Phillip (and his animal tattoos) worries his allies aren't being honest with him. Plus: Is the Redemption Island twist working?

Phillip Sheppard
Credit: Image Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
S22 E6

There is something a bit off about the new Redemption Island twist. I don’t hate it, which is saying a lot considering how much I usually want to gag whenever reality shows cheapen themselves by giving eliminated players a chance to stick around. (The Judges’ Save? Are you kidding me?) And it has certainly created drama, like with all the back-and-forth talk between visiting tribe members. But there’s also something missing, something that made Survivor truly great that is now sadly absent. And that something is this: people being blindsided right out of the game. You won’t get anything more dramatic than that moment when Tyson inexplicably changes his vote or Parvati pulls out two hidden Immunity Idols, and Boston Rob and J.T., respectively, are finished right there on the spot. Done! Gone! Over! You screamed at the television set in either joy or agony, but either way, it elicited a major reaction because you watched people who thought they had it all figured out instead be out of the game—immediately and completely. It was what was so sudden about it that made the whole thing so delicious and irresistible.

The whole point of Redemption Island is that it gives those people a chance to stay in the game, but as a result, it doesn’t feel like quite as big of a deal when they get voted off. All of a sudden you’re saying to yourself, “Oh, hey, well, they’re not really out. Look at Matt, he was voted out a month ago and he’s still around.” And now, when that person actually does get eliminated from the game — with the exception of a teary and then vindictive Russell — it feels like nothing more than an afterthought. Think about it: When Kristina and Krista were finally ousted and had to throw their buffs in the fire, did that register as dramatic in the least? And then 30 minutes later someone does get voted out, but they’re not really out, dampening the drama on that as well. In essence, Survivor has inadvertently robbed itself of its signature watercooler moment.

Don’t get me wrong, even with two subpar episodes in a row, I’m still digging this season (especially coming off the debacle that was Survivor: Nicaragua), and I don’t mind the Redemption Island twist as a season-long experiment. But I hope Jeff Probst, Mark Burnett, and the other producers think long and hard before they make this a more permanent part of the game. It has created some interesting dynamics, but also diluted the impact of the most important moment of all — the vote off, which is no longer a vote off at all. And therein lies the problem.

But as Spinal Tap‘s Marty DiBergi once said, enough of my yakking. Let’s get to this week’s episode! Things start off at Redemption Island with Matt doing his best invisible-man imitation with the buff completely covering his face. Speaking of buffs, we also see a tarantula crawling across one, making it approximately the 8,364th tarantula shot we’ve been treated to this season. What is this, Kingdom of the Spiders? Is Nicaragua being overrun by the eight-legged critters? I was there on location for both seasons 21 and 22 and didn’t see a single one, so more likely it is a single tarantula the crew keeps on hand for bitchin’ nature shots, then back in the cage it goes! But before the spider can bite Matt and give him all sorts of supercool powers, it gets repulsed by the flirty giggling by his intended victim and fellow blond Krista, so it vomits out of disgust on the buff instead and leaves.

NEXT: God takes sides in the Redemption Island duel

Not much is happening over at Zapatera except a former NFL player whining about having two meaningless votes cast his way, so let’s head over to Ometepe, where things are getting a bit…hairy. But that’s nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix! In perhaps the least sexy scene ever involving a pageant contestant and beach-volleyball dancer lying down in bikinis, Natalie begins picking out Ashley’s underarm hair. Survivor sexy time! They may be working hard on personal grooming, but the rest of the tribe is working hard on actual work. “They’re building stuff and we’re doing nothing,” comments Ashley. “If you can make yourself more comfortable, why not?” Um, because people will resent you and then not give you a million dollars, maybe?

At Redemption Island, Matt and Krista are bonding over the Big Fella Upstairs and enjoying Krista’s luxury item — a pink Bible. Matt is psyched to have “a fellow believer” around. Although that means giving her the final scoop of rice, he still plans to beat her in the big Redemption Island duel. Did someone say duel? In a scandalous twist of epic proportions, Probst invites the witnesses to “come on in,” omitting the “guys” from his longtime catchphrase greeting. The duel involves using a grappling hook to retrieve three bags with three balls. Why three balls? I have no idea, since they only need one to use on the table maze they must then navigate to victory. Krista takes the early lead, but Matt apparently has the Lord — and a cheering Julie — on his side, and he comes back to win his fourth straight duel. Good for Matt. Bad for Matt is the fact that his former island girlfriend Andrea does not take kindly to hearing him talk about the religious connection he made with Krista. “My whole image of Matt changed,” says Andrea, who now dubs him “dangerous.” It’s unclear if she resents Krista or God for coming between her and her man, but someone’s gonna pay for that pink Bible, dammit!

Hey, let me ask you something: Have you ever sneezed into your mouth and gotten bacteria into a tooth cavity, thereby setting off a chain reaction of blinding pain? Of course you haven’t! That’s insane! But that’s Sarita’s theory for her current facial distress. I should mention here that Sarita was one of my favorite pregame interviews. She told me all about getting discovered while “taking margaritas to the face” and how she named her cold sore “Mark Burnett” after it started developing right as she was being interviewed by the executive producer. She was self-deprecating and a lot of fun. But she doesn’t seem to be having much fun right now. Here comes Julie referring to her as a “drama-queen princess.” Here comes David telling Stephanie to find a way to unseat Sarita in the group. And here comes Ralph saying something that for the life of me I cannot understand or translate. (He may have been reciting the lyrics to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” for all I know.)

