SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Five players so far on Survivor: Island of the Idols have visited Boston Rob Mariano and Sandra Diaz-Twine and taken a test to prove their mettle. Some have succeeded, others have not. But what does one of their teachers think about the students under their tutelage? We checked in with Boston Rob to get his thoughts about the people who have visited Island of the Idols so far. And we didn’t stop there.

What’s it like watching Tribal Council in a spy shack? Who that has not visited the island yet has impressed the four-time player the most? And which of the eliminated players does the Robfather wish he had gotten a chance to meet? We asked him all that and more in this rare in-game interview. Consider it an offer you cannot refuse.

SURVIVOR: Island of Idols
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re evaluating all these people when they come to visit you on Island of the Idols. So of the people we’ve seen so far — Elizabeth, Kellee, Vince, Noura, and Elaine — which of those ones did you say to yourself, “This person really knocked my socks off.”
BOSTON ROB MARIANO: They all had different approaches to the way that they approached the Island of the Idols. So Vince, obviously it didn’t work out. He was able to get an idol, but then didn’t recognize when to use it. Elaine kind of jumped blindly, but she seems to have good footing in the game. That may work for her. Kellee was more calculated in her decision making. And I think that bodes well. You can tell from her background that she’s well educated and she’s a pretty smart cookie. So she’s not jumping in before she thinks about it. And with Elizabeth, it’s kind of unfair to judge her because she was the first one. But I liked the fact that she went for it and she embraced the fact that she learned something, even though she lost her vote and didn’t win at the end of the day.

You didn’t mention Nuora.
Noura’s great in that she’s living in her own space, and that’s good. In Survivor, you kind of have to do that a little bit. You can’t get so caught up in the day-to-day and just let everything around you affect you to the point where it drives you crazy, and I think Noura — maybe she’s a little bit too relaxed in that sense. But at the same time, who knows? Maybe Noura’s playing all of us. Maybe Noura understands the social game better than anyone. You have to wait and see on that one.

Okay, we’ll wait and see. What’s it like watching Tribal Council in that little spy shack up there?
It’s hot, man. It’s really hot. There’s no air conditioning in that little thing. And I was stuck there for two hours straight with Sandra every couple of nights. But it was really cool to be able to just look down, peering in on Tribal Council as its happening, and they had no idea we were there, obviously. There were little slits in the bamboo, and I was even concerned at one point I was like, “How do they not see us? We can see them.” But apparently they had a light shining down right from that area. So there was no way. If the contestants looked up there, they’d have to look away because the light was too bright.

So it’s cool because we get to see the perspective a little bit more about what’s going on. We don’t really leave the Island of the Idols except to go to Tribal Council. So the only information we have about what’s going on in the game is from when the contestants come to visit us. And some of them know what’s going on, and some of them think they know what’s going on. So it’s cool to see the Tribal Council because we get a bigger picture, and we’re able to see a little bit more whether the person that came to visit us was in the know, or perhaps just thinks they were.

I watch Survivor at home, and I scream at my TV screen. Is it hard sitting there and not yelling out “What are you thinking?” when you see someone just totally botching something?
Like when Vince went home with the idol in his pocket? And we were just like, “Man, play the idol! Play the idol!” Yeah, that’s tough. It’s tough to see that, but at the same time, we’ve got to kind of let it play out. We influence it as much as we can on the Island, but then you just let it play out and see what happens. Give them the info, and if they are willing to take it and go with it, then that’s on them. But we can’t make them do anything.

I have to assume you and Sandra were sad to see Vince go, because he visited you. What about the other people whose torches you’ve seen get snuffed? Who have you been saddest to see go? You had Ronnie, Molly, Chelsea, Tom and Jason.
Before the season started, we sat down with Jeff and looked through all the players and got a little bit of background on them. And Ronnie I’ve met since the show, but I would have liked to meet him in the moment because he and I have a lot in common. We both play poker, we’re both from Boston, so that would’ve been cool, but obviously it didn’t work out for him. And Chelsea, I heard, is a big fan of the show. I would’ve loved to have met her, all of them. Jason, Molly, would’ve been great to meet any of them. I think Ronnie is probably the one who I think maybe I would have connected with.

