Rob tweeted this pic of himself with Ashley, Andrea, Natalie and Phillip. Rob labeled this "Ometepe," but where's Grant? Is this a hint of some kind?

By Gina Carbone
opus619@gmail.com

“Survivor: Redemption Island” had so much potential.

I thought it started strong, with a cast that looked like they might actually play the game instead of voting out anyone who considered adopting a “strategy.” (Yep, I’m dissing you, “Survivor: Nicaragua”!)

But right around the time Boston Rob took control of his cult, and Ometepe began demolishing Zapatera, the game started to lose steam. (It also started turning into “The Religious Season.”)

Another Rob twitpic from the finale.

Now there’s almost no way for Season 22 to redeem itself. If Rob wins, the whole season will feel like How CBS Got Rob To Win Survivor After Four Attempts, with the other fools cast just for the purpose of helping him.

But if he doesn’t win, there’s no one else who would be a satisfying victory. Maybe maybe maybe Grant Mattos, because he was Rob’s right-hand man. But even Grant was a drone. And Matt Elrod is sweet, but he’s a terrible “Survivor” player. Mike Chiesl wasn’t shown in the game enough. Phillip Sheppard may or may not be playing up his craziness, but he accused Steve Wright of being a racist for calling him “crazy,” and he certainly shouldn’t win after that. Even Russell Hantz probably wouldn’t do that to win … probably.

I still have my money on either Andrea Boehlke or Ashley Underwood. I’m wondering if the Ometepe photo that Rob tweeted (above), showing some kind of Ashley dark hair makeover, is indicative of her win. Only a girl would think that, but now I’m wondering…She’s also tweeting up a storm for people to not miss the finale tonight. Am I reading too much into it? Or is she the new Jud “Fabio” Birza?

*UPDATE* Nope! Neither one won! The spoilers this season were all over the place. One said Ashley aligned with Rob and outlasted him. *END UPDATE*

Anyway, I’ll be live blogging the finale from 8 to 10 p.m. tonight Eastern time, plus the reunion from 10 to 11.

Look at Matt's hair! The Jesus length is gone!

These 8 folks are still in it to win it going into the finale:

* “Boston Rob” Rob Mariano
* Phillip Sheppard, 52, Santa Monica; technology executive
* Natalie Tenerelli, 19, Acton, Calif.; professional dancer
* Ashley Underwood, 25, Benton, Maine; nurse
* Andrea Boehlke, 21, Random Lake, Wis.; student  (On Redemption Island)
* Matt Elrod, 22, Nashville; pre-med student  (On Redemption Island)
* Grant Mattos, 29, West Hollywood; former NFLer, yoga instructor  (On Redemption Island)
* Mike Chiesl, 31, Del Mar, Calif.; former Marine (On Redemption Island)

While you wait, check out my archive of “Survivor” recaps and “spoilers,” although I don’t really trust the few spoilers they’d had for this season. (Update: The spoilers sucked! Congrats to CBS for keeping the Rob win a secret. Nicely done. I hate you, but nicely done.)

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****** LIVE BLOG STARTS! ******

8 p.m.: Recap of everything up to this point. How one year ago Rob challenged Russell at the “Heroes vs. Villains” finale. Review of who is left. They make a special point to say Ashley is a nurse and lately has been a threat in challenges. Lots on Matt at God’s island. Good vs. Evil when Matt took on Russell, etc. Blindsiding Matt twice to send him to RI. Mike and Matt on winning streak at RI. Grant trusted Rob wholeheartedly. Is it fair that Rob is playing his best game, on his fourth attempt, and he could beat someone who is just playing for the first time? Rob got his ass kicked the first time he played. Can Phillip make a play for a win by convincing everyone he was faking craziness to be the villain. NO! You shouldn’t be able to call someone a racist and call yourself the “n-word” and then get rewarded a million dollars.

Final duel on Redemption Island.

