For a large swath of “Survivor”-dom, Friday (April 2) morning brought little joy. Facing the rest of the season of “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” without Rob “Boston Rob” Mariano, more than a few fans are somewhere between inconsolable (possibly an extreme reaction) and severely disappointed (totally appropriate).
Still hindered by Tyson’s inexplicable flip-flop elimination last week, Boston Rob was forced to turn to Jerri — a vanquished nemesis from “Survivor: All-Stars” — and Coach — a slightly unstable player with delusions of nobility — to keep his alliance together. Instead, Jerri jumped ship to Russell’s alliance, while Coach cast a totally symbolic vote against Courtney, sealing Boston Rob’s fate.
The game will certainly be the poorer without Boston Rob’s thick Massachusetts accent, his genius with puzzles and a scheming brilliance that didn’t get him the win on “Survivor: All-Stars” but laid the foundation for his girlfriend-now-wife Amber to take home the million.
HitFix caught up with Boston Rob on Friday to talk about his disappointingly truncated run and the challenges of playing pretend with Coach.
Full interview after the break…
HitFix: On one hand, this feels like much too early to be talking to you, but I also figure part of you assumed you might be sent home even earlier than this, right?
Rob Mariano: I wouldn’t say assumed, but I realized that I had a target on my back from the moment I got out there. But I’m going in with the mindset that I’m gonna win it, although I realize that that may be an impossibility, but I went in hoping to win and doing everything I could to try to win.
HitFix: When you know you’re going in with that target on your back, does that impact the way that you play the game from the start?
RM: You’re more conscious of it. I don’t know if it effects you in terms of your ability, but what you are is you’re more aware of it and you’re careful-er in the things that you do and what you say and who you say them to. It was moreso than I have been in the past, because the first time we has “All-Stars,” there were seven season before of people that had played the game. Now there have been 19 seasons, so there are a lot of other people who have seen me play in the past and some, like JT, that grew up watching me play when he was just a kid. So he has an impression of me and you really have to be aware that people have these impressions and how that’s gonna come into play in the game.
HitFix: At the beginning, there was that episode where you seemed really down and ill and you even passed out. How much of that was you seriously being messed up and how much was game-play to get others to view you as less of a threat?
RM: That was all just me being sick. There really wasn’t any strategy to that. I had come down with something and I was just spent. My body gave up on me and not for lack of effort. The whole passing out thing, I don’t even remember it. I don’t have any memory of it. I remember sitting and the next thing I remember were Probst and the medical people around me. So I don’t remember. I remember feeling weak and having a really bad headache for a couple day, that I told the doctors about. So yeah, that wasn’t strategic at all. That was just my body taking a beating.
HitFix: In retrospect, might it have been a good strategic move, in terms of temporarily removing that target you mentioned?
RM: I don’t see how. You don’t want to seem weak to your team. It’s just another reason for them to vote you out.
HitFix: At what point did you know that you were doomed? Was it not until that Tribal Council? Or was it really when Tyson went out the previous vote?
RM: Look, the game changed dramatically when Tyson did what he did. Why he did it is beyond me. I guess he just didn’t realize how foolproof the plan was, or he was trying to garner alternate plans had things gone his way to keep other options open. It was pretty dumb. But once that happened, you’ve gotta adjust, so the next thing you do is you figure out how you can still keep your alliance strong. Coach and Jerri are in the middle, so you try to pick them up. Jerri harboring it a little from “All-Stars,” so it’s tough to get to get her on-board. I try to show her the way and show her, you know, “Look, what you see is what you get. You know me. I’m not gonna switch it up on you.” She didn’t wanna go that way. OK. Fine. I’ve still got Coach. Coach wants to be honorable and loyal. He gave me his word and then backed out at the last minute. There was another way, but by casting a vote for Courtney, he essentially casted a vote for me, indirectly. There’s no other way to put it. He knew what he was doing. That’s something he has to live with, you know? I did everything I could to stay in the game. I never quit. I never gave up. I never would. But you can’t make people do things, to vote the way you want them to. You can influence them and try as much as you can, but at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, they’re the ones who have to put the pen to paper. So those decisions they made? I feel like I did everything I could.
HitFix: Do you feel like you misread Coach to some degree? Or with a guy like that, is there no way of predicting what he’s going to do?
