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Survivor Recap: Boston Rob and Russell’s Thunderdome

Russell Hantz may be damn good at Survivor, but he sure is unlikable. Last season in Samoa, Russell obviously outsmarted and outstruggled all his competition, but his aggression lost the jury vote and he looked furious as his benign cohort Natalie walked off with the cash. There's a sense of déjà vu this season, as he single-mindedly, brutishly, and unapologetically outmaneuvers everyone around him: Last week he upended the game and gave Boston Rob the shock of his Survivor career, and in this episode, he finished the job, flipping the Villains' loyalty. It was an amazing feat of tough talk and savvy lobbying. But many still can't bear to root for him. Just look at the headline on MSNBC's recap: "Devious Troll Outplays Tribe Mate on Survivor." Will he once again barrel his way right to second place?

If Russell reaches the final two again, the more seasoned all-star players may applaud his evil scheming and reward him with the win. (Though as we learned with the many grudges aired in the finale of the first all-stars edition, sometimes being a veteran just means you've honed your ability to clutch onto hard feelings.) But this season celebrates the benefits of being a meanie by devoting an entire tribe to dirty players. Last night Jerri supplied the quote that named the episode — "I'm not a good Villain" — while debating whether to flip on Rob and vote alongside Russell. She's a fine Villain, though; it's her snuggle buddy Coach who's having a tough time. As Rob so rightfully points out, Coach is obsessed with being seen as loyal. So why can't he stop with the snakelike double-speak? Coach to Rob: "I want to be standing there with you on the last day." Coach to Russell: "I'm with you guys 100 percent." Okay, so he looked vaguely suicidal when he thought he'd have to betray Rob (watch his crisis below) and didn't technically write Rob's name down at Tribal, but he voted for Courtney, ensuring the anti-Rob bloc had enough juice.

Coach was also "kind of hurt" when Jerri praised Russell in front of him and pondered making a power move without considering her new beau's feelings. He was definitely crushed when Rob rejected his farewell hug at Tribal Council and told the earring-clad Dragon Slayer, "You're a little man." This guy is one of the most fascinating specimens reality TV has ever produced, and Survivor, we thank you for bringing him into our world.

By contrast, the Heroes are looking solid. Colby dominated the water-basketball reward challenge, earning the "Fantastic Five" a feast and a clue to a new hidden immunity idol. (Russell and Rupert got into a pretty intense tussle at the end of reward, so it'll be interesting to see how that resolves itself post-merge.) At the immunity challenge, everyone bit it running on taut nets to retrieve puzzle pieces from a rope climb (major Nelson ha-has all around), but thanks to Courtney's total challenge incompetence, the Heroes earned their first solid immunity victory in eons.

Russell seized control of the mood at the Villains' camp as soon as they returned from the challenge, brazenly telling Rob he wants Courtney and Sandra gone, as they sit right next to him. Then he needled Jerri, promising her and Coach final three, until he knew he could count on her vote. At tribal, Russell insisted on showing off his strength, taking credit for Tyson's departure. Everything about the Devious Troll's demeanor spelled victory, which only hinted at inevitable bad news for Boston Rob, the season's most rounded, oddly likable player. And then he was gone, embracing Jerri but stiff-arming Coach. You and your wicked accent will be missed, Rob. Next week: The Villains implode!


Other Recaps:
EW.com's Dalton Ross spends a few minutes on that wondrous moment when Colby body slams Jerri during the challenge, "causing the Black Widow to open her mouth in a combination of shock and pain."
The National Post's Michael Bolen argues Boston Rob became a victim of his own hubris for assuming he had Coach and Jerri's votes locked down.
The aforementioned recap by MSNBC's Andy Denhart worries "Russell's ego will now swell up so much it may force him to be medically evacuated."

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS