Survivor: Redemption Island 22.1 “You’re Looking at the New Leader” Recap

If you’d like to see my preseason Odds to Win, check them out here before we get started on the premiere’s recap.

Before the show even starts, Jeff tells us that Survivor: Redemption Island is presented by Sprint! Our first Blatant Product Placement of the season! (This is otherwise known as the BPP!) The series officially opens with an Nicaraguan Air Force helicopter transporting Jeff and the players to the marooning beach. Jeff explains that the contestants will only have the clothes on their back and a unique story. Phillip is a former special agent. Matt lives every day for his Savior. Ralph is fine with being viewed as a hick. Jeff sits on the open back of the helicopter and tells us that in 39 days, one of these contestants could be the next Sole Survivor!

The helicopter lands on beach, and Jeff leads the players out. Francesca tells the camera that she can’t believe that this is really happening. Mike explains that he was deployed twice to Iraq, which he believes has prepared him for the game. Jeff announces “Welcome to Survivor!” to a chorus of cheers. Those cheers are quickly tempered when Jeff informs them that he has a surprise before they get started: there are two more players still to arrive. A second helicopter lands, and out walk Boston Rob and Russell. There are loud cheers for Rob, but only an “Oh, no!” for Russell. Stephanie confides that she is going to stare down Russell and take him on, or she will be out. Jeff informs the players that Rob has proven himself over three seasons to be a major help to his tribe in both challenges and at camp. Russell masterminded two of the strongest alliances in Survivor history. Between them, they have 156 days of Survivor experience so it would behoove the newbies to learn from them. Francesca says aloud that veterans seem to be sizing the new players up like prey. “They’re trouble makers!” she exclaims (way to put a target on your back, Francesca!) To determine which tribes Rob and Russell will be on, they draw for buffs. Rob selects the orange buff of Ometepe, and Russell heads to Zapatera. Cheers again ring out for Rob, but it is only Steve and Krista that welcome Russell.

Now that the tribes are whole, Jeff informs them that there is one more twist: when a player is voted out at Tribal Council, that player will not go home. Instead, the ousted player will be sent to Redemption Island (which I will often refer to as RI). There, the player will have the same provisions as those still on the beaches, but the ousted player must maintain shelter, food, and fire all alone. After three days, the next person voted out will go to RI and the two players will duel. The duel winner stays on RI, while the loser goes home. Whomever is remaining on RI at a point in the future will reenter the game for a chance to win the million dollar prize. Russell confesses that he is not scared by Redemption Island. If he gets sent there, he is going to win every challenge and take his competitors’ heads off (his words, not mine). Jeff gives the tribes maps to their beaches, and warns them that it going to rain a lot in Nicaragua. They should get to the beach quickly and build camp by utilizing Rob and Russell’s experience. Francesca worries that Redemption Island makes having Rob and Russell in the game even more complicated because now they can come back to haunt those that ousted them.

At Zapatera’s beach, Russell is grateful to be back to get the title of Sole Survivor he so richly deserves. He is going to be leader of his tribe and take control of camp. Russell calls a tribe meeting because he has something to say. He advises his tribe tribe that no matter how hard they think the show is going to be, it will actually be the toughest thing they have ever experienced. He tries to assuage their fears by saying that he is not there to sabotage anyone because that would be stupid. David confides that underestimating Russell is stupid, but he knows Russell’s weakness: playing the game too aggressively. Ralph is psyched to get his hands on some Sears Craftsman tools (BPP #2 and we’ve only had one commercial break!) to build the shelter, a task of which he takes complete control. Mike says he has a good first impression of Ralph and the tribe as everyone is working hard together.

Over at the Ometepe beach, Rob is, unsurprisingly, leading the construction of the shelter. Matt thinks he’s already in Camp Harmony because everyone is getting along so well. Natalie has a sense of comfort because Rob is there; Russell would have put them all on edge. Phillip begins to direct the building of the shelter, usually by correcting what other people are doing. As Phillip takes over the camp, Francesca (already the go-to person for a quote) notes that he is the most annoying person there. He’s aggressive, and in your face. She warns that that kind of attitude can turn people off. To illustrate her point, Phillips is shown correcting Andrea’s hatchet technique. Andrea just blows it off though, thinking that Phillips just likes playing the father role. Phillip calls over all of the girls, and tells them that he used to work as a federal agent and is excellent at analyzing behavior. The women are dumbfounded that he would admit to something like this. He concludes by saying that he has seven sisters, so he loves women and wants to align with them.

