Stephen's Survivor Strategy Blog: Looking Back at Rob's Winning Season

Survivor: Rob Mariano Wins
Stephen Fishbach
Rob Kim/Landov

05/18/2011 02:00PM

"From the outset there is a play of possibilities, probabilities, good and bad luck, which spreads about with all the coarse and fine threads of its web, and makes War of all branches of human activity the most like a gambling game." – Carl von Clausewitz, On War

Redemption Island just found some redemption of its own. After a ho-hum season with obvious eliminations and lackluster strategy, Sunday's finale was explosive and satisfying. Matt was actually eliminated; Ashley almost went on an immunity run; and the jury voted for the season's best player. Boston Rob wins the final Fishy for closing the season as he opened it: with total domination. I only wish he'd had stiffer competition.

Did Natalie and Phillip have the worst final tribal ever? I consider myself an expert in bad jury performances, and I don't think I've ever seen two players just hand over the victory. Both Natalie and Phillip credited Rob with getting them to the end, essentially arguing that he deserved to win. Phillip berated some jury members, while Natalie looked beseechingly to Rob before answering any of their questions.

Not that the jury was really looking for answers. A lot of the jury decided to give speeches rather than ask questions. I guess they had already made up their minds, and wanted to grab more airtime?



If Natalie and Phillip gave the worst jury performances ever, Rob gave one of the best. He cited his strong physical and strategic games, claimed he was playing for his family, and ultimately deferred to the wisdom of the jurors. "What really matters is what you guys think," he said. And isn't that what all juries really want? To feel important, after having been humbled? To be fair, Rob already knew the secret to final tribal, which is that – as angry as everybody seems, in two hours you'll all be doing Jaeger shots at Ponderosa.

Redemption Island

During one of the commercial breaks, Jeff Probst asked the audience at the Letterman Theater what we thought about the Redemption Island twist. Surprisingly, the chorus of cheering drowned out the boos. Granted, this was an audience of family members and CBS employees.

Still, I agree that Redemption Island needs another shot. One reason it felt so lackluster was that it literally had no effect on the game. Both Matt and Andrea were booted the same episode they returned. In a different season, without Boston Rob, the returning player could shake things up.

The other issue, of course, was the challenges. I am consistently amazed by the complicated and often beautiful challenges that the Survivor team creates. But the competitions at Redemption Island seemed too ordinary for their special circumstance. In order to create challenges that were fair to both men and women, the challenge team built puzzle-based courses that never fully tested the competitors.

But Survivor challenges are never fair. If physical competitions are biased towards the strong, aren't mental competitions biased towards the smart? Was it fair to give Ralph a word puzzle when he can't spell? The Redemption challenges should be extra hard, not extra easy. When two contestants are fighting to get back in the game, they should be doing more than playing Memory.

One proposal: how about a Wheel of Challenges? Some based on agility, some on strength, others on intellect. If it so happens that an old lady ends up mud wrestling with Hercules – she shouldn't have gotten voted out in the first place.

Season Summary

Jeff claims to like this cast; if they hadn't been eclipsed by Rob, maybe we could've liked them too. Andrea, Mike, and Francesca seemed like savvy gamers without a game to play.

My hope for next season is that the two tribes have the sense to eliminate the returning players first, and find out what it means to play Survivor by themselves.

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