May 16, 2011 at 12:01 AM ET
After participating in four seasons of "Survivor" over 10 years, spending 117 days on various beaches, going through two final Tribal Councils, appearing on six CBS reality series and winning four individual immunity challenge this season, Rob Mariano finally won "Survivor" and its $1 million prize, plus the $100,000 fan favorite award. (Rob and Matt took 76 percent of the vote for fan favorite, with Rob getting 40 percent to Matt's 36.)
"They held all the power, but they didn't know that," Rob said of his fellow contestants during the reunion, summing up this season perfectly. His alliance never turned on him, and the jury all looked at Rob as the only possible winner: Phillip was too disliked, and Natalie only seemed like she was riding Rob's coattails. Rob was so confident going into the last Tribal Council where he could play his hidden immunity idol, he said, "I don't even need the idol," and that he "could take it home as a souvenir." Of course he played it anyway, not that it mattered.
Rob has been getting the hero edit for weeks now, and arguably since the beginning of the season, so his loss would have truly blindsided me. "It was Amber that encouraged me to come back and try again. She believes in me," he said, crying. "Whatever happens now, I'm OK."
His victory is well-deserved and a satisfying way to end a really uneven season that was sometimes totally unsatisfying. That's because Rob played a near-perfect game, as host Jeff Probst said during the reunion, but the real key was his social game. The jury was a little bitter (particularly Julie and Matt), but that ultimately didn't matter.
Think about Russell Hantz -- who was so perfectly positioned in the back row of the reunion bleachers, barely visible -- and contrast his game in his two previous seasons with Rob's game this season. Rob won because he developed relationships, and those withstood Rob backstabbing his friends. Russell backstabbed people he had no relationships with at all.
The pre-reunion finale was relatively dull, with the editors working hard to both set up Rob's win and conceal that inevitability from viewers. In the final immunity challenge -- a pretty epic maze and puzzle -- Ashley followed Rob through the maze, while Phillip and Natalie ran around confused, altogether a good metaphor for this season.
The first challenge was a balance beam and a puzzle that had the players arrange 100 tiles in order from 1 to 100 -- and if that wasn't easy enough, the tiles came grouped in bags that were in numerical order. Ashley won the challenge, along with immunity, so Rob sent Andrea home first.
Andrea had returned to the game a day earlier by winning the final Redemption Island duel, beating Grant, Mike and Matt. Matt was on Redemption Island for 29 days and won 10 duels, but didn't win the one that would've put him back in the finale.
Keep reading at realityblurred.com for details about "Survivor: South Pacific" and the reunion's biggest blindside.
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