RM: It’s not that I misread Coach, it’s that my back was against the wall and Coach and Jerri were my only options. I could look in Jerri’s eyes and tell that she’s so wishy-washy that she’s not coming with me. So at that point, all I’ve got is Coach. I told him, I said, “Look, we can play this game together.” You have to buy into Coach and his whole thing in order to play with him, the whole Warrior or whatever he’s doing this season… Lancelot and King Arthur or whatever. Whatever fantasy he’s living in in the moment, you need to be a part of it in order to have him with you. And I was. I fully was. And I realized that it was kind crazy, but you have to do what you have to do and I needed him. I needed him to step up in a big way. And he didn’t. There was nothing I could do. I did everything I could do and at the end of the day, he chose his path and that’s something he has to live with.
HitFix: With Russell, was there every any possibility that you guys could have been allies or at least diplomatic? Or were y’all just destined to butt heads?
RM: No, at the outset he came to me and he said he wanted to play the game with me and wanted an alliance. And in “Survivor,” of course, when somebody comes to you and tells you they want an alliance, you tell them “Yes.” You never tell somebody “No.” So I was open to it and about 15 minutes later, I saw him doing the exact same thing with like three other people. So right away, it’s like, OK, I don’t know if he’s afraid because he’s the new guy or what he’s doing, but you can’t do that, especially blatantly right in front of someone and then expect to have any chance at all. You know? Unless you’re just unaware and I think maybe Danielle is a little bit unaware. Parvati’s aware, but I think she’s letting him drive and she’s riding shotgun at this point. So there was a possibility, but it became not possible very soon after we talked initially on the first day.
With me, you’re either with me or you’re against me and he was against me. So that’s it. The way I see it, if someone’s a threat, a big threat, like he is, and dangerous, like he is, it’s like a cancer and you have to cut him out right away. We gave him the benefit of the doubt from the beginning, because he is a new player. Not unbeknownst to us knowing that this is the 20th season and you get some new guy in there. With 301 people to choose from and all of a suddenly there’s a new guy, he had to have done something pretty crazy to be one of the five most notorious male villains. So you gotta keep him at an arm’s length, but we gave him the benefit of the doubt on the first Tribal Council when we sent Randy home, but after that, there was no other vote for me but Russell. Other didn’t want to see it and they wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt a little longer. I thought it was a mistake and I lobbied to get him off, but it didn’t go my way. But I stand by the decision that I made. I wanted him out and my reasoning was right, in my mind.
HitFix: The season started with the tribes split into Heroes and Villains. Would your game have gone any differently if we’d begun with two integrated teams? Would you have played differently if you’d also been playing with Heroes?
RM: That’s interesting. I don’t know. There’s been a lot of talk about the monickers that we’d been given this year. I think as Villain, it was a little bit easier because we didn’t have that Heroic name that we had to live up to. We’re automatically the underdog. And look, in life and anything I do, I love being the underdog. I love it, because I’m just gonna go in with everything I’ve got and just do everything I can to prove ’em wrong. So had it been mixed? I think there were people on the Heroes that I could have aligned with, that I could have been able to form strong alliances with. I’m talking about guys like Colby and Tom Westman and even Stephenie, although I know that they probable would view me, because of my past seasons, as untrustworthy. I think when we got down to playing with each other, they would see at the core that I was in it for the team and I am a team player.
HitFix: Among your various CBS reality TV experiences, where does this one rank?
RM: It’s up there. Any time you play “Survivor,” it’s a pinnacle. “Survivor” has always been the greatest of all of the shows. I really feel that it’s the purest of all of the reality shows. What you see is what you get. They don’t make any bones about it. You’re out there literally starving and dealing with the elements and the suffering. It’s all real. It’s a big part of the game and I love that part of it. I love just matching wits with yourself sometimes. Sometimes that’s what it’s about. There’s a mental battle in your head and a lot of times, that’s as difficult as the game itself. I’m fulfilled. I’m happy as I went back again. Unfortunately I didn’t go as far as I wanted to. I didn’t win and that was my ultimate goal. But I’m a competitor. I feel like I was born to play this game.
HitFix: So you’d just keep doing it until you win?
RM: Like I said, I’m content and I’m fulfilled. I’ve gotten everything out of it that I’ve ever wanted to and more. Having said that, Mark Burnett and CBS have been great to me and my family over the years. So if Mark calls me and asks me back, I would be hard-pressed to tell him “No.”
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