Riding a hot-air balloon was a first for Boston Rob. “There's literally no sound,” he says. “No machinery, you're not powered by oil—it's complete silence.” Also rather unusual, he recalls, was the sight below: the world's largest migration of mammals, including elephants and wildebeests, across Africa's Serengeti.
Rob Mariano (CGS'96, CAS'99), a.k.a. “Boston Rob,” has traveled far, far from his native Massachusetts. He's competed on the CBS reality show Survivor four times, finally winning in May 2011. He even met his wife, 2004 winner Amber, on the show. The couple also starred together in another reality series, Amazing Race, in which they traveled around the globe.
Most recently, Mariano co-starred in Around the World in 80 Ways on the History Channel. “The premise is to circumnavigate the globe using 80 different forms of transportation, without repeating any of them,” Mariano explains. The hot-air balloon was just one example. For over 10 weeks, Mariano and his co-host traveled by rickshaw, tractor, elephant, oxcart, camel, dune buggy, stilts, steam train, hearse, speedboat, antique Chinese fighter plane, Japanese jalopy, donkey, railroad handcart, and ostrich—to name a few modes of travel.
The most harrowing of these was heli-skiing: A helicopter towed Mariano as he rode a California river on water skis. Unfortunately, he neglected to let go of the rope at a crucial point, before the helicopter rose. “Next thing you know, I'm 50 feet in the air!” he recalls, still in disbelief. “There's no rehearsal, there's no stunt double, this is all real time.” Once the pilot realized what was happening, he safely lowered Mariano back to the water's surface. “It was probably 30 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.”
Along the way, the travelers faced charging hippos, visited Queen singer Freddie Mercury's birthplace in Zanzibar, learned about the history of the regions they traveled through, and interacted with people across five continents.
“As different as everything is over the entire world, I've realized how similar everything is,” says Mariano. “People's basic needs—to be loved, sheltered, fed—are the same everywhere.”
Seasoned globe-trotter and star (and soon-to-be producer) of television though he is, Boston Rob stays pretty close to earth. “I still keep in touch with my college buddies,” he says, and means it. He and eight of his classmates meet up without fail every Super Bowl Sunday.