8:11 p.m.: Grant heads to Redemption Island. “Somebody wasn’t being honest.” He’s not sure if it was Rob or Phillip, but he’s “A-OK” with it. Grant is the person Andrea least wanted to see there, since she’s now surrounded by major challenge winners. Also hotties! Lucky girl. Rob says “it stings a little bit” to lose Grant, because he was a friend. “I got a heart in there somewhere.” Rob says Grant is the only person who could be “redeemed” that Rob might want to vote out again. He wants to get rid of Ashley. Bad. She’s got to go, he says. He has a feeling about her. Premonition?

8:14 p.m.: At Redemption Island. Matt is happy now and at peace on his island. They have their final duel. They have to “dig deep.” One person will go back in the game. Mike will actually miss RI after 14 days out there. He even calls it “Purgatory.” They all pray. This is God’s favorite season of “Survivor.” Matt has only been in the actual game for 7 days?! If he wins, God gets the glory. So God is going to win “Survivor.” It’s kind of a balancing challenge. You have to keep your foot on a platform with a vase on the end. Go Andrea!

Andrea wins! Everyone else heads to the jury.

Grant is out first. Then MATT IS OUT. God did not want Matt to win. God wants Matt to vote in a winner!

It’s Mike vs. Andrea. GO ANDREA, GO! I KNEW IT! At least one of the spoilers was right!

8:22 p.m.: The duel is over and one at a time, Jeff Probst has Grant, Matt and Mike take off their buffs and head to Ponderosa, aka the jury spot.

8:24 p.m.: Rob declares that Ashley has played the game the best. (SINCE WHEN?) So unless she wins immunity (cue foreshadowing!), she will be voted out next.

Seriously, though. Just because Ashley won immunity last week, the only time she needed to, how is that playing better than everyone else? She hasn’t done anything else all season.

Immunity challenge. They have to get across a balance beam and bring several bags over to put together a bunch of numbers in order.

8:28 p.m.: Andrea said it was “awkward” to come back into camp. No one was that happy to see her. She’ll try anything to stay around, though, otherwise she feels like she’ll be the next one to go. Andrea tells Ashley that Ralph said he would vote for Phillip. Not true. She’s planting “seeds,” aka “lies.” Ashley wants them to vote off Phillip and Natalie says “yeah.” As if she knows. Ashley tells Natalie “You can’t trust Rob so much.” FINALLY. Rob tells Phillip that Ashley thinks she’s the mastermind. Rob is worried about three girls together. “Ashley drives me nuts.” He doesn’t like to see “someone corrupt my soldier,” aka Natalie. Pot meet kettle. Rob should worry that he only has Phillip to talk to. That’s a bad sign.

8:31 p.m.: Immunity challenge. Balance beam and numbers puzzle. Is Ashley going to be the new Fabio? She’s in the lead in this challenge. Phillip fell way behind. It was down to Ashley way in the lead, then Andrea and Rob. ASHLEY WINS IMMUNITY! Second in a row. So she has her spot in the final four. Uh-oh. Is my girl Andrea toast?

8:37 p.m.: Is it too late for Rob to use his hidden idol? If so, get rid of him! That’s what Andrea wants. She wants the girls to see this as an opportunity. If she tells that to Natalie, won’t Nat just tell Rob?

8:41 p.m.: Ashley is so excited she won, even if she wishes this were tomorrow’s win going into the finale. Rob says Andrea is going next. Rob says Andrea has worked hard at camp and she has friends on the other side, so it’s a “no brainer” to get rid of her.

This is the last time Rob can use his idol, but he says he doesn’t need to use it. FAMOUS LAST WORDS.

Ashley talks to Natalie saying, if it’s Andrea now, don’t make it her (Ashley) next. Nat promises 100 percent that she will vote Phillip next, not Ashley. Nice move, Ashley…

So Phillip goes into special agent mode and tells Rob. Right in front of Andrea. That Nat and Ashley were talking. So Rob takes Phillip for a walk.

Final five at Tribal Council.

8:44 p.m. While Phillip is chewing Rob’s ear off about the obvious, Andrea makes her pitch to the girls that she wouldn’t want to be up against Rob in the finals. “It makes a lot more sense to get rid of one of them,” Andrea says of Rob and Phillip. Natalie finally realizes that going up against Rob, she probably wouldn’t win. DUH! Ashley and Nat talk about how it could be the top three girls in the finals. Rob says he doesn’t need the idol — as long as he has Natalie — and he could take it home as a souvenir. He loves to gamble. “God I’m sick!”

