There is something a bit off about the new Redemption Island twist. I don’t hate it, which is saying a lot considering how much I usually want to gag whenever reality shows cheapen themselves by giving eliminated players a chance to stick around. (The Judges’ Save? Are you kidding me?) And it has certainly created drama, like with all the back-and-forth talk between visiting tribe members. But there’s also something missing, something that made Survivor truly great that is now sadly absent. And that something is this: people being blindsided right out of the game. You won’t get anything more dramatic than that moment when Tyson inexplicably changes his vote or Parvati pulls out two hidden Immunity Idols, and Boston Rob and J.T., respectively, are finished right there on the spot. Done! Gone! Over! You screamed at the television set in either joy or agony, but either way, it elicited a major reaction because you watched people who thought they had it all figured out instead be out of the game—immediately and completely. It was what was so sudden about it that made the whole thing so delicious and irresistible.
The whole point of Redemption Island is that it gives those people a chance to stay in the game, but as a result, it doesn’t feel like quite as big of a deal when they get voted off. All of a sudden you’re saying to yourself, “Oh, hey, well, they’re not really out. Look at Matt, he was voted out a month ago and he’s still around.” And now, when that person actually does get eliminated from the game — with the exception of a teary and then vindictive Russell — it feels like nothing more than an afterthought. Think about it: When Kristina and Krista were finally ousted and had to throw their buffs in the fire, did that register as dramatic in the least? And then 30 minutes later someone does get voted out, but they’re not really out, dampening the drama on that as well. In essence, Survivor has inadvertently robbed itself of its signature watercooler moment.
Don’t get me wrong, even with two subpar episodes in a row, I’m still digging this season (especially coming off the debacle that was Survivor: Nicaragua), and I don’t mind the Redemption Island twist as a season-long experiment. But I hope Jeff Probst, Mark Burnett, and the other producers think long and hard before they make this a more permanent part of the game. It has created some interesting dynamics, but also diluted the impact of the most important moment of all — the vote off, which is no longer a vote off at all. And therein lies the problem.
But as Spinal Tap’s Marty DiBergi once said, enough of my yakking. Let’s get to this week’s episode! Things start off at Redemption Island with Matt doing his best invisible-man imitation with the buff completely covering his face. Speaking of buffs, we also see a tarantula crawling across one, making it approximately the 8,364th tarantula shot we’ve been treated to this season. What is this, Kingdom of the Spiders? Is Nicaragua being overrun by the eight-legged critters? I was there on location for both seasons 21 and 22 and didn’t see a single one, so more likely it is a single tarantula the crew keeps on hand for bitchin’ nature shots, then back in the cage it goes! But before the spider can bite Matt and give him all sorts of supercool powers, it gets repulsed by the flirty giggling by his intended victim and fellow blond Krista, so it vomits out of disgust on the buff instead and leaves.
NEXT: God takes sides in the Redemption Island duel