Rob isn't just controlling 'Survivor,' he's making it interesting

May 4, 2011 at 11:23 PM ET

Oof! Looks like "Survivor" was trying to torture the Murlonio Tribe during the immunity challenge, Step On Up, in which contestants had to climb up and down a lot of stairs.

The most dramatic and exciting part of "Survivor: Redemption Island's" episode this week was not Andrea being blindsided, or the duel that sent Steve home and gave Mike a reward that was more like a punishment. It was the immunity challenge, a difficult physical challenge that involved climbing up and down the same flight of stairs, adding one step at a time.

But that was not dramatic because of the competition, which, surprisingly, had little consequence. At this stage in the game, that challenge is one in which we'll typically be rooting for or against several people. And the action was dramatic, as Grant and Andrea weren't far behind Rob Mariano at the end. But ultimately, there was no consequence because of what has happened: Rob is not just controlling the game, he's the only interesting part left.

Even if Rob had lost that challenge -- which he didn't -- it's difficult to imagine that a loss would have created the only remaining blindside I'd care about: the tribe turning on him and voting him out. At one point, Rob said, "All they have to do is talk to each other, but they won't." I think he's right.

However, the challenge itself was thrilling because Rob won by pushing himself so hard that he collapsed afterward, leading host Jeff Probst to ask if he needed medical attention. This, amazingly, led to Rob asking his tribe, "Hey, can you guys help me stand up?" That they were willing to help him, this man who is marching toward victory, is a significant accomplishment.

This is Rob's game, and he knows it. "I'm playing my best game," he said at one point.

It's hard to root against him, and I say this as someone who was never a Rob fan before, nor did I even think he should have been allowed to return for a fourth shot. If you think (incorrectly, I'd say) his social game isn't that strong because he's on a tribe of people literally willing to carry him, his challenge performance is impressive enough to justify a win.

Even if you wanted to root against Rob, who else is there to care enough about? Perhaps this is the fault of the editors, but the rest of the tribe -- except for Phillip -- blends together blandly.

Perhaps Rob's greatest threats are Grant, who can win challenges and seems likable, and Phillip, who this week revealed himself to be crazy by design. During the family visit, he told his sister, "I'm prepared to go crazy if I have to. That's what works for me." He also said in an interview that his flip-outs are "salt in the wound to make sure folks don't forget that" he is the villain. Phillip also told viewers, "Honestly, I think I could defeat Rob." I'm not so sure about that, but having Phillip think that is one more piece of insurance that Rob can use to stick around and bulldoze through the rest of the tribe.

Keep reading at to find out about how family visits were used as a reward and punishment.

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