Mainer Ashley Underwood is succeeding on “Survivor” and could be poised to go far, but what about New England’s reality TV legend, “Boston” Rob Mariano?

Boston Rob’s near-perfect gameplay is not only beneficial to Ashley, who is riding comfortably under Rob’s wing, but to Maine fans looking for more than one player to put their chips on. Rob has an excellent shot at making it to the end, but should we find ourselves rooting for the returning regional hero, the local newbie or both?

Rob and Ashley have whittled their way down to the top dozen players after landing in Nicaragua among a group of 18. Neither Ashley nor Rob has received a single vote against them, a bragging right only six castaways can currently boast.

The obvious argument for Boston Rob to be any Mainer and “Survivor” fan’s number one pick is the brilliance he’s exhibiting on screen every week. Before last episode’s merge of the two tribes, Rob had orchestrated the vote each time his Ometepe team went to tribal council. He more or less single-handedly decided who would leave and how the tribe would carry on.

But putting Pine Tree State and Beantown allegiances aside, the big question becomes: Whose story is more compelling?

Neither of these two players have a dire need for the $1 million prize. Though Rob is 35 with two young daughters, his wife, Amber Brkich, won “Survivor: All-Stars” in 2004. A win would give Rob some cachet in his own home and with longtime “Survivor” fans, but it’s not critical.


Ashley, on the other hand, has a degree in the potentially lucrative discipline known as “nursing,” and is now dabbling in another big moneymaker, modeling. Her ambitious tendencies and past as a pageant queen could lead to more serious modeling or potential showbiz offers, meaning we can’t say Ashley needs the money terribly either.

So it comes down to who we want to win more than who deserves it. Should we root for the small-town girl cautiously navigating “Survivor” for a first time and faring well, or the masterminded veteran trying for his fourth and maybe last time to finally win?

My hopes still ride with Ashley simply out of Maine loyalty. She hasn’t given me as many reasons to be a fan as Boston Rob has, but she hasn’t had three prior seasons to win me over, either. Ashley hasn’t plotted any game-changing moves because it wouldn’t jive with her under-the-radar strategy, but she will have to sink or swim on her own if she nears the game’s finish.

The same goes for challenges — while Ashley hasn’t given us a distinctly memorable moment in any of the challenges thus far, that will either have to change if she needs to secure individual immunity soon, or it won’t matter if she keeps sliding through the game as a dark horse.

I’m happy to adopt an “and/or” policy in the coming episodes: If Ashley and/or Rob go far, this will be an outstanding season for Maine fans. And if they both lose, there’s always that whole “root for the Red Sox and whoever beats the Yankees” philosophy; the Yankees here being Phillip and/or Andrea, clearly.

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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