Saturday, April 30, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E11: (I'm tellin y'all it's) Sabotage!

Boy am I glad I rewatched this episode. On initial viewing, it seemed like something simple was going on. Within the Pagonging of Zapatera, we were shown the ongoing saga of Andrea and Matt's on-again off-again relationship and how that related to Rob (and Grant's plans), but beneath the surface there was much more going on--something that revealed what has been going on beneath the surface of the entire Pagonging. Subtly, the editors have woven the story of who has fallen out of Rob's good graces and why, leaving us with only one logical final three and the neutralization of Redemption Island.

Since the beginning of the season, Matt's story has been one of twisted backwards agony. He came to play a social game, but ended up alone most of the time. He paid respects to his hero-god Rob, but was voted out by him twice. He snuggled up to a pretty blond girl, but was betrayed by her. Everything that could go wrong for the guy has gone wrong. Even this week as he was at peace with the game, he couldn't find his way out of it. Despite crying and being broken, Matt won the Redemption Island challenge. What's interesting though is how he won it.

To start the challenge, Mike and Julie both made pucks while Matt failed pretty badly. Then something interesting happened. Matt made one, and the editing cut to Andrea making eye contact with him. He shook his head disapprovingly in response. What happened next? Mike and Julie missed. Then Matt made his second shot. Then Mike and Julie missed again. Then Matt made his final shot, winning the challenge. What's so important about this sequence? It's impossible to know when Matt and Andrea shared their "look," but it was edited to be right as the challenge turned in Matt's favor. Remember when he vowed vengeance against Rob last week? Now he's seemingly vowing vengeance against Andrea. It's just unclear who he's going to take it against when he returns. Or is it?

To start to piece together who Matt will favor, we need to look no further than what he said after the challenge: "I guess [god] still wants me here for some reason. I told him I'd stay here for as long as he wanted me to." This echos what he said in a confessional before the challenge: "God wanted me here. I don't know the reason for that yet, but I know he wants me to be here." Matt still doesn't know the reason, but we can figure it out because we know who god is. The edit never forgets and as was setup earlier in the season, Rob is god. Matt's winning Redemption Island the first time effectively neutralized the twist for Rob as Matt was an easy vote out. Imagine if Kristina or Russell had returned. That would have been hell for Rob. Instead, it's been heaven, and Matt will do it again, eliminating all the Zapatera who would all win a jury vote easily (a fact Ralph reminds us of as he reaches Redemption Island at the close of the episode) as he returns to the game. What will Matt do when he returns to the game? Probably get voted right out again by Rob, "the higher power"Andrea answered to when voting him out the second time.

"Rob's the king around here," Andrea reminded us in the recap, "I mean, he's really smart." Though words of worship may have flowed from Andrea's lips, her actions and emotions betrayed her...and her god. You see, it's like Ashley reminded us in this episode: "Rob's very smart, and he's played this game before, so we're kind of taking our lead from him." Everyone is following Rob to the promised land. It's only who he'll allow in that will make it to the end. Interestingly, Natalie, Ashley, and Grant were shown holding counsel with him, whereas Andrea and Phillip were both making unaware strategic comments on their own. Phillip claimed Steve would be next when Ralph actually was. Andrea stated, "I feel completely safe that we're rock solid because we worked really hard to get to where we are." Except, she wasn't, as Ashley laughed about not wanting to include Andrea in Steve's proposed plan and Grant lobbied for her exit if an Ometepe needed to go. Yes, Andrea is on the Robfather's hit list, and how she got there fits perfectly with everything we've seen in her storyline.

"If Matt comes back from Redemption island, she's still got a soft spot for him," Ashley surmised about Andrea in a confessional. That was the message we were supposed to take away from this episode. Andrea felt bad about turning on Matt, especially after he showed he was bitter towards her and she recognized that their strategic partnership was done. "I don't think he can trust me in this game ever again. Why would he?" she laughed almost demonically. Yet, she still continued to express her guilt over the situation despite her allies dissuading her of it. Rob explained that they all sent Matt to Redemption Island. Andrea retorted, "I played him the hardest." Andrea turned to Natalie for solace saying, "I feel really bad about myself for playing him." Natalie explained to her, "That's what he wanted. He didn't want to play the game." Still though, Andrea cut a confessional saying, "I definitely felt a little guilty on a human level, not on a game level," which was followed by an immediate cut to Rob and Grant strategizing. And do you know what they were strategizing about? Why Andrea needed to be the first Ometepe to go.

