'Survivor: Redemption Island': It begins

Bucky is back! He'll be covering this season of Survivor for us, which is particularly good since I failed to set the DVR. (Silly shows with their new names each season!):

So, here we are, back in Nicaragua for season 22, Survivor: Redemption Island.  The show opens with the contestants being helicoptered in and with Jeff sitting in the back of the open chopper, looking for all the world like he could fall out at any second.  I actually get queasy and have to avert my eyes.
Thankfully, they land safely and are lined up in their two teams.  (One of them is inexplicably dressed in a business suit.  This turns out to be David, who is a defense attorney and who must think that survivors need to dress up when they go to tribal council.  I’ll be interested to see if he addresses Jeff as “Your Honor...”)
Jeff tells them that there are two more contestants and another helicopter flies in and ... what the heck!?! ... deposits Boston Ron and Evil Russell (with a new, huge, freaking ugly bicep tattoo) on the beach!!!  Wow!!!  What a surprise!!!  I would have rather had J.Lo and Steven Tyler as team captains, but you take what you can get.
Rob and Russell draw buffs and join their teams who, until the merge, will be called the Robbies and the Russettes on this blog.

The Robbies give their new member a rousing round of applause, while the Russettes appear to clap for their new leader mostly out of fear.
Jeff explains Redemption Island twist:  When a person gets voted off, (s)he will go to Redemption Island (which appears to not be an island at all, but we’ll see) to live with the same supplies the remaining survivors have.  So this isn’t a Ponderosa situation.  When a second person gets voted off, (s)he will be sent to R.I. and a duel will ensue.  The winner of the duel stays on R.I. and the loser departs the game.  This will happen every week and, at some undisclosed point, the person who has survived on R.I. will get to re-enter the game.  Apparently when that happens, the Redemption Island twist will be over.
The teams head to their respective camps and when they get there, they find big tool boxes with the supplies necessary to build a shelter.  I guess this means there won’t be reward challenges this season (because the editors have to have time to show the R.I. duels).  That’s too bad.  I loved the Survivor Auction where somebody would spend $1,500 for a donut.  I’ll miss it.
The two teams set to building their shelters and we get bits and pieces of some of the contestants.  We get more than a bit or piece of some and I assume the extra face time means that they will end up being more key in the game. 
On the Robbies, we see Phillip gather some of the girls around and tell them that he is going to disclose a big secret to them.  (Looks around warily.)  He’s a former federal agent.  He explains that this means he is absolutely honest and also, he is an expert at reading people, which he says he will be doing until the merge.  (He doesn’t tell us which federal agency he was an agent for.  He could have been a trained CIA assassin.  Or he could have been a TSA agent looking at those x-ray pictures of people as they go through airport security. Or he could have been an interpretive guide at Yellowstone National Park.  The possibilities are endless.)
The girls don’t seem impressed, for some reason.  They are, I think, pretty expert at reading Phillip.
We also see Kristina searching through the tool box and Rob confronts her.  He figures she is looking for clues to a hidden immunity idol; this is why Rob has been asked back.  She was.  You can’t fool Boston Rob.  Eventually, Rob tells Phillip that they need to watch the girls (who outnumber the men 5-4 on the Robbies).
Over in the Russettes camp, Farmer Ralph sort of takes the lead in building the shelter and I immediately like Farmer Ralph.  (Sorry, Farmer Ralph.  My track record isn’t too good on these things, so you are likely doomed because I like you.) 
And Evil Russell immediately seeks out a cute young girl with whom to start his traditional “dumbass girl alliance” building.  His first target is Stephanie, who signs on with him immediately (but who also shows that she understands Russell; she is playing him along.) 
We also meet Mike, a former Marine who did two tours in Iraq and who thinks this game is right in his wheelhouse.  Those are the only Russettes who stand out to me as being spotlighted.
Back over at Camp Robbie, we see Kristina out on a search for the hidden immunity idol and dang if she doesn’t find it without any clues.  Very Russell-esque.  She soon tells Francesca that she has it and they hatch a plan to blindside Rob at the first opportunity.  They bring Former Federal Agent Phillip into the plan and he ... well, it’s hard to describe.  He starts demanding to know who all Kristina has lined up to vote Rob off and criticizes the plan, which he doesn’t really know, and gets all confrontational with these two women who are trying to make an alliance with him.  At the end of the scene, I’m not sure if he’s on board or not. 
Next day:  the first immunity challenge, which will be a combination of strength and puzzle smarts.  The teams have to move these big blocks to form a stair step up to a platform.  There they have to assemble another set of block puzzle pieces into a pyramid-shaped temple.
The Russettes kill on the strength part.  They have a huge lead when they start assembling their puzzle.  However, the Robbies catch up by doing the puzzle more quickly and it’s neck-and-neck to ... a Russettes win!!!  The Robbies will go to the first T.C. 
Back at camp, Kristina tells Francesca she has the hidden immunity idol.  The blindside plan is hatched:  they will, with Former Federal Agent Phillip, all vote for Rob and they will get everyone else to vote for Kristina, who will play the hidden immunity idol and BAM!! Rob will be gone.  (To Redemption Island, remember, not home to Amber.)  Kristina also brings F.F.A. Phillip in on the plan and has to show him the hidden immunity idol in order to get him to shut up and go along with it. 
Meanwhile, Rob is strategizing with the rest of the Robbies and lays out a counter-plan that shows, again, why they brought him back.  He has the whole hidden immunity idol possibility scoped out and explains that they should play as if Kristina has found it.  They agree to split their vote in such as way that ... I’m a little fuzzy here ... either Kristina or Francesca will be voted off, depending on whether the hidden immunity idol is played. 
I am amazed that Rob is so right on in his assessment of what’s happening.  It’s almost like ...  No, that couldn’t be ...  Hmmm ...
We get to tribal council and Jeff is leading the discussion and everyone is doing the coy answer-but-don’t-answer kind of thing that goes on at T.C., early when alliances are being formed and not everyone has aligned yet and ...
Wait!!! WHAT???  Somehow F.F.A. Phillip has just disclosed to everyone that Kristina and Francesca have a plan to blindside Rob and asked him into it.  HUH?  I am very confused.  So are Kristina and Francesca.  So is Jeff.  What just happened?  Francesca lies and says she wasn’t part of any blindside and Kristina denies her involvement and calls F.F.A. Phillip crazy, which probably wasn’t the smartest thing for Kristina to do because, you know, he IS crazy and ...
In retaliation for being called crazy, F.F.A. Phillip blows the cover on Kristina’s hidden immunity idol.
What a great opening Tribal Council!  And now we have a pretty good idea why Phillip is a FORMER Federal Agent, and I’m not saying he retired from federal service.
Rob says he is still voting the way he planned to, which is a signal to his alliance to not get caught up in the confusion of what’s going on between Kristina, Francesca and Phillip. 
Francesca is the first person sent to Redemption Island.  However, Kristina was gutsy and didn’t play her hidden immunity idol, so she still has that protection.  I think Kristina is a pretty smart player.  But Rob is firmly in control of the Robbies. 
We didn’t see enough of the Russettes tonight to know if Evil Russell can play the game any way other than the way that got him to the finals twice, but also cost him the big prize.  At first blush, he doesn’t seem to be playing any differently than he did the first to times.
What did you think?  I think this is going to be another good season of Survivor.  Agree, disagree or is it too soon to know?

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