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'Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains': Like watching chess grandmasters at work [Updated]

March 25, 2010 |  9:19 am

98305_D12116 In the battle of Rob versus Russell, Tyson was the loser.

Has there ever been a greater intellectual battle in "Survivor" history than Rob against Russell? Watching them strategize against each other Thursday, each trying to get one step ahead of the other's thinking, was like getting inside the heads of two chess grandmasters.

In chess, of course, often times the winner is not the person who protects the king but the one who uses the pawn. And Russell played the pawn named Tyson perfectly, which is why his alliance of three beat Rob's alliance of six.

All of us fans, of course, should be grateful that the producers had the wisdom to make this one of those episodes in which both teams go to tribal council. Could anyone stand to see the heroes lose again and vote out another person through their constantly flip-flopping strategy? Not me.

So we got the mercy of a single challenge in which, after Rob and Candice each won individual immunity on their teams, Rob of course won the final reward for the villains: a chance to eat hot dogs while they watched the heroes' tribal council.

And yes, the heroes hung around the beach talking as if maybe Colby was going to go, but in the end, for reasons never really made clear, they sent James home. Why now instead of getting rid of him last in the last episode and keeping Tom? No idea. It sure doesn't make sense to me. But the heroes just haven't been bringing their A-game in elimination challenges or in tribal councils. Yawn.

Anyway, on to the interesting stuff. Let's list the back-and-forth between Rob and Russell. Too bad I can't draw a flow-chart for you all:

1. Rob starts convincing his alliance members to vote for Parvati. However, he also wants to get Russell to play the idol, so he starts telling Russell that he's the target.

2. Russell sees right through Rob's ruse. Tells Parvati and Danielle they should vote for Tyson and he'll give the idol to Parvati, thus getting rid of Tyson despite having a minority of votes.

3. Rob realizes Russell might give the idol to Parvati and vote for Tyson. So he gets his six-person alliance to split their votes evenly between Russell and Parvati. That way, whichever one plays the idol, there will be a re-vote between the other one and Tyson and Tyson will prevail.

4. Russell realizes Rob may have his alliance split the vote. "That would be a genius move," he admits. This leaves him in a box. He can't beat Rob on the votes because Rob's alliance is bigger. So, in one of the most brilliant moves I've ever seen on "Survivor," he convinces Tyson to switch his vote to Parvati, correctly reading that he'd be happy to get rid of her. It never occurs to Tyson what would happen if Russell gave her the idol.

5. After making a show of playing the idol himself, that's exactly what Russell does. It's the first time that I can recall -- and please correct me in the comments if I'm wrong -- that someone has successfully given an idol to another player. Sure enough, Tyson is gone after all four votes for Parvati are void and we end up with three votes for him and two for Russell.

There's just one nagging question in my mind: Why did Russell and his alliance get rid of Tyson and not Rob? Russell clearly sees Rob as his biggest threat and said outright after Rob told him, "It's better to play with me than against me" that "I'm going to make him eat those words." [Updated 10:15 a.m.: The obvious reason Russell voted out Tyson instead of Rob is that Rob had immunity. I was just testing you guys to make sure you were paying attention. It’s not like I had already forgotten 30 minutes after watching the show.]

Russell won this battle, but his war with Rob continues.  I'm glad, because the war of Russell and Rob is making "Heroes vs. Villains" one of the best seasons of "Survivor" ever. I hope neither one gets eliminated for a long time.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Russel Hantz. Credit: Robert Voets / CBS