Andrea is making the same exact error as Matt. Matt was voted out twice because he was unable to quell his emotions long enough to make the big move. Andrea has gone down the same path and it has caused her own alliance to distrust her (and will make the mythical Phillp, Andrea, and Matt alliance never happen). Remember when she said Matt almost messed up her Final Three plans and that she was close with Rob and Grant? Well, consider those plans gone as Grant let her eat cake just to lull her into a false sense of security. Hell, even Julie said she was untrustworthy. Julie who found god in the episode thanks to Matt. Matt, who Andrea obviously wasn't paying attention to because it's like Grant told her in a confessional, "I don't know if you've learned." No, she hasn't. As much as she'd like to be a player, she's still just an amateur, and the most damning piece of evidence came at the end of Tribal Council. As the camera focused on her, Jeff Probst said that the good news was that Zapatera was eliminated. "The bad news? Nowhere left to hide." It's especially ironic for Andrea as she voted for Steve with an excited cry of, "Ometepe!"

Tribal Council wasn't only damning for Andrea, however. It was also damning for the other Ometepe members who have been shown betraying Rob. This game respects big moves, right? Well, the time for those is over as Steve portended: "It will get brutual after Ralph and I are gone, so it's now or never to do something large." This was their last chance to do something big or be the next Lex. Steve even told them what will happen earlier in the episode when he warned, "He'll take nimrod to the finals, and nobody will vote for nimrod." And why will Phillip get to the end with Rob? Because he gave Rob his vote. Remember that scene from early on? Likewise, who do we know Rob is carrying on his back to the end of this game? Natalie--a point that was reinforced as the camera showed Natalie smiling as Probst explained that in All-Stars Rob made an alliance with Amber. It's a point that was supposed to be especially ironic as Andrea explained, "If you have a good relationship with Rob and he gives you his word, he could take you all the way." This episode was all about her lack of a good relationship with Rob and how she isn't Amber (despite her and Matt's best efforts). The episode also reminded us of the two other Ometepe who have scorned their leader--Ashley and Grant.

Ashley's "mistake" is a bit simpler than Grant's. Though she has set herself up as a strong goat contender, her conversation with Ralph signaled the end for her. Rob even told us so. Grant, on the other end, has made much smaller mistakes. First, he ate Zapatera's fish and declared he was his own man. Second, he knocked Rob out of the challenge this episode and declared, "I love you, Rob," afterward. It was like kissing up to a jury vote after eliminating him, a move Rob (and Chris Daughtery) will allow only himself to make in the game. Couple this information with a confessional comment by Grant, "Timing is everything," and we understand that Steve was talking to his fellow NFL alumni more than anyone when stating, "it's now or never." Grant has missed the now to eliminate his biggest competition, and it will become never when Rob gets him first. You don't cross the Robfather, and that's what Andrea, Ashley and Grant have done in this story.

I do recognize that several other possible outcomes are still in play (such as a Rob/Andrea/Phillip Final Three), but don't believe that any other story ties up the loose ends as well as the one I have uncovered. It satisfies Matt's story with a vote for Rob on the jury. It satisfies Andrea, Ashley, Grant's stories as the amateurs who didn't keep their mouths shut or make big moves. It satisfies Natalie's story as the nu-Amber (her win possibility is still on the table). It satisfies Phillip's story of no one believing him to be the real deal. Most importantly, it satisfies Rob's story of correcting his past mistakes and overcoming all twists that come his way. For the first ten episodes of the season I fought hard against it, but it's hard for me to deny now. Redemption Island is the story of the redemption of Rob Mariano.

Think about it. (Though I don't expect you to. This is an emotionally charged season, and people are turning their brains off.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E10: The Tough Questions

From the first episode I've been driving home the point that this is a meta-season of Survivor. Not only is it a season of Survivor, it is a season about Survivor. How should the game be played? What are the right moves? Should challenges be thrown? Should rice be shared post-merge across pre-merge tribal lines? If Survivor is a social game, what is fair game to use? If Survivor isn't a social game, what exactly are the rules? These last two questions are what this episode took head on, begging us to come to our own answers by focusing on the journeys of Phillip and Matt through the game. Most important, those journeys were then juxtaposed in relation to the most important journey of the season: Rob's. Let's ask him about it.
"So Rob, how do you go forward at Tribal Council when all of this is in the context of a million dollar prize...You're gonna vote somebody out tonight. Is this gonna factor in? I'm guessing maybe, on some level, conscious or subconscious."

