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NBC Insider Deal or No Deal Island

Yes, Boston Rob & Aron Barbell Are Friends IRL After Deal or No Deal Island [Interview]

The Survivor all-star says he was prepared for everything Deal or No Deal Island threw at him. Would the reverse be true if his fellow competitors went on Survivor?

By James Grebey
Boston Rob's Most Iconic Moments on Deal or No Deal Island | NBC

Rob Mariano, better known as Boston Rob, knows what the deal is when it comes to competing on reality shows. He’s arguably the best player in Survivor history, having competed on five seasons of the famous series, boasting one victory, and he’s been on The Amazing Race two times as well. But, when it came to appearing on the first season of Deal or No Deal Island, not even Boston Rob knew the whole deal. 

How to Watch

Watch Deal or No Deal Island on NBC and Peacock.

Rob, who was one of 13 contestants who headed to The Banker’s swanky private island to compete for a chance to be the last one standing and win the biggest prize in Deal or No Deal history, told NBC Insider that he enjoyed figuring out the best strategy for a brand-new type of gameplay. He also enjoyed a bit of a competitive advantage, having done this before, and he definitely enjoyed that he got to sleep on a bed and shower — a sharp contrast to Survivor’s more punishing conditions. 

RELATED: Who Is Boston Rob, and Could He Be Deal or No Deal Island's Most Dangerous Competitor?

Read on to learn more about Rob’s experience on the show, his relationship with Aron Barbell, which of his fellow competitors might stand a chance on Survivor, and if he’ll ever be a contestant on The Traitors

Nicholas Grasso and Rob Mariano pump their fists to a $2.5 million briefcase on Deal or No Deal Island Episode 107,

Is there anything about Deal or No Deal Island that you found surprising?

The fact that you can’t cover all your bases. You can’t be immune and dictate the vote to keep you and your alliance safe. Secondly, your alliance doesn’t vote in the end. In the end, there’s no voting, so the repercussions for your actions are kind of limited. On one hand, you’re playing an individual game where you have to fight for your own life. At the same time, you need contingency plans, so that if something happens and you end up in the middle, the person at the bottom doesn’t eliminate you. It’s impossible to account for everything.

Did you feel the target your expertise and celebrity put on your back kind of evened out any competitive advantage you might’ve had, or are you saying that you didn’t really have an advantage because it was a new game to you, too?

No. Obviously, the fact that I’ve been playing competitive reality shows for over two decades means I have an advantage. I understand the intricacies of not only how to navigate within the confines of the formant — not necessarily that I knew, but I had the ability to adapt to it better than someone who doesn’t. At the same time, the target I had on me because of this expertise hindered my ability to do it without any opposition. Everybody was aware of my reputation — and even the ones that weren’t were made aware — and it kind of balanced itself out.

I would say I slightly still had an advantage even though I had the target only because — I don’t want to sound facetious or like too much — but I am that good. [Laughs.]

Your relationship with Aron has been a huge subject among fans. What drew you to him initially?

Aron Barbell and Rob Mariano chat near the beach in Deal or No Deal Island Episode 108.

Initially just it was from the fact that we’re from the same part of the country. He’s from the Boston area. Our parents lived a few miles from each other. As different as we are, I kind of saw a little bit of myself in him. He’s the same age that I was the first time that I played Survivor, he’s a Boston guy. I don’t think it’s been shown on television a lot but he’s super sarcastic and I can relate to that and I appreciate that.

Of course, I felt a little bit opportunistic that I was going to be able to use him for my benefit, but as the relationship kind of grew, it became more like he was the only one I had in the game, so I needed him.

Was there anyone whose gameplay you were especially impressed by?

Initially, not really. But as the game progressed, I think I said a few episodes ago, you saw people like Jordan and Dawson, even Nick to a degree, be able to float in the middle and go to Temples without immunity, without safety, and be able to come out unscathed without even a hint that they would be going home. Whether it was intentional or not, the fact that they can keep the target off of themselves and kind of skirt by, ultimately that’s the optimal strategy in the game the way it’s played now. You obviously want to be safe with immunity, but if you can’t be safe with immunity, you want to be able to go there and sit in the middle and not be a target. Somehow those three have been able to do that time and time again, and I find that impressive.

RELATED: Watch Boston Rob Explain Reality Show Strategy on Deal or No Deal Island 

How do you think this group of contestants would have fared on a season of Survivor rather than Deal or No Deal Island

That’s an interesting question. I think some of them would have done quite well. I think Kim in particular understood the strategy behind it, she just kind of overplayed her hand from the beginning.

