It took four seasons, nine years, and 117 days of playing the game, but Boston Rob Mariano is finally done with Survivor. Or so he says. But that’s what winning will do! Rob joined his wife Amber Brkich (who beat Rob in Survivor: All-Stars) as a Sole Survivor by dominating Survivor: Redemption Island from wire to wire. This morning, Rob spoke to EW.com about his victory, why Grant won’t return his calls, and how he’s been lying to his wife for the past nine months! He also offers some surprising advice for his nemesis, Russell Hantz. Read on after the jump for the complete interview.
Well, let me just start by saying — about freakin’ time!
Come on, bro. It ain’t easy. You know that. It’s a lot of work. It looked easy this time, but like I told Jeff at the live show, there was a lot of behind the scenes stuff to make it look so easy
Does this add balance to the marriage now, each of you having won once?
Of course it does. I don’t have to listen to “I’m the winner” anymore. I can say, “Well, I won too.” But she still gets the money, so….
When we talked before the game started, I mentioned how on Survivor: Guatemala the returning players were treated like rock stars by the newbies and I thought that might happen with you, yet you were adamant that no one would be that stupid. So, Rob, were they just that stupid?
You know what? [Laughing] Look, yeah, they were excited to see me — some of them. But the ones that weren’t, I was smart enough to get rid of right away. And I like to think that was a testament to good game play. At the same time, you know, I realized that once I got my foot in the door and I was able to manipulate and control the situation, that I could work it to my advantage. Just for the record too, when we were out there in Nicaragua, and the interview we did before the game with Russell where I went on and on how he was the best player ever in Heroes vs. Villains — you know I really think Parvati should have won that season.
I know. It was all too clear you were already playing the game right then and there during that interview.
And I knew at that point right then and there during that interview that Russell wasn’t going to be a factor for me or a problem.
You ever play “What If?” and wonder what would have happened had you pulled the purple buff at the start of the game?
Of course. Look, right there, that’s a perfect example of how much luck plays into this game. I’m under no false impression, Dalton. I think I played a great game and I did my best and it worked out for me. But I’m under no false impression that luck doesn’t play a huge factor in this game and right then and there, picking the orange buff and getting on Ometpe was a huge leg up because I felt like I related to the younger people better. Had I picked the purple buff, I think I would have had to play a different kind of game. At the same time, I don’t think they would have thrown a challenge to get rid of me. And therein in lies the difference between Russell’s game play and my game play — where I was able to say, “Hey, look, guys. I have eight years of experience. This is what I’m bringing to the table. Let me show you how to build a shelter. Let me show you how to make a fire. Lets do this stuff.” You know what else, dude? There was a lot made about when Zapatera threw that challenge to get rid of Russell. But I don’t think in any of the interviews I read or any of the people I heard about — not one person mentioned that they may have thrown the challenge to get rid of him, but who’s to say that they were going to win anyway? You kow what I mean? It’s as if it was a forgone conclusion that they were going to win that challenge, and it’s not necessarily true.
It’s just such a shoddy strategic move at that point when numbers are so important.
Never a good idea to throw a challenge.
What’s Grant’s beef with you — other than the obvious fact that you backstabbed him? Did you get to the bottom of that?
Man, I haven’t. And you know what? It’s frustrating, because I had a relationship with Grant out there and obviously I know I’m not going out there to make friends, but I did make friends with him, and of anybody out there I thought that he would be able to handle it and get that it’s just a game. We said it so many times out there. I ingrained it into my tribe’s head — “Look, guys, this is just a game. After, everybody will be fine.” — in order to get their votes in the end because I knew I was going to have to backstab every one of them. So I tried to put it in their head that it’s just a game. And I thought he would be able to take it. I reached out to him on a number of occasions and at some point when it’s not reciprocated you just got to give the guy his space. Hopefully in time he comes around.
It wasn’t like you were talking a lot of smack about him to the camera or anything on a personal level.
It wasn’t, but he felt a strong connection that he was going to the end with me. But you know what, dude? He is a grown man. He has played in the NFL. To the credit of the younger girls, they all felt the exact same way and they were able to get over it a lot easier than he was. It may have been a situation where, look, this guy is a winner. He played in the NFL, he’s a football player, he’s big time. He comes from a family of winners. He has a brother that played, he has a sister that was an Olympian and I think he was always used to being a winner and being on top. And the phone calls and text messages kind of stopped after the episode where it showed me taking the clue and switching it out on him. I don’t know if there was an embarrassment level, or the fact that he got played or schooled — I don’t know if his buddies were giving him a hard time and ribbing him. I don’t know. It’s unfortunate but what can you do, man?
