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Boston Rob on Surviving Boston

Boston Rob Does Beantown on Very Local
(Image credit: Hearst TV)

Rob Mariano, known as Boston Rob from his time on Survivor, hosts Boston Rob Does Beantown on the Hearst Television streaming app Very Local. The show sees Mariano visit different neighborhoods in Boston, sharing what he finds in terms of unique restaurants and bars, candlepin bowling, yoga and other sites worth checking out. There are eight episodes. 

Mariano was on Survivor six times, and met his wife Amber on the show. The couple was on The Amazing Race twice.

Mariano, who grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston as a kid before moving to the suburb Canton, now resides in Pensacola, Florida, with Amber and their children. He spoke with B+C from Pittsburgh, where he’s at work on CBS program Secret Celebrity Renovation. He was one of the celebs giving a renovation to a loved one in the first season, and will be in season two as a contractor handling the renovations. 

Mariano discussed the challenges of hosting a show, what he learned about Boston, and what he thinks of his nickname. An edited transcript follows. 

B+C: You’ve got a broken hand in Boston Rob Does Boston. What happened?

Rob Mariano: I broke my hand riding a scooter in San Diego the week before we started shooting. I was there for a poker event with the RunGood poker tour. It was late at night. It was dark and I hit the curb and fell off. Two days later I had surgery and we started shooting the show two days after that. 

We made it work. 

B+C: How do you come up with what to see and what to do on the show?

RM: A lot of the stuff [the producers] have pre-booked. Some stuff, I have friends in the area, like Nicky Varano over at Strega in the North End. He’s been a friend for a long time and I love his restaurant. Billy and Julie Fairweather from The Greatest Bar, where I learned to bartend. 

A lot of the stuff I do is based on my real-life interests, like bowling and playing hockey. Growing up in Boston, that’s true to me. 

They add some fish-out-of-water stuff. I didn’t do yoga or sound therapy [before], and it was cool because I was open to do new things. 

B+C: If you had to pick candlepin bowling or traditional bowling for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

RM: I’d pick candlepin. It’s unique. It’s Boston. If you score a 100 in that you’re doing pretty good. 

B+C: Was there one place you visited on the show that you keep going back to, or that makes you smile when you think about your visit there?

RM: There were so many great places we visited, places where they had amazing food. A few that stood out are Yahya’s place [Tawakal Halal Cafe], a Somali restaurant in East Boston. It was absolutely delicious. Zuma, which they have at the new Four Seasons in Boston. The chef is incredibly gracious and taught me how to make all kinds of dishes. 

Of course I love the North End and Nicky’s place [Strega]. 

I also got to do some things I’d never done before. On the Cycleboat Boston tour I actually got to see Boston from the Harbor and I haven’t done that since I was a kid. Being on a boat and being able to go over to the Museum of Science, to Rowes Wharf, all the different neighborhoods by the water, and see how big the Seaport has become and how much it has grown over the years, it was a fun experience for me. 

If anything, it shows the audience, if there’s something in my own city that I can learn about and I can do, surely anybody can. 

B+C: What is unique about Boston?

RM: The authenticity of the people. It’s the people that make the city. We’ve endured a lot of hardship over time, from the pre-colonial days and the American Revolution, to the Red Sox not winning for 86 years. But we always maintained. No one ever switched teams. Well, one guy switched teams–he went to Florida, but forget about him. 

There’s a proud history and loyalty among the people, and that authenticity. 

[Boston Rob Does Beantown is] a show about the different neighborhoods, and within the different neighborhoods there are all different types of feelings–they just essentially have their own vibe. At the end of the day, whether you’re in Southie or the North End or downtown or Back Bay, we’re all Bostonians first. That community and that togetherness is what really makes the city special. 

B+C: Do you get the feeling most of your viewers are Bostonians, or people from outside the market?

RM: It’s everybody. It’s been a great response. With the advent of social media, you get instant feedback now. Before you had to wait until the next day for Nielsen ratings. Now [feedback] immediately slides into your DMs and tells you. It has been pretty awesome. A lot of people from different neighborhoods in the city say we did them proud, we represented them well. People from outside Boston say, I wanna come visit, I wanna see this place. 

Social media does have some good purposes. 

B+C: How much of a learning curve has there been for you hosting the show?

RM: I feel like it’s come pretty natural. Whenever you try something new, it’s gonna be a little bit of a learning experience. What’s great is that, throughout six times on Survivor, two times on Amazing Race, and all the other shows I’ve done over the course of the last 20 years, I’ve always maintained who I am. I’ve always been myself. It comes pretty easy to me. I’m not trying to play a character, I’m not trying to put something out there. Just me. Either you like it or you don’t. 

B+C: Who do you consider an influence in terms of hosting?

RM: Obviously [Survivor host Jeff] Probst is the best in the business. The guy is phenomenal in what he’s done. 

I got to see it firsthand and behind the scenes, in one season, Island of the Idols [season 39], where Sandra [Diaz-Twine] and I got to participate as mentors. I got to see how he seamlessly goes from situation to situation and does it with grace and poise. I aspire to be like him. He’s the best. 

B+C: That season of Survivor, there was a giant carved head of you on the beach. What happened to that–is it in your basement? 

RM: That thing was like 30 feet high! They had it on a barge. It’s still in Fiji. If you get over there, check it out. 

B+C: Will you do Survivor again?

RM: I feel like my journey on Survivor is complete. I’ve experienced winning, not winning, having my family out there, I met my wife on the show. I’m so grateful to everything Survivor has brought to me and given to me in my life. As far as playing the game, I’ve got too big of a target now. If I go out there, they pick me off a little bit too easy. 

I feel like that’s done, but I’ve said I’ve been done before. Probst always has something up his sleeve, whether it’s building a statue or tempting me with an all-winners season. So you never know. But as of right now, there are no plans. 

B+C: How does it feel to have your nickname reflect your home city?

RM: I’m proud. Bostonians are proud people. We’re proud of who we are. It’s an honor to be called Boston Rob. 

It kind of happened by accident. At the time on Survivor [season four] there were two guys named Rob. When we came to the merge, we’re at the first tribal council, and Probst said, ‘how we gonna figure this out?’ The other kid [Robert DeCanio] said, ‘I’m from New York–we’ll call me New York Rob.’ I don’t think Probst liked being told what to do. So he looked at me, and said, ‘Where you from?’ I said, ‘I’m from Boston.’ ‘Alright, you’ll be Boston Rob.’ It kinda just stuck! 

Bostonians are proud people. They’re authentic, they make no bones about who they are. I’m honored to have that nickname. ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.