More than ever, Benton native Ashley Underwood is in fantastic standing on “Survivor: Redemption Island.”

In Wednesday night’s episode, the two tribes merged, with Ashley’s Ometepe group up seven players versus the opposing team’s five.

“I’m very comfortable staying with our Ometepe tribe,” off-and-on lunatic Phillip said of the merge. If the rest of the team holds with that sentiment — and it appears they will — sticking together bodes well for Ashley. She sits handily in a strong alliance of four within a cohesive team.

Rejoining the fray was blonde pre-med student Matt, who Ashley’s team had ousted on day five. After winning six duels at Redemption Island, Matt came back to the game more a man of no nation than an Ometepe alumnus.

After a decadent feast including what looked like more chicken than even the most stocked Maine summer barbecue, the newly formed Murlonio tribe headed to the first individual immunity challenge. There the 12 players battled for a shiny gold necklace that would keep only the winner safe from being voted out.

Ashley was second to lose the test of balance — yes, I was disappointed — but her alliance mate Natalie took home the idol, defeating the monklike concentration of Iraq War veteran Mike.
Back at camp, Matt found himself a hot commodity with the power to tip the scales between the tribes. He wrestled with morality and backstabbing in light of his pronounced Christian values.

“I’m just gonna have to have peace with whatever happens,” Matt said, resolving not to flip tribes. “If it’s God’s will, he’ll take me as far as he wants me to go.”

Matt’s resolve to stay honorable is admirable, yes; but Boston Rob’s ability to get both opponents and allies to play into his hands is superhuman. Matt found himself coughing up an idle plan to vote out Boston Rob while pledging his allegiance, cementing his fate in the process.

“I love him, but he’s just too nice,” said Ashley, who was shown doing her share of friendly reconnaissance with Matt since he rejoined the game. “He’s doing the same thing he did the first time around.”

“The first time around” was the time when Matt was voted out on day five, after congratulating the opposing team on a victory. Matt is naïve and aloof to the social game. Aloofness is nowhere in the recipe to outwitting, outplaying, outlasting others in the game of “Survivor.”

So, at the hands of Boston Rob, Matt found himself voted out a second time. One of the best bombshells of an excellent episode was Jeff Probst’s announcement that Redemption Island would be back in play for a newly undisclosed amount of time, meaning Matt was sent straight back to that isolated chunk of Nicaraguan wilderness after spending 15 straight days there.

“Genius is what that was,” muttered annoying lawyer David, commenting on Boston Rob’s machinations after the stunning vote.

David was right; and the longer Ashley stays in cahoots with Rob, the harder it’s going to be for her to outmaneuver him when the time comes.

Zach Dionne is an entertainment editor at AOL’s in New York City. He is a graduate of Messalonskee High School in Oakland and the University of Maine. This column will run Wednesdays and Thursdays for the duration of Ashley Underwood’s time on “Survivor: Redemption Island,” airing on CBS Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

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