Survivor

Stephen's Survivor Strategy Blog: Is Rob Playing a New Game?

04/14/2011 at 09:00 AM EDT

Survivor: Redemption Island Recap - Rob Mariano
Stephen Fishbach, left, and Rob Mariano
Monty Brinton/CBS/Landov(2)
"To introduce into the philosophy of War a principle of moderation would be an absurdity." – Carl von Clausewitz, On War

Boston Rob is playing the single best game of Survivor ever. Sure, he hasn't won yet, and you can't really be the "best" until you're preening on The Early Show with an oversized check for $1 million in your hands. But so far, Rob has maintained control of his tribe and the game like nobody else in the show's history – not Tom on Palau, not Yul on Cook Islands, not even Russell on Samoa. For running the Murlonios like Al Pacino ran the Corleones, Rob wins this week's Fishy Award. Will Ralph wake up next week to find his prize rooster's head in his bed?

The merge is typically the point in the game when alpha male threats get sent to the jury bench. A few savvy, squirmy strategists act out their high school revenge fantasies and unseat their jock overlords. As the only visible target in a season of milquetoasts, Rob looked like he had a lock on the mayorship of Ponderosa.

But Rob maintains his control of the game through brilliantly playing on group psychology. He keeps the former Ometepes in a separate shelter and makes sure they eat at separate times – ensuring that the "us vs. them" mentality remains. Rob had expertly kept team unity pre-merge by making a villain out of Phillip. Now he flips the script, and uses the wayward agent as another tool in his campaign of aggression against the hapless Zaps.



"It's us versus them," he says. "And we're better than them ... And we're going to show it. But I'm not ... because I want their votes at the end of the day."

Is this an entirely new Survivor strategy? Super-fans, correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of a season where the merged tribe didn't huddle together under the shelter and give lip service to group unity. Rob may have changed the game forever, tossing that façade of friendship out the window.

He also establishes a "buddy system" so that the Zapateras can't seduce a lone Ometepe. Nobody's going to risk betraying the Robfather with their tribemate in earshot. Natalie, Rob's own little KGB, even informs on Ashley for listening too closely to Ralph.

Past Survivor strategists have locked up a few weak links by making sure they're under adult supervision. But nobody has had the leverage to actually dictate rules to their tribe like it's a fifth grade field trip. Grant's great rebellion that was hyped in the previews – where he proudly declared, "I am my own man" – boiled down to eating a few morsels of boiled fish. Even that meets Rob's disapproval.

All the Zapateras can do is shake their heads and mutter under their breath. And the Ometepes? They're clambering over each other for the honor of losing to Rob in the finals. At Redemption Island, Matt seems to be speaking to a higher power. "I guess you wanted me to come back, so here I am ... You're using my stupidity for your glory." But is it God he's talking to – or Boston Rob?

Coach R Us

Marine Mike thinks Phillip is "really struggling to find himself." But Phillip has found himself – in Coach Wade from Tocantins.

This episode removed any doubt that Phillip is imitating Coach. He comes to tribal council with a feather headdress and claims he's descended from the Cherokee.

Still, Phillip may be strategically savvier than Coach. He knows how people perceive him, and he'll use it to his advantage. "Everybody wants to stand at finals with a guy like me," he says.

Could Phillip pull off the greatest upset in Survivor history? The answer, of course, is no.

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