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How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many rejects can fit into the Redemption Island shelter? Don’t have the foggiest idea about the first question, but the answer to the second seems to be “three.” Steve, the latest actual outcast, reported in his interviews yesterday that there was no room for him and as the last to arrive, he was forced to sleep on the rocky beach. No wonder he couldn’t muster strength to throw a whiffle ball in the challenge. Which makes me wonder: was the original plan for the season to put so many people on Redemption they have to bunch-up like Custer’s troops at Little Big Horn or did they just decide to keep throwing more and more of them over there halfway through? One thing: by keeping the almost-outcasts over on Redemption on one-cup-a-day rice rations, they’re saving a ton of money on the food bill at Ponderosa.

THE COWS ARE GREAT BUT TWO OF THE CHICKENS DIED

After last week’s tribal council, Natalie comes back to camp and has a meltdown. Through her racking sobs she nevertheless manages to choke out to Rob that it isn’t that she’s reached a breaking point, she was just “missing home, missing family, missing regular life.” Rob gives her a hug and reassures her that all will be fine.

Privately, Rob is sympathetic, observing that Natalie, while she’s been “incredibly mature for most of the time out here… she’s only nineteen years old.” Aww, how sweet. Besides, Natalie is Rob’s “main ally.”

Luckily for Natalie, and everyone else, the very next morning’s tree mail brings one of the magical Sprint video phones with a message for each from a special person. (In yet another cost-cutting move, all the vids were obviously taped in the same hotel, not a home.) Over on Redemption, a similar device has been delivered. Poor Ralph, his friend Ronnie has a mixed report of things back home, “the cows are doing great, but two of the chickens died.” I’ll bet Ralph won’t use that chicken-sitter next time he’s on a trip.

Everyone gathers at the Redemption Coliseum, and Jeff announces to all that the winner of today’s four-man duel will win time with their loved one–Mike’s mom, Matt’s brother, Ralph’s friend or Steve’s brother. It’s getting close to the end and there’s still a huge surplus of those Nicaraguan tiles, so the competition will try to use up a few. There are four tile-topped tables, first to throw a ball and break all four tiles wins. It looks easy enough for a fifth-grader, but Steve embarrasses the entire National Football League when he can’t toss a ball anywhere near the target. Mike wins easily. Runners-up, who remain in the game, are Matt and Ralph. Steve, who’s looking like a scarecrow and is probably somewhat relieved to be reentering civilization, is eliminated.

HI MOM, BYE MOM

Mike’s mom Jane appears and he’s beaming with happiness to see her. Not so fast, says Probst, I have a proposition for you. He tells Mike that he can spend the afternoon with his mom, or he can allow Ralph and Matt to be with their visitors or he can give the opportunity to the six members of Ometepe. Mike doesn’t hesitate. He has, he says, been reading this very day in the Bible about “giving the most love to the most people.” He’s letting Ometepe have the time with family.

Jeff is shocked, “I thought there was a less than zero chance of this happening.” He turns to Mike’s mom, “Jane does this decision surprise you?” Jane replies, “Not a bit. This is who he is. He’s a hero.”

As the Redemption three start to leave the area, Grant calls out their thanks to Mike. He assures them they’re welcome for the gift, and “Don’t vote me off again.”

Ralph and Matt are amazed that Mike gave up his time with his mom. Ralph thinks it was a strategic move “I guess he wants to win the million dollars,” but Mike assures him it was instead divinely ordained, “I asked God to let me win, and this is what he asked of me.” Uh-Oh, looks like sometime soon God’s going to have to choose between righteous Matt and righteous Mike.

YOUR HAIR LOOKS NICE

The afternoon with loved ones reveals very little. Natalie’s mom has been praying for her and we learn this is the first time Natalie has been away from home for more than two weeks. Andrea’s dad is impressed with the beauty of her hair, despite the lack of her usual expensive hair-products. Phillip brags to his sister that he’s “prepared to go crazy.” Wait, I thought Phillip thought crazy was a code-word for the N-word? Phillip finds the time with his sister beneficial, “It empowered me to continue to dominate.”

