First things first, if you are going to whine and moan about me spoiling a day old telecast then this isn't the post for you. Turn back. Turn back now!
Okay, you've been warned.
Redemption Island was being sold on two major gimmicks. The one was it being the first time that a Survivor was not completely eliminated from the competition when they were voted off, because they had a chance of getting back in when they lasted through the 'duels' on Redemption Island. The second major gimmick was Boston Rob vs. Russell, which was an idea that they teased way back on Heroes vs. Villains after it was clear neither liked each other (and the fact both were major rating draws). Both ideas sort of worked, but maybe weren't the huge game changers that were promised. I enjoyed the Redemption Island concept and that it changed one's strategy on who would be voted off. If a player blindsided someone, she knew there was a strong chance the castaway could come back to haunt her. The problem is, it didn't turn out that way at all. The tribes didn't seem to let Redemption Island factor too much into who they voted off, and they never really paid for any blindsides, since both times the Redemption Island returnee was immediately voted off again (though Andrea made an amazing attempt at making a big play and try to be factor when she returned -- but came up horribly short). As for Boston Rob vs. Russell, the first few episodes with them were amazing and both are two of my favourite characters ever on this show. Unfortunately, Russell had a very short run this season, because his tribe couldn't get over his past reputation. As the season showed, that could have been the worse move that tribe ever did. It meant for very little of Russell and that is a sad thing, because he is one of the most entertaining Survivors ever, even if you don't like him (which is more than you can say for the ultra bland tribe he was stuck on).
The early exit of Russell meant that this became the Boston Rob season. I know that Survivor All-Stars has always been labeled as the Boston Rob season because he controlled so much of what happened. I am pretty sure that Rob was even more of a masterful puppeteer this time and ended up calling every single major play. I've admitted before that I haven't seen a lot of seasons of Survivor (but I've heard about and watched clips of most), but I think Boston Rob ended up being the most dominant and controlling player in Survivor history this season. It was unbelievable how much Rob was able to connive and manipulate everybody. Even when it was clear that he would backstab and blindside his own teammates when he needed to, his tribe would stay loyal and do everything he said. This has to be one of the few times that during the merge, one tribe stayed loyal to each other until they wiped out the other tribe.
This season may not have had the best turns or collection of personalities, but the remarkable game play by Rob will go down as one of iconic Survivor moments (if an entire season can be a moment). He was so dominant that when he survived to the final tribal council (and never once being in real trouble of getting voted off), it was clear that he had to win unless the Tribal Council was going to hold bitterness towards him for being responsible for each of their eliminations (there is no disputing he was the reason every single of them was on that council). The council proved that there was hard feelings and frustration for some of Rob's gameplay, but there was also a clear realization that his two competitors were only there because he decided they could be. So, the 10 year quest of Rob trying to finally win the Survivor crown came to a satisfying conclusion on Sunday, when it was revealed he took the vast majority of the votes (it appears he only lost Ralph's vote, who gave a pity nod to Phillip).
The final tribal council ended up being a crazy time. The part I really liked was that not only did Rob give an amazing final speech where he laid out how he controlled the game and how he deserved to win based off his work ethic, excellent social game, winning challenges, and being responsible for every elimination, but his competitors admitted in their own speeches that they were in the finals because of Rob. It is remarkable to me that two people who should be giving speeches to convince the council why they should win the million dollars, instead laid out exactly why Rob should win. Of course, they weren't trying to help Rob win, but admitting their strategy was to stay loyal to Rob ended proving how strong a player he was the entire time.
This was a council that was full of anger and bitter evictees, and a lot of venom was thrown, especially towards Natalie (for being someone they perceived as doing nothing but riding Rob's coattails even if it meant backstabbing a friend). The tribal council usually is full of people who feel they were wrongly voted off or betrayed (despite that essentially being the entire premise of the game), but this time was jam packed with angry members securely holding onto their sour grapes. Of course, there were a few members that seemed to appreciate the game play by Rob, and Steve even commended Natalie for outlasting him in the game. The most interesting member was David who didn't do the normal task of questioning the three finalist, but instead, addressed the jurors by pleading that they realize there was only one true choice for winner, Rob. It was a unique root to go and I also wonder if it did persuade a few fence sitters who were clinging to a grudge against Rob. In the end, Rob crushed the voting and got the rightful crown for his dominant game play.
