Love her or hate her, it looks as if Mainer Ashley Underwood has a shot at winning “Survivor: Redemption Island” tonight.

She finally stepped up her game on Wednesday’s show and won an immunity challenge, blocking her tribe’s plan to vote her off.

Granted, it wasn’t the most challenging challenge: Underwood had to pick up bags of puzzle pieces with fish hooks and put together a fish puzzle with one arm tied behind her back.

Yawn.

But hey, at least she finally has a pulse.

“Well, well, well. Looks like one of the remaining people on ‘Survivor’ finally decided to play … once that person absolutely had to,” sniffed the Los Angeles Times’ “Survivor” blog on Thursday morning.

When “Survivor: Redemption Island” premiered in February, Underwood, 26, was considered in some circles to be the dark horse candidate to win the $1 million prize. But as the weeks rolled by and she simply rode the coattails of “Survivor” extraordinaire Rob Mariano, aka “Boston Rob,” her light began to dim.

Frustrated fans on “Survivor” blogs always considered Underwood one of the “hottest” contestants, but after a few weeks they began ridiculing her game play: “Is Ashley the biggest waste of Survivor space ever?”

“She represents Maine really well,” one blog post read. “Boring and forgotten.”

Another “Survivor” fan even quoted Gertrude Stein: “There is no there there.”

What did Underwood do to deserve all this derision? It’s more what she didn’t do.

Underwood, a native of Benton, described herself in her “Survivor” video biography (posted on the show’s website) as the owner of a coffee business, a farm worker, a part-time model and “a nurse by education.” She was also a college basketball star who was crowned Miss Maine in 2009.

That must have been an irresistible combination of athleticism and sex appeal for the producers who choose the contestants.

In her bio, Underwood described herself as “feisty, competitive and athletic,” and coyly told her future tribemates: “We’re going to be friends, but not that good of friends. ‘Cause I want the million dollars.”

But Underwood quickly found herself in a tight alliance with Boston Rob, a strong player who has been on the show three times before. Boston Rob has made no bones about the fact that he is absolutely driven to win the title of “Sole Survivor.”

Underwood quickly began doing Boston Rob’s bidding. She helped him get rid of fellow Ometepe tribe member Matt Elrod, the nice Christian guy from Nashville — not once, but twice. Elrod’s offense? Early in the game, he congratulated a competitor on winning an immunity challenge. In “Survivor,” that kind of sportsmanship can be seen as potential disloyalty to your own tribe.

From week to week, Underwood (who says, without a soupcon of irony, that one of her pet peeves is “lazy and unmotivated people”) mostly flew under the radar, except when she was doing Boston Rob’s dirty work or drawing attention to herself by sunning on the beach in her pink bikini instead of gathering firewood.

Underwood and her friend Natalie Tenerelli were labeled girly girls for talking about their hair too much and for plucking each other’s armpit hairs.

Instead of channeling any negative energy toward the game, Underwood instead complained incessantly about Phillip Sheppard, the contestant who claims to be a former federal agent and who walks around in pink underwear that grosses out the women in his tribe.

“I cannot look at him,” Underwood said in one episode. “That’s how bad I cannot stand him.”

Despite her claims of being “the tough athletic girl,” Underwood never won any individual challenges — although she did reach the finals in a log-rolling challenge — until the fish puzzle.

In the April 27 episode, Underwood had the chance to take control of the game away from Boston Rob by making a big, game-changing move. Underwood, inexplicably, not only refused to turn on Boston Rob, she ran right to “the island godfather” and tattled on the player who tried to recruit her.

For this, Dalton Ross wrote in his Entertainment Weekly blog that he was giving Underwood, who was once his pick to win the game, the “Most Infuriating Survivor Contestant of the Year” award.

“Not since Jan in ‘Survivor: Thailand’ have I seen someone so content to sit back and do absolutely nothing,” Ross wrote.

Until Wednesday night.

Underwood finally woke up and realized that Boston Rob is not likely to keep her in the game much longer. Her win at the immunity challenge gained her the respect of “Survivor” fans who hate Boston Rob and love seeing his Machiavellian plans thwarted, for once.

But is it too little, too late?

Boston Rob still has his hidden immunity idol, which he will no doubt play at the next Tribal Council, securing his spot in the final four. That means Underwood has a greater chance of being voted off during the first hour of tonight’s show.

Even if Underwood makes it through one more Tribal Council, thanks to the Redemption Island twist there are still lots of players who could possibly win this season. Whoever makes the finals from Redemption Island will surely get a lot of sympathy from jurors who don’t want to see Boston Rob win. After all, he was responsible for most of them being there.

So it seems as if we have come full circle. Three months after the game began, the question is still: “How long will Underwood last?”

Tune in tonight to find out.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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