Boston Rob Mariano played his heart out in Survivor: Redemption Island.
He formed unwavering alliances from day one, won crucial challenges, found and held onto the Hidden Immunity Idol, supported and encouraged his tribemates—and when the time came, masterminded their ousters with vicious blindsides.
But would these same players—now sitting on the jury and deciding his fate—vote for him to win?
Call them a forgiving crowd: Awesome Rob was crowned Sole Survivor with a majority vote, winning a million-dollar prize.
But after competing on and off for 10 years (117 days), Rob insists Survivor doesn't define him. "At the end of the day, it's about my wife and child," he said in Nicaragua. "Ultimately I want to win so I can bring it home and they can have a better future."
Survivor fans ensured that their future will be even better: He also won the $100,000 Player of the Season prize!
Here's how it all went down…
The Last Battle: Andrea knocked out any competition Rob might have faced in the final Tribal Council by defeating his fiercest competitors—Grant Mattos, war vet Mike Chiesl and long-suffering Matt Eldrod, who called Redemption Island home for nearly a month—in the 11th and final duel. Andrea's personal victory was short-lived, because no matter how hard she tried to persuade Ashley (who earned her second consecutive duel must-win immunity necklace) and Natalie to make a move against Rob, she was unanimously voted out next. We didn't learn until after the reunion show that Ashley and Natalie knew Rob would use his Hidden Immunity Idol, so Andrea's hopes for any kind of girl-power play were futile.
Thy Will Be Done: After surviving 10 duels and 27 faith-testing days (Or was it 29? Neither Jeff Probst nor Matt himself seem sure) on Redemption Island, Christian soldier Matt "fell short when he needed it most," said Jeff Probst, and Matt's "purgatory" finally came to an end. "His will was ultimately done," Matt conceded, grateful for the "the struggle and strife" that ultimately brought him closer to his God. Rob (if not God) even denied him a chance at the Player of the Season prize, but hopefully his second-place finish offers some consolation.
Bedtime for Bonzo: While Phillip wanted to send Ashley home because she was "lazy" (more so than Natalie?!), Rob knew even her "amateur hour" strategizing could be a problem if he didn't win the last challenge. He panicked at the end—even suggesting they "work together" to solve their puzzles—but Rob defeated Ashley to win the last immunity. "I don't like to see someone corrupt my soldier," he said, referring to "good-hearted little soul" Natalie—whose loyalty to Rob never wavered despite her BFF bond with Ashley. (How did she manage to groom herself on those final days?)
All Good Things Must Come to an End: We were spared the torturous fallen comrade farewells (probably because most of them just left five minutes ago), but Phillip provided an even better closing ceremony when he sacrificed his pink panties on the fire. Even his great-great-great grandfather Jessem Herring would have been "pleased to see those come to an end," Phillip said. He didn't win the million dollars, or make any friends, but Phillip came away from Survivor with something much more important: "It's OK to tell the world that I have a relationship with someone who's been dead since 1870!"
Blindsided by Love: After defense attorney David's bizarre closing arguments in Tribal Council—urging the jury to vote for Rob (which probably earned him a secret fistbump from Probst)—he stole valuable airtime away from the reunion show with his live marriage proposal to girlfriend Carolina Eastwood, who competed on Survivor: Tocantins. "Survivor loves blindsiding you," she said, before finally agreeing to be his bride. At least we think that's what happened: We were focused on Amber in the background the whole time.
Who is Phillip Sheppard? Jeff Probst found a certified federal agent to confirm that Phillip was, indeed, a federal agent, but...does it really matter? He was delightful, infuriating but always entertaining in a season that was often dull thanks to Rob's unchallenged dominance and the never-ending Redemption Island buzzkill.
Next Time, on Survivor: Oh no! Jeff confirmed our worst fears: the Redemption Island "twist" will be repeated in next season's "Survivor: South Pacific." Maybe with some tweaks they'll manage to return some suspense to the game? Which two veterans will be joining the 16 new Castaways? Dare we hope for a mullet duel between Denise and Shambo?
Are you happy with Rob's win? Who do you want to see return in season 23? Shout it out in the comments!