A Journey Through “New-School” Survivor: Season 22, Survivor: Redemption Island

While there is no “official” start to the New School era, I consider its beginning to be after Heroes vs. Villains, the twentieth season of Survivor; often considered one of the best, if not the best season in Survivor history. This season has always seemed to be the “opening of the gates” to how everyone could play things strategically, even when odds are against you and numbers aren’t on your side. Nobody was simply “happy to be here” or “just wanted the experience”, everyone wanted to win and do it in a way that could put them in the pantheon of Survivor legend status. And with that, the old school survival and social experiences of the show took a back seat to hardcore and fast paced strategy that defines the new school era.

And with that, I continue my journey with Survivor: Redemption Island. Since I took a break from watching Survivor when it aired pretty much after HvV, I’m coming into most of the seasons completely fresh without knowledge of what happens (with a few exceptions of one or two seasons I have watched before and a couple more seasons where I have knowledge of who the winner is already). I will start each article with a spoiler-free review of the season for people who stumble upon my little write-up here and haven’t seen the season yet and want to watch still. After that, I will go into an in-depth analysis of the season’s strategy and entertainment through the vessel of awards and superlatives.

Survivor: Redemption Island — The Spoiler Free Review

The 22nd season of Survivor introduced a game-changing twist to the format and brought back two legendary players, but unfortunately the end product was a predictable, stale, and boring season. The big twist is in the name: Redemption Island, a place where people who were voted out would live at and compete with other eliminated contestants for a chance to return to the main game. In theory it sounds like it could be a good twist, allowing for blindsided players or a fan-favorite to extend their stay and build up an underdog story to come back into the game and make some big plays. In reality it prolonged the deaths of contestants and removed some of the luster of a good blindside. It also helped make the season drag near the end especially: when you are used to the energy of the last few episodes when 5 or 6 players are left, it feels weird this season knowing you also have 4 bonus players chilling in limbo on Redemption Island that you have to acknowledge. At least Redemption Island allowed for production to use some cool challenges throughout the season.

The other big reveal of this season was bringing Boston Rob and Russell Hantz back to be on opposing tribes. Their last season together on Heroes vs. Villains pitted the two powerhouses against each other in a fantastic rivalry on the Villains tribe, which culminated in an incredible tribal council that sent one of them home. It was a ton of fun seeing them arrive on the beach in a helicopter together as their unaware tribemates realized that they get the chance to play alongside two legends. Unfortunately, how the rest of the cast played the game with Rob and Russell took the wind out of the sails this season. A huge majority of this cast brought absolutely nothing to this season, both from a strategic and entertainment standpoint. After the first few episodes, votes pretty much go as the audience expects, with those in the majority choosing to follow their leader and those in the minority unable to make any meaningful move. You know nothing is going on when two 40 minute episodes fit two immunity challenges and two tribal councils in it (one on a twist and one because so little happens). This season subjects you to the Phillip Sheppard experience, a man so eccentric that you have to choose undying love or unending hate for him; he left no middle ground. His act wore me to the side of hate, and I couldn’t stand his endless antics. Maybe if Phillip didn’t have to be thrust into a starring role he would be more mentally manageable, but given that so much of the cast brings nothing to the screen we have to spend so much time with him.

There’s not much else to say. The season starts with a bang in the first 20% of the season and whimpers for the last 80%. Strategy is dominated by one person who played a great game, three or four more contestants are mildly interesting, the rest will be completely forgotten by the time I’m 10 minutes into season twenty-three.

RATING: 1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Only for the most hardcore of Boston Rob simps.

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AWARDS AND SUPERLATIVES

(Here on out it’s spoilers)

Ten Best Moments from the Season

10. Matt gets Blindsided: Part 1

It was a clean move that caught Matt completely off-guard and cemented in the Ometepe tribe who was the man in charge: Boston Rob Mariano. Matt starts his spiritual journey on Redemption Island because of this.

9. A Fight gets Racial

Not the best moment per se, but in a re-watch it was a pretty interesting moment in an uninteresting season post-merge. An argument with Zapatera and Phillip leads to Phillip accusing Steve of racial undertones in his anger towards Phillip, Julie hides all of Phillip’s clothes, and some interesting conversations of life and race perspectives happen at tribal council.