NEXT: Grant goes shirtless

Over at Ometepe, Phillip says there’s a storm coming, and Lord, is that an understatement. Upset at Ashley and Natalie for primping while he and the others stockpile wood for the fire, he lights into the beauty queens. Ashley then yells at Phillip for yelling at them, leading him to declare tomorrow a “fire-free day” and insist that “you’re gonna see a new attitude around here.” You mean one that involves sanity? Booooooo! That’s no fun. However, Phillip quickly proves that sanity will not be in the cards as he then threatens to follow Ashley down to the beach for additional scolding. Leave it to Boston Rob — who has “to play Arafat in the peace process to bring the tribe back together” — to see the big picture. He loves the women not working hard and annoying everyone because then no one will vote to give them the million dollars. Rob is playing the game so much better than anyone else in his tribe, it’s not even funny. Except when it involves Phillip, in which case it is, of course, hilarious.

It’s time for the Immunity/Reward Challenge, and look who’s back? It’s our good friend “Come on in, guys!” Hey, we missed you, buddy. Probst welcomes everyone and then tries his best to insinuate that there is some competitive hatred that we haven’t really seen between the two teams. He asks Phillip whether he’s using the gorilla or the lion in today’s challenge, to which Phillip replies, “Both.” You know what that means — GORILION!!! The most fearsome mutated beast this side of Sharktopus! He has returned to decimate the opposition without mercy while wearing a cute Uncle Sam Stars and Stripes top hat just to let everyone know, YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE U S OF A, MISTER! THESE COLORS DON’T RUN!

You know who else doesn’t run? Mike the Marine! He gets absolutely smoked by Grant in a competition that sees players trying to catch balls in nets that have been launched by fellow tribe members. Not even Mike acting like a crazed teenage girl ripping off Justin Bieber’s shirt can stop Grant from catching four of Ometepe’s five balls for an absurdly lopsided 5-0 victory. Of course, as a former NFL wide receiver Grant used to catch balls for a living, so he certainly had an advantage. (Still think it was a good idea to throw that challenge back in week 3, Zapatera?)

In addition to avoiding Tribal Council, Ometepe wins a feast by a huge statue of Jesus — the second-largest Jesus statue in the world, in case you were wondering, and I’m betting Matt and Krista were — overlooking San Juan del Sur (and, incidentally, base camp for the Survivor production team). It is here that we’re forced to endure yet another scene of someone finding a hidden clue among the reward items. I’ve already wasted enough breath the past few weeks on how lame this is, so I won’t belabor the point. Rob and Grant again find it, and then get busted by Phillip while reading it. Phillip is concerned as to why the two are acting so stealthy around him. Perhaps it’s because you’re in an alliance called Stealth. Or Stealth R Us. Or Stealth R Oz. Honestly, I can’t understand what the damn alliance is called. Who named this alliance — Ralph? Which, I suppose — when you think about it — makes it even more stealthy. Well played, Phillip!

NEXT: Visions of Christie Brinkley spring to mind

“Hell will hath no fury like a lion or a gorilla when he thinks it has been provoked,” explains Phillip, which is immediately followed by the sound of a lion roar…much in the same way editors added in eagle squawking noises for Coach in Tocantins for comedic effect. Then Phillip seems to get a bit confused and pulls out a Cold War speech from 1984. “I served my country for 4 years, 11 months, and 13 days. Duty, honor, and country: Those words mean something to me. And when you try to trash that — me and the United States got something for you when you try that one, baby.” At this point, I half expect Rocky (fresh off his ass-kicking of Ivan Drago), 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice hockey goalie Jim Craig, and the entire cast of Red Dawn to march in waving American flags and chanting “USA! USA! USA!” Which is all well and fine, but what the hell does it have to do with Rob not sharing a clue? Has he all of a sudden morphed into some sort of Commie bastard? Confusing times, these are.

Here comes Zapatera into Tribal Council. The tribe looks weary and divided as they walk in and… What? Are you kidding me? Another tarantula shot? What is this, the freakin’ Forbidden Forest? Is Aragog gonna saunter in and split Probst in two if he doesn’t take kindly to a particular line of questioning? Enough with the spiders! The big question on everyone’s mind is whether David and Stephanie’s lobbying to keep her over Sarita will have paid off. Stephanie claims that Sarita was “shaking in her boots when she found out we were going to do a contact sport,” and then keeps hammering away at her, indicating by how hard she is fighting to stay that she is, in fact, next to go. Then Steve even chimes in, inadvertently getting a really annoying Billy Joel song stuck in my head by commenting that Sarita is “a bit of an uptown girl that I don’t think has gotten her footing out here in the wilderness yet.” (What’s Christie Brinkley doing dancing around at a gas station anyway? She could slip on some oil or break a heel, for crissakes!)

For his part, David keeps arguing that keeping someone who can help you win challenges is more important than keeping someone you can trust not to switch sides. I’m not so sure. David is absolutely right that going into the merge with a numbers advantage is key, but seasons like Tocantins and Samoa have proved that a united minority can easily topple a divided majority. And if David could hear the way that Stephanie has been openly courting the other tribe, he might think twice about his stance. In the end, it doesn’t matter, as Stephanie — or “Stifinie,” as a vote that I have to assume was from Ralph spells it — is ousted. On her way out while casting her vote for Sarita, she promises that “I’ll see you on Redemption Island and I’ll kick your ass then.” She’ll need to get past the dude with the pink Bible first.

And we have some goodies for you to get past as well. An exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode awaits you in the video player below, along with my pregame interview with Krista. Jeff Probst weighs in on David’s strength-versus- trustworthiness argument and answers other questions in his weekly assessment, and for more Survivor news and views you can follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. But first, let us know what you think. Sick of spiders? Has the Redemption Island twist made Survivor‘s most dramatic moment less dramatic? And should Zapatera have gotten rid of Stephanie or Sarita? Hit the message boards and let us know. See ya next week!

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols


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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