Who in these first six weeks has impressed you the most at Tribal Council?
I think Jamal has a pretty good understanding of who he is in the game. And I think that’s one of the most important things you need going into Survivor. I’ve always maintained that Survivor’s not the place to go and try to figure out and find out who you are as a person. Yet people constantly do. And I think Jamal has a strong understanding of who he is, and why he’s out there and what he’s trying to accomplish. And I think that bodes well for him.

Anyone else?
I like Janet, I like the way that she’s fighting. She’s a little bit of a underdog role, but she’s able to figure out a way to fit in with the tribe. And that’s tough to do. But we’re at the point of the game now where the merge should be coming soon, and at that point, your targets shift in this game. There are different stages of the game. There are the beginning stages of the game, where you need the strength and you need the power to be able to get through, and someone like her is a huge liability, or it seemed that way in the past. With the older female player, it seems like if you can get through the first couple of stages of the game and you’ve formed good relationships, then you’re able to move forward with a little bit more ease. I like her.

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

I know how competitive you are. So appearing on this show in this way, were you itching to to jump in there and play? Did it make you want to get out there and compete for the money?
Yeah, of course it did! I mean, that’s just who I am. I love the competition aspect of the show. I knew what my role was, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to get involved. But I knew that their season, it was going to be what it was, and hopefully they can play vicariously through us, and that we do a good job. And we tried to channel our energy in other directions.

Sandra and I had a ton of time out there, whether we’re just basically playing games and sitting around and talking, or we took it upon ourselves to build this shelter. My background is in construction. I’m on my lunch break right now, actually. And a lot of times I always wanted to build a really cool shelter, and really give into the whole Swiss Family Robinson feel of Survivor that it was originally based on. But you’re constantly running around making sure that your alliances are good, that you don’t get voted off, and what’s the next challenge, and you don’t have time for all that. So we had the time this season, so we embraced it. You started to see it a little bit last week, I’m hoping you get to see it more. But we really worked on that a lot, and a pretty, pretty cool shelter that we built.

What’s it been like watching this season play back on TV and seeing everything else at the tribe camps and the challenges and stuff you did not see out there on the island? There’s so much that you didn’t even get to watch. What’s it like seeing that on TV play out?
It’s cool. It’s like watching a season of the show from home, like we do every year with the family. So it’s like there’s a whole season that we don’t know about. At the same time, we’re involved in it to a degree. And the coolest part, this season, my girls are old enough now where they’re able to watch and understand the strategy a little bit, and see what we’re doing out there with the lessons and everything. And so to kind of see it through their eyes is a lot of fun also.

I’ve been fascinated by the psychology at Island of the Idols, because you’ve had five people out there and with the exception of a slight hesitation from Kellee, they’ve all just jumped at these offers you’re making them, often without even knowing what they are. And I think that’s because you and Sandra are sitting next to them, and they don’t want to disappoint you. Did that surprise you that they were all so over-the-top eager to agree to your challenges?
Yeah, I think that’s part of it. Part of it I do think is that they’re a little bit enamored that we’re there, and they’re excited about it. The other part I think is that these people came to play the game, so they’re going to take the opportunity to embrace the chance aspect of this game. Nobody wins Survivor by playing it safe the whole way and sitting on the sidelines. I shouldn’t say nobody. Some people have played that way. But usually they win by default if that’s the case. And I think in the modern day, the current game, the current state of the game, you have to be more aggressive. You have to take chances. I think you have to go for it.

Where in the past, maybe it wouldn’t be a good strategy to do that, I think now if you just sit back and coast your way to the end, there are many juries that are not going to respect that, and ultimately at the end of the day, it could cost you. Where if you sit there at the end and say, “Look it, I took some chances, some of them didn’t work out right. But at least I gave it a shot.” I know me personally, I would respect that more than someone that just kind of played it safe.

Finally, you made a crack about Sandra snoring. How bad was it?
It was me snoring. We’ll set the record straight, I’m the one that snores. I was just teasing, she’s caught a lot of crap from that.

For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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