Asked at Tribal Council, the above question from Jeff Probst summed up Rob's understated storyline over the episode--namely, how do the "race card" events of this episode fit into his strategy. To be fair, that has been Rob's storyline pretty much the entire season, but it was emphasized and elaborated on by Rob's few confessionals and his answer to the question itself. Let's start with the answer.
"Yeah, I mean, Phillip's a grown man. He says and feels what he wants. Steve's a grown man. He says and feels what he wants. I mean, it's problematic, but, it's real. You have people that have disagreements about things, but, at the same time, I can't imagine this not factoring into our decision."
Kind of a blah politically correct Tribal Council answer, right? Yes, on it's fae it is, but let's dig a little deeper. When we do, we notice two things. First is Rob's basic respect for other people's human agency, a driving force of his success in the game. In a politically correct answer, Rob takes it as a given that others say and feel what they want. He's not worried about inequality of rights or hidden agendas. Everyone has a mind and uses it to communicate and feel. It goes hand-in-hand with his comment to Matt earlier in the season, it takes more than one person to vote someone out. In a decision by majority, it takes multiple people exercising their human agency to come to a decision. Second, Rob acknowledges the importance of context. Everything that happens defines the context you're playing within. So, even though with the vote it might not look like Rob took Phillip's blowup into account, he necessarily had to. Every event changes the game. The importance of this answer to the storyline is driven home when it is considered in concord with Rob's key confessional of the episode.
"But, I don't know. I love Phillip, but I don't know where his head is. There is room to play, but I don't know where."
Shown right before Tribal Council to create some false tension in the vote, it's important for us to understand how manipulated this confessional was. The first line about Phillip seems to come from a completely different confessional than the rest of it. Likewise, the two halves of the next sentence were obviously pieced together. Was tension building the only reason to go to such lengths for one confessional? I don't believe so. Like Andrea's confessional in the merge episode where the editors took episode three footage to make it seem like she might side with Matt, this confessional was carefully crafted to drive home a point. Even the craftiest strategist in the game is beholden to the social interactions of the game and the context created by them. That's exactly why they showed Rob's answer at Tribal Council that explicated that point to us. Rob understands how delicate moments like these make movement in the game. Why? For that answer we need to look no further than Natalie's answer to Probst's asking her more directly and succinctly how the "race card" event fits into the game.
"It's really hard for me to sit here and just listen because, I feel for Steve because I don't think that he has any prejudice in him, and then I feel for Phillip because I don't know what it's like to be an African American man."
Where as Rob is focusing on the long term implications of the event, Natalie is focusing on the short term manifestations. Part of this surely has to do with the age and experience difference between her and Rob. However, that observation doesn't mean that her statement has no merit. She's exactly right about how situations such as these immediately affect how you see other people. Yes, Steve clearly was wronged, and it's impossible not to want to defend him from the injustice being levied against him. However, it's also clear that Phillip has some stuff going on in his head that we'll never quite understand that it is preventing him from seeing the world clearly. It's hard not to feel sympathy for someone like that because you can see the fire inside engulfing him that only he himself can put out. It's not like he's a bad person either. He doesn't deserve to suffer in that way. So what do you do? How do you address the situation? Most importantly for our discussion, how do you approach it in the game? It's truly a classic question.

This episode was similarly a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. In it, the editors were trying to dispel a critique they have faced in recent seasons. Namely, they were looking to refute the romanticizing of "old school" Survivor by presenting the idea that classic episodes weren't really that classic at all. This episode had all the earmarks of classic Survivor--a Pagoning, little strategic talk, and a complete focus on the way the players were living and interacting. Really, the only difference between this episode airing back then and this episode airing now is the awareness of the players, as concertized in the overarching narrative of the season, Rob's genius game of Survivor.