Kristina has no time for Phillip’s shenanigans, as she is already looking for the Hidden Immunity Idol (or HII for those new to my recaps). Rob catches her in the act as she searches the tool box, but he covers for her and shoos other people away so she can look. Kristina admits to being nervous that Rob caught her; she doesn’t want to seem overly aggressive. Rob goes to Phillip and warns him about the fact that they are outnumbered by the women. Phillip is wary of Rob, and thinks he and Rob are lions circling each other. Phillip immediately runs to Kristina and tells her that Rob warned him about the women aligning. Phillip decides he is going to stick with the girls and string Rob along. Both Kristina and Phillip say they have integrity, and are aboard with working together.

On a walk to Tree Mail, Russell asks Stephanie about her thoughts on their tribe. She thinks the other tribe looks bigger, but that they have a good tribe. Russell tells her that she needs to get on the right team now. Noting Russell’s affinity for aligning with young women with a long “E” sound at the end of their names, she agrees to align with him. They decide to not hang out together, but will meet up once they get to The Merge. Stephanie confides that Russell has had success in the game before so it made sense to align with him. Sarita and David notice what Russell is doing by cultivating the young women so they want him out immediately. David mentions this to Mike, who agrees that Russell is dangerous. Mike believes Russell will spread paranoia, so they need to cut that cancer out at their first opportunity.

Day 3 at Ometepe. Kristina wants Rob out because he’s dangerous. The guys are all in awe of Rob, and he’s going after the girls. If she can find the HII, she’s going to go get it. Cut to Kristina marching alone through the jungle with a shovel. She says her HII antennae are on high alert, and she is looking for landmarks around which the HII could be buried. Kristina finds a conspicuous rock formation, lifts some rocks, and there it is. She freaking found the HII, and quickly hides it under a log.

Back at camp, we get the first blircle of the season on Natalie (a blircle is a blurry circle used to blur people’s body parts that can’t be shown on primetime television), and then a fuscia banana hammock on Phillip! (My eyes!!!!) Kristina suggests that they can get Rob out immediately. Phillip and Francesca are good with that, but Phillip wants to know who else is voting for Rob? Do they really have a play on Rob? He wants to know Kristina’s plan exactly, so tell him now! Francseca and Kristina balk at how Phillip is talking to them like children. He says that his career as a federal agent taught him to ask questions. Francesca confesses that she wants to know how she got stuck with the annoying, old guy. Somehow, she is in an alliance with him. Well, they will have to work together at the first…

…Immunity Challenge. For this Challenge, each tribe will push large blocks along a track to build the base of a temple. Once all the blocks are in place, the tribes will run up the blocks, and one person will chop ropes to release another set of stairs. They then climb the stairs and find pieces to a large puzzle. The first tribe to assemble the puzzle will win Immunity and flint for fire. “Survivors read….go!”

Zapatera jumps out to a small lead, that grows very quickly as Ometepe slows down. “Dig in! Let’s go, Ometepe!” cries Jeff. Zapatera’s lead grows so large that they actually lap Ometepe. Zapatera is the first to run up the steps. Ralph makes short work of the ropes, and the second set of steps open. Zapatera climbs up to puzzle, and begins to assemble it. Ometepe finally gets to their base in place, and Matt chops off the ropes, releasing the steps. Jeff notes that with Rob’s strength in puzzles, Ometepe is not out of the Challenge. David tries to manage Zapatera’s puzzle, but their lead is quickly erased by Rob’s superior puzzle skills. Russell starts calling the shots at Zapatera. It’s a close finish, but Russell hurries the final pieces into place. Zapatera wins Immunity! Jeff hands Russell the Immunity Idol, after which Russell stares down Rob. as they had back to their beach, Russell says Zapatera is stronger, faster, and smarter than Ometepe. He knows what Rob is thinking, “Oh crap, I’m with a bunch of weinies.”

Back at camp, Ashley says it sucks that they lost their first challenge. She feels like they let Rob down. Kristina tells Francesca that she found HII. Noting that they can’t trust the girls, who have seem to fall for Rob, Kristina suggests that they lure them into voting for Kristina, she’ll play the HII (at the first Tribal Council?!?), and she, Francesca and Phillip will vote out Rob. As amazing as that would feel, Francesca thinks they need Rob for Challenges. Besides, if they vote out Rob, people will be pissed, and she and Kristina still won’t have the numbers. Maybe they should vote out Natalie instead. Kristina confides that while voting out Natalie would be better for the tribe, voting for Rob would be better for Kristina.

Kristina asks Rob and Natalie who they are voting for. Rob doesn’t know. He tells the camera that he wanted to vote off Francesca because she is suspicious of him, as evidenced by her calling him out at the marooning, but Kristina was looking for the HII. Rob tells all the young girls, Matt and Grant that he thinks Kristina has the HII. He constructs a plan to flush out the HII whereby the guys will vote for Francesca, and the girls will vote for Kristina. Rob watns them that he got screwed last time because Tyson couldn’t stick with the plan, so stay they need to stay true. They all agree.

