Survivor: Redemption Island Finale Episode Review: Bitter Who?

Survivor: Redemption Island may not have been my favorite season of Survivor (check back later to see where I rank it among the past seasons) but the end result was a sweet one. Proving that juries don’t have to be bitter and that the right player can win, “Boston” Rob Mariano finally took home a $1 million payday.

Rob played, I think, a perfect game. Or as close to a perfect game as one could get in something as subjective as Survivor. He played a strategic, cutthroat, brilliant game and the jury almost unanimously rewarded him for it. And frankly, I see it as no coincidence that the one man to vote for someone else was the one man who managed to misspell every single name in every vote he ever cast. But more on the jury and the voting later – because I’ve got a lot to say.

Under-Under-Under-Dog

A few days before the finale, I told my mom “I saw a clip of the final quad-duel and it’s an endurance challenge – you still have a shot!” My mom had Andrea in the office pool and seeing as she was sitting on Redemption Island with Matt, Mike and Grant, we were pretty sure she was out of the game. But I was hoping the last quad-duel would be endurance based, and that gave Andrea a leg up (no pun intended).

Before we talk quad-duel, though, let’s talk about the load of crap Matt delivered beforehand. Only days ago, the guy was sobbing like a baby and telling Probst that the only reason he hadn’t packed up for Ponderosa was because God didn’t want him to. But now he was saying what a special place Redemption Island was? Really?

Now, for the quad-duel, each player had to stand with one leg on the end of a see-saw, balancing a ceramic vase on the other one. It was a really good challenge, I thought. I’ve always loved endurance challenges, and we had four tough players in this one. Yes, Andrea was at a distinct disadvantage. She’s not as strong as someone like Grant, and therefore might not have been able to stand on one leg for as long. But she’s a tough cookie.

I was rooting for either Andrea or Grant to reenter the game because I thought they’d be on even footing with everyone else. If Mike or Matt were to reenter, I worried that he could win his way into the finals and win the whole thing, which would have been a terrible result.

First, the ex-NFL wide receiver fell. Next, God’s golden boy fell. Then the ex-marine fell. Score one for the tiny farm girl! I love it when the underdog wins.

Girls, Girls, Girls

With Andrea back in the game, there was a slight possibility that some things could get shaken up. It was three girls against two boys, and Andrea made a really strong pitch to Ashley and Natalie that the people she’d spoken to on Redemption Island thought they were puppets. That they’d vote for Phillip or Rob over any of them. That their best chance at winning the money was to go to the final three together.

I thought it seemed like Ashley was contemplating it. She seemed to kind of know that she was on the outside of her alliance, but she didn’t seem willing to admit it. She should have gone for it, but there are a few reasons she didn’t.

The first reason? Ashley won immunity. You have no idea how jazzed I was about that, since I had Ashley in the office pool. As much as I did want Rob to win, I also wanted myself to win. The challenge was exciting and simple – players had to run back and forth on a balance beam, untying bags of tiles. The tiles were numbered one through one hundred, and they had to be put in order. Ashley worked calmly and methodically and eventually surged ahead of her main competition, Rob and Andrea.

Because Ashley was protected and knew Andrea would be going home instead of her, I think she felt a little more comfortable in continuing to vote for Rob. But I think the more important reason that she didn’t take Andrea up on her offer was that she couldn’t convince Natalie to do it. When Ashley brought up flipping with Natalie, Natalie said “Let’s just focus on relaxing today and figuring it all out tomorrow.” WHAT?? Focus on relaxing? At this stage of the game? Are you kidding me?

Now, as we learned at the reunion show after the finale (which will have it’s own recap posted later today), Ashley and Natalie knew Rob had an immunity idol. And they knew he would play it at Tribal Council since it was the last one where it could be used, so they knew they couldn’t vote him out. But they could have voted out Phillip.

Ashley should have known that Phillip was being strung along for a reason. If Rob wasn’t planning on taking him to the finals, he would have been cut loose long ago. The only logic that Ashley could have been employing to think otherwise was that Phillip was so little of a threat that he was kept around in favor of stronger players, but would be taken out eventually. And if that’s what she thought, she was being painfully naive. However, I still think the biggest reason Ashley didn’t make a move in the final five was because she couldn’t get Natalie on board.