The social game has always culminated in one extremely important aspect of the game, who wins the most jury votes. From Hatch to Hantz, out of the players who are facing the jury the player who plays the best social game always wins. Most of us know it's the reason Russell Hantz lost two jury votes in a row, but you know who understands this better than anyone? Do you know who is arguably still light years ahead of everyone in this area of game understanding? Sandra Diaz Twine has earned two titles because of her in depth understanding of the social game. The first time she got to the end with Fairplay and Lil. The second time she got to the end with Russell and Parvati. She was liked more by both juries than all those people. Heck, Rupert voted for her both times. Coincidence? I think not...and in many ways, Rob is trying to integrate her strategy into his own as he gets closer to the end.

It's not important whether Rob actually made mistakes in his past social game to lose the jury vote in All-Stars. It's important that that's the story we're being told. Rob, the Survivor god, is playing the perfect game by rectifying his past mistakes. This episode was no different. Right before and at Tribal Council we saw his awareness of the social game and earlier in the episode we were shown his application of that knowledge. As Phillip went crazy (yeah, I said it), Rob reiterated that Phillip was his #1 goat for the Final Tribal Council. He then added that all he needed was a #2 goat as the camera lingered on Ashley making us wonder if that is her role. It was a confessional that smacked of awareness of the game--awareness that Colby lacked when he took Tina to F2, awareness that Rob (arguably) lacked when he took Amber to F2. At least, he lacked it for the purposes of this season's storyline. (That's how most people remember it anyway.)

I've fought it for a long time, but based on yet another episode like this, it's increasingly difficult to see this season as anything more than Rob's Redemption. The editors have gone out of the way to balance his edit, surely erasing the more incendiary comments he makes and including his more jovial moments. More distressingly, they haven't edited in anyone else's story (besides Phillip) to the point that it would be the biggest cheat in Survivor history if he didn't win. Yes, it would be a bigger cheat than the editing of Samoa. The more I see, the harder it is to wrap my head around this season not being the story of his finally winning Survivor and sitting at the Final Tribal Council with Phillip and one of Natalie/Ashley/Andrea. All three of those girls have decent stories that could land them there, and that seems to be the only mystery left.

That's only one perspective though, and I'm curious as to just how pervasive the opposite perspective is. You see, even though the sun set on the Jesus statue last week, new life was breathed into Matt's storyline again--new life that threatens Rob's story and makes us question just how Survivor should be played now-a-days. Building off of Julie's "poor kid" comment from two weeks ago, Matt was shown crying and breaking down at Redemption Island, still pledging to follow his god's path. If any sympathy is felt for Matt, who is the obvious person to blame for his suffering? The answer is Rob, a point Matt made by saying he wants to get back into the game to beat the man who ousted him twice. Rob even acknowledged the "rivalry," saying he sent David and Mike to Redemption Island to beat Matt, but David failed. Then, to close the scene, after saying he wants to beat Rob, Matt pushed over his stack of (white) cards. Could that be extremely obvious symbolism, or is it a red herring? Afterall, David did seem to think making his way through Redemption Island would have been a completely valid strategy. Was that comment just a sendoff for David or commentary on the twist itself?

What you're going to see as the story of the season comes down to what you believe and how your brain is wired---and that's exactly what the editors are banking on. Do you want to see a classic game where a mastermind like Rob, a remnant of the old Survivor, Pagongs the Zapatera and Hatches and Heidiks his way to the million being forgiven by Matt with a jury vote on the way, or do you want to see nu-Survivor where a mastermind like Rob becomes the new Hantz when he is Natalied by Andrea due to the twist of Redemption Island returning Matt to "redeem" the game with his superior morality?

Those are the only two options. There is no middle ground. Make your choice. Before you do however:

Think about it.

(Me? Well, you know what my side is...and I can't get past the fact that the editors went out of their way to show that Rob is NOT Russell over the first four episodes of the season.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E9: How To Play Survivor

As the sun set on the Jesus statue, a new episode began it. With it, old storylines washed away and one major one began. If the episode after Russell's boot was a second premiere, then this episode was a third premiere. The first segment of the season taught us how to play the opening to the game. The second segment of the season taught us how to play the merge. This third and final segment will teach us how to play the endgame. Before we delve into the details though, we need to finally deliver the head shot to Matt.

