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.