any more, he convinced people to give them to him. He didn’t just vote people out, he — in his own words — rubbed salt in their wounds. He humiliated them and told everyone how he, Russell Hantz, was the king. He came hard. And now he has fallen — hard. Not just by being eliminated, first by vote and then in losing his Redemption Island duel to Matt. We all saw an early exit coming the minute he showed up in Nicaragua. But the tears! Oh, good golly, Miss Molly — the tears! Here was the biggest badass in Survivor history covering his face with his hat, starting to sniffle, and then finding himself unable to even stand up straight while the waterworks flowed. This was a true Survivor moment for the ages, and one both Russell lovers and haters could enjoy.

If you love Russell, you love how passionately he played the game. Unlike a lot of other contestants that go out there just to be on TV — and trust me, there are a lot of those — Russell is a guy who wants, above all, to play the game. As a fan of the game, you respect that. And to see a guy whose sole dream is to win it, and have that dream extinguished yet again, for the third time in just over a year (Survivor: Samoa finished filming in July 2009, and Russell was eliminated here in August of 2010) you can understand and even appreciate why he would break down like that. Honestly, I’d rather have someone that cares that much about being eliminated over the people just happy to get to Ponderosa for a meal and a shower — and trust me, there are a lot of those too.

Don’t worry, Russell haters, I haven’t forgot about you. If you hate Russell, you also loved this moment because you got to see the big, bad bully finally get a taste of his own medicine. After he cared so little for the feelings of the people he discarded, how can we not enjoy the irony of watching Russell blubber like a baby upon being kicked out of the game himself? If Russell had seen someone else crying after being booted, he would have mocked them to high hell, so how can we be expected to feel sorry for him now?

Like I said, if you love Russell, you loved seeing the passion he brought, even to his elimination. If you despise Russell, you devoured the poetic justice being served on a silver platter. Either way, it made for riveting TV. And this was all before things went truly haywire at Redemption Island, but we’ll get to that in due time. First, let’s take it from the top.

The episode 4 festivities begin with Russell arriving at Redemption Island and finding Matt, instead of Francesca, as Steve had promised him. “I was pissed off. I wanted to bitch slap every single one of them,” Russell says of his ouster. He also claims that he is far from done in the game. (He’s right! Just look at the clock. He’s got, like, oh, 20 minutes or so to go.) “I’m gonna make ’em suffer. I’m gonna say, ‘sleep in the mud, fool.'” Who does he think he is, Mr. T? Does this mean we’re now going to be subjected to a Saturday morning cartoon where Russell trains an elite squad of crime solving gymnasts? Speaking of which, what the hell did Mr. T ever know about gymnastics? Or solving crimes, for that matter?

NEXT: Hanging out and flopping around

You know who knows all about solving crimes? Phillip! As a former federal agent, he’s a man used to cleaning up the streets. But now he’s simply cleaning up the shelter, and annoying everyone in the process with his early morning sweeping. Boston Rob doesn’t like what he sees — not in terms of the actual cleaning, but the “saggy bottom panties. I could go 39 days without seeing that. Who comes on Survivor wearing pink tighty-whities with the stuff just hanging out and just flopping around everywhere? It’s not only disturbing, it’s disgusting.” Um, I’ll tell you who, Mr. Smarty Pants. Only the baddest motherfreakin’ secret agent this country has ever known —THAT’S WHO! The saggy bottom panties are clearly a diversionary tactic meant to disorient you from the task at hand — namely, winning a million dollars.

And look how effective they have already been, Rob. Matt was one of your closest allies and one of the strongest members of your tribe. Next thing you know, you’re voting him out. Why? Saggy panties. There are 40 possible trees the Hidden Immunity Idol could have been located around. You didn’t find it until tree 39. Why? Saggy panties. You have a man who could be the most mentally unstable player the game has ever seen and yet you have eliminated three fierce and physical teammates that could have helped with both winning in the challenges and lowering the general insanity level around camp. Why did you keep him instead? Saggy panties. The pink tighty-whities — coupled with both the “hanging out” and the “flopping around” — have clearly thrown you off your game, You know why? Because while it may be “disturbing” and “disgusting”, you simply cannot look away. I’ve seen you with that blank stare on your face. You’re full-on hypnotized! That’s called getting in your head, and that, my friend, is the work of a former federal agent at play.

Later, Phillip shows off his super spy skills by instantly transforming tree email into a telescope — he’s like James Bond and Q all rolled into one! — and announcing to the Ometepe tribe that another duel is to take place. Naturally, he invites himself and Kristina to attend. Zapatera chooses Ralph and Sarita and we’re off to Redemption Island, which is not actually an island at all but sounds a lot cooler that way, so the producers are just asking us to ignore the geography and go with it.

Probst welcomes Matt and Russell to the arena, which always makes me feel like I’m writing about Tina Turner and the third Mad Max movie. The duel involves stacking blocks while avoiding tripwires, and getting the blocks to fall like dominoes, thereby releasing a ball to smash a tile. Ralph and Sarita openly root against Russell (as, no doubt, do millions from their living room couches). Matt lakes a lead, then Russell, and then Matt wins. And them come the tears.

We’ve already focused on Russell’s waterworks, but equally fascinating is watching him snap himself out of it and revert to his villainous ways. “I respect this game too much to go out this way,” he says while wiping away the last of his tears. “And, you know, people like my tribe that throws a challenge just to get rid of me because I’m Russell — not even worried about Boston Rob and his team and numbers. So it’s hard to be a professional quarterback and have pee-wee leaguers on your team, because I gotta run the ball, I gotta catch the ball, I gotta throw the ball. I gotta do everything.”