On the now infamous Stealth R Us reward trip, one comment stuck out majorly as a possible hitch in Rob's edit. As Ometepe sat under the Jesus statue, Rob asked, "Who's that?" The tribe responded with a resounding, "It's Jesus." What we now know is that they might as well have replied, "It's Matt." How do we know that? For seemingly no reason, the Jesus statue was shown at the beginning of the episode as the sun set in front of it. Sorry, Matt, you're nothing like your savior--either one of them. Jesus wasn't put back down when he rose again. Rob, our Survivor god, could actually take his Amber to the end. And that's why Rob asked who Jesus was. It was a subtle editing trick to tell us, Matt and "big G" god have no place in Survivor. Rob is our Survivor god and all you have to do to get to the end game is follow him. The only story left for Matt is if he'll have "forgiveness on his mind" when he casts a jury vote.

To understand the story of how Rob is leading his tribe, we have to return to another scene that seemed like a major hitch in Rob's edit. As he distracted his tribe with the game "The Royal Treament," Rob found the Hidden Immunity Idol. He then returned to the beach, apparently losing the "Royal Treatment" game, tossing a rock and saying, "I was going for the win." This comment, while possible to interpret as foreshadowing Rob's eventual loss in the game wasn't foreshadowing that at all. Rather, it was foreshadowing how Rob would be going for the win in the overall game. "The Royal Treatment" is in full effect. Rob has created a two class system in Murlonio. Ometepe sleeps in the nice part of the shelter. Ometepe has the numbers. Zapatera? Well, they suck--and don't talk to them or you'll end up on the jury because Rob says so.

It's working too. The opening to this episode drove home one point. Rob is Superman. No, really, I'm not just fantarding out here. Russell was mocked for his harem earlier in the season? Well in this episode Rob sat in the shelter with his harem of Andrea and Natalie. Natalie curled his hair in the front, making it resemble Christopher Reeve's turn as Superman, and repeated that hero's name after Rob said it. If you younger readers don't get the reference, don't worry. I'm sure Natalie didn't either. And that's the point. How many viewers do you think picked up it was just a coy joke by Rob? It was edited in to make it look like Rob is Superman in Survivor, especially considering it was juxtaposed right after Mike congratulated him and talked with David about how genius the Matt vote was. Of course their comments were also followed by dissenting comments from Julie and Ralph.

The reason all these perspectives of Zapatera were shown is brought into focus by Ralph's comment to Ashley. He promises her his jury vote if she gets to the Final 3. Yes, folks, this editing for Zapatera is all about jury votes now. Rob even tells us so to end the opening segment. He reinforces the us vs them mentality and says that he wants his tribe to be arrogant so he receives Zapatera's jury votes and rather than them. Well, I'll tell you what. Right now it looks like Rob has Mike and David's votes, but definitely not Julie's, as the purpose of her "poor kid" line became clear to us. She repeated it and putthe issue on the table that everyone will be talking about for the rest of the season. It's the same question that was on the table for All-Stars, Samoa, and Heroes vs Villians. If you get to the end by using your head, how do you win the jury vote when the jurors vote with their hearts?

Our god Rob is going to show us as he reveals his plans for the rest of the season. You see, Ralph's little comment to Ashley had an unintended consequence. It knocked Ashley out of the Final 3. Why? Because Rob's not going to want to sit next to anyone who has sure votes. Why? Because, as he tells us, "It's my game. I'm in charge." This comment is almost unbelievable, but you need to believe it, as this is the story of the season. Ometepe will be the Final 6. Rob's espoused Final 3 will come to fruition.

Don't get too enamored with a Rob win, however. It is with that Final 3 that the story gets really interesting. At the start of this season, I noted how Redemption Island was not only about the redemption of Rob and Russell, but Survivor itself. This supposition still holds true. This season is a statement on Survivor and each of the members of Rob's Final 3 have a perfect winner's story that makes a statement on the game and the show. Stealth R Us may have the Mentalist, the Specialist, and the Assassin, but Rob's plan has the Genius, the Girl, and the Goat.