Phillip worries to Kristina about the “heightened state of arousal” that occurs because of dehydration and hunger; people do some strange things when they are depleted. He says he never got an answer to his question about Kristina’s full plan. Kristina, having heard enough, takes him by the arm to show him her HII. She says they don’t need a majority of the votes because she has the HII. Kristina admits to the camera that she is nervous to tell Phillip about the HII, but she’s more worried he’d switch his vote if he didn’t know the full plan. Phillip needs reassurances. He promises her that she has his absolute support. Kristina confides that Phillip is a spaz about everything, and can’t be trusted to keep mouth shut. Phillip confesses that it is in the best interest of Phillip to get rid of Rob because if they do, we are looking at the new leader. Everything just needs to go down correctly at…

…Tribal Council. Jeff instructs each player to grab a torch and get fire. He asks Rob what happened at camp on the first day. Rob replies that everyone went right to work, with Phillip setting the tone. Did Phillip naturally assume the leadership role? Phillip answers that it was sort of by accident (which causes many eyes to roll), but he is willing to jump in if need be. Matt says that they didn’t talk specifically about who would be the leader.

Jeff asks Kristina if she feels safe, and she doesn’t. Francesca notes that a girl is likely to go because the tribe needs to keep itself strong (way to stand up for women there Francesca!). Jeff asks Francesca about RI. She answers that RI adds a new level of complexity to the game. She then says that Rob isn’t going home tonight. Phillip calls B.S., saying Francesca and Kristina told him that they want him to vote for Rob. As the conversation devolves from there and accusations fly, Kristina mouths to Francesca to vote for Phillip. He then reveals that Kristina has the HII! When Jeff asks if that is true, she admits to it! Were they going to vote for Rob? Kristina says she was actually going to vote for Natalie, and denies wanting to vote for Rob. Jeff asks rob who he believes. Rob replies that Phillip seems pretty sure of himself, and Francesca defended herself, but Kristina did nothing. Rob then asks Kristina to see the HII, and she shows it to him! He asks for the HII in exchange for Kristina’s safety. She says no, she can’t do that. It’s time to vote.

As he votes, Rob comments that it is so good to play with such amateurs. “Thanks for the memories,” he says while he votes for Francesca. Francesca votes for Phillip. Jeff collects the votes and asks if anyone wants to play the HII? Kristina doesn’t play it! Jeff reads the votes: the first two are for Kristina. Francesca and Phillip then each receive two votes. Vote seven is for Kristina, and vote eight is for Francesca. There is one vote left. “The first person voted and heading to Redemption Island…….Francesca!” Jeff tells her the tribe has spoken, snuffs her fire, but tells her to take her torch to RI. With that, he sends Ometepe back to camp.

Next Time On…Survivor!

Russell meets his strategic match with Ralph, and Phillip meets his match with a crab, or something. Francesca learns all about Redemption Island.

Wow, that was one hell of a premiere episode! Kristina found the HII (seriously, can’t they hide the damn thing better? Can’t they just not put it out until later in the game?), then told two people about it. Phillip then went and blew his whole alliance up at Tribal Council to curry favor with Rob. Then Kristina didn’t play the HII, and she didn’t get voted out! If the rest of the seaon is like this, Probst will be correct that this could be a Top 5 season ever.

As far as next week, I expect major fall out from Tribal Council to hit Ometepe. Rob’s suspicions were correct: he can’t trust Kristina. Moreover, everyone else on the tribe has no incentive to vote him out with Kristina’s HII dangling out there. If they have to go back to Tribal Council, I would expect a split vote on Kristina and Phillip (an untrustworthy wild card) to flush out the HII. It’s almost too easy…which means I’ll likely be totally wrong. As far as Zapatera is concerned, the only question is whether a resistance to Russell can be built up by Mike and David. We spent so little time with them, that I look forward to peeking in on them more next week.

Odds to Win

Well, for the first time ever, we are not eliminating someone from the Odds to Win board. My Odds certainly have changed for a few people because of the histrionics at Tribal Council (Sorry Phillip. Hooray Rob!). Also, the Odds going forward will reflect Redemption Island scenarios. So let’s see where everyone falls after the first episode, now that we’ve spent a little time with these people.

Andrea: 3-1. There’s no reason to knock her from the top perch. She’s in the alliance with Rob, which now has at least two targets before they have to start cannibalizing each other. I also like the way she handled Phillip: recognizing the bad behavior, but not overreacting. That is a good trait to have in this game.

Mike: 4-1. Mike honed in immediately on the biggest threat to him in the game: Russell. Additionally, he seems to already be well-liked and affable around camp. He already seems to be in cahoots with Ralph, Sarita and David, so if he can pull in one more (Krista?), I think he can mobilize against Russell. From there, it could be clear sailing, especially if he lets Ralph or David take the heat for eliminating out Russell.