8:47 p.m. First Tribal Council. Phillip babbles. Andrea makes a big pitch for the women to finally make a move in this game. Ashley says who wouldn’t want to take out Boston Rob.

Jeff makes his this is the last time you can use the hidden idol speech.

Rob does use his idol! His mother always told him better be safe than sorry. So he made it. Damn it.

Andrea voted out! She didn’t win. And the girls helped to vote her out. No attempt at a big move. Alas. Final four: Rob, Ashley, Natalie, Phillip.

Remember the maze at the end of "Heroes vs. Villains"?

Andrea should’ve shut her mouth at Trial Council about voting out Rob. Maybe that’s what prompted him to play the idol.

8:57 p.m.: Phillip said he didn’t know Rob had an idol but he suspected it. He said Rob played that brilliantly. Just hand him the money now, you morons.

9 p.m. We’re already at the second and final immunity challenge! It’s a giant maze challenge involving puzzle pieces. They love puzzle challenges and Rob. Remember all the easy challenges last season that Fabio won? Balancing coins in a sword? Please. Natalie is useless at these challenges but Jeff calls her a “good sport” as if she’s a slow 4-year-old girl. What’s sad is, she’s a lock for the finals.

ROB WINS! Rob made the final three. So … he wins, right? Or is he following in his own “All Stars” footsteps? Is he Rob 1.0/aka Russell 1.0?

Seriously, though. Is it fair to let him perfect his game four times and have him play on an "equal" playing field against newbies — especially when many of the newbies seem recruited instead of the "Survivor" fans who fight season after season to play? It's like a pro baseball player taking on the Little League.

Rob cries and tells the camera Amber inspired him. Whatever happens now, he’s OK with it. Even if he doesn’t win.

9:11 p.m.: Rob wants to make sure Phillip and Ashley both feel comfortable, like they won’t be voted out. But in order to blindside Ashley, he needs Natalie’s help.

Oh my God. What if the final three are Rob, Phillip and Natalie? Is there a way anyone could NOT vote for Rob? I’m ant-Rob winning at this point — even though nothing else makes sense — but at this point only Ashley is worth voting for. Even though she was a lazy bathing beauty, she still won challenges, played a good social game and didn’t tick people off.

Go Ashley!

9:16 p.m. Natalie is torn on what to do. She didn’t expect to make a friend, but she did. (Funny. Everyone made fun of Nat & Ash for sunbathing all day and tweezing each other’s arm hair, but it turned out to be a good strategy.)

9:17 p.m.: Tribal Council. Rob says ultimately you want to sit next to people you think you can beat. But he’s been here before and it didn’t work out. (Except he found love and married the winner.) Natalie sounds like a 2-year-old. Phillip says “Rob knows I was the specialist.” Lord. Why is Jeff having everyone make their pitches to Rob as if he’s the only one with a vote? Natalie is the real swing vote, not Rob. We know what Rob will do.

Here's the final 3. And here's my vomit.

Jeff, please stop pimping Rob. Please. Please. Please!

Ashley knows she has a better shot to win than Phillip and Nat.

Who is voted out? Ashley. Damn it! Does Nat think she has a shot at winning?

DEAR GOD, COULD PHILLIP WIN?

I’m disgusted. But I have to hand it to Rob — sitting next to Natalie and Phillip is the best possible position anyone could hope for in this game. Ideal. If he doesn’t win, it’s time to kill the jury.

9:27 p.m.: There’s still more pimping of Phillip and his feather. And his dead great-great-whatever-grandfather. I refuse to forget about how he treated Steve for calling him “crazy.” He’s not an adorable eccentric. He’s an ass.

9:28 p.m.: The feast. Natalie is 19. Does she really stand for her generation? I feel sorry for her generation, if that’s true. Even Fabio did more last season, at age 21. She could win? Good Lord! She did NOTHING. NOTHING. At least Natalie White on “Samoa” killed a rat and helped convince the other tribe to vote out Erik. Huge move. She also made tons of friends, whereas this Natalie irritated her own tribe for sitting around with Ashley. Not the same.

9:32 p.m.: Final Tribal Council. Phillip is wearing his effing feather! Is he going to try to convince everyone that he ISN’T crazy in that get-up?

The jury, as observed from the vantage point of the final 3. I think I hate this season, no matter how this is now resolved.

Natalie admits that her strength in the game was her social skills. She stuck with Boston Rob. She was loyal. She would be the youngest winner if they vote for her. Ugh.

Phillip said when Boston Rob came into the game, he had to change his strategy. Phillip thanks Rob, saying he wouldn’t be there without him. Phillip says he implemented the concept of “stealth.”

This is embarrassing.

Phillip said Rob’s real name is “The Mastermind” and Phillip’s own goal was to carry out the plans. He also spoke about his loyalty to Rob.

ARE THESE PEOPLE BEING PAID TO PROMOTE ROB MARIANO?

Rob has spent one-third of his life playing Survivor. 117 days or something? He makes a politician’s speech. It’s not up to him, it’s up to them, he says. At least he didn’t pledge loyalty to himself, the way the others did.

Love the crashing thunder and lightning. And by “love” I mean “eye roll.”

• Andrea told Phillip “You are weird.” She said they have seen a plethora of Phillips. Who is the real Phillip Sheppard? He can’t answer it. He must be working for Rob. Andrea told Natalie she has an almost borderline creepy relationship with Rob. What is it about Rob and the allure of riding coattails? Natalie’s answer is making me physically ill. Andrea doesn’t even ask Rob anything.

• Ashley said she’s sick of hearing Phillip’s voice so she won’t ask him anything. He’s acting like a child. Even younger than Natalie. Oh Phillip has no shot. Ashley knocks Phillip and he calls her a whiny child. Ashley tells Natalie they shared everything. Except Natalie didn’t tell her she would be going home. Ashley said obviously Rob deceived a lot of people and that’s sad because she put him on a pedestal. She doesn’t know who he is and after this she’s not sure she wants to know.

Wow, this Tribal is ugly and sad. No one deserves to win.

• Grant tells Nat he also had an alliance with Rob. He wants to know more about Nat’s deal with Rob. Nat says Rob came to her in the beginning and she felt like she could trust him. Rob said Natalie came up to him and said “Tell me what to do.” He said if she did what he said, he would take her to the end. They both gush over Grant and how he was such a big threat.

• Ralph says Natalie can’t do anything without keeping an eye on Rob. Nat didn’t realize everyone thought she was “creepy” toward Rob. She was afraid to make a decision without him, Ralph says. Nat said she wanted her tribe to know she was loyal, ’cause she saw what happened to Matt. Ralph was disappointed that Phillip didn’t have a whole chicken on his head. Ralph asked Phillip if he liked him. (Talk about creepy!) Phillip said yeah, basically.

• Matt called Rob duplicitous and a liar. Where is the line? How can he keep himself together after so much time out there? Rob said the line is gone once he gets back into real life. But in Survivor, he feels it’s necessary to act like this. Rob admits that everyone on Ometepe thought he was taking him to the end. That strategy ALWAYS backfires, though!

• Julie says the final three should be very humble because none of them played a respectable game. Oh yeah! Nat did win the first immunity challenge. Julie wonders if their parents would be proud of the way they played the game. Julie said if Nat were her daughter, she would be ashamed to see her be a servant to Rob the way she is. Phillip has a 16-year-old son? Poor child. Phillip repeats “The hell with you!” to Julie. Julie says Rob is sitting next to the little girl and the guy no one likes or respects.

Phillip is a cartoon.

Julie tells Rob to teach his daughters to grow up to be strong women and not let anyone treat them the way he treated Natalie.

NICE.

Rob whispers to Nat not to worry, they’ll be all smiles later.

I absolutely love "Survivor" but this ending is killing me. I feel so, so, so used.

• Mike asks for what they’ll take with them after this experience. Natalie has never camped before and this experience has given her confidence. Really? Confidence that you can follow a man’s instructions? Rob said he learned that he needs to stop playing games. (But he’s going to go on another reality TV show! So he’s NOT going to stay home and take care of his wife and kids.) Phillip learned that he can stand on his own and be by himself. “I am a beacon in the Sheppard family.”