Rob gave us a little confessional camera bit about how he’s a gambler and maybe wouldn’t use the immunity idol because he was so confident, but that was just for show. The man knows how to play for the camera, doesn’t he? I was 90% sure Rob would use the idol – he’d taken the game very seriously up until then. There was no way he’d throw it all away. This is a man who was screwed over when Tyson basically voted himself out. He knows you can’t trust anyone, and as he said as he played it “You know what? My mother always told me better to be safe than sorry.” Andrea was sent packing. I guess Redemption Island doesn’t give you much redemption after all, huh? Both returning players were immediately voted out upon their return.

A-Maze-Ing

I can’t believe it – the producers are finally reading my blog! I mean, they must have read my posts where I moaned that the Fallen Comrades montage was an epic waste of time and cut it from this season, right? That’s totally the reason, right? Yes, that’s what I thought. And you’re welcome.

Yes, this season we didn’t have to spend ten minutes joining the remaining players on a journey to “honor” all the people who’d been voted out before them. And thank god – what could they have said. “Oh, Stephanie. I only spoke to her once, but she seemed…annoying,” or “Oh, remember Julie? Oh yeah, not really, since we were never allowed to talk to the enemy.”

Instead, we got right to the good stuff – an epic challenge where players would have to race through a maze collecting puzzle pieces, then complete a word puzzle. Right away I knew it would just be between Rob and Ashley. Phillip was pretty far behind them, and Natalie only found one of her four bags of puzzle pieces. I can’t believe how terrible in challenges she turned out to be after winning that first one. I mean, was she even looking for the other three bags? Or did she just not really care?

You have to hand it to Ashley, though, she gave Rob the Puzzle Master a serious run for his money. In fact, I thought she had it. When Rob weirdly suggested that they work together (I know the girls were kind of dumb this season, but did he really think she’d fall for that?) it looked like Ashley was closer to solving it than he was. I felt like I was going to throw up, I was so excited with the idea that I might win the office pool after all. I’d already spent half the prize money in my head. But Rob solved the puzzle first, and broke down in tears with the realization that he was actually going to win the whole damn thing.

It’s all about the Benjamins

Back at camp, Natalie seemed to think that she and her friend Ashley were going to the finals together. This was strange since I thought Rob had explained the plan to her countless times. But this is the girl who only found one bag of puzzle pieces in the challenge, so I guess she just didn’t understand.

Ashley was inexplicably confident as well. I really don’t know what to make of Ashley. On the one hand, she seemed to know that there was a chance she was going home. She kept making Natalie promise to tell her if anything was going on, there were previous pinkie swears not to vote for one another, and it seemed like in the past few challenges that she knew she needed to win. Yet she said she felt confident.

Rob waited until the eleventh hour to tell Natalie that her bestie was going home, but it didn’t take much to convince her. Natalie blindly followed Rob’s directions throughout the entire game, so I wasn’t surprised to hear her say that she hadn’t come to make friends. It was like she was reciting lines that Rob had fed her. Ashley was voted out, and she didn’t look all that surprised. I still question if she really felt like she was safe in that Tribal Council, or if she was just saying that for the camera.

Boston Rob, Dumb and Dumber

I’ll only speak briefly on why I don’t like the final three, because I’m sure I’ve talked about it before – someone almost always gets zero votes, it gives everyone less time to answer questions and address the jury, and A vs. B vs. C is inherently less compelling than A vs. B.  I like to use Survivor: Fans vs. Favorites  and Heroes vs. Villains as examples. In Fans vs. Favorites, it was fascinating to see Amanda have to choose who she wanted to sit next to in the end – Cirie or Parvati. The decisions prior to that had been easy. If Heroes vs. Villains had gone to a final two, I think it would have been a more compelling end to the season. If Parvati won immunity, she would have taken Russell – she knew Sandra was a threat in the finals. But if Sandra or Russell had won? It’s hard to say who would have won, but I think a final two would have been more interesting to watch.

OK, back to the season at hand. Once Andrea won the final quad-duel, Rob’s chances of winning increased exponentially. I was pretty sure he could beat Andrea, Ashley, Natalie or Phillip, no matter who he sat next to. In fact, I thought he might have the best chance against Natalie and Ashley rather than Natalie and Phillip. But I still think the season is more exciting when whoever wins the final immunity challenge has to choose who sits next to them. What if, in some crazy fluke, Phillip or Natalie had won that last challenge? Would they both have taken Rob? We’ll never know.  

Back at camp, Rob talked about how he’d been working towards this moment off and on for ten years. Natalie said “I stand for my generation” and as someone who’s only six years older than her, let me assure you that she definitely does not.

