Why Boston Rob Kept His ‘Deal or No Deal Island’ Fate from Wife Amber

After 19 years marriage, there’s not much Rob Mariano and Amber Mariano don’t know about one another. But there is one topic he tells PEOPLE he keeps close to his chest: his fate on reality TV competition shows.

“I never tell her how I do,” explains Rob, 48. “It spoils the fun.”

The father of four, known as “Boston Rob” to fans, has become a reality TV legend in the two decades he’s spent competing on the small screen. He made his debut on Survivor: Marquesas in 2002, and returned to the show five additional times for Survivor: All-Stars (2004), Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (2010), Survivor: Redemption Island (2011), Survivor: Island of the Idols (2019) and Survivor: Winners at War (2020).

Amber joined Rob for a few of those outings, including Survivor: All-Stars, where the two met and fell in love (she won, he came in second place; he later won Survivor: Redemption Island). She was also by his side when they competed together on The Amazing Race, both in season 7 (2005) and season 11 (2007).

But the 45-year-old mom — who shares Lucia, 14, Karina, 13. Isa, 12 and Adelina, 9, with Rob — didn’t learn how Rob did on his latest show, NBC’s Deal or No Deal Island, until the finale aired on the evening of Monday, May 13.

Amber Mariano and Rob Mariano at the premiere of ‘Survivor: Winners and War’ on February 10, 2020.

David Livingston/Getty

All season long, Rob had been playing defense, as his fellow competitors strategized to take him out of the game. “I wasn’t surprised,” he says. “I knew I was going to have a huge target on me from the outset, but I hoped that my experience with all these shows would be able to negate it to a degree. And luckily for me, I was good enough that I was able to navigate the situation all the way to the top 4.”

It was in that semi-finals challenge, sadly, that Rob’s game fell apart. Tasked to solve a complicated puzzle before retrieving one of the games briefcases from a grueling maze, Rob made a crucial error when he looked at a fellow competitors completed answer — something fair game in Survivor, but something that Deal or No Deal Island host Joe Manganiello has specifically instructed was against the rules.

“At the end of the day, I definitely own it,” Rob says. “I looked at her board, I tried to get an advantage. I wasn’t supposed to do that, I’ve just been conditioned over all the years of playing Survivor where that’s not only allowed, but encouraged. You’d be ridiculous to not try to get that advantage, you know? But banker’s island, bankers rules. Live by the sword, die by the sword. So I had to accept the penalty.”

Rob Mariano and Joe Manganiello in ‘Deal or No Deal Island’.

Monty Brinton/NBC/Getty Images

That penalty prevented Rob from even entering the maze until three whole minutes after the last player. And though he made up the time, he missed the challenge’s cutoff by a minute and had to exit the game.

“It was brutal, especially watching it back,” Rob admits. “Living it was tough, but watching it back also brought up a lot of emotions.”

And while PEOPLE talked with Rob before Amber had seen the episode, he says he has no doubt how she’ll react.

“I’m lucky in that regard,” Rob says. “I have such a great family, and Amber has always been so supportive. She understands my need for competition. I grew up playing sports, and I absolutely love to compete, so she allows me to quench that thirst every couple of years on all these different shows.”

Amber Mariano and Rob Mariano in ‘Survivor: Winners at War’.

Robert Voets/CBS/Getty

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“It’s a ridiculous lifestyle that I’ve been living, but I’m very grateful,” he adds. “You know, I’m coming up on 50 years old and I started this thing when I was 24, 25. To just to be able to get out there after all these years and see if I could still do it, that was my personal challenge. So as far as I’m concerned, I won.”

All episodes of Deal or No Deal Island are now streaming on Peacock.

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