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.)