Whereas someone like Amy, I think, lacks the self-awareness of how she’s perceived by others. She ultimately could have gone far in Survivor but I don’t think would have an opportunity to win. I think she’d be brought to the end as someone [who] could be beaten easily. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s interesting now that you say it. I’m thinking about the different dynamics of the different people and how they play Deal or No Deal and how they relate. 

RELATED: Kim Is "Flattered" That Boston Rob Targeted Her on Deal or No Deal Island

You’re used to slightly harsher living conditions when competing on a show like this. How surprised were you to find that camp was basically a resort in comparison?

The cast lounges on a patio in Deal or No Deal Island Episode 109.

It was great. I loved it. There was more than one day when I was on the beach with my feet up in a lounge chair, drinking a Diet Coke, thinking, “My wife is at home with the kids and she thinks I’m at work and this is a vacation for me.”

Were you ever worried it was going to make your gameplay soft?

No. [Laughs.] I was pleasantly surprised. I slept on a bed every night inside a tent. I didn’t have a lot to worry about. Let’s say that. I wasn’t worried about food or shelter or anything like that. It was just the social dynamics of the game and competition that I had to focus on. 

Without spoiling anything to come, what did you find the hardest: the physical challenges, the social aspects, or actually playing Deal or No Deal, with the briefcases and all?

You know, I don’t think any of it was particularly hard. I’ll address each of them separately.

The Deal or No Deal part of the game is strictly math. I would just act in accordance of the odds. I understood the odds, I understood the implied odds, I understood, you know, beyond the generic statistics, the deeper statistics of it. So that part of it was completely simple. It ran itself.

The challenges was where I was able to figure out ways to get an advantage in this game: figuring out different ways to win and get immunity that would ultimately keep me safe.

As far as the social game goes, I knew what I was up against. I knew that I had a target on me. At the same time, I knew that my experience would hopefully outweigh that target. 

There’s obviously an element of luck, which as someone who likes to be able to control the narrative, that’s frustrating for me, but it’s fair for everyone and everyone has to deal with that same amount of luck. So I can’t really complain about it. That’s part of the game. So as far as the challenging part goes, I can’t say I was floored by any of it. I was equipped to deal with all of it.

Was there one specific challenge that stands out?

Rob Mariano and Stephanie Mitchell reach into a box of snakes in Deal or No Deal Island Episode 106.

There was one that was pretty surprising, and that was the one where I had to put my hand in a box with snakes and pull the rods out. I hate snakes, I really do. But in the moment, I was able to overcome that fear and just get my hand in there and do it. I saw Stephanie wasn’t doing anything, she was no help at all. I knew that if I didn’t do it, potentially I was going to lose and we were going home. So I willed myself to get over that fear and I did. I was proud of myself for it. 

RELATED: Watch Boston Rob Enter the Serpents' Nest to Battle Snakes on Deal or No Deal Island

Are you still in touch with any of the contestants from the show?

I am. Aron actually came to visit a few weeks ago. He came out, met the family, and we had a good time. I keep in touch with a lot of them, just by text and social media and stuff. 

Is there anything you’d change about how you played the game from what we’ve seen so far?

No. I feel like I gave it my all at every opportunity and I feel I represented myself well and played the way I wanted to. 

You spoke with Joe and some of The Traitors Season 2 contestants a few weeks back about ever competing on The Traitors. Is there a chance you would?

Rob Mariano swims with a briefcase in Deal or No Deal Island Episode 106.

Potentially. Depending on the format and how the show’s played. I feel like, if there’s an opportunity, that I could bring a lot to the show. I have an innate ability to be able to read people. I think that’s from my background playing poker and being observant and my background in psychology, so I think I would make a good Faithful. I think it’s a lot more fun to play as a Traitor.

RELATED: Traitors & Deal or No Deal Island Contestants Talk Gaming Strategy with Joe Manganiello

Follow up: Is there anyone, in particular, you’d like to see on The Traitors? Maybe even some of your fellow Deal or No Deal Island contestants?

I’d love to see Aron. He’s a friend. I trust him. I don’t know if I could trust them over there. [Laughs.] But he’s great, and I also had a really good rapport with Nick. Even though he’s from New York and I’m from Boston, we got along pretty well.

Anything to add?

I’m having a lot of fun. I’m thankful to NBC for the opportunity, and it’s fun to be part of an inaugural season of a show and figure out the strategy from the outset. I’m excited to see how the producers switch it up for a subsequent season and what adaption they make to make it even harder for the contestants. 

New episodes of Deal or No Deal Island air on Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC, and will be available to stream the next day on Peacock.