This season saw the return of Boston Rob vs Russell. Although Russell was voted off by his team mates in a surprise thrown challenge, Rob emerged as the ultimate Survivor strategist. Despite wild card Philip, who gave us a new kind of crazy to admire, and Christian Matt, who survived Redemption Island over and over again, Rob seems set to make it all the way to the end, and finally, after 4 attempts, win the million dollar prize for himself. We saw Russell cry, Matt pray, and Rob scheme and scheme and scheme again, while his cult-like followers voted out every single member of the former Zapatera tribe. The featured duel on Redemption Island turned into a thruel, and then a fruel, and it looked like Matt would be the only Survivor to be voted off twice, but still make it to the end. So who will win the million dollar prize?

On Redemption Island, Grant is the newest guest. With Ralph gone, Andrea likely found a place to sleep under the shelter. Matt’s finally realized that he’s had the best of the series, having his own little holiday, mainly alone with his Bible and his thoughts, on an island paradise.

On Murlonia, Rob tries to show his ‘heart’, saying he’s missing Grant already. But really, the win’s the thing. So Rob’s already planning on getting rid of Ashley as soon as possible. TreeMail arrives – they’ll be attending the last duel (or ‘fruel’) and Purgatory is coming to an end for Matt, Mike, Andrea and Grant. We’re not leaving RI without another revival meeting from Matt, but all of the contenders seem happy to finally know what the heck is going on. It’s a stamina challenge, basically balancing a vase on a board with your foot. Only one will win. The other three will join the jury. After more than an hour, Grant is the first to break his vase, followed by Matt and Mike. Holy smokes! Andrea stays alive, and she’s back in the game! You can bet that Rob is not at all happy with this outcome. Grant, Mike and Matt become jury members. Matt can’t resist praising God one more time before he leaves RI.

Andrea joins Natalie, Ashley, Philip and Rob for the last phase of the game. Andrea feels out of the group love, but it’s an individual game now, so she’s ready to get back in there and give it her all. Rob, of course, wants Andrea gone, even more than Ashley, since he feels she betrayed him by forming an alliance with Matt. Ashley may have a reprieve, should she win immunity. (Really bad move, Rob! Keep your eye on the prize! Splitting up the friendships, remember?)

Rob can’t help being happy that the Redemption Island phase is finished. Andrea knows she has a target on her back, so makes nice with the girls, telling them that Mike, Matt and Grant had told her they’d be giving the winning vote to Philip. It’s not true, but the gullible girls swallow the lie. Rob’s only confidante now is Philip … oh, the humanity!

The Immunity Challenge breaks the tension. Race across the balance beams, grab bags of tiles, then head for your table and count out your tiles, from 1 to 100. (Told you, tiles are the next big seller.) Philip is useless on the balance beams. Ashley, Andrea and Rob are neck and neck, but Ashley wins immunity again. Which just goes to show, that if you lay around, and do nothing but pluck body hairs, you’ll have a good bit of stamina left when it comes down to crunch time.

Rob bluntly tells Andrea, sorry, you’re next. Although tonight is the last time an Immunity Idol can be played, Rob is so confidant of the win, he interviews that he won’t even be using his hidden idol. In fact, he’d like to take it home as a souvenir. He’s going fishing. Philip plays secret agent, following Natalie and Ashley when they disappear for a quiet chat, then reports back to Rob. While Philip and Rob strategize, Andrea takes the chance to tell Natalie and Ashley that this is their last chance to vote out Rob, whom everyone else will likely vote for as winner.

Tribal Council. David, Julie, Steve, Ralph, Grant, Matt and Mike are the jury. Jeff asks Rob if paranoia is playing a part in his feelings this evening. Rob says, definitely. Philip boasts that he’s still the Undercover Agent, and he’s keeping Rob informed. Natalie and Andrea admit that Rob is the one to beat. They vote. Devious Rob produces his Immunity Idol, and again, the tribe has spoken … Andrea is voted out.

The Final Four are Ashley, Natalie, Philip and Rob. Back at camp, Rob again hugs his girlies, swearing he’ll be with them to the end. Ten years he’s worked for the prize, don’t let him down now.

The Final Challenge – yet another puzzle! Run through a maze, grabbing pieces, then solve your puzzle. Yawn. We all know that Rob is the puzzle champion, so someone please tell me why puzzles have been the most common challenge of the season? Oh right, because, we all want Rob to finally win. Or do we?

Ashley, wisely, trails Rob through the maze, and at least starts the puzzle part of the challenge even with Rob. Philip and Natalie never have a prayer at the challenge, as they wander through the maze in a daze. Big surprise – Rob wins final immunity. He’s now guaranteed to be in the Final Council.

Rob interviews, tearfully, that Amber encouraged him to try one last time for the win. He feels like he’s done his best, but now he has to figure out which of these ‘idiots’ should be voted out. Way to defuse my moment of empathy, Rob!

