There will be spoilers here, so if you haven't seen it then consider yourself warned. Of course, if you have seen it or just like to have 4 day old shows ruined for you, read on.
This has been a fantastic season so far, but of course, I'm comparing it to the whole two seasons that I've watched. This season has the over the top personalities and conniving game play that was missing out the past season (but made the Heroes vs. Villains season such a hit). We're only three episodes in, and we've been treated to three shocking tribal councils, which involved some fantastic blindsides.
The initial appeal of this season had been the promised rivalry between Russel and Rob. Both guys are not only colourful personalities, but manipulative players that always shake things up. Their involvement has been a huge reason for why the shows have been so compelling so far (basically, all the interesting storylines and moves have have involved either Rob or Russel). Luckily, there is some other really crazy or intriguing players like Ralph or Phillip or Stephanie that are being developed and hopefully continue to carry the show in case Russel and Rob exit early. My initial fear was the show would falter if both guys take an early exit (and with both guys being so well known manipulators, I assumed neither would last to the merge), but now, I do have faith the other cast members can provide the necessary entertainment and big moves.
This episode had more big moves, which is impressive considering the huge events that have already taken place in the two previous episodes. I thought, it would be hard to live up the the classic Phillip ravings at the first tribal council and the shocking blindside of Matt at the second, but this episode may have gone down as the best so far (which at only three episodes would normally not be saying much, but this has been a season that has rivaled Heroes vs. Villains for shock, twists and entertainment).
The obvious stand out moment of this episode (here is the the major spoiler), is that, after two previous times playing this game, Russel was finally outplayed. As has been the case both time before, Russel was in the minority alliance and the target for elimination (after his tribe purposefully threw the challenge in order to get the chance to vote out Russel -- which alone is rarity and a bold move), but the fast thinking and manipulative Russel planned out the ultimate blindside to keep himself in the game. Russel sent out his ladies to woo a member from the opposing and larger alliance, a female firefighter named Julie (or what I like to call her, She-Hulk). It appeared that they had convinced her to side with them for the vote, and send Ralph the Rooster packing (who unbeknownst to anyone else, actually has an immunity idol). It looked like one of classic blindsides were about to take place, but instead, we witnessed an even more classic blindside of the blindside. It was unforgettable, being able to see the expression on both Stephanie and Russel's face when it became clear Julie didn't vote on their side, and it led to Russel, for the first time ever, being voted out at a Tribal Council (he has always made it to the end of the game). The even more classic look was the smirk on Julie's face, as she knew she pulled off the perfect double cross (because if she had told them she wasn't going to betray her alliance of six, then Russel would have obviously scrambled with someone else and possibly been able to persuade him or her). It's a major Survivor moment, because it is really the first time ever that Russel has been outplayed, and it was done in an unpredictable and memorable way. It allowed the female firefighter to step out as a major character and has opened up some interesting future storylines. Will this betrayal lead to a motivated Russel plowing through the Redemption Island competition to get back in the game? What type of revenge will Stephanie have in store for the alliance of six? This will really be a big opportunity for Stephanie to step up and be a major player for this season.
Ralph continues to be an interesting character. He appears to be the dumbest person ever on Survivor, but he holds an immunity idol and ended up getting rid of his biggest threat. I really think the redneck has potential for shocking a lot of people, or at least causing some of that delicious tension and friction that makes the show so riveting. I just love the fact that one of the smartest players in Survivor history was outlasted by who he deemed as the stupidest.
Speaking of tension, there is potential for some really great stuff over at Rob's tribe (I don't bother remembering the tribe's names because they end up changing when they merge anyway). Rob pulled off the bold and shocking move of double crossing a fellow alliance member in Matt the previous episode, and this lead to Rob needing to play damage control with Matt's significant other, Andrea (or as she calls it, close friend). While Andrea seemed to patch things up with Rob, she later revealed she is still out for revenge and hoping for Matt's return. Rob also doesn't seem to completely trust Andrea, and so there is a lot of potential for a big power struggle (since Rob already betrayed a fellow member, how can he keep the trust of the rest?). On the outskirts, you have the always entertaining Phillip (who currently seems loyal to Rob, after trying to oust him at the beginning of the season) and Kristina who faded to the background after being tricked into playing her idol; both who have potential to further create conflict amongst the tribe (and may join forces with the jilted Andrea). The in-fighting in both tribes are the most fierce I've ever seen, and I'm hoping will continue on to the merge, in order to create some more emotional explosions (and essentially, totally negating the idea of one tribe going in with a solid alliance or advantage).
The Redemption Island concept was played out for the first time this episode, and I'd say was a success. I love the fact that Matt was driven by revenge and intent on getting back in the game. I was saddened to see Francesca go out first, since she had the potential for being one of the most interesting characters this season. I really look forward to seeing Matt and Russel go at it next week, because both men are driven by anger from the perceived deception of their tribes. Though it will be sad to see one of these appealing characters go (though, I'd prefer to see Russel stick around a bit longer, since he is such a compelling character), it should create for an exciting atmosphere for the challenge.
It has been a great start to the season, and see a lot of possible exciting directions. I look forward to seeing how Stephanie and Krista try to stick around after losing their leader, Russel. I want to see if the seemingly dimwitted Ralph continues to shock and reveals he is a legit player. Speaking of emerging players, I look forward to the follow up of Julie's actions and she if this will lead to her being in the spotlight. It should be entertaining to see Rob try to keep control of his alliance, while Andrea seeks some form of revenge in the background. I hope that Phillip continues to be one of the most insane characters ever in the history of Survivor. A lot of great potential for this season to be one of the most entertaining ever.