BY ZACH DIONNE

Special to the Morning Sentinel

Wednesday night’s “Survivor” may have been officially titled “The Buddy System,” but a more fitting moniker could have been “Return of the Rob-father.”

The episode was entirely devoted to vintage “Boston” Rob Mariano, the “Godfather”-quoting wise guy we got to know on “Survivor: Marquesas.” Rob continued to mastermind, manipulate, and nearly flawlessly led his former Ometepe team in the face of a newly merged tribe.

Unfortunately for 26-year-old Benton native Ashley Underwood, Rob is beginning to plan out the rest of the game, and if he has his way, it doesn’t look like she’ll be part of it.

Larger-than-life Southern farmer Ralph, who erroneously played an immunity idol at last week’s tribal council, approached Ashley early on to see if he was in danger.

“I can’t talk about anything like that,” Ashley told him. “We don’t know.”

Ralph, flailing, told Ashley he would vote for her to win if she made it to the end. Unfortunately Boston Rob found out.

“You’re not gonna vote for me, Ralph?” Rob told the camera in a private aside. “Well you’re not gonna vote for Ashley because she ain’t gonna be there now, and it’s your fault. Ashley could’ve made it to the end.”

Any menace posed to Boston Rob causes him to see red. Through no fault of her own, Ashley has become somewhat of a threat.

“Phillip is slowly becoming a very loyal soldier,” Rob said after the first of two tribal councils that thinned the Zapatera ranks to an anemic level. Rob then clearly stated that youngest-player-ever Natalie and sometimes-crazy person Phillip are his choice candidates for the final three. Just like that, Ashley unknowingly won herself a new conflict.

Ashley should be safe for now, however; all of the erstwhile Ometepe team made a pact to stick together and until they reach the final six.

“I have a vision that I’m trying to put into action here; keep an us-versus-them mentality,” Rob said. “I want my group to hate Zapatera. It’s us versus them and we’re better than them, and we’re gonna be arrogant about it, and we’re gonna show it. I’m not, but I want them to. Because I want their votes at the end of the day.”

That monologue may sum up the Rob-father persona better than studious viewing of his three-and-a-half seasons of “Survivor.” But while he’s certainly controlling his tribe and orchestrating votes left and right, it’s not unthinkable his cohorts will revolt soon enough.

For now, Jeff Probst said it best last night on his Twitter account (which I heartily endorse following while watching “Survivor,” or at least reading the morning after): “Like him or not, Rob is playing better than anyone has ever played. Ever.”

And unfortunately Ashley is playing against him.

Zach Dionne is an entertainment editor at AOL’s PopEater.com 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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