Despite Rob’s insistence on taking Philip with him to the end, I’m thinking that Natalie and Ashley will be too cuddly to split up. What can Rob say or do to break that alliance? Did Rob back the wrong horse in keeping Natalie in the game until the end?

Rob assures Ashley that Philip will be tonight’s loser. Ashley thinks she’s safe, with Rob and Natalie on her side. Philip is certain that Ashley’s laziness has sealed her fate. And Natalie, although tight with Rob, is increasingly friendly with Ashley, despite Rob’s insistence that Ashley has way too many friends on the jury. It seems that Natalie will be the deciding vote.

Another Tribal Council. Rob has the Immunity Necklace, so he’s definitely in the Final Three. Natalie, Ashley and Philip explain why they should join Rob, with Philip bragging that he’s never won a challenge. They vote. The tribe has spoken – it’s time for Ashley to go.

The next night will be their final Tribal Council, when Rob, Natalie and Philip will have their chance to plead their case before the jury. But first – it’s Day 39.  Philip’s got his crazy feather hat going on, as he interviews that he’s found out that it’s okay to tell the world that he’s got a relationship with someone that’s been dead since 1870. Plus, he’s ready to ditch the ‘plum’ colored underwear in the fire, which is a plus all on its own. TreeMail today is a Big Breakfast; fruit, Mimosas, and other goodies. Rob gloats that he’s survived 39 days in this game, 117 days in total for his 4 attempts. He takes the time to coach Natalie on how to deal with the jury. What, no traditional Walk of Shame?

The Final Tribal Council. The power now shifts to the jury. Rob, Philip and Natalie will each get the chance to plead their case, then the jury will have the chance to query them. Natalie begins by saying that her strength in the game was her social skills, especially her alliance and loyalty to Rob. Plus, she’d be the youngest winning Survivor in history, should they choose her. Philip says he changed his entire game plan when he saw Boston Rob emerge from the helicopter, and he owes everything to Rob. But he then says that his whole concept of the Stealth crew was his strength, and Rob, “The MasterMind” has essentially been his savior. Frankly, neither Natalie nor Philip has made strong cases for the win.

Rob says he was a hard worker, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is what the jury thinks is a successful quality in a player. He works his 10 year, 117 day stint, a third of his life, into his appeal, bringing up winning for the sake of his wife and his child. Cue the violins!

It’s now the jury’s turn to quiz the Final Three. Andrea begins, asking Philip who is the real Philip. He says she’s had 39 days to get to know him, he’s Philip Sheppard. Vote for him or not. She asks Natalie what made Rob so alluring that she’d turn against Ashley. Natalie blathers something about never having been camping before.

Ashley begins with a diatribe against Philip, who leaps to his own defense. She then tells Natalie that she’s angry at her betrayal. Ashley simply tells Rob that, after putting him on a pedestal, she just doesn’t want to know who Rob is at all.

Grant asks all of the crew what the dynamic was that caused him to be voted out. Rob and Natalie talk in circles, and no one is the wiser for their answer. Ralph accuses Natalie of being Rob’s pawn, who made no effort to know any other team players, and then tells Philip he feels let down that Philip is not wearing a whole chicken on his head. Philip is surprisingly kind as he tells Ralph they could have been friends, had things worked out differently.

Matt’s turn. He asks Rob where the line is drawn, after all this time, in how he deals with the game? Rob says the line ends, when the game ends. At home, he’s nothing like he is on Survivor. Matt says that all the betrayed players still wonder how Rob could have been so deceitful.

Julie says that all three players should be very humble, because none of them deserve to be there. (I agree!) She wonders if their parents would be proud of how they played the game. She won’t take Philip’s work ethic away from him, but she thinks his son would not be proud of him. Philip takes great offense at her words. To Rob, she says, teach your daughters to be strong women, and tell them not to let themselves be treated as he treated Natalie.

Mike says that his Survivor experience brought him closer to God, Nature and himself. So, did any of the Final Three learn anything? Natalie says that as a 19yr old, fresh out of high school, she learned that she’s stronger and more capable than she thought she could be. Rob says he’s learned it’s time to stop playing games, and go home to his wife and his children. Philip says he feels blessed to have had the opportunity, and to be an outcast, yet still be a beacon in the Sheppard family.

Steve congratulates Rob and Natalie for getting through the 39 days, but says he’s sorry for Philip, for what he’s grown into. David, the lawyer, addresses the jury rather than the trio, saying that Rob controlled the entire game, their minds, and their thoughts, and each jury member was blindsided. Of the two past champions who came into the game, Russell was kicked out on Day 8, but Rob stayed in until Day 39. It’s pretty easy to see who should get their vote. Your witness, your honor.

Time for the jury to vote. But don’t get too cosy, because, as we all know, Jeff’s going to grab the big jar and run off to New York for the finale. Let’s join him!

And here they are, all cleaned up. I don’t even recognize Natalie! Has she had a nose job? It’s clear it’s a  ‘Rob’ audience, as the votes are read out. And the winner is … Rob. Amber and his two little girls are there to congratulate him, along with his parents.

We are live in New York City, so now it’s time to find out, once and for all … was Philip really ever a Federal Agent? How does Russell feel after crying at the end of his game? And does anyone else think this whole season was slanted towards Rob winning? Oh, sorry, that last question was mine.

We are now treated to a montage of Rob moments, as though we haven’t seen enough Rob showcased throughout the season. Yeah, yeah, he won. But what choice did the jury have? The 19 year old Natalie, who’s only loyalty was to Rob? Or crazy Philip, whom only Ralph, in a surprisingly kind moment, voted for?

Jeff asks Rob about his strategy, and Rob explains at length. Loyalty was paramount, he says. Jeff wonders about the ‘cult-like’ atmosphere in Rob’s camp. Rob says, it took a lot of hard work and strategy to maintain his leadership.

Jeff asks Ashley why the girls never flipped on Rob, and she says that she and Natalie knew that Rob had an idol, so they were afraid to make a move. Natalie agrees with Ashley’s assessment. Natalie also says that she took Julie’s criticism at the final Council with a grain of salt, and moved on.

Andrea admits she thought of Rob as an older brother. Julie still can’t believe that the girls never got into a female alliance, but her hat is off to the Final Four.

Rob talks about Philip, saying he’s a loveable guy, if people would only listen to him. So Rob showed him love, listened to him, and Philip paid him back with loyalty. Rob also says that he’s sorry that his friendship with Grant went astray. Grant says he had to draw a line between calling Survivor a game and the reality of who he was, and that’s why Rob is no longer a friend. Rob says that you can’t take the game of Survivor personally, or it will eat you up.

Jeff’s opinion is that Rob played as close to a perfect game as he’s ever seen in 22 years of Survivor. Although some may agree, I think that Rob would have lost had he been captain of the older and wiser Zapatera’s rather than the young and impressionable Ometepes.

Matt then talks about being blindsided twice, and Jeff brings up Matt’s record as winner of 10 0ut of 11 duels. How bad was it, Matt? Matt says his lowest point was when he broke down and cried, saying God was carrying him. But he’s thankful for the life changing experience. He started the game saying he’d expected to follow his heart, but an educated decision, using logic and reason might have been a better plan. Being alone for so many days was lonely and miserable at times, but being able to talk about God and his faith was his salvation.

Andrea admits that she had a crush on Matt, but Matt will only say that they had a connection on the island. Say no more, Matt.

Mike, a war veteran, says that the experience brought him closer to God. He then talks about how difficult and real Survivor is, even though no one dies. He’s passionate about his time on Survivor, glad that he was there.

It’s time to pick on Russell now. Jeff wants to know what Russell’s fans thought when they saw him cry. Russell deftly dodges the question, congratulates Rob on his win, and they shake hands. Russell says the real question is, why did his team throw the challenge to get rid of him? It makes him sick to his stomach to think that his team threw in the towel rather than deal with him. Jeff wonders if Russell was serious about never playing again. Russell admits that Jeff can keep his phone number handy.

Philip’s turn on the hot seat now. Was he really a Federal special agent? Philip says that Rob’s appearance on the team was critical in his strategy, and that everyone he’s met since says he played the game well. He is proud that he played the game with integrity. Philip again tries to take over the show, but Jeff reminds him that they are live. Jeff asks if Philip still feels the same about Steve, concerning the famous ‘race’ war. Philip says he’d like to apologize to Steve, and shakes his hand. Jeff then brings in someone from Philip’s past, a current Federal Agent, to determine if Philip’s credentials are real. She says it is true, that Philip was an outstanding student. Although their paths haven’t crossed since then, she believes he would have gone on to be an outstanding Agent. The crowd is not so sure, but Jeff leaves the question in the air.

Jeff announces the Sprint Player of the Season – it’s very close, the two in contention are Boston Rob and Matt. The prize is $100,000. The winner is Rob, yet again.

Jeff tidies up a few leftover items, mentioning Ralph’s vote for Phillip, Grant’s recent marriage, and David’s budding romance with Carolina, a former Survivor contender. In yet another blind side, David proposes to Carolina right there and then. She accepts, and Jeff begins to pitch the next Survivor, coming your way starting this fall. 

Welcome to Survivor: South Pacific.  Scorching heat, torrential rains, two returning players, (my guess, Russell and Philip) and yes, yet more Redemption Island.  

After 11 years, and 22 seasons, I’ll be there. Will you?