After the visitors depart, Rob gets choked up and teary to the camera, “I need this; it’s to make a better life for my wife and kids. I wanna win Survivor. This is somethin’ I been trying to do for ten years now. Nothing’s gonna stop me.”

UPHILL

This week’s immunity challenge is one of the toughest ever. Survivors have to untie bundles of planks, carry them one by one up steeply-tiered bleacher steps, fit the cutouts into place. Each plank is unique, and only one can be carried at a time, so if the wrong one is chosen, the competitor must carry it all the way back down. To complicate matters it’s unbearably hot: 110°

Natalie, Phillip and Ashley–as is usually the case–are ineffective. Grant, Andrea and Rob battle the entire time. The planks are heavy, but Andrea keeps pace. Nearing the top, Rob has a one-step lead, but he’s utterly spent and exhausted that he has to drag himself up the steps with the last plank. He barely finishes ahead of Grant and then collapses in an agony of leg cramps at the top. Jeff wants the medical team to look at him, but Rob refuses. Grant and Probst are literally holding Rob upright. Natalie brings him some water, which he pours over his head, and he recovers enough to claim the immunity necklace.

Rob won this challenge on sheer force of will; he’s playing this game full-out. I can’t see him making it all the way to final tribal; his alliance is bound to blindside him before then, but if he should make it, I don’t think any player in the history of Survivor has ever worked as hard to get there. He’s taken nothing for granted, and let nothing happen by chance. Whether his strategic decisions are ultimately successful remains to be seen, but he’s made each one for well-considered reasons.



HE HAS AN ORAL ARGUMENT

At camp, Rob has made up his mind to vote out Andrea. Grant concurs, “The lovers are gonna be reunited.” (Matt & Andrea) Then Phillip goes on a crazy tear. Without offering an explanation, he rips off part of the shelter’s roof and burns the thatch. He starts yelling at Andrea that there’s a wasp and she’s moving her arms too quickly. He gathers an armful of the fishing nets, dumps them in front of everyone and begins to rave that as long as Zapatera was around, the nets were fine, now he spits with fury, “They’re all mangled.”

Phillip is supremely confident both that he’ll be sitting there at final tribal council and that he’ll handily defeat Rob, “I have an oral argument.”

Grant, sarcastically observes Phillip’s brief bout of sanity has ended, “aaand, it’s back to Felipé.”

Rob questions himself, “Phillip could be playin’ me. On the other hand, Andrea’s a competitor. If I make the wrong decision, thirty-two days of work could be gone–just like that.”

Andrea, of course, assumes that Phillip is going home. When she brings up the subject, the others assure her that is the case.

It’s obvious that Probst has been looking forward to this Tribal Council, when the Ometepe alliance must turn on itself. He notes that it looked at the challenge and as if Phillip and Natalie were “totally lying down in the challenge.” Phillip gets on his high horse and begins to claim that he’s a huge threat to make it to the end because, “I’m a statesman.” Jeff, trying not to laugh, points out that he had been helping Phillip by saying he wasn’t a threat. Jeff is also interested in what advice Phillip’s grandfather might offer. Oh, that’s easy, Phillip assures Jeff, “He would say, you’ve done everything right to this point, hold the faith.

The six march off to vote to the accompaniment of scary drum music and multiple shots of nasty looking snakes slinking around. When the votes are read, there is shock on both sides of the fire.

Andrea, hands to face: “Oh, my God.”

Steve: “She’s blindsided.”

Andrea, angrily: “Tricky. Tricky.”

Jeff: “Well, that’s one blindside. I have a feeling it won’t be the last.”

Next week, there must be mass annihilation: there are four people on Redemption, five still in the tribe and only three hours, one on Wednesday and two on the Sunday night finale to pare the numbers and make a new millionaire.