Is it just us, or did America just attend a master class in Survivor?
After four seasons, and 117 total days of suffering in paradise, Rob Mariano can finally say he is the sole survivor and join his wife as one of the CBS reality competition’s 22 winners.
But the show’s fans can claim a win, too. As host and executive producer Jeff Probst put it in the reunion show on Sunday night, if anyone has played a perfect game of Survivor, it’s the 35-year-old father of two affectionately known as Boston Rob. From the first day he arrived in Nicaragua, the most popular player to never win one of reality TV’s toughest games had his work cut out for him. Deliberately and patiently, he forged relationships with those who were gunning for him and made bold decisions when he needed to (read: deceived allies), all the while playing an impressive physical game and staying strong mentally despite being isolated from his life in Florida for 39 days.
At one point during the competition, he amusingly noted: “No man should have so much power over one island.” And there was no question that he did—his tribe mates followed his direction to the letter and, incredibly, never considered getting rid of him.
“Coming from Probst—someone that’s seen the game play out on different levels each season—that’s a huge compliment,” Mariano told The Daily Beast Monday morning. “At the same time, 22 different people have played this game and won and each of them do it in their own unique way. I don’t know that one way to win is better than another, and considering the company I’m in, I’m just happy to be amongst everybody that’s won.”
For Mariano, the adventure that completely changed his life began when he was 25 years old and decided to take a chance on the new hot show that everyone was watching. A Boston University graduate, Mariano was working as a stone mason when he decided to try out for the fourth season.
“I wanted to win $1 million,” he said. “I remember watching the show in season 2, and I watched Colby Donaldson compete and I had the attitude that I can kick his ass. It had nothing to do with being on TV. The money was the main motivation then.”
It was not to be. Mariano was the seventh player voted out of Survivor: Marquesas, but his likability, street smarts, and overall physical dominance inspired the producers to invite him to play again on Survivor: All Stars, the series’ eighth installment.
“I remember watching the show in season 2, and I watched Colby Donaldson compete and I had the attitude that I can kick his ass.
That decision to try again didn’t turn Mariano into a millionaire, but it did change his life. He made it to the final two but lost to Amber Brkich, his partner in crime during the game and the woman who agreed to become his wife in the live finale. They married on TV in 2005 (CBS filmed a special), and became the reality TV “It” couple. They later competed together on The Amazing Race twice (never won) and now have two young daughters.
Mariano’s Survivor journey didn’t end with his new family life. In the 20th season, producers invited Mariano to compete again in another edition of Survivor for former players, but he was the eighth person sent home. When he got the call to try again this season, Mariano said his only hesitation was in wondering if he’d have a fighting chance, considering he’d be the only player allowed a fourth turn.
“What this has evolved to for Amber and I is unbelievable,” Mariano said. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve had countless adventures and opportunities that have come from it. And it continues and it’s been great. I never expected my life to turn out the way it has, but I’m definitely grateful that it has. Even when I was little, I’ve always believed that if you wanna get ahead in life, you’ve got to gamble and take a chance somewhere. I’m not the type of person who could sit behind a desk and be content. I had a college degree from Boston University and I chose to work construction because I liked it and it excited me during the day. So I think staying true to who I am and what I like, combined with always being willing to take chances, I think my life would be exciting regardless.”
Now, finally, the sole survivor, Mariano jokes that things at home will change dramatically. “I’m sick of getting bossed around my own house and having that title waved above my head,” he said.
“This time around it wasn’t necessarily about the money—which is gonna be great and I’m sure Amber’s gonna have a great time with that—it was more about being competitive and the fact that I’ve loved this game from day one,” he added. “I love the game so much because it is so hard and it’s so much of a challenge. So, to get to the point where I made it all the way to the end again, never sat on the jury in four seasons, and I actually got people to vote for me this time, it’s very satisfying.”
The new millionaire will only have 24 hours to take in his big win before setting forth on his next adventure, his new docu-series for the History Channel, Around the World in 80 Days. He and monster truck driver Dennis Anderson ( Grave Digger) will travel the world, telling the story of how humans got from one point to another throughout history. The catch: Mariano and Anderson can only use a form of transportation once. The show will premiere in the fall and is produced by Thom Beers of Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.
“I love Deadliest Catch and when I heard Thom Beers wanted to meet with me, I jumped at the chance,” Mariano said. “The television that he creates—the adventure, adrenaline-fueled TV—is right up my alley. I was beyond excited. Dennis and I are very different and that’s going to create some challenges, along with the fact that once we use one form of transportation, we can’t repeat it. Depending on where we are in the world, we’re going to use something that’s indigenous to that area.”
So, the former construction worker who auditioned for Survivor at his father’s urging and had no interest in becoming a TV star will extend his 15 minutes a little longer.
“Amber and I have had a hard and fast rule over the years,” Mariano said. “When it stops becoming fun and it stops becoming profitable, we’re not going to do it anymore. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things that I normally wouldn’t have had during the course of my life. It’s nothing I ever planned for, but as long as it continues to be fun, I’ll continue to do it. At the end of the day, my life has changed over the course of the 10 years that I’ve been doing this. I’m married, I have a family and I have to take care of them in some way. It’s great to go and do a reality show but at the same time, I’m using it to take care of my family. That’s important to me.”
Maria Elena Fernandez is a senior entertainment reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. She previously covered television and nightlife for The Los Angeles Times and spent many years on the crime beat, writing for The Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also worked at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, where she covered the AIDS epidemic. Her children's book, The Secret of Fern Island, was published in 1996 under a pseudonym so that she wouldn't be stalked by screaming children.