8. Phillip Burns his Underwear, Finally

The Legend of Phillip Sheppard comes to a close on the final day as he throws his iconic plum-colored briefs to be burned in the fire. It was the detox and comic relief I needed to end this chapter of my TV-watching life.

7. Rob Wins an Immunity and Almost Passes Out

It wasn’t a particularly important immunity challenge (unless Andrea won), but the amount of energy it took for Rob to win this one made it the most exciting to watch.

6. Russell Leaves the Game, Verbally Retires

It was brutal to see Russell moved to tears after being eliminated from the game for the first time in three seasons by Matt after losing in the fancy domino challenge (a personal favorite of mine, by the way). It was a fitting way to end the Russell Hantz trilogy with him simultaneously letting his love for the game bleed out and taking a few parting shots at some members of his former tribe watching the duel. He “retired” as one of the most influential players to ever play.

5. Rob Finds the Idol

It was entertaining to see Rob make this beach day plan to give himself a window to frantically search for the hidden immunity idol. It further cemented his place in the game as the most powerful.

4. Zapatera Throws the Challenge to Vote Off Russell

In hindsight this move to throw the challenge was quite stupid as Russell was in the minority alliance and Ralph found the idol already, but you can’t deny that it wasn’t a big move. While Rob had moved to ingratiate himself with his tribemates, Russell played his game as he always does: on the fringes with a few young women by his side. On pure name recognition the majority of his tribe saw him as a disruptor and chose to give up their immunity winning momentum to take him out, which ended up starting the downfall of Zapatera as they lost more challenges and went to the merge as the minority.

3. A Disastrous Attempt to Blindside Boston Rob Happens

While most of the Ometepe tribe was starstruck by Boston Rob, Kristina saw him as a threat and became the only person in the game to make a real move against him, finding the hidden immunity idol with no clues and sharing this information with Francesca and Phillip. But at tribal council, Phillip begins being Phillip and exposes all of Kristina and Francesca’s plans. It was the rare engaging tribal council in a pretty boring season, with some scrambling within the confines of tribal council and a mob boss like performance from Boston Rob when he demands Kristina to show him her idol.

2. Matt gets Blindsided: Part 2

Matt is crushed by the weight of having all the power in his hands. Fresh from Redemption Island and with the power of the swing vote, Matt could’ve made a season-defining play but made the huge mistake of confiding in Boston Rob. Rob then turns all of Ometepe on Matt in a great blindside that also got Ralph’s immunity idol out of the game. It was the game defining move, condemning Zapatera to the jury and solidifying Boston Rob’s power over his Ometepe soldiers.

1. Rob and Russell Arrive to the Island

It’s simply an all-time Survivor entrance. Sucks that the season went downhill from here.

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All-Survivor Teams: Outwit and Outplay

Similar to the All-NBA teams, the section awards five contestants who did the best in the season, separated by Outwit (for best strategic play) and Outplay (most entertaining to watch)

2 men, 2 women, and a wildcard spot for each team

All-Outwit Team

Boston Rob — He ran this game. Ometepe was in the palm of his hand, from the big 6-man alliance that stuck together to vote out all of Zapatera to the one-on-one alliances that made everyone believe that Rob wanted them to sit with him at the end. He had the idol the whole time and won many individual immunity challenges. It was one of the most obvious wins in Survivor history.

Stephanie — She was ecstatic to be on the same tribe with Russell and moved immediately to align with him as his right-hand woman on day 1. I was impressed with how often she was thinking of strategy with trying to feign having the idol and she came to play in tribal council discussions. In a tribe that lacked good strategists, I simply appreciated that she played hard and that gets her on the All-Outwit Team.

Andrea — Boston Rob acknowledged her as the biggest threat to him in the Ometepe 6. Also the only one in the Ometepe 6 that actually considered making a move against Boston Rob.

Mike — Seemed to be the one trying the hardest to recruit Matt to turn the numbers against Ometepe, so yeah, props to him.

Kristina — At least she tried to go against Rob. Hardest non-Boston Rob game player on Ometepe

All-Outplay Team

Boston Rob — This whole season ended up becoming the Boston Rob coronation, as once he blindsided Matt at the merge it was pretty clear he was gonna win. No one on Ometepe offered anything interesting other than Phillip so it was necessary for Rob to be the narrator and only vessel for entertainment.

Russell Hantz — His chaos and bravado was necessary for the season, so when he was voted out episode three Zapatera no longer became interesting to watch.

