"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 classic...in 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.)