Survivor: Redemption Island
Keep Hope Alive
By Jim Van Nest, Survivor Analyst
March 3, 2011

It is very, very difficult to say Francesca with a dry mouth.

Hello, good people, and welcome back to Survivor: Redemption Island. I'm very excited to see this week's episode - mainly because we get to see our first Redemption Island duel. But before I get to that...

Previously on Survivor: Russell found an idol clue, but Ralph found the idol. Philip went spear hunting for crabs and the producers made EVERYone's day by giving the castaways their swimming suits. I can only assume even they had seen enough of Phil's drawers. Andrea and Matt began a show-mance, and just as quickly, Rob slit the young lovers' throats by organizing his power foursome (including Grant, Ashley and his #1 girl, Natalie) to send goody two shoes Matt to Redemption Island.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. At least, that's what the previews have lead us to believe as Andrea appears to be on the warpath for Matt's ouster. Of course, how much can an alliance of 1 do? We also heard Stephanie speak of the "biggest blindside ever". But the most intriguing thing about tonight's episode is that we'll finally get to see Redemption Island put into practice. "Francesqua" and Matt will be set to duel tonight, with the loser packing their few belongings and leaving Survivor: Redemption Island for good. The winner gets three more days and the opportunity to duel one more time for survival.

I'll make the quick note that the episode title this week is, "Keep Hope Alive." This has been Russell's mantra since the Samoa season. So much so that he had it tattooed onto his right arm. Does this mean he keeps hope alive? Or is it just the opposite and we'll finally get what millions of Survivor fans have been waiting for, to see Russell Hantz's torch extinguished? My gut tells me it's closer to the latter. That being said, let's take a look at Week 3's Power Rankings.

Rob - 4-1. I still don't think he'll make the end, but up to now, he's playing a near perfect game. Busting up the Andrea-Matt twosome was brilliant and necessary. Personally, I think he let Matt's handshake throw him off his game a bit. Andrea was the obvious boot there and I think Rob weakened his tribe by dumping Matt so quickly. Either way, though, Rob is in control of his alliance, his tribe and the game, at this point.

Natalie/Ashley/Grant - 8-1 Natalie is emerging as Rob's #2. But for now, I'm going to keep his alliance together in the second slot as you never know what could happen. What IS happening though, is this group is becoming tighter and tighter. And if Ometepe keeps losing, they'll form one of those us against the world bonds that could see them all to the end.

Ralph - 10-1 We still haven't seen a whole lot of the Zapatera tribe, but with an idol in hand and the whole world out to get Russell, Ralph is poised to run the show on this tribe. His easy-going, hard-working, "I'm a dumbass" attitude will serve him well as no one will really suspect him to be a threat, until he becomes a threat and it's too late.

Phillip - 15-1 Our resident nut job has accidentally put himself in a pretty good position. He's set himself up as a "vote in hand" for Rob. While not exactly part of the alliance, Rob knows he has Phillip's vote and if anyone else IN the alliance gets any wacky ideas, Phillip could easily be brought in to replace them. If Rob can run the table with his alliance of four, Phillip could become the all important swing vote that propels Rob to the end.

Mike/Steve/Sarita/David/Julie/Krista - 20-1 None of these people have gotten enough screen time to warrant a single slot in the Rankings at this point. We really need Zapatera to lose a challenge so we can spend more time with them and learn what makes them tick.

Stephanie - 30-1 Stephanie is Russell's girl right now, but no one is looking at her. They're all focused on Russell. She seems savvy enough that once she sees the tide turning on Russell, I reckon she'll jump ship to the rest of the tribe and try to work her way in somewhere.

Andrea/Kristina 50-1 Kristina used her idol so is now completely vulnerable (unless she can find the idol know it will be re-hidden). Andrea has lost her best friend and finds herself on the outs with her alliance. Should Ometepe lose again, one of these 2 will get the boot. It really depends on how pissed Andrea is. If she gets over it and rejoins the alliance, Kristina goes home. If not, Rob could dump her just to remove the malcontent.

Russell - 100-1 The only reason Russell isn't last in the Rankings is that two people have already been voted out. I have no doubts that as soon as Zapatera loses a challenge, Russell is gone. And odds are, they'll lose soon. Russell speaks of playing a different game, but he's playing the exact same game and it's time to pay the piper.

Matt - 250-1 You have to think Matt will beat Francesca in the first Redemption Island duel this week. Depending on how things go, Matt could be poised for a long stay on Redemption Island as none of the folks in danger of getting the boot strike fear into me as a challenge competitor. You would have to give Matt the edge over Russell, Stephanie, Kristina and Andrea (the four most likely to join him at RI). But due to the fact that he's only one bad challenge away from leaving, he has to be ranked this low.

Francesca - Still 1 million-1. I said it last week and it stands. Francesca has shown me nothing to suggest that she has a duel win in her - especially against Matt who seems to be pretty decent in the challenges. My guess is Matt wins this duel and we say goodbye to Francesca tonight.

We begin this episode at Redemption Island as Matt arrives to a shocked Francescalammadingdong. Neither one of them can believe that Matt was the boot last week. Matt tells her he doesn't even have any of his stuff, he was so secure. He tells her that he feels like an idiot because he thought he was tight in that alliance. He's handling it pretty well and seems pretty hell bent on revenge.

As we join Ometepe, Rob is telling us how perfectly the Tribal went. Kristina played her idol, Matt was blindsided and Phillip played his role perfectly. We join a conversation between Rob and Phillip that is quite interesting. Rob decides that Phillip did so well, that he can be brought into the fold of the alliance. But he does so in a way that is Here's the quote, "There's alliance. The two girls, Natalie and Ashley and me and Grant. You're fifth." Really? Did he really just tell Phillip that he can be part of the alliance and that he's fifth? Phillip is glad to be a part of it and offers his former federal agent's hand to lock it in. This whole scene is weird to me. Rob just told him he was bottom of the totem pole in their alliance, and Phillip was fine with that.

I don't think Rob meant to say it in that way. And this makes me wonder if Rob isn't just a bit off his game. Sure, his plan for Tribal worked perfectly, but I still think he picked the wrong person to get rid of. And now he's not choosing his words very well, which is usually one of his strongest attributes. I don't know, something just seems wonky. In retrospect, I'm sure he's glad that it was Phillip...because he didn't notice it at all.

We come back from break as Francesca and Matt receive some Tree Mail announcing their first duel. Each tribe gets Tree Mail as well. They are to choose two people to send to Redemption Island to watch the duel. Each tribe is given a bag of stones and the two people that choose the colored stones will go. At Zapatera, Steve and David (Steve-Dave...heh) will go. At Ometepe, Ashley and Andrea will make the journey. Andrea is pretty pumped to see her boyfriend. She's mostly stoked to let him know that she didn't vote for him so that if he gets back in the game, he may join back up with her. Rob is a little concerned about Andrea "getting smaht" and talking to Matt. Uh oh, maybe you should have dumped her after all, eh, Rob?

Probst sighting! As the competitors are brought in, Jeff breaks down the arena, Andrea does get the opportunity to chime in that she didn't vote for either Francesca or Matt. After a brief discussion about doing or dying and an acknowledged respect between the players, it's on. The first duel is a simple one. Each person has sticks and twine. They must make a longer stick to retrieve three keys. These keys open three locks. First person to unlock all three locks and step through their door wins the right to continue on in this game. The loser gets the top left-hand seat and about 45 seconds of screen time at the Reunion.

As the challenge begins, Francesca is quick out of the gate with a pretty strong looking stick. In a matter of a quick minute, she has her first key. As she pulls in her second key, Matt's stick basically bends in half and he is most of the way to one of the more embarrassing performances in a challenge ever. As Francesca goes for the third key, her stick proves not strong enough to handle it and she needs to do some maintenance to her pole. As she works, Matt gives it a shot again. This time the pole is strong and he quickly grabs two keys to tie this challenge up. After a little more maintenance, both players go for the third key at the same time. Matt hooks his and Francesca's pole comes up about a half inch short and she cannot grab it. In an amazing three key comeback, Matt wins the first ever Redemption Island duel and Francesca is told to put her buff in the fire and becomes the first person sent home from Survivor: Redemption Island. Before the others go back to camp, Jeff lets them know that what they share from RI is completely up to them.

Ashley and Andrea return from RI and tell the group that Matt is pissed and wants to come back and get revenge. Rob is very concerned about that and realizes that he has to smooth things over with Andrea as best he can. So he pulls her aside and apologizes for dumping Matt. He tells her he wishes it could have gone another way, but there were four people involved in the decision. He assures her that she's part of the alliance. She tells us that she's going to play along with that, but really doesn't believe any of it.

When Steve-Dave returns to Zapatera, they decide to tell Russell that Francesca won the duel. As soon as he walks away, they tell the rest of their alliance the truth. Yeah, I don't get it. I see no advantage to telling Russell the wrong person went home. I mean, if he gets voted off, he'll know right away. And what happens if the next time people go to watch a duel, Russell pulls the colored rock? Then you have your "cancer" coming back to camp knowing you lied to him. These are the kinds of decisions I never understand. There is nothing to be gained by lying like that, so why do it? Unless you just want to come out there and exhibit all of the traits you hate Russell for. If that's the case, keep it right up and your fate will be the same as his has been, no million.

Russell then lays it out for us, as if we didn't know. He's facing a 6-3 deficit in his tribe. The most important thing for him is to find the idol. So they go off searching like crazy and obviously, they never find it. Stephanie suggests that maybe they should make a fake idol and pretend like they have one. When you mix in the fact that Ralph hasn't told anyone that he has it, this strategy just might work. So, Stephanie puts on a show that ANYone should have been able to see through. She carries her bag with her everywhere she goes. Steve notices the odd behavior and seems to buy into it. He tells us that Stephanie is walking around like she's got an idol in her bag. He also tells us that he just has to be very careful with Russell until they can get rid of him. And it would seem they want him

We come back from break to complete nastiness. Russell has got a disgusting rash looking thing under his arms. Mike tells us how Russell just sits in the shelter with his "concubines" and does nothing. We join Steve, Mike and Ralph discussing getting rid of Russell as soon as possible. The talk turns toward throwing a challenge. Anyone who's ever read my recaps knows that this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Karma's a fickle bitch and throwing a challenge will infect a tribe with incredibly bad karma. After deciding it would be a good idea, Steve takes it to Julie and David to see what they think. Dave doesn't like the idea, but he sees the benefit. Julie doesn't like it a bit. She's worried about giving the other tribe confidence and the fact that they could get on a roll. Amazingly enough, no one seems to think about the fact that they'd be allowing Rob to get his foot in the door. Before they head out to the challenge, they decide that if they are going to go through with it, they'll give a thumbs up sign.

This leads us to our second Probst sighting of the day. Today's challenge is very familiar. It's the "tie people to a wheel, dunk them under water, spit the water into a funnel, finish a puzzle" challenge. We've seen the exact challenge before and it's pretty nasty. Not only are they playing for immunity, but also reward. They'll win chairs, blankets, a huge tarp and other comforts for around camp. After some discussion and a thumbs up, Zapatera decides to sit Ralph and Sarita. And, oh yeah, they apparently decide to throw the challenge. Julie once again tells us that she's not comfortable with this idea.

As the challenge begins, everything seems on the up and up. But oddly, Steve starts to "tire" as he's spinning the wheel. Naturally, Ometepe is working their ass off and the tribe takes the lead in the challenge. The women of Zapatera are purposely missing the funnel and Ometepe gets their puzzle ball down to Rob quickly to begin the final portion of the challenge. Once Zapatera releases their ball to David, it becomes painfully obvious that David is throwing it. David, the person with the highest IQ of anyone ever on Survivor, moves pieces for about 30 seconds and then just stops even moving pieces. I mean, he didn't even make it LOOK like he was playing. And with that, Rob finishes the puzzle and Ometepe wins immunity and some serious camp comfort. As we go to break, Russell tells us that he's fairly sure they threw the challenge.

