Rob Mariano: “I don’t really see how I can lose this time”

This is the 12th in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members.

Rob Mariano This is Rob Mariano’s fifth attempt at $1 million on a CBS reality competition series. Fifth. This time, he told me, it’s not about the money (“it’s pretty clear that Amber and I have done well”). “This is about more than that for me,” Rob said. “This is about me as a person. I’m a competitor, and I want that win. I want that W.” I asked him if he’d be devastated by another loss, and Rob said, “It’s not not going to happen. I’m going to win, bro. Print it.” Then he stood up, shook my hand, and ended the interview by walking out of the room.

That’s too bad, because I found Rob to be far less annoying than he is on TV, and I would have been happy to keep talking and getting his insight, because he’s both smart and open. For example, he talked about rejecting reality shows about his home life, and said things like, “I should learn by now to never say this is the last reality show, but I think this is probably my going away party for reality shows in terms of competing.” But he’s also still, you know, Rob, so at the very start of our conversation, when I said I was surprised to see him because Amber just had a baby, he said, “Did you guys buy that story? That wasn’t true. We didn’t have a kid.” He sold it well enough that I bought it for a moment, and Rob then said, “No, I’m just fucking with you.”

Rob left Amber and the baby behind because he wanted another opportunity to win. “It was the toughest thing I ever had to do, leaving yesterday morning,” he said. At first, he thought, “I don’t know, the baby’s going to be young, started talking myself out of it a little bit. And Amber basically sat me down, and she was like, ‘Lookit. How can you not do it? Everything we have is because of Survivor, and you want to win so bad. This is probably the last opportunity you’re going to ever get to do it; you have to go do it.’ She told me, make sure I win this time.”

Having almost won the last all-star season, Rob said his plan this time is to “just not piss off the jury. Make sure they’re not little crybabies. But you can’t help it,” he said, expressing some sympathy for their role. “I’ve never been in their position. It’s got to be really hard to play the game and then get kicked out and then vote for somebody else. I’m fortunate that I’ve never had to do it. God, I don’t even know if I could do it, I don’t think I could.”

As a result of that, Rob said, “I definitely have to be more conscious when I get rid of them all.” I chuckled at his bravado, and Rob asked, “Why are you laughing?” I told him that he clearly hadn’t lost his confidence. “I didn’t come back not to win. I don’t really see how I can lose this time,” he said. “Everybody knows, first and foremost, I’m a competitor; I’m going to do what it takes to win. That’s part of me; that’s who I am; that’s never going to change.” In a not-exactly-rare moment of levity, Rob said, “you should have seen that debacle, with my new ride-on lawn mower. I got it at the price I wanted, though.”

Rob’s confident (or cocky, or obnoxious) attitude is a necessity. “You have to go into it with that attitude and mindset,” he said, or else playing is pointless. And despite his confidence, he also knows he’s a target. “My reputation precedes me, he said. “If they’re smart, they’ll get rid of me right away. But history has proven that they’re all not the brightest bulbs–I don’t want to start getting in on them, because I really don’t know a lot of them.”

Because of his multiple TV appearances in particular, Rob said, “there’s going to be a hint of jealousy there; that’s automatic. That’s going to work against me. I’m going to have targets on my back, but I’m going to be fast, dodging them, so they can’t get me.” He’s not really worried. “What are you going to do, man? Nobody said it was going to be easy,” he said, adding that there are “many other things you can bring up,” such as the presence of winners and runners-up who are either bigger threats or who don’t need to win again.

Regarding his fellow competitors, who Rob is aware have played the game together and befriended each other (and “some of them are sleeping with each other”), Rob has no pre-season alliances. “I know they’re out there,” he said, but “best laid plans are brought down right away” and “the worst thing you can do is go in with a game plan,” so you have to “be adaptable and try to think with a clear head.”

Rob said that, besides prepping for the baby, “I play golf, and I play poker, still working in television. After Survivor, I hope CBS gives me a full-time gig.” Overall, he expects his life experience since he last competed will help him. “I’m at a different place in my life now. I’ve been married for five years; I’ve learned how to compromise. I have a baby now; I’ve learned patience, different attributes or skills that I wasn’t so polished with before, so I think that’ll work to my advantage,” he said. Rob noted that whatever you call it, lying and deception are also part of the game: “It’s not rocket science how to play this game, man.” Ultimately, he said, “all you can do with is deal with what you’re dealt. It’s a lot like poker, Survivor. You can bluff, you can move all in, you can figure out ways around it.”

Hear Rob discuss his new strategy with the jury, and why he and Amber rejected doing a reality show about their lives:

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.