Rob is the genius. There is no need to further elaborate on how this plot has unfolded so far. How it comments on Survivor though is interesting. From Hatch to Hantz, Rob is playing the perfect version of the mastermind strategy. He arguably has Ometepe more enthused to Pagong Zapatera than Richard had Tagi to Pagong Pagong--so much so that we may want to rename the technique a "Zapateraing." It's especially ironic because Rob is doing to Zapatera what they did to Krasta and Stephanie, except he's doing it better. If you thought Tom Westman's edit in Palau was the "here's how a dominant guy" wins edit, think again. Ralph did say, "Who's gonna win the million? Rob." If the editors ever wanted to tell us, this is how to play Survivor, this is how the mastermind wins, this is the story they would tell. Basically think of it as me being the head editor and this being my love letter to Boston Rob.

Not so fast though.

Natalie is the girl. Like Rob, I've recounted her story before in past editions of this column. She is the nu-Amber. And like Amber, she has the same story. Again this week, her tight co-conspirator relationship with Rob was shown. If she won, this is exactly the story that would be edited as well. It's the twice told Sandra story. It's the, well, Natalie story in Samoa. If the editors ever wanted to tell us, this is how to play Survivor, this is how the girl wins, this is the story they would tell. Basically think of it as the head editor being Mario Lanza and this being his love letter to Vecepia.

Not so fast though.

Phillip is the goat. Unlike the other two members of the "proposed" Final 3, he is actually unique in Survivor history. His sliding into the "#1 spot" brought his edit more into focus and revealed his strategy. From the beginning, Phillip has been acting crazy and saying Rob was his only obstacle to win. Both of these elements will hold true until the end. Phillip is intentionally playing the goat, and the goat's only option is to prove that he actually played the mastermind, not the other way around. It's actually a smart strategy that has not quite been attempted before in Survivor history, and the foreshadowing is there. Rob did say Phillip will be rewarded. Phillip did say, "I get the best of them." He could be the dumbass finally winning that Ralph was talking about. If the editors ever wanted to tell us, this is how to play Survivor, this is how the goat wins, this is the story they would tell. Basically think of it as the head editor being Parvati and this being her love letter to herself.

Why did I just name drop Parvati? Because this Final 3 is essentially the same Final 3 as Heroes vs Villains. Russell was the genius. Sandra was the girl. Parvati was the goat. I understand that the roles are slippery here, but please stay with me. At the Final Tribal Council, Parvati presented the argument Phillip will have to present. She kept the dragon as her pet. In other words, because of her, the genius was actually the goat. See? I told you to stick with my illustration. This inversion makes even more sense when you consider the Samoa Final 3. Russell was the genius. Natalie was the girl. Mick was the goat. The only exception this time though was that Mick was a true goat and was unable to create the inversion. It's all irrelevant though. I did say "the only exception" for a reason, and it wasn't just to make a Paramore reference. Both times, despite what the genius and the goat did, the girl won.

Thus, in a move that would make Mario Lanza proud, I am sticking with my Natalie pick. Mario knows the game and the minds of these people better than anyone. I can present no better argument than the fact that Mario's love letter to Survivor would be the story they are editing for a Natalie win. Is this an argument from authority? Most definitely, but it is also the cherry on top of all the other Natalie evidence I have already presented.

Not so fast though.

Phillip and Rob could win this thing too, and I, for the hope of all that is good in the world, will cheer for Rob until the votes are read next month and we've finally learned exactly how to play Survivor.

Still trying to figure it out? Good. That's the point of the season. Remember though, there's only one way to accomplish that:

Think about it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E8: You shall not pass!

Natalie wins. I'm not going to bury the lead on this one. I am even more confident in my episode one prediction. Now I ask that you let me explain.

It seems that my "Royal Treatment" prediction wasn't completely accurate. I did have the Zapatera tribe correctly analyzed. Their tribe was the story of pauper David rising up and getting queen Sarita voted out. However, it is a tragic tale. It doesn't matter that their tribe finally turned their fortunes and voted on proper (according to the editing) reasoning. They voted out Russell and got what was coming to them. And sure, Russell was a bad god, but a bad god can still stand toe-to-toe with another god. Now Zapatera is left at the mercy of another Survivor god, Boston Rob Mariano--and if you still don't see the Rob is god storyline, then I don't know what show you're watching.

