Natalie Tenerelli, Rob Mariano, Phillip Sheppard
Survivor fans know never to say never, but after returning for a fourth time and finally clinching the $1 million prize, "Boston Rob" Mariano seems finally ready to hang up his baseball cap and leave the game for good.
"The main goal was to win the show and I did that," Mariano told reporters on a conference call Monday. "I'm happy to leave with the way I played and to go out at this point."
Throughout this season of Survivor: Redemption Island, Mariano's game play was equally praised and criticized for what many called his "cult-like" control over the rest of his Ometepe alliance. Despite — or because of his firm grasp — Mariano won both the grand prize and the title of "Sprint Player of the Season."
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"It was the only way I could play the game, which is an aggressive, right-out-there, strategic strategy and not everybody could have pulled that off," he said. "I played to the best of my ability."
Try his best, Mariano still admits "there's a degree of luck involved" in how everything turned out. "In all actuality, I don't think I would've been able to beat anybody other than the two I was standing with at the end," he says of Natalie Tenerelli and Phillip Sheppard.
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Mariano called Sheppard, arguably this season's most polarizing player, a "constant challenge," but insisted the former Federal Agent was misunderstood. "I love Phillip," he said. "He's just this guy that wanted some love and wanted to be heard and wanted the time of day and no one was willing to do that."
On the other hand, one of the bigger disappointments of Redemption Island for Mariano was the season's other returning player, Russell Hantz. "I felt bad for Russell this time around. I think he needs some space from the game. He's played three times in a year-and-a-half," he said. "I was disappointed that he said he was going to change up his game and he went in with the exact same strategy."
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In stark contrast, Mariano says it was his own flexibility that helped him so far. "I knew going out there that I had a huge target on my back and I had to reinvent myself and how I play the game," Mariano said. "I was able to fine-tune my strategy to encompass that and really build relationships and make them work for me. I was able to exploit those relationships to the point where the people didn't feel exploited."
Although Mariano says his body has learned to adjust to the brutal physical demands of Survivor over the years, the social game was still as tough as ever. "The more I've done it over the years, the easier [the physical aspect] has become. You know what to expect. The hard work I did behind-the-scenes was the constant checking on the strategy. Making sure that my alliances felt like they were intact and making sure everybody else was checking in with each other," Mariano said. "It was a constant game of going back and forth. Making sure the alliance was good and that nobody was talking to each other."
It may have taken 10 years and four separate attempts for him to finally win, but Mariano says he wouldn't change a thing.
"It's something I always wanted to accomplish. I wanted to get to the top. I wanted to win because it was such a challenge," he said. "There's a lot of ways to win Survivor, but the way I did it — for me — was really, really satisfying."