Marquesas, All-Stars, Heroes vs Villains, Redemption Island, Island of the Idols, Winners at War
|To celebrate the 40th season of Survivor, we’re counting down the 40 Most Influential Survivors to ever play the game. Because Survivor is a game, a tv show, and a rabid fandom, we’re taking all forms of influence into consideration for this list. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. Note: this list is presented in chronological order and there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.
Rob Mariano is the 7th entry in this series.
Where to even begin with Boston Rob? He has played more times than any other player. He has played the second-most days of Survivor and with EoE existing this season he should easily pass first place in that category. And frankly, we have already written about him a ton. He is even on this current season, so we are talking about him on the podcast a lot! Because we have so much Boston Rob stuff already out there, I intend to be brief in this article. His influence should be obvious, and should largely speak for itself. And why is he influential? It all boils down to strategy.
Richard Hatch set the template for the basic strategy of Survivor: get an alliance, use that alliance to vote out everyone else, emerge as the winner from that alliance. Simple. In The Australia Outback and Africa, this was further refined to include “come into the merge with an advantage” (or perhaps know the tiebreaker and exploit that). Yet Survivor strategy has grown by leaps and bounds since this time (even if sometimes some Survivors would be wise to remember core principles). And Boston Rob has a lot to do with that growth.
Boston Rob left notable strategic fingerprints on multiple seasons. The obvious ones are All-Stars– where he fully leveraged pre-game alliances to run not only his tribe, but the other tribe as well- and Redemption Island– where he instituted a buddy system that allowed him to make sure no one on his tribe was defecting. But even his pre-merge games feature strategic decisions that would become more common in later seasons. In Heroes vs Villains, he implements what has become a standard vote split to account for an idol, only to be foiled by Tyson’s panic. In Marquesas, his first and often forgotten season, he did two things that have become the norm in modern Survivor.
First, he targeted people on his tribe, pre-merge, who weren’t in his alliance. Loyalty and trust were more important than strength to him. Rob cared more about winning the power struggle in his alliance than losing challenges. At the time, it put his tribe in a major hole leading into the merge, but it is commonplace in today’s Survivor. At the merge in Marquesas, Rob (with Kathy) was very vocal about who was in control and who was on the bottom, and attempted to lead a bottom-up revolt against John Carroll. But Paschal and Neleh weren’t ready to hear they were on the bottom, so Rob was voted out- only to watch Paschal and Neleh realize that Rob was 100% right the very next episode and take Kathy up on the offer that had been floated the previous episode. The revolt of the people on the bottom in Marquesas was an important turning point in Survivor strategy. No longer was it enough to have an alliance that had the numbers, now you had to keep everyone in that alliance happy. Rob didn’t last long enough to reap the benefits of John Carroll’s downfall, but he was an early advocate for precisely what happened.
There is also the fact that Rob’s game in All-Stars forever terrified Survivor players at the hint of a showmance. Emma just covered this in her article on Amber, but every single time there appears to be a budding romantic relationship one part of that relationship will get voted out, and it is because Rob and Amber ran the game on the first all-star season of the show through their showmance. Even on an all-winners season there is fear of allowing two people with such a strong bond to go far together in the game.
Rob’s Redemption Island game was the one that finally delivered his win, but it also spoke to many of his most creative decisions. I mentioned the buddy system above, through which he kept tabs on everyone on the tribe and made sure that anyone defecting would be observed doing so. But there is also his handling of obvious goats like Phillip Sheppard. People attempt to herd goats to the end all the time, and quite frequently it blows up in their face. But they keep trying because if you can replicate what Rob had with Phillip, the payoff is obvious. Yet few have ever been able to tolerate and manage a Phillip the entire game without him sinking their own game. Rob’s RI game also showed him telling the camera (and therefore us the viewer) the value of knowing where the idol is. Rob found the idol so he would never have to worry about who else might have the idol. Information is king in Survivor, and Rob always made sure to control the information.
Which brings up the last important point about Rob’s influence: he is a great communicator to the viewing audience. Survivor strategy can be both exciting to see happen and boring to watch develop. When you see an alliance or a group pull off an impressive strategic move it can be exhilarating, but to hear a castaway discuss their strategy can just as frequently be deathly boring. Rob always had the ability to communicate Survivor strategy clearly and succinctly to the camera. This made him influential because it meant future Survivor players didn’t have to watch and intuit what successful players did well, they could hear one telling the audience, “This is what I am doing and why it is working.” I mean, he even wrote a goddamn book!
So who did Boston Rob influence (beyond David Murphy, who also took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend at the reunion)? Well, Coach in South Pacific played a game heavily influenced by Boston Rob. Philip in Caramoan was referring to the Boston Rob playbook constantly. Russel Hantz played with a similar in your face aggression, showed the same willingness to target strength pre-merge, and was as willing to adjust his game on the fly as Boston Rob was. But it may simply be that everyone that has ever played or watched Survivor, and has been engaged by the strategy of how to make moves and win, has been influenced by Boston Rob.
Who else made the list?
You can see each entry on the list by clicking this link.
Matt is convinced that all Survivor contestants named Michel(l)e are bad tv and you cannot prove he ever said otherwise. Also if he ever takes a strong stance about why everyone else is wrong, it is he that is inevitably wrong.
Favorite seasons: Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Palau, Philippines, Pearl Islands, Cagayan