Boston Rob explains why he will thrive on “Deal or No Deal Island”

Boston Rob explains why he will thrive on “Deal or No Deal Island”
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"I can help you if you're with me. But if you're not, then I can definitely hurt you."

He’s made it to the very end of Survivor twice — winning a wife the first time, and a million dollars the second. He also would have won The Amazing Race had a pilot not brought a plane back to the gate to pick up another team who would have otherwise not made it to the final leg. And now, Boston Rob Mariano has set his sights on another reality competition show: Deal or No Deal Island, which premieres tonight at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.

Boston Rob will be one of 13 players who will be competing on an island filled with briefcases totaling over $200 million. Each week, contestants will compete in a challenge that will end with someone getting immunity, and another player having to take on the Banker in a classic game of Deal or No Deal… with a twist. If the player accepts an offer for less than what is in their selected briefcase, they are eliminated. If the accepted offer is for more than their case, then they get to pick who else goes home instead.

Considering Boston Rob’s experience with the social and strategic dynamics of Survivor — combined with his knowledge of risk vs. reward thanks to years playing on the professional poker circuit — it would seem to be a game tailored to his strengths. So what can we expect from the reality legend out on another island? We caught up with the Robfather to find out.

<p>Monty Brinton/NBC</p> Boston Rob Mariano on 'Deal or No Deal Island'

Monty Brinton/NBC

Boston Rob Mariano on 'Deal or No Deal Island'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So tell me why you decided to do this show.

BOSTON ROB MARIANO: I've been a fan of Deal or No Deal forever, and this is a different format. To be able to be a part of something in its inaugural season where we don't really know what it is and we can kind of write our own rules and write the strategy as it's happening live — to me, that was appealing.

How is the gameplay and strategy you need to use similar to and different from Survivor?

What's funny is when the other contestants got out there, I think they gravitated towards [Survivor], and very quickly I realized this is not that game. It's not alliances, it's not voting, it's not what I'm used to. So I had to adjust for sure, and once I realized what it wasn't, I was able to kind of figure out what it was. And you'll see during the course of my time out there almost a shift in strategy from the first few days in the beginning and what I thought was optimal to once I realized the dynamics of the game.

You’ve got to understand that the rules for this show are not written. We didn't even have a blueprint until we actually got there, and once we did, it was kind of left open-ended for us to figure out. So that was a little bit of an exercise in trial and error. And at the same time, using your perceptiveness to try to figure out what's the best way to navigate.

<p>Monty Brinton/NBC</p> Kim Mattina, Rob Mariano, Miranda Harrison, Alyssa Klinzing and Dawson Addis on 'Deal or No Deal Island'

Monty Brinton/NBC

Kim Mattina, Rob Mariano, Miranda Harrison, Alyssa Klinzing and Dawson Addis on 'Deal or No Deal Island'

Which was more valuable out there for this game: your experience as a Survivor player or your experience at the poker table?

I think everything that I've done up till now lent itself to this show. Definitely elements of poker with risk versus reward — when to step on the gas and when to hit the brakes at the same time. The experience of playing Survivor and finding whatever edge exists throughout the format is something that I thrive at. I'm really good at it. I know if you have a crack in the armor, I'm going to find it.

And I think just from a gamesmanship point of view, I looked at the game through one lens: Who's going to get put up? And do you want to be put up and do you want to be safe? And I was able to figure out what I think was the optimal strategy for the game in its inaugural season. Now, going forward, it's a great format and I think it'll be repeated, but I think they're going to need to tweak it and make some changes in order for it to evolve.

But that's like all of the shows, right? All of the strategy competition shows have to evolve. Otherwise, very quickly once the contestants figure it out, then it becomes predictable. The one thing I will say about this first season is it is definitely not predictable because of the different degrees of variance and luck that are naturally instilled in the format. It's going to make it very exciting for the audience to watch.

You knew you were going to be recognized by someone out there, so how did you want to handle that?

I mean, I'm going to own it. I'm not going to pretend like I'm not me. I have a reputation. I've been doing this for over 20 years. I've said it a million times: If I can make some inroads with some people, then I'll give myself a chance. And I got to tell you: What was really appealing about this is that despite the fact that there is a huge degree of variance and luck, there's also a lot of skill in your ability to control your own destiny. So it's a combination of both.

There's no vote, so they can't be like, “Rob, you can't play.” It's like, “Yeah, maybe you could do that, but I'm going to have something to say about it. And if I can keep myself safe, and you're going to target me?” You know what happens, Dalton.

<p>Monty Brinton/NBC</p> Aron Barbell and Boston Rob Mariano on 'Deal or No Deal Island'

Monty Brinton/NBC

Aron Barbell and Boston Rob Mariano on 'Deal or No Deal Island'

One player on the show describes working with you as a “Deal with the devil.” Is that accurate?

[Laughs] I mean, I don't know if I'd say the devil, but I can help you if you're with me. But if you're not, then I can definitely hurt you.

How do you think the show is going to be received?

I'm going to go on record and say that this is a format that could go a lot of years. This could be the next big thing. It really could, because you can play this over and over. The island part of it is awesome, but the Deal or No Deal part is already proven, and I think the unpredictable nature of the show is what's really going to intrigue the audience. That one scene last year from Survivor where the kid played the Shot in the Dark and it paid off at Tribal — it was an awesome moment. And you are going to see something similar to that almost every episode. It is going to be watercooler talk for sure.

<p>Patrick Ecclesine/NBC</p> Boston Rob Mariano on 'Deal or No Deal Island'

Patrick Ecclesine/NBC

Boston Rob Mariano on 'Deal or No Deal Island'

I know this filmed in Panama. Was it close to where you filmed Survivor: All-Stars?

No, we're near Bocas del Toro. Listen to me: This was the Banker’s private island. It was the Five Seasons —like the Four Seasons, but one better. Some people were complaining about the elements, and I was like, “These kids have no idea!” We were in a tent, we had a fan, we had food. Dalton, the first day someone handed me a cold bottle of water out there! I felt like I was doing something dirty. It was awesome.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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