Anyone else still have beef with you, or are they all good?
What about Russell? How much did you talk to him at the reunion?
Nothing. What you saw is what you saw. I don’t have a relationship with Russell. I don’t speak with him. I thought it was classy of him to stand up and shake my hand and, of course, I reciprocated. Watching him get eliminated was actually tough for me. I think Survivor has burnt Russell out a bit. I think he needs to take a step back. I played the game four times over the course of 10 years. Russell played the game three times in what, a year and a half?
A little less, actually.
So I think he needs some space, in my estimation. And I’m not a doctor or shrink or anything, but I would tell him to take a breather and get the rest of his life on track and take a step away from Survivor for a minute.
The way you controlled everyone and everything out there was simply amazing, but even for you, asking Ashley to collaborate on the final immunity challenge was a bold, bold stroke, my friend.
[Laughing] You know what, I try to keep all my bases covered. Who knew? Who knew at that moment if she would automatically get it and then step up and tell me? I mean, I didn’t expect her to, but it’s one of those situations where you have to throw it out there and if they bite and you can hook ‘em, then more power to you as a fisherman.
Not that you needed it at all, but are you gonna take David out for a nice steak dinner for his comments to the other jurors?
Yeah, and for congratulations on his engagement.
You said you’re not going to play anymore so you can spend time at home with your family, but now you’re doing another reality show going around the globe for the History channel. What gives?
Well, I was trying to win a million dollars when I said that. But I got an amazing opportunity. Thom Beers, who does Deadliest Catch, called me. And aside from Survivor, that’s one of my favorite shows on television. He asked me to take a meeting with him back in February and pitched me the idea of this show [called Around the World in 80 Ways] about going around the world in all these different ways. I mean, how can you not? I talked to Amber about it and it’s an amazing opportunity. This guy makes the kind of television that you love. It’s very Mark Burnett-esque. And I’m excited to go do it. I’m actually on a plane to L.A. tonight and we start shooting tomorrow morning.
Well, let me ask you about the Survivor part of being done. Are you done with Survivor?
I’m done with Survivor. I accomplished everything I’ve ever wanted to accomplish. This time around it wasn’t about the money as much as it was about the title. I don’t have to hide in my own house anymore. And plus, Amber’s getting a check anyway.
You said and did a lot of things that I’m sure surprised the other players when they watched at home….
And that was the best part of it and the most fun because I didn’t tell them anything! Even after the fact I didn’t tell them. Week to week they would call me and I’d be like “We got some surprises coming up this week!” and they’d be all nervous. And I didn’t tell anything to Amber either. Obviously I came home and I’m 150 pounds. She knows my sister went out for the family visit so she knows I went deep, but she didn’t know. I actually led her to believe that I was voted out at the final four. So last night when she was backstage in the green room with the kids — she’s watching the last challenge and she sees that I win the last challenge and I’m going to be in the finals. And all of a sudden things start clicking in her head. It was nine months of me keeping a secret and the payoff was worth it.
Well, someone going by the handle — and you’re going to love this — @IHateFenway tweeted me and wanted to know on the flip side if anything surprised you at all while watching at home.
That’s a good question. Just in the beginning I’m always curious to see what’s going on on the other beach and I thought it was really smart of Russell to take his tribe around him and tell them “I’m not gonna do this,” but had he actually not done his antics, I think he actually could have had a shot to build some relationships within his tribe. But given the speech and then going and doing something completely contrary and the exact opposite — from what I heard from his tribe and from what I’ve seen, the writing was on the wall for him.
Probst called it the “as close to a perfect game as anyone’s played on Survivor.” Where do you rank your effort against some of the other dominant performances?
I don’t know, man. It’s a compliment coming from Jeff. He’s given me a lot of compliments and I’m really appreciative of it. But look, there’s been a lot of people that played this game and 22 different winners. So there’s different styles and different things work for different people in different situations. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the way I played was the best. I will tell you that I played it the best way that I knew how to play. Everything came together for me this time and I was able to get it done.
To see my pre-game joint interview with Rob and Russell, check out the video player below. Also make sure to read my Survivor: Redemption Island finale/reunion recap, And for more Survivor news and views all year long, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss.