No one was more surprised when Boston Rob Mariano was crowned the winner of Survivor: Redemption Island last night than his wife, Amber.
Not for lack of faith in her husband—after all, she owes her own Survivor: All-Stars victory to his dominance in the game—but because he flat-out lied to her.
Why did Rob tell Amber he was voted out at the final four? And after making good on his promise to kick Russell Hantz's ass, will the reality stars ever duel again?
Rob gave his wife more than $1,100,000 (winning both the title of Sole Survivor and Player of the Season) last night—she also received the surprise of her life when he wasn't eliminated. "Of course when I got home she saw I was skin and bones, so she knew I made it far, but I led her to believe I was voted off at the final four," Rob told us this morning. "I had to keep that act up for about nine months so she'd be surprised. Last night when I got back to the hotel she was like, 'How could you keep that from me for so long?' I said, 'Was it worth it?' and she's like, 'Totally.' I'm glad I was able to do that and surprise her." Aw.
Rob appreciated Russell's congratulatory handshake last night, but said he has no intention of challenging his archrival again—on Survivor anyway. The two will be dueling on the reality airwaves later this year, with Hantz confirming he will be competing on A&E's new Flipped and Mariano cohosting the History Channel's Around the World in 80 Ways.
Why is Rob so attracted to reality TV? "It pays really good," he laughed. "It's my competitive nature—I love to compete. This show is different because I'm doing it with Thom Beers, who does The Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers and he has this history of making adrenaline TV, and it's right up my alley, so when I got the opportunity to work with him I jumped at the chance.
When we asked whether he'd want to host Survivor if and when Jeff Probst retires, Rob told us, "I don't think anybody could do as good a job as Probst does. He is the show. No thank you, I don't want that job." As for Probst's unabashed man-crush on Awesome Rob, the Survivor stud said, "It's flattering, it's very flattering, especially from someone who's seen every episode, from every show and been there for it. It's a huge compliment and I appreciate it."
Also crushing on Rob this season were his Ometepe fangirls, and we had to ask how Amber reacted to seeing him getting cuddly with Natalie and Ashley. "Amber knows it's a game," Rob said. "Natalie's like a sister to me. It wasn't like anything like that, at all. And Amber gets what's it like. You're out there freezing and you're cuddling up together. And at the end of the day, nobody wanted to get tight next to Phillip with his pink panties."
Rob is quick to defend his loyal soldier Natalie, calling her "wise beyond her years" and insisting that she was playing to win. "She saw a way to attach herself to me, and she was hoping I would do the dirty work and she would be able to be behind the scenes and hopefully it would work out for her. But at the end of the day my jury management skills have gotten better over the years."
Grant may have given Rob his jury vote, but he still isn't speaking to his former Stealth Alliance buddy. "There's no relationship," Rob told us. "He stopped talking to me after the episode aired, when I took the clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol and swapped it out on him. Maybe he felt silly, I don't know. I think it's easier for people to say, 'You know what, you brought friendship into the game, you crossed the line' than to say, 'You know what, dude, you kicked my ass. Good on ya.' [But Grant] played in the NFL, he's used to being a winner his whole life. I think when he realized that he got beat—I don't know maybe he just couldn't handle it.
"Honestly I thought out of anybody that [Grant] would be able to take it," Rob added, "that he was a big boy. Someone who played competitive football—it's like, Are you kidding me, man? You don't realize this is a game? Like if you were in my position, why would I ever go to the end with him and let him win a million dollars? I guess he thought I left my wife and kids at home so I could go fool around and have fun on an island."
No one was having less fun than Matt, stuck on Redemption Island for a month. What does the four-time veteran think of the new twist? "At first it was great," Rob said. "I thought I'd get another opportunity to get back in the game if they vote my ass out. But it started to get really aggravating, there was a lot more to consider personally...What was different about this season that might not happen in the next or future seasons is that we put a really strong competitor on Redemption Island really early on, and Matty was able to run the gamut of things. I think in the future if the teams are smart they will get rid of their weak members and keep their tribe strong, and you may have some power changes and some different dynamics and different things that can happen on Redemption Island. I don't think you'll see somebody succeed in 10 out of 11 duels in a row.
Phillip—unsurprisingly—is taking a lot of credit for his second-place finish. Does Rob agree that the (certified!) former federal agent's antics were a deliberate strategy? "I don't know," Rob sighed. "I think in the beginning Phillip saw me as a huge threat and he kept trying to get me out, and when he realized he wasn't going to be able to do it, he [said], If I can't beat him, let me try to join him. I think to a degree he realized he was being a pain in the ass and that was going to get his ass dragged to the end, but I don't know how much credit he can take..."
Then Rob interrupts himself. "You know what, let Phillip take whatever credits he wants—I got the million dollars, right?"
Were you happy with Rob's win? Are you looking forward to seeing both Rob and Russell back on reality TV this year? Go crazy in the comments.