There is no question that the "best strategic" player throughout the Survivor: Redemption Island season was "Boston Rob" Mariano. This was his fourth attempt at winning. He'd done well his first three seasons and was always a good strategic player, but this time he was near flawless. Jury member David even pleaded with the rest of the jury to vote for Rob, arguing that he had played the best strategic game.
Sunday night's Survivor: Redemption Island season finale was jam-packed, with eight people still left in the game at the beginning of the episode. There were four people left in the tribe, as well as four people left on Redemption Island. Instead of having a duel on Redemption Island to eliminate one person, three people were eliminated and sent to the jury with the winner being sent back into the game to join the other four.
The best possible scenario for Boston Rob would have been for Mike to win and rejoin the game. This is because Mike was the only one who was a former member of the other tribe. Matt, Grant, and Andrea were all former members of Rob's tribe, and the ones with the most danger of uniting with the other players to formulate a plan to vote out Rob. One of those players won. Andrea rejoined the game, and Ashley won the next immunity challenge.
Rob knew what he needed to do to protect his interests and convinced the others to vote out Andrea. She made a last-ditch attempt and tried to band together with the other females on the tribe, Natalie and Ashley, to vote out Rob. They led her believe they would, but they knew that Rob was still holding on to an immunity idol and that it would go against them, so they stuck with Rob and voted out Andrea, sending someone to the jury instead of Redemption Island for the first time.
In the next immunity challenge, Ashley adopted the strategy of just following Rob. The challenge involved a maze that the survivors needed to navigate to find four different bags of puzzle pieces. She knew if she kept even with him, they'd at least get their bags at close to the same time. Once they both had the puzzle pieces, they were neck-and-neck putting the puzzle together, but Rob inched Ashley out by mere seconds to take the last immunity.
Rob had to do his best sales job of the game at this point. He needed to convince Phillip and Natalie to vote out Ashley, knowing that Ashley and Natalie expected Phillip to be voted out. Rob stood a much better chance of winning if he was up against Phillip and Natalie, knowing neither of those two had won any challenges or pulled off their own strategic moves in the game. He succeeded and convinced them to stay loyal to him.
With the final three set as Rob, Natalie, and Phillip, it was up to them to convince the jury of why they deserved their votes to win the game. Both Natalie and Phillip told the jury they deserved to win because they were loyal. It didn't take them very far. Their games were obviously not respected, with Julie putting it honestly, if not point-blank, telling Phillip that the reason he was there at the end was not because of loyalty, but "because none of us like or respect you." It was cold-hearted, but she was right.
Yet the most honesty came from David. Instead of asking questions of the final three, he faced the jury and told them that Russell Hantz had claimed he was the best ever to play the game, then walked out of the game on day eight. David mentioned that one guy there had voted Matt out twice, and that should have been a warning to the others on his tribe that loyalty would get them blindsided, yet they all continued to stick with him. David told them they should vote for Rob who had "the best strategic game this game has ever seen."
Viewers never saw all the votes, but didn't need to. Phillip received a vote from Ralph, and the assumption is that it was the only vote he received. After berating everyone else on the jury, to the point of telling Ashley she sounded like a "whiny child," Phillip told country boy Ralph that he thought they would have been friends if they had been on the same tribe originally. That sparked something in Ralph to award Phillip with a vote. There were no votes for Natalie, and it's assumed all the others voted for Rob as he finally won the game after his four attempts.
David was right in his words to the jury. Rob did control every minute of this game. Unlike Russell, he changed up his gameplay for this season. He convinced everyone that loyalty was a two-way street. The ones who won his loyalty to get to final three were two he knew didn't do anything to deserve a win in the jury's eyes. It was the only way a former player, and the husband of a former winner, could win this time around. It was the only way he'd get a million dollars.
For more on Survivor: Redemption Island, see SirLinksalot.