After 117 days in the jungle and four games of "Survivor" over 10 years, "Boston" Rob Mariano has finally won the title of "Survivor" and the $1 million prize that goes with it.
The 35-year-old Massachusetts-born father of two won the 22nd game, titled "Survivor: Redemption Island," after a two-hour finale that aired Sunday night. He also won the $100,000 Sprint Player of the Season prize, garnering 40 percent of the viewer votes cast. He narrowly beat out Matthew Elrod for the prize.
Elrod, who got 36 percent of the vote, was the pre-med student who spent most of the game on Redemption Island, where he won all but one of the games and re-entered the game once, only to be blindsided for a second time by his own team.
At the end of the first hour of the two-hour finale, Mariano found himself at the last tribal council with 18-year old dancer Natalie Tenerelli and 52-year-old former federal agent Phillip Sheppard. Neither had distinguished themselves in challenges or made many friends. In fact, wacky Sheppard had aliented many of his tribemates with his bizarre behavior, loopy stories and volatile temper.
Mariano previously competed on the "Marquesas," "All-Stars" and "Heroes vs. Villains" seasons but never won. He came close - the final three- in "All Stars" but the prize went to Amber Brkich, whom Mariano later married
At the live reunion show that followed the taped finale, host Jeff Probst pronounced Mariano's effort as it was as "close to a perfect game as anybody's played."
Both Mariano and fellow "Survivor" veteran Russell Hantz had targets on their backs when the joined 16 newbies at the start of the season. The much heralded rivalry between the two never materialized because Hantz's tribe quickly dispated him, even throwing a challenge to do it.
Mariano, however, managed to persuade his team that he was no threat. If they took him to the finals, he said, no jury would award him the prize because his wife had already won a million dollars. Meanwhile, he argued, they could make use of his "Survivior" expertise, his help around camp and his prowess at challenges.
His team bought the argument and when they went into the merge with stronger numbers, Mariano was calling the shots. His team picked off the other tribe members one by one and these victories had solidified Mariano's job as leader. He was able to persuade his tribe to eliminate stronger challengers until he took the weakest of the competition to the final tribal council.
The reunion show had some surprises, including the mutual admiration that had developed between Sheppard and chicken farmer Ralph Kiser. Kiser cast the only vote against Mariano at the final tribal council.
Sheppard also apologized to former NFL player Steve Wright, whom he had branded as racist during one particularly ugly argument at camp. Wright accepted it with a handshake.
Probst also revealed that Sheppard had held two federal agent posts with the military, and he introduced a federal agent who had trained with Sheppard and remembered that he had arrived at the training session having memorized the entire handbook.