Up to and including the Deena boot, there were no strong, lasting alliances. It was, "Roger's a sexist. He's gotta go. Dave's an immunity threat. He's gotta go. Deena's a strategic threat. Now she's gotta go." And so on. Very moment-to-moment. No real strategic thinking, no real alliances...except for Jenna and Heidi, who were obviously close, and Alex, who was obviously their third.
Those first two boots occurred because of the strong alliance consisting of Rob/Alex/Jenna/Heidi. The two boots that occurred after that, Deena and Alex, occurred because Rob flipped out of that alliance after he was told he was on the bottom. There was obviously strategic thinking and obviously a real alliance, and Rob was responsible for both.
And when you say "it had never been done before", what's "it"? Being at F8 and choosing to go to F4 with the people who'll give you the likeliest shot at the win? I agree: it had never been done before Amazon, except in every season by every winner.
No. One, that's not what actually happened, and two, that's not even true in itself. He flipped out of the dominant alliance in order to create the next dominant alliance, with the people that had no power initially.
and then who came fifteenth in his second try, bragging about how good he was all the while.
And no, that didn't actually happen the way you're describing it. Watch some ASS commentary. Rob's real criticism with ASS was that he was put on a tribe with two people that were already dating, and Rob (Mariano) went out of his way to snake him (Cestrenino) when he could have just voted him out like normal. His complaints with the season had absolutely nothing to do with the caliber of players that outlasted him. However, both he, Jenna, Lex, and practically everyone else involved did accurately state that the ASS season essentially progressed with a very basic theme: take out the people that lasted the longest. That's why you can look at the F7 (sans Big Tom) and see that most of these players had no control of the game in their original season and were really simply learning on the fly. That's valid criticism, because it's true and entirely accurate, but it still doesn't mean that he thought he was better than the people that had just voted him out.
Rob made comments during the season that he has recanted later in an effort to show appreciation for those he may have inadvertently slighted. He has been a great statesmen for this show, and in no way does he have some self-absorbed opinion of himself.
If I had seen Rob, the random, awkward jokester, take over the game, come close, make some great plays and some big mistakes, and ultimately come third, I might like him more.
It's funny because that's exactly what happened. Except for the awkward jokester part, because throughout the show he cited his humor as being a strategy with certain people. He did take over the game, essentially twice. I don't think Rob even made any "big" mistakes either. Jenna did win her way down the stretch and Rob was going to have to pay a price for simply staying in the game, because the choice was going out at F5/F7 or sticking around with a chance to see the FTC.