Phillip — He got really old really quick but to stay objective here I have to give Phillip a spot because his pure eccentricity has to be recognized. Jeff Probst and production would constantly use Phillip for content, setting him up with questions to let Phillip talk about his federal agent past or his Cherokee great great grandfather Jessem Herring. Some of it is funny and entertaining, and if he could be more of a side character (like Fabio in Nicaragua) rather than a key character to the story of the season I think he would be easier to like and less polarizing.

Stephanie — She along with Russell carried the entertainment in Zapatera. Loved how she hated her tribe. She was a lot of fun to watch.

Matt — His spiritual journey as he was confined to Redemption Island and sent to the brink of his mental strength was one of the few interesting things of this season. My theory is that because of his success in the duels, Survivor production decided to keep doing Redemption Island in future seasons because you could make storylines out of it.

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The Wallflower Award: Most Forgettable Player

Grant spent the whole game following Rob, only to get voted off unceremoniously after Ashley wins an immunity leaving him at the bottom of Rob’s list. I thought he rocked the dreads well though.

Foulest Move: Ometepe Blindsides Matt Again

It’s the optics. Blindsided once already, he comes back only to be blindsided again by the same people, leaving Matt contemplating life and crying out to God on Redemption Island. Yeah, Matt was naïve, but it still was pretty cruel.

Best Rivalry: Phillip vs. Everyone

It’s too hard to pick one person, because Phillip ruffled every person’s feathers at some point during the show with his antics and his inability and his completely inept social skills. He said in confessionals that his strategy was to be confrontational and unlikeable so he would be taken to end which worked, which makes it confusing that at the final jury he makes no mention of that, only to continue to argue and fight jury members.

The Idiot Award: Natalie

Idiot is probably a little harsh, naïve is more the right word to describe Natalie, who was so loyal to Boston Rob that jury members called her relationship with him “creepy”. I’d have to ask the question why this 19 year old, who probably grew up watching Survivor, thought that the way she played by following whatever Boston Rob did, would end in a win against Boston Rob.

Biggest What-If Scenario: Matt goes with Zapatera after the Merge

The first vote would end 6v6 or 7v5 (with Andrea flipping with Matt) against Ometepe with Grant going home. If it’s a tie the revote would’ve most likely been a tie again, leading to some sort of tiebreaker that could have changed the entire complexion of the game, putting the numbers in Zapatera’s hands or given Matt the ability to be the swing vote again. What everyone can agree with is that if this scenario occurred, the season would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than it turned out.

Biggest Unanswerable Question: How much of Survivor Phillip was the Real Phillip?

Obviously there had to be a little bit of exaggeration on Phillip’s side there in how he acted on the show versus how he acts in real life or at his job or with his kids. I had to ask myself if he was an actor in the real world, and this Phillip was a character he had concocted. Production definitely played into this Phillip character, and after the show Phillip had written books inspired by his persona. So I have to believe that Phillip isn’t like how he was in Survivor in real life, but it’s not far off.

Most Awkward Reunion Moment: David Proposing to His Former Contestant Girlfriend

I have to get off my chest how awkward David is to me as a person, from his interactions with Sarita to how he tried campaigning to save Stephanie, but the crown jewel is proposing at the reunion to a girlfriend that I am convinced would’ve said no if they weren’t on national TV. If you were wondering if they lasted, they did not.

On a scale of one to ten, how much did the winner deserve the win?

10/10

There’s not much to say. Rob ran the show and Natalie and Phillip with him in the final three clearly rode his coattails. It seemed almost too easy.

Who Should be Invited Back Again for a….

Heroes vs Villains Season

Hero: Matt — There’s slim pickings here, but Matt’s story arc of fighting through all the duels to stay alive is the best hero story of anyone in the season.

Villain: Phillip — A classic tribe disruptor. I would like to see him in a tribe of other big personalities and watch everything blow up.

All Stars/Fans vs. Favorites Season

Stephanie — She has the best complete package of entertainment and strategy to offer among the non-returning cast members, and I think she deserves another chance to play with better players and without Russell Hantz to align with.

Next up, another season with Redemption Island with Survivor: South Pacific

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jfish

Reality TV connoisseur writing about the shows I like, especially Survivor. I also watch the Challenge, the Bachelor, Love is Blind, and more.