How is Rob still in this game? No, that's a serious question. How has everyone on his tribe not gotten together and realized how much of a threat he is--not a threat to win the game, but to their individual longevities. Rob made a subtle mistake this episode that any aware player should have picked up on (and possibly did). He demonstrated his unpredictability unless you know him like the back of your hand, and since none of the players are Amber, none of them do. What I mean is, by voting out Matt, Rob proved that it only takes a small action to get on his bad side and end up with you leaving at Tribal Council. That makes any player a possible target and proves that Rob doesn't actually have any loyalty.
Except here's where the mind games come in, and this is why Rob is still in the game. You have to be loyal to someone, and it's like Matt says, Rob is very good at giving people exactly what they need. It's actually the best possible strategy in Survivor. If you create mutually beneficial deals, then there is no reason for people to think you're lying or being disloyal--because you're telling the truth and being loyal. The problem is when you stop believing your deal is mutually beneficial and end it. This is what Rob did to Matt because he perceived him as playing for the end game on day five. His doing so should create doubt in the minds of the other players. They should ask themselves, "Do I know Rob well enough to understand how he perceives the way people are, the way they interact, and the way they play the game?"
Natalie, Grant, and Ashley presumably all think they're sitting pretty. They're in Rob's inner alliance of four. Natalie is in the best position. She is the nu-Amber. Grant is in the second best position. His physical strength means he can take more of a risk by aligning with Rob. If Ometepe vote out Grant, they're pretty much sunk. Finally, Ashley is in the roughest position, as she seems to be the most inconsequential to Rob (based on editing) . However, I have to wonder if she has a deal with Grant. That would make the foursome two couples (that's what she said), a ploy seen previously in the successful Koror alliance--Ian and Katie, Gregg and Jenn, and Tom. (Yes, I'm aware I just called Phillip Tom. The metaphor isn't perfect.)
At least we know why Russell is still in the game. Zapatera has yet to lose immunity, which actually creates a frightening possibility. If they don't ever lose immunity, could Russell sneak into the merge and then become someone's F3 pet dragon? But the likelihood of Koror immunity dominance (two Koror references in one column?) is small, and if we've seen Rob's game before, then we've definitely seen Russell's. He has his Natalie (Krista). He has his Parvati (Stephanie). He has his catchphrase ("You're either with me or you're against me"). The only problem is, he doesn't have his Hidden Immunity Idol. Ralph has it.
Russell, dude, you only don't need the numbers if you have the HII and no one knows who you are. Things are different this time, though. People do know who you are. You don't have the HII. Take a step back and reassess yourself. I'm not sure you're capable of doing that though. You just doesn't treat people like people. Nowhere was that more apparent than your confrontation with Ralph.
I understand if you come to a judgment on someone. Sticking by the judgment of your mind is important. However, if someone contradicts that judgment, you have to accept the new evidence and change your mind. Ralph presented Russell with new evidence but Russell just plowed through, refusing to acknowledge reality. Ralph, in all his so-called stupidity, knew Russell would do this and put on a show for Stephanie, Krista, David, and Mike. He was essentially saying, "Look how Russell dehumanizes me while I try to treat him with respect." I actually don't agree completely with Ralph's argument that since the tribe won the clue, it belongs to the tribe. Logically, that would mean that the tribe owns the HII too. The problem with that line of thinking is that only one player can use the HII, so it ultimately only belongs to the player who uses it. Ralph was aware of that, though. He was only making the argument to demonstrate how much of a jerk Russell is.
Russell's so much of a jerk, I hope he brings out the jerk in Ralph. This is what I would do if I were Ralph. At the first Tribal Council Zapatera went to, I would tell everyone including my allies to vote for me. Then I would vote for Russell. Then I would play the HII. Then the vote would be 8 for me 1 for Russell. Then the votes against me wouldn't count. Then the tribe wouldn't have spoken, I would have. I would have been the person to vote Russell Hantz out of Survivor--me, by myself.
Please, please, please, Ralph have done this. It would be a Top Ten All-Time Survivor moment.
As for the editing, it only makes me feel stronger about my Natalie prediction. This episode continued the perception-leadership theme and took it to another level: godhood. Once again the oracle Phil said the episode title, "You Own My Vote." In short, he pledged his loyalty to a god--a just and benevolent god.
That this episode was drawing a stark dichotomy between the two returning Rs is undeniable. Russell was clearly shown as a flawed and vengeful player. Rob was clearly shown as a clever and loyal player (loyal to those who are loyal to him). The only question is: how does this comparison translate to godhood? The key to the editing of this episode is twofold: the theme that was begun last episode and the character of Matt.
This episode was as much about who the players were going to follow as the first. Whereas the Ometepe tribe has learned its lesson (even Krista) and are following Rob, the Zapatera tribe is growing insolent and flaunting their independence in Russell's face. Only two have fallen in line, and those two fell into roles that were explicitly mentioned last episode--the Natalie and the Parvati. Likewise, the player that has most fallen in line with Rob was given a previous role too, as Amber was mentioned by Rob when talking about Natalie. Except, there's a major difference here that was made explicit. Amber was Rob's partner. Natalie is Rob's blind follower, to be tossed over his shoulder and carried to the end (and the million).
Matt, who once looked like a strong competitor, became little more than a one note character. He is the Christian, reminding us of god, saying that he believes god put him on the right tribe. However, this season is about redemption, and the only way to find redemption is through god. It's no silly coincidence or character quirk that caused the editors to include these small Matt moments. It also makes the obviously edited-in lightning around Russell's tirade against Ralph that much more symbolic, especially when contrasted with Rob's calm when conversing about voting with his alliance of four. To win this season is to be redeemed and the only way to be redeemed is to follow god--which is exactly what Natalie is doing.
For an even more off the wall and unlikely prediction, I see Matt as the player who returns to the game from Redemption Island. I then see him leading the jury charge (with Andrea) against Rob, a la the prayer warriors against Russell in Samoa. After all, in the big picture, Rob is nothing more than a false god, and big G God always gives them what's coming to them (not that I believe in him or anything, I'm just talking mythologies here).
F3 Prediction: Rob-Natalie-Phillip
(Note: The Ralph vs Russell plot could either play into this theory or contradict it. If Ralph proves that Russell is a false god, it could either mean that 1. the false god Rob will get his comeuppance in F3 or 2. following any false god is bad and anyone who does so will lose.)
On one final note, I'd like to take a moment to point out that what I said about Phillip held true. He only ran his mouth last Tribal Council because he was lied to and didn't like it. Yes, it proves him to be a bit of a loose cannon and odd, but he can be dealt with and used--and Rob is learning how to do that. I fully expect Phillip to be brought more and more into the fold as the season progresses.
As always, everything I've written is subject to any twists and turns the game brings. I am confident, however, in my overall thematic and strategic analysis and prediction. And if you still don't agree, I only ask that you do one thing:
Think about it.