I’m sick.

• Steve commends Natalie for however she played the game. Vomit. He also takes his hat off to Rob. Lots of ass-kissing. But Steve tells Phillip “I’m sorry for you.” “I think you’re a pretty shameful, sorry man.” There’s no way Phillip is winning.

• David says “And now for something completely different.” He doesn’t talk to the final three. He talks to the jury. He says there’s only one logical decision here. It has to be Rob. “He controlled all of you.” It was “a little ruthless, but brilliant.” He gushes over how two guys came into this game, one said he was the best to ever play this game (Russell) and the other (Rob) just played the best strategic game anyone has ever seen.

Is it coincidence that David got to make that speech as the last speech?

I may not even be able to watch the reunion. Sorry, this isn’t fair. It’s a slaughter. Or it should be, since there’s no second option. And it’s the kind of slaughter Rob could never have managed on “Survivor: Marquesas,” where he was the seventh voted out. You know who was the seventh voted out on “Redemption Island”? Sarita.

10 p.m.: The vote.

David votes for Rob.

Final 3 live in New York.

Ralph votes for Phillip????

That’s all we see.

10:02 p.m.: LIVE SHOW & REUNION

1st vote: Rob

2nd vote: Phillip

3rd vote: Rob

4th vote: Rob

5th vote: Rob

The winner of “Survivor: Redemption Island”: Rob

The reunion so far has been all about Rob. Gushing about Rob. Rob is so brilliant. I actually wanted Rob to win in the end — he was the only logical choice and he DID play a brilliant game — but this is sickening.

Grant is not happy with Rob. That might explain why he wasn’t in the pics. I love Grant. He thinks saying “it’s a game” is a cop out. So Rob lost a friend. But he gained a million bucks. And another reality TV show. On The History Channel, which has “Survivor” vet Colby Donaldson as the host of “Top Shot.” Do CBS and History have a deal?

Jeff gushes over his boyfriend, saying Rob just played about as perfect a game as you can. Sure. He had four shots. Let Parvati Shallow play a fourth time and show them all how it’s done. Let Sandra Diaz-Twine win a third time.

Russell looks pissed!

Andrea and Matt live in different parts of the country and aren’t dating. Mike was shown in his Marine uniform. More Phillip pimping to come.

Jeff talks to Russell about how he cried on the show. He congratulates Rob on playing “an excellent game.” They shake hands. Russell blows off Jeff’s question and says he should be asking the Zapateras, do they regret throwing the challenge? (Say no!) Russell takes on Steve. Poor Steve!

Jeff is now obsessed with Phillip and mistakenly calls Russell “Phillip” before correcting himself. How does Coach feel about this?

Russell is now thinking of going back on his word. He said he wouldn’t do “Survivor” again. Why is Jeff even asking him? He gave spoilers on the past two seasons. “Just keep my number,” he says. So he’ll be back. I don’t know that I will.

Phillip, I don’t love you. He claims he wasn’t going to trade his integrity for a million dollars. I like that the camera cut to Steve. Phillip called himself the n-word and accused Steve of racism, remember?

Phillip then apologizes to Steve, saying “the specialist” never makes mistakes, but he made one in this game. So Phillip did one thing right in this game.

Sprint Player of the Season: It came down to Boston Rob vs. Matt. They took 70-something percent of the vote. It was a 40 to 36 percent vote. The winner of the $100,000 cash prize: Rob Mariano.

God, did you really plan this?

David Murphy is now dating Carolina Eastwood, who was voted out first from “Survivor: Tocantins.” Oh Lord. He goes over to her in the audience and proposes, ala Rob and Amber’s “All Stars” proposal. Carolina: “Survivor loves blindsiding me!” She eventually says yes. He probably should’ve warned her. Did she drop the f-bomb?

Season 23 coming up, “Survivor: South Pacific”: Redemption Island is back next season. Sigh. 16 castaways will be abandoned in the South Pacific. Two more former players will return. Matt will probably be there, right? Phillip? Parvati? Rupert? Coach? I don’t think I can do it.

Catch up on my archive of “Survivor” recaps and other stories.

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