We come back from break to the Ometepe tribe enjoying their reward. Rob, however, is more concerned with finding the clue for the hidden idol. He tells us that he figures there's a clue hidden somewhere in the reward. Everyone is searching for it, but it doesn't seem to be there. Rob tells us that he's ignored the idol in the past, but that it didn't work out too well for him, so he's searching like crazy. All of a sudden, he sees Phillip bending up one of the new chairs, looking like it could break. He asks Phillip to get up, because he wants to reinforce it. As Phillip gets up, Rob sees the clue sewn into the lining of the chair. So, he takes the chair and heads toward the tool box claiming that he could use some screws to strengthen the chair. He quickly gets the clue and stuffs it in his pocket. See what I'm saying, Zapatera? Not only have you given him hope, confidence and a huge've now given the best player in the game the hidden idol clue. Karma, baby. Karma.

So, Rob goes off by himself to check the clue. After reading it several times, he comes to the conclusion that, "The clue basically could have read, the hidden immunity idol is...somewhere." He searches a bit, but the clue is so vague that he doesn't really even know where to begin. He is, however, pleased that no one else has it and that no one else saw it. Smart player that he is, he plans on telling NO ONE about the clue.

Over at Zapatera, Ralph tells us that they successfully threw the challenge to get rid of Russell. He lets us know that Russell thinks this is his game, but it's not. Oddly enough, between finding an idol and not telling anyone, and then bashing the person who found a clue as "not a team player" and throwing a challenge...Ralph is beginning to display all the traits that he so hates in Russell. Amazing what this game will do to you.

Julie, Mike and Dave discuss the plan for the votes. Mike suggests a split, just in case Stephanie is holding the idol. Dave tells us the plan to vote three for Russell and three for Stephanie, in the event that they actually do have the idol. Russell is telling his minions that he doesn't understand the concept of throwing a challenge. He tells us that you can't give Boston Rob any momentum in this game. He continues with his girls by saying that they'll likely split the vote 3-3 and then everyone would vote Russell on the re-vote, unless they can get someone to flip. He asks Stephanie what she thinks of trying to flip Julie. They determine Julie's the only option, so off Stephanie goes to try to move the immovable object.

Stephanie asks Julie where she stands with the alliance. Julie agrees that Russell does know how to get to the end and that it makes sense for her to join them. She tells us that it's a tough call because she does know how good he is and that he does take his group to the end. The Minion comes back to Groo, I mean Russell, and tells him that Julie is with them. He decides it's now time for him to plant the Russell seed (he doesn't actually say that, but I enjoy the term so much, I thought I'd bring it back). Russell tells Julie that if she goes with them, he'll have her back all the way. He tells her they're going for Ralph and reiterates that he has her back on this. He then tells us that if this actually works, it would be the biggest move he's ever made.

In all honesty, the Russell Three is in a heap of trouble. They're outnumbered 6-3, the other side has an idol and everyone hates Russell. Their only glimmer of hope is that Ralph keeps the idol a secret, the alliance splits their vote and they get someone to flip to their side. The way I see it, Ralph, SteveDave and Mike will never ever flip to Russell's side. Sarita seems pretty solidly rooted in the alliance as well. Julie is very tight with the alliance, but she was the only one to express concern over throwing the challenge. Is that enough to get her to flip? I don't think so. But, of the six...she was the ONLY option they had and I'm kind of impressed they decided on her. Either way, it seems to me to be the last ditch effort of a three-person alliance that knows it’s doomed. Well, considering who these three are, they probably don't know they're doomed. But any other group of three would. They're just clinging to that last shred of hope that Julie will do the unthinkable and allow Russell to stay in the game.

So Zapatera arrives at Tribal Council and lights their torches. Fire represents life, sorta, yadda, yadda, yadda. Jeff starts out with Ralph. Ralph says being there is good and bad. Jeff asks how it can be good. "Well, I was told that we had two parts there in our game." Translated, this means there are two alliances in the tribe. Steve confirms this and Sarita claims it's about Russell and his legacy and his opening speech. Jeff asks Russell about this and he says that is part of the problem. That people expect him to be there sabotaging the tribe and trying to lose. He's not playing that game and he wants to win challenges. And he calls them out for throwing the challenge that day. Mike admits they didn't go 100%, that they tried to win but they also have some fat they could trim off the tribe.