You have to wonder what would have happened if Russell's tribe wasn't so freaked out by him, and threw a challenge into order to give him an early exit. Up until they threw the challenge, they had won every time and were knocking off Rob's tribe. After they got rid of Russell, they only won one more challenge and were then picked off at will. When they merged, they were not only down in numbers, but seemed to have no other strategy than try to win immunity (which they never did). In one of the few times in Survivor history, a tribe stayed united during the merge and completely wiped out the opposing group. Witnessing one man have so much control and power is what made this season so fascinating, even if it didn't have the usual twists and negotiations. Russell's former tribe seemed to be completely powerless once they merged and had no idea on how to try to get power back to them. If they had stuck with Russell to the merge, I know the game would have been very different. After all, Russell is the guy who went into the merge with only four member of his tribe against eight on the other, yet was able to keep his four members right down to the final five (and make sure it was his tribe that comprised the entire final three). This time around, the tribe was obsessed with Russell being known as a villain, and it meant they got rid of their best asset and went into the merge really weak. For me, that was incredibly satisfying because I had wanted Russell to last much longer, but it was great to at least see his boring tribe pay dearly for getting rid of him so soon. It does leave you to wonder how different Rob's strategy would have been if he had to contend with Russell for longer than eight days (or if Rob ended up on the opposite tribe at the start of the game).
Once Russell was booted, there really wasn't many strong players besides Rob, which mean he had a cake walk (David had potential, but his allies were mostly numbskulls or just too 'nice' to play the game properly). This doesn't mean that the game didn't have one of the most entertaining and endearing (in an absurd way) players of all time: Phillip.
How could you not love Special Agent (?) Phillip? Seriously, the guy was comic gold, and I cannot believe that such a polarizing and odd character (who never won a single challenge or had any type of decent social game -- hell, everyone seemed to despise him) lasted to the very end. I am so happy that he did. I loved how absolutely clueless he was, and how he would ramble on about Samurais and Native American spirituality and of course, how he knew everything because he was a former Special Agent (and did lots of ‘secret agent’ work during the game). If Phillip wants to return, I guarantee that the producers will have him back. He really only made it to the end because Rob thought he would be an easy win (and he was completely correct on that gamble), but his longevity helped make the season extremely entertaining. I also find humour in the fact that Phillip kept going on about having a secret weapon at the end (he knew Rob wanted him in the final, due to the fact he was so despised, thus he was a seemingly easy opponent) and had a speech planned that was supposed to give him a surprise victory over Rob. His big speech basically was that he tried to eliminate Rob at the beginning, but realized it wouldn't work because Rob was too strong, and so he decided to stay loyal to Rob until the very end. Not sure how that would make people see Phillip as the undisputed winner, but I also don't know how walking around in pink underwear or wearing feathers on your head would make you appear to be a sane person (I don't have Phillip logic). Phillip was not a good player, but he was definitely was one of my all time favourites. The man was hilarious and the second best part of the season, right after just watching Rob completely dominate the entire game.
I also think it would only be fair to give mention to Matt. Who almost lasted all the way to the end despite being the second person voted off. He won almost every Redemption Island duel, except the two that counted (one which would have allowed him to see his family member and another which would have got him into the final five). He stuck in the game for a really long time and was forced into isolation for the majority of the season. You couldn't help feel bad for him, and want to root for him to get back into the game. I was a big fan of his, until I started getting annoyed with his constant preaching about how his being on Redemption Island was some sort of huge master plan entirely constructed by his god. Matt played a huge part in the entire season's overall story. First, there was just the incredible determination and skill he showed by always winning his duels and being able to mentally survive while he was left alone on Redemption Island. The other bigger part he played was the two times he got voted off. Both times, Rob orchestrated his elimination because Matt was talking to the other tribe. When Matt came back, he immediately started flipping back and forth between the tribes to see his options, which then lead to his immediate exile back to Redemption Island. This demonstrated to the tribe how powerful Rob was, and why they didn't want to talk to the other tribe. It made them fear Rob, and it was the big reason why there wasn't much communication among his tribe. It was a brilliant move, and probably the move that ensured Rob would win the game. Yes, poor Matt was only a pawn in the grand scheme of the show, but what a glorious pawn he was.
How I do I rank this season among past ones? Well, Rob and Phillip made it a very good one -- for entirely different reasons (one for unparalleled play and other for unparalleled buffoonery). The problem is, there were just a lot of really weak and bland players. The Redemption Island concept is a good one, but in the end, it didn't really factor into the final result (the final three were never on the island). The game had really great moments and Rob's will win go down as an all time classic, but it lacked the tension and kibitzing of past seasons. It was way better than the previous season (Survivor: Nicaragua), but fell far short of Heroes vs. Villains. It was still a really good season, and one that will be discussed for a long while. For many, it was rewarding to see Rob finally get his long sought after title, especially in such a dominant fashion. It was further proof that Survivor is a show that is only as good as the players that are involved. Luckily, it had some really strong personalities to make up for the army of dull ones.
I enjoyed it and the final few episodes were very solid. A few of the players started realizing Rob was controlling the game and they finally stepped up their play. It was far too late, and they allowed him control for way too long. I am glad that almost all (except for silly old Ralph the Rooster) recognized who deserved the title; even if they felt he did it unethically (whatever that means in a game about backstabbing and manipulation). It was a fun ride and I'll be interested to see what they have in store for the upcoming fall season, where Redemption Island is back and two former players return to try to gain their own redemption (finally win the championship). Overall, a season that demonstrated the strengths of the show and allowed for the fabled water cooler talk after it was all over.