Monday, May 16, 2011

The Greatness of Boston Rob

The 22nd Season of Survivor
I’ve been an avid sports fan for as long as I remember. My first sports memory is watching Michael Jordan rap up an iconic NBA career with the Chicago Bulls by nailing the game winning shot against the Utah Jazz in game six of the NBA Finals. I picked a good time to start remembering. Since I watched the final game of Michael Jordan’s dominant career with the Bulls, I can recall many memorable dominant performances, on individual and team levels. The Los Angeles Lakers winning three titles on the backs of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The New England Patriots running through the league in 2007-08, finishing 16-0 in the regular season before falling short in the Super Bowl. Darko Milicic going from 2nd overall pick to franchise NBA center (wait, that’s bizzaro world NBA, my bad). LeBron’s 48 special, Kobe’s 81 point game, the Redeem Team, the quiet Spurs/Steelers Dynasties of the 00’s, Florida Gators football/basketball. We always remember iconic performances where one player carried the team on his back or when a team is virtually unstoppable. That is why for fans of Survivor, Rob Mariano just entered the pantheon of Survivor greatness, if he wasn’t already there.

The journey began ten years ago when Rob Mariano was a contestant on Survivor Marquesas. Rob lasted only 21 days, didn’t even make the jury that would decide the winner but was without question the star of the season. He left enough of an impression that a few years later he would be asked to come back for Survivors first All-Star season. From day one in All-Stars Rob Mariano was the unquestioned leader of his Chapera tribe, and the consensus best player in the game. His cut-throat tactics, Machiavellian-esque approach of “By any means necessary” and his dominance in individual and tribe challenges got him to the end of the game with his eventual wife, Amber Brkich. You couldn’t dispute that Rob played nearly perfect. The jury however came off like a bunch of pissed off former lovers who didn’t appreciate Rob using them like pawns in a game of chess, and being rather insensitive in the process. They took the game personal and gave the million dollar prize to Amber. Such an “Aw shucks” moment for Rob. He didn’t win the million, but his girl did.

Rob and Amber celebrate
after her win in
Survivor All-Stars
What eluded Rob however was the win. If you are a reality television buff like me, you know that Rob and Amber are pretty set financially. Not only did Amber win the Million Dollar prize, but Rob came in 2nd place which earned him $100,000. And let’s not forget, they each won a car during the season as well. From there they competed on The Amazing Race twice, where they won $25,000 for finishing 2nd overall in season seven. Additionally, they won trips to the Bahamas, London, Monaco, British Columbia, a home entertainment system, two off road motorcycles, and two home gyms for finishing first place in certain legs of their two Amazing Race seasons. Did Rob really need money after all of this? I would say no. What he needed was to win Survivor.

Just like every sports icon, if they don’t win a title, it is hard to consider them the greatest ever. Peyton Manning’s legacy shifted after he won a Super Bowl. LeBron James still needs a ring to put his name in the conversation of “Greatest of All-Time.” The story was the same with Boston Rob. He returned to Survivor in 2010 during the “Heroes vs. Villains” themed season but he was the eighth player voted off. In a way, Rob’s dominance in seasons past had hurt him. Some of the best players in Survivor history realized that he was better than they were, and if they gave him time he would methodically take out all of them like he did six years earlier in his first All-Star season.

At this point it appeared as if Boston Rob’s time on reality television had come to an end. It seemed unthinkable that with the reputation he had, that Rob would be able to be a power player on Survivor as he had before. At the Heroes vs. Villains season finale Rob jokingly challenged notorious Survivor villain Russell Hantz to another Survivor duel. One year later, it was on.

Rob and Russell returned to the game in Survivor Redemption Island to act as leaders to their respective tribes. Russell’s tribe quickly schemed to eliminate him in fear of what he could do given the time. Rob on the other hand was setting up for the greatest individual season in Survivor history. His tribe quickly embraced him for his hard work around camp, ability to perform in challenges and general know-how of the game. He formed an alliance with five members of his nine person tribe, and stuck with them until they were the final six remaining in the game. The fact that Rob was the centerpiece of an alliance that made it so far in the game was already impressive enought, but the style in which Rob ran this alliance is what should be noted. Players of the opposing tribe mentioned the cult-like mind control that Boston Rob had over his alliance. Rob’s “Ometepe Six” rarely conversed with the Zapatera tribe members after the two tribes merged. If they did, they immediately reported back to Rob to discuss what had been talked about. The defining story of Rob’s mind-control came when members from Zapatera caught a fair amount of fish one day and offered it to members of the Ometepe tribe, all of whom declined the offer simply because Rob told them not to eat it. How does one man convince a group of people not to eat when they have been starving on an island for nearly a month? Remarkable! Members of Zapatera were methodically picked off one by one in true Godfather fashion. It wasn’t personal, it was just business for Boston Rob and the Mariano Crime Syndicate.
Rob's fourth
Immunity victory

When it came to the point in the game when Ometepe needed to start eliminating from within, Rob’s name was never mentioned. And even if it was, he had no reason to be concerned because of his physical dominance (winning four individual immunity challenges, including the most physically demanding challenge I recall in Survivor history, where Rob collapsed afterwards from exhaustion) and a hidden immunity idol that he found in the initial stages of the game that would keep him protected if he was ever in danger. Rob was in the place he needed to be to get to the end stages of the game. To get to the one million dollar prize. To put himself in the pantheon of Survivor greatness.

As Rob won the last immunity challenge in the final four that secured him a spot in the end, he nearly started crying tears of joy. He knew he had won the game. He knew that the 117 days away from home were worth it. He carried with him to the final 3 two of the strategically and physically weaker players in the game to ensure that he would have the votes to win. The jury saw the control he had over his competitors and they were well aware of his physical dominance throughout the game. I didn’t think it was possible for Boston Rob to play as complete of a game as he did seven years ago. He not only matched it, he easily surpassed it. Even host Jeff Probst said that Rob played “as close to a perfect game as anyone’s played.”

Rob received eight of the nine votes from the jury. He won the $1,000,000 prize, and the Sprint Player of the season, as voted on by the fans which banked him an additional $100,000. His season was equivalent to an NBA player averaging a triple double, a quarterback throwing for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, or a baseball player hitting 75 home runs. And winning the championship in the same year.
Boston Rob reacts after winning
Survivor Redemption Island

Boston Rob has been my favorite reality television competitor for seven years. To me, this will be an equivalent feeling to if LeBron James and the Miami Heat win the NBA Championship this year. However, not even LeBron James could dominate an NBA season like Boston Rob did in this season of Survivor. This was the season of Rob Mariano, where he became the greatest Survivor ever.