Krista: 8-1 (tie). Krista wasn’t shown much during the episode, so I have nothing much to say about her this week. I made her odds a little worse solely because she seemed to be lagging behind the rest of her tribe during the Immunity Challenge.

Matt: 8-1 (tie). Matt totally has the Fabio thing going on. He thinks his tribe is the Tribe of Harmony…well, until they lost the Challenge and went to that crazy Tribal Council. He has smartly fallen into a lieutenant position with Rob and seems to be getting along with everyone. I worry a bit about his overt spirituality only because if he puts it too much in everyone’s face, or starts wavering because he doesn’t want to lie or whatever, that could annoy some people. For now, his faith was confined to a confessional, so it’s all good.

Steve: 9-1. All Steve did was cheer for Russell at the marooning: a very smart move to keep any target off of him (look at what happened to Francesca who called Rob out). He seemed pretty adept at the Challenge. It will be interesting to see where his allies himself.

Grant: 12-1. I move Grant up because, like Matt, he finds himself in the majority alliance with two other targets long ahead of anyone wanting to get him out. Plus, as the tribe will need to win Challenges, a big, athletic guy like himself will be valuable.

Ralph: 13-1. Ralph gets a nice bump up because at this stage (i.e. very early) he seems like a pretty care-free guy who knows how to get a laugh. He does, however, have his brain churning and might be at the forefront of a Russell Resistance.

Ashley: 18-1. I dropped Ashley down because in the brief screen time she had, she didn’t give me any reason to be confident in her. She’s already way under Rob’s spell (she feels like she let him down?!?), and will likely be easily manipulated by Rob… until he doesn’t need her anymore.

Julie: 20-1. Julie is a beast, man, and I mean that in the best possible way. Her shoulders are crazy! She is going to be a huge asset in Challenges. I left her Odds the same because I have no idea with whom she is aligning.

Rob: 25-1. Listen, is it really likely Rob is going to win? No. Does he have a much better shot now that he has other targets to keep the heat off of him? Absolutely. All Rob needed was a foothold, a reason for his tribe to not want to vote him out. Besides bringing Ometepe back during the Challenge, the nonsense at Tribal Council made him downright sympathetic. This was the best of possible starts for Rob, even with the Challenge loss.

Russell: 31-1. Russell is clearly targeted by some members of his tribe, but every Challenge he wins gets him closer to the end, and gives him more time to work his magic. He’s already started with Stephanie, and I’m sure he’s going to seek out the HII in the immediate future. His Odds could quickly go downhill, but for now, he should be feeling pretty good.

David: 45-1. I know I was really down on David, and there is still time for him to be as annoying as he seemed to be in his interviews, but for now, he appears to be joining the Russell Resistance, which could be really strong. Plus, there are a number of people who dropped down the board, so someone had to move up, right?

Kristina: 50-1. If Kristina can somehow extricate herself from this debacle, I will be majorly impressed. I keep her above a number of people because she is guaranteed at least six more days after shrewdly (and quite unbelievably) not playing the HII. This may give her time to mend some bridges or think of a new strategy to keep herself around.

Stephanie: 55-1. Really, you’re going to align yourself with Russell? I know he’s managed to get his chippies to the end of the game, but people are gunning for him big time. Why would she want to get caught in the crossfire?

Sarita: 100-1. Hey, she survived the first three days, and hasn’t freaked anyone out yet. Good on her.

Natalie: 125-1. All Natalie was good for in the premiere was the season’s first blircle. She is already the target of other members of the tribe because she is so useless. Why does the show insist on wasting slots on contestants like this? It’s not like they don’t have plenty of beautiful women already for the bikini factor.

Phillip: 200-1. Phillip, if you win this game after a Tribal Council performance like that, I will eat the buffs I have at home. Seriously, what is your strategy? No one, I mean no one, trusts you now. I just throw up my hands.

Francesca: 500-1. If Francesca wasn’t voted out, I would have her much higher, but I just don’t see how she can survive probably eight Redemption Island Challenges in a row. She gave good quotes, but there was nothing to suggest she’s a Challenge powerhouse. With the right Challenge and the right competitor, she could win a couple, but eight in a row? Likely not. Sorry, Francesca, I will miss your commentary.

Alright, that’s the season premiere of Survivor: Redemption Island. What did you think? Does anyone stand out to you, for good or ill? Has your perception of Rob and/or Russell’s chances changed? What’s your take on that crazy Tribal Council? What do you think of my Odds? Please leave your questions, comments and theories below. I’ll be back next week with another recap. Until then, I’m off to grow the world’s greatest man sweater.

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