You see, the "Royal Treatment" didn't apply to Zapatera because they denied it to themselves. In contrast, Ometepe asked for the royal treatment and are receiving it. By embracing their god, Ometepe have punched a ticket to the Final 6--unless one of them does something silly like Matt did (twice). This episode was really the ending to the storylines from the first half of the season. That Matt and Andrea storyline? Check. That Zapatera gets pwned storyline? Check. That Matt finds redemption storyline? Check.

Though Matt came back from Redemption Island, he did not find redemption. Rob did not forgive him. Why? Because Matt sat on the fence for too long and then had the audacity to tell Rob about it (in a quasi-Catholic confession). But we're not looking at the rationale behind Rob's move, we're looking at the editing. The important things here are two comments Matt made. The first was that he again reiterated (multiple times) that he was only following god's plan and would be around as long as and where god would have him. Well, that is exactly what happened. Rob wants him on Redemption Island, so that is where he will stay. The second was that he stated that the game respects big moves. So what did he do, make a big move? No, he followed his emotions and stayed put. You know who made that big move? Yeah you do. Rob did.

Zapatera knows it too. This episode they were nothing more than tools of the editing to drive home the point that Rob is indeed god. Let's work this one backwards. After Matt's blindside at Tribal Council, amidst the shock on the faces of Zapatera, the editors were sure to show David looking over at Rob and proclaiming, "Genius is what that was. " He was truly worshiping at the altar. At the Immunity Challenge, it was edited as though a freak occurrence cost Mike the win and gave it to an Ometepe--Mike who was shown reading the Bible and asking about the story of Matthew and how long Jesus spent in the desert, all while Rob looked on and was sure to qualify that he did go to church. It's interesting that the editors had to throw that in. If they wanted to make Rob look bad, they didn't have to include the church comment. It's almost as if they want us to like him. Finally, at the merge feast Steve mentioned being in heaven. Except, Zapatera wasn't really let into heaven. They had to sleep on the tarpless side of the shelter. You see, they gave up the right to have the tarp when they spurned their god by throwing the challenge. Yup, David reminded us of the challenge throwing at Tribal Council. Still, it all amounted to Rob telling Zapatera that just like Matt, they can't pass into heaven and are just waiting for their time to be sent to hell aka Redemption Island. Why do you think Matt exclaimed, "What the hell, guys?" as the descended the steps towards it?

(Note: Could Mike's referencing the Jesus in the desert story actually be foreshadowing Matt returning from RI again, or was he foreshadowing his own return from RI? Either is possible.)

You know who can pass though? Natalie, who had the most interesting edit of the episode. She's been a little inactive editing wise this season, but they've always done a few things to remind us of her. Like I previously noted, the editors have been very careful in making Ashley look bad but not Natalie (which they did again by giving Ashley a "nasty" comment about the tarp at Tribal Council) and showing Natalie defending Rob and Rob defending Natalie in Phillip situations. This week increased that subtlety perhaps beyond subtlety to the point of obviousness. On two separate occasions, Rob was shown talking to Natalie about strategy. First, he talked to her as he watched Mike read the Bible to Matt and others. Then he was shown talking to her about the Matt boot before everyone else. Did he actually talk to her first? It's impossible to know. The important thing was that the editors wanted to give us that impression. Just like they wanted to give us a different impression of the immunity challenge.

(Note: I don't actually think Ashley's comment was nasty at Tribal Council. Ometepe earned the tarp. It's theirs to share or not based on how they see fit.)

Let's be serious for a minute. That challenge had plenty of drama and a great ending. The 19 year old girl beats the Marine after he is a statue for 40 minutes? There's no reason to edit in a fly landing on Mike's ball, especially when in reality it had nothing to do with the ending. Mike told us as much when he explained to Rob that his legs went numb. Why show that conversation and the fly on the ball then? To emphasize Natalie's unlikely victory AND the fly editing. In this story, the fly was Deus Ex Machina for Natalie winning--distracting Mike away from victory. And in the broader story of Natalie winning, Rob is the Deus Ex Machina--distracting the other players from victory, always swooping in and making the perfect moves to get her to the end when necessary, and tossing her over his shoulder and carrying her to the end. Think about it--Deus Ex Machina, the god in the machine. Survivor is the machine. Rob is the god.

This one is in the book, folks. I'm not even going to ask you to think about it anymore (but if you'd like please do). In fact, there's only one thing you really need to do:

Count on it.