Russell “ain’t finished playing just yet” as stubbornness leads to Tribal Council surprise

Tribal Council on Survivor Samoa last night was one of those moments when I realize how amazing it is that Survivor continues to deliver such dramatic moments 19 seasons later. Despite the marketing, it certainly wasn’t the most dramatic Tribal Council, but it absolutely delivered, and the new heart-pounding music definitely helped ratchet up the tension.

Kelly Sharbaugh was voted out, blindsided by the Foa Foa alliance, which had Russell to thank for its continued survival. Without any clues, he found yet another hidden immunity idol after realizing that “it has to be near a landmark or something … it cannot be any other place,” he said. It was under a bridge: “No way. That easy,” he said when he found it. “That’s just the gift I have. This is why I was born,” he said. At least he’s humble. (Does someone need to get fired for their inability to hide immunity idols well, or is Russell just smarter than anyone else who’s played the game during the last three years?)

When Russell told Jaison, Jaison said, “You deserve this, man. You deserve this.” Hard to disagree.

Russell played the idol, saying, “I ain’t finished playing just yet,” and shocked the hell out of Foa Foa. (Side note: Probst provides some actual insight in his EW column, noting that he’s not asking for the idol because “this season the clues have all been secretive. So there is no way for me to be certain that everybody knows there is an idol in play. Therefore, I can never ask for them to play it at tribal council because I might be giving something away.” Probst added that they’re told pre-game that if they have an idol, they’re supposed to play it when he pauses before reading votes.)

My only objection to putting Russell on a pedestal is that what he’s doing isn’t that spectacular, beyond finding the idol without any clues (which, again, was brilliant). But the fact that he looks so smart is largely dependent on everyone else’s incompetence. For example, if the Galu alliance had just listened to Monica, who first suggested splitting votes, or John–John! the guy who swam in jeans during the opening challenge!–Russell would be out. But Dave seemed insistent that it’d be impossible for Russell to have found another idol while they were at the reward.

While Russell wanted to target Laura, he couldn’t, because she had immunity.
How impressive was Laura’s performance in the challenge? She started putting blocks into the grid last, but quickly flew past Mick and Shambo, as Russell stood back, watching, shaking his head.

Kelly went home instead, and when I talked to her a few minutes ago, I didn’t really have much to ask her because, well, she didn’t do much. She admitted that Galu had been “a little bit too lax” and “we weren’t our game as much as we should have been,” and said that she’s “really at peace with the game” and “walked away with dignity.” Pre-game she told me she expected “romantic flames,” but said there were none, even though the Ponderosa video makes it look like she had something with Erik.

Back to the only person who seems to matter, Russell, he’s now a marked man because his game play has been effective but not very subtle. Then again, that pretty much describes Richard Hatch in season one, not that they’re directly comparable. If Russell doesn’t find the new idol (if he does, holy shit) or win individual immunity, he’s gone, unless he can devise a new strategy. If another Galu goes home, it’s a new game. But right now, Galu still has the numbers (it’d be a 5 to 5 tie if Shambo switched sides, which so far she has not yet actually done) to get rid of him.

One last note: After being on location for the first three days of the season, everything I see after episode two or so has been new to me. But watching this episode was like a flashback: On the day between when our location visit ended and my flight left, I went to that sliding rock, although no one was sliding down the rock face they went down, so we instead slid down two places that the camera panned past after they started eating. And the coconut racks in the reward challenge were being painted by a Dream Team member when I visited the art department; you can hear scintillating audio of the brush strokes in my NPR report.

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