He's competed on four seasons of Survivor. He's traveled the world at least twice for The Amazing Race. And last year, he did the impossible and finally took home the $1 million grand prize in front of millions of TV viewers on Survivor: Redemption Island. So what in the world is "Boston Rob" Mariano doing back on TV less than a year after his triumphant win?
"I love adventure and I always have," Mariano tells TVGuide.com of his latest reality TV venture, Around the World in 80 Ways. "I never got into Survivor or The Amazing Race or any of these shows to be on TV. I got on originally because I wanted to make some money for my family, and because I love the adventure of it."
Around the World in 80 Ways is heavy on adventure, but unlike so many of Mariano's other TV appearances, there's no finish line or final Tribal Council to name a winner. On the series, which premieres Sunday, Oct. 2 at 10/9c on History, Mariano partners with monster truck driver Dennis Anderson to travel thousands of miles in 10 weeks using every possible mode of transportation: from mules to steamboats to waterskis. "Sometimes we failed and sometimes we did well," Anderson says, "but it's one of those times where if you make it, you're a hero and if you fail, you're still a hero for trying."
Although there's no winners and losers on Around the World in 80 Ways, Mariano says being on Survivor and Race gave him an important foundation. "My competitive nature and my ability to want to take chances helps me in any type of situation. But with this show, it wasn't so much about a prize at the end," Mariano says. "You're going to see the relationship between Dennis and me and the focus is obviously on the transportation."
After having to compete against 17 other castaways on Survivor and 10 other teams on The Amazing Race, the real draw is the odd couple-like relationship between Mariano and Anderson. Mariano is a Boston native, while Anderson is a small town boy from North Carolina. Mariano has traveled to exotic places all over the world, while Anderson has never been outside of North America. There's also the generation gap (Mariano is 35 and Anderson is 50). "The challenge for me this time was not so much traveling around the world because I've been able to do that and I know what to expect, but the interpersonal relationship with Dennis that I have," Mariano says. "It was totally like a roller coaster: one minute we're best friends and the next minute, we want to friggin' kill each other."
Anderson admits there was tension at times between the two, but says traveling in foreign territory for the first time with Mariano had its advantages. "We had our ups and downs. I was so sick of Rob sometimes just because he would outsmart me," Anderson says. "But Rob was just so savvy about directions and how to go and where to go. That's where the world-travel part of him came out."
Mariano interjects with a laugh: "He's being really nice to me today. He wasn't this nice to me before."
Traveling around the world in front of the cameras may sound like fun, but with a wife (Survivor: All-Stars winner Amber Mariano) and two young kids at home (the couple's daughters are 2 years old and 9 months old, respectively), shouldn't Mariano be changing diapers instead of riding tut-tuts in India? "Reality TV has provided a good life for me and my family. Publicly, we've made millions of dollars, and I like to do it," he says. "I'm fortunate enough that I have a wife who supports me. She's totally, like, 'Go and do it.' My kids are young enough now that realistically they're not going to remember [when I'm not there]."
Mariano envisions himself eventually transitioning to the production side of the business, but is he done with competing? It doesn't sound like it. "I always said that when it stopped being profitable or it stopped being fun, I wouldn't do it anymore.'" Mariano says. "As long as it's fun and it's profitable, I'll do it."