Julie mentions that she would like to go into the merge with a numeric advantage. Stephanie is asked what she believes. She says that people seem to be forgetting that they're in the game of Survivor. Then she goes on some tangent about how great Russell is and finishes up by telling the six-person alliance that the people they're becoming best buddies with are gonna stab them in the back down the road. She also mentions that the idea is to have the numbers at the merge to get rid of the other tribe and throwing a challenge isn't strategy, it's stupidity. Jeff does suggest to Steve that going into a merge with a dysfunctional nine is better than going in with a cohesive six that is down in numbers. Steve agrees with him and outright denies throwing the challenge.

Jeff then mentions to David that Rob kicked his ass on the puzzle today. David says that yeah, Rob beat him. To which my now least favorite player, Stephanie chimes in, "Really?" David then says something about his hands not moving doesn't mean the brain wasn't working. Sarita says that Russell is a huge black cloud over their camp and that he doesn't do anything. Stephanie, who has gone completely over the top, now speaks up about all the stuff Russell does and is defending him with a fervor that I honestly can't explain.

You know, when she decided she was going to join Russell, I poo poo'd the notion that she was star struck by him and suggested that she was planning to play him, the way Parvati did. Yeah, I was wrong. WAY wrong. This seems to go way beyond "star struck". Russell hasn't had to say a word because he's got his little chippy down there defending him to the death. I don't exactly know how to explain what I'm seeing. But back to Tribal...

Ralph chimes in and I have no idea what he said. He devolved into some cartoonish Boomhauer rant that Jeff actually has to translate to something like, they don't do anything to catch fish, but they sure eat the fish. Russell talks some more about keeping hope alive and things aren't what they seem and...seriously, can we just get to the vote?

The first vote we see is Ralph voting for "Ressell". Sarita votes for Stephanie, talking about how rude she is. And we see Russell vote for Ralph saying, "This is my game, sucka." And after tallying the votes, we're down to three votes Russell, three votes Ralph, two votes Stephanie and one vote left. Last vote: Stephanie. Oooh, cool. Our first three-way tie ever. Sweet. Of course, this means Russell is going home. The tribe is instructed that they must vote for Russell, Stephanie or Ralph and they head back up to re-vote. And in the biggest non-shock ever, one vote comes up Ralph, the rest go to Russell. And Russell Hantz finally has his torch put out and heads off to Redemption Island.

Let me just say that Russell may have done his best playing in this little stretch of game. His reputation preceded him. He was behind the eight ball from the get-go. He had his three-person alliance going up against a solid six. Somehow, they managed to convince the other alliance that splitting the vote was a good idea. They targeted the only person that even had the slightest inkling toward defecting. And they played it as perfectly as the minority group could play it. This being said, it cannot be lost on us how well Julie played this. She found herself in a nice position. She could stay with her alliance and send Russell home, or flip to Russell and move further in the game. She listened to Russell and I think she actually considered it. At the same time, she told Stephanie and Russell she was with them. What this did was gives Russell the numbers he needs, so they stopped scrambling. They stopped talking. They sat back convinced that they had the numbers and that they would emerge victorious. Had Julie wavered at all or turned them down, they'd have likely kept trying. And when an alliance is scrambling, you never know what can happen. Julie played this one perfectly and deserves credit for it.

The episode ends with Russell arriving at Redemption Island and finding Matt instead of Francenbeans. He tells us how pissed he is to get voted out and how he plans to take Redemption Island from Matt. Same ole, same ole.

The previews show Phillip still hunting crabs with a spear and suggest that he's in trouble with his tribe. There's also a hint that the hidden immunity idol could be a factor. Meanwhile, at Redemption Island, Russell says that in the real world, he'd be rooting for Matt, but this ain't the real world.

So next week we get another Redemption Island duel, some more searching for the hidden idol and some more Phillip crazy. What else could you possibly ask for? Until then, take care!