Phillip, however, was a bit of a wild card. Yes, everyone hated him. But going into that final tribal council, I still thought there might be a chance that Phillip would say “Psych! I fooled you all – this was a character I was playing the whole game because I knew Rob would take me to the finals if I was as villainous as possible. I’m not a threat in the challenges and I found myself on the outside of the core alliance within the first few days out here, so it was the best possible way for me to get here. It worked, I’m sitting here and you aren’t, and that’s why you should vote for me.” I thought that was a possibility, especially when Phillip burned his Underoos and said “I was never proud to wear plum colored underwear.” Um, what? Then why did you wear them, Phillip? All the time! You had shorts!

So yes, based on what Phillip said leading up to the final tribal council, I thought it might be possible that he’d reveal himself as a very good character actor. Instead, he acted just as crazily as he had all along.

Jury Duty

Natalie’s opening remarks to the jury were predictably weak. Phillip didn’t pull the feathers off his head and reveal his true self, but instead basically told everyone how great a player Rob was. Rob said everything he needed to say.

First to address the three was Andrea. “You are…weird,” she told Phillip. She asked Natalie about her somewhat creepy relationship with Rob, and Natalie gave a predictably terrible answer. Andrea is a fan of Survivor and I felt pretty confident that she’d vote for Rob.

Next up was Ashley, who first took the opportunity to argue with Phillip a little more. “Having survived a tortuous 38 days with you, I can get through anything,” she told him. She reminded Natalie that she’d asked her, as a friend, to at least do her the courtesy of letting her know if she was going to be voted out, but Natalie hadn’t done that. Natalie tried to say it had been a last minute instruction decision, but Ashley didn’t seem to buy it. I was pretty sure she’d vote for Rob too.

Grant didn’t bother to address Phillip, and I was pretty sure he too would vote for Rob. He might have felt betrayed, but I didn’t think he was the kind of guy to vote for someone like Natalie or Phillip out of spite. (Though his attitude at the reunion show made me feel otherwise…)

In the stupidest question asked at the Tribal Council, Ralph asked Phillip “Do you like me?” Seriously? Is Ralph so damn hard up for friends that he was going to vote to hand a million bucks to whichever person liked him the best? Matt was the most confusing for me – after he spoke, I really had no idea who he’d vote for.  

Julie was one of the angriest, since she told Natalie that her parents would be ashamed of her and she told Rob to make sure his daughter didn’t grow up to be treated by men the way he’d treated his alliance. This kind of thing irks me – just because Rob manipulated a few gullible girls into voting how he wanted them to vote in a game doesn’t mean he is a bad husband or father, or that he doesn’t respect women. He had Phillip and Grant wrapped around his finger too. It’s a game, and he took advantage of everyone. She said “None of you played a respectable game,” but I figured that when the chips were down she’d vote for Rob, who played the best game. I mean, you knew she wouldn’t vote for Natalie and all Phillip did was repeatedly bark out “The hell with you!” Yeah, that’s a great way to win a million bucks, Phil.

Mike talked about how he was able to get closer to God during his stint on Survivor, which left me wondering who he’d vote for. I guessed Rob, but I didn’t feel sure. Steve used his time to call Phillip a shameful and sorry man, so I had him down as voting for Rob as well. Then David showed up and tried to convince the swing votes for give Rob a million bucks.

I love what David did – he put his lawyer face back on and addressed the jury, telling them that Rob had by far played the best game – one of the best games ever – and that if they respected the game they’d give him their vote. By that time it seemed like Rob had enough votes to win, but it never hurts to have an extra endorsement from the enemy. David was close with people from Zapatera and Redemption Island, and if anyone like Matt or Mike was on the fence, I think David’s words might have helped.

Everyone voted for Rob except Ralph, who voted for some dude named “Phile” and said “I love you, man” as he cast his vote. Forget Andrea and Matt, I think the real showmance this season should have been Ralph and Phillip! Why didn’t we get to see more of that blossoming bromance?

You know what I miss? The awesome clip we used to get where Probst would carry the votes from the Survivor location to the finale location via helicopter, motorcycle, or some other badass for of transportation. This would have been the perfect season to do so – it could have been a promo for Rob’s new show! Instead Probst just walked in with the votes, read out one for Phile and a bunch for Rob, and declared him the winner. Rob went and kissed his wife and children, and all was right in the game.

I’ll speak a little more about where I think this season ranks in the scheme of things in a specific post, but I will say that I think it gets moved up a few notches because the right man won. Rob’s brilliant game play made for a predictable season, but the lesson in how to play Survivor was worth watching. What did you think of the episode? Are you happy Rob won? Would any other result have disappointed?

Stay tuned for a review of the reunion show, the Survivor season rankings, and some other fun finale posts.


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