NEXT: Ralph makes a whoopsie!

This is vintage Russell, tearing down others while proclaiming his own awesomeness for everyone to hear. But Ralph won’t take the bait, will he? “I don’t hardly think so. I thought we done great. Russell would not show us the hidden clue where the Idol was hidden. But that was beside the point. I’d already found it fifteen seconds at the game.” NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Even if you liked Ralph for standing up to Russell and helping engineer his ouster, you had to be hanging your head at his stupidity here. Russell, of course, challenges him to show it, and Ralph —who had also moronically informed his whole tribe of the Idol earlier — immediately starts to take it out of his bag. Only Sarita’s pleas of, “Don’t do this, Ralph,” stop the human man-sweater from revealing it.

Now, he is stuck. “I faked you!” he says, lamely trying to reverse course. Too late. Russell, by now in hysterics, looks right over to Ometepe: “He has the Idol. He’s such a good player he’s telling you everything he has right now.” Ralph then tries his best — which was not very good — to convince everyone that he doesn’t have the Idol, but dude, you’re trying to pull one over on a former federal agent? GOOD LUCK! “It was not a lie. It was not a lie,” Phillip starts yelling to no one in particular. “I earned my living discerning whether someone was telling the truth or not, and you have an Idol. You’ll probably get an opportunity to use it if I have anything to do with it.” Awwwww, yeah — faced by the savvy, sporty man who puts the “gent” in “federal agent.”

With the floodgates now open, Russell keeps at it, telling Ometepe that Sarita is in charge and that Mike and Steve are aligned as well. All Ralph had to do was keep his mouth shut. Instead, he allowed himself to get baited. Make no mistake, he got played. It was pretty unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as Russell then saying, “This is my last time playing this game. That’s it. I have nothing else to prove to myself or to my family.” And I believe that about as much as I believe that the Medallion of Power was an awesome addition to the Survivor franchise.

Back at Ometepe, Rob is complaining of constipation, but it’s all a ruse that trickster has concocted to go searching for the Hidden Immunity Idol. Turns out he’s not constipated at all. He can poop just fine, thank you very much! After dragging the tribe down the beach to play something called Royal Treatments, he scurries away to search for the Idol, which he finally does locate sitting in a tree.

Once back from Redemption Island, Phillip pulls aside Rob and Grant and informs Rob that he’ll tell him everything Russell spilled, as long as he “can do something for Kristina.” Why would Phillip want to do something for Kristina, one of his arch-enemies? He doesn’t! This is clearly another masterstroke of deception by the world’s foremost super spy. Don’t you see it? He’s got Rob completely all turned around once again — and he didn’t even have to drop his pants to do it! “Hey, dumb-ass. Aren’t you in my alliance? Don’t you work for me?” wonders Boston Rob. No, he does not, Rob. Phillip Sheppard works for one man and one man only: Uncle Sam. You got something to say about that? Well, then take it up with the gorilla, mister!

NEXT: Probst brings a catchphrase back from the dead

There are a few things worth noting about the Immunity/Reward Challenge. It is worth noting that teams were in a race to use tools to retrieve tools. It is worth noting that it involved shameless Sears product placement not seen since the days of Charmin, Sierra Mist and the Sprint Palm Pre. It is worth noting that at one point it was mildly disturbing to hear Mike repeatedly yelling, “Just pull it out! Just pull it out! Just pull it out! Just pull it out! Just pull it out!” And it is worth nothing that Zapatera won yet again, leading Ralph to crow like a rooster. (Really? Is that what you want to be your calling card, Ralph? Look at poor Rupert having to deliver the “Rupert Roar” every time he makes a public appearance. Do you really want to be best known for imitating a rooster? Just something to think about.) But above all that, it is worth noting this: THE RETURN OF “WANNA KNOW WHAT YOU’RE PLAYING FOR?”!!!

That’s right. I assumed it was dead and gone after they moved away from reward only challenges, and Prost started trying out far less catchy phrases such as, “You’re also playing for reward in the form of…” But this week he was back to his old standby. And it’s a good thing he asked, because YES, the tribes most certainly did want to know what they were playing for. (A BBQ kit sponsored by Sears, it turns out.)

After losing, Ometepe goes back to the camp to waste some time before voting off Kristina. Natalie wonders if the target could have found the new Hidden Immunity Idol, leading Rob to come up with another vote splitting plan. Because if they find out Kristina doesn’t have the Idol, they might realize he does. And if they realize he has the Idol, they might figure out that Rob wasn’t constipated after all. And Rob really, really wants everyone to think he was constipated. Maybe that’s not something you would want to advertise, but ask yourself: Have you ever stared at a man in saggy panties? He’s hypnotized!

As for Tribal, it’s our least eventful one of the season, but still gives us a classic moment when Probst mockingly addresses Phillip’s assessment that he’s “a doer.” You’ve heard of the Sheppard stamp? Well that’s the Probst stamp right there, beayotches! Kristina is eventually voted out and off to Redemption (non) Island to face Matt. And I’m now off to tell you about all are wonderful Survivor extras here on Think Russell was embarrassed to be weeping on national television? Well make sure to check out other castmembers talking about their most humiliating moments ever— including the player who named her cold sore “Mark Burnett” — in the video player below, just after an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode. What does Jeff Probst make of Russell’s tears? See what he has to say in his latest Q&A, which will be up on Thursday morning. And for more Survivor news and views all year round, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss.

But before you do all that, let us know what you think. Did you feel sorry or throw a party after Russell lost his duel? Did Ralph blow it at Redemption Island? And whom are you rooting for to win this season? Hit the message boards and let us know. See ya next week!