INTERVIEW: Rob Mariano talks about his new 'Tontine' reality show
Last week, Rob Mariano announced that he will serve as the host of Tontine, a new reality competition show that will take place over 100 days on seven continents and reward its winner with the biggest cash prize in the history of reality television -- $10 million.
Although the name of the production company producing Tontine and the network that will broadcast it are still under wraps, the 31-year-old four-time The Amazing Race and Survivor contestant agreed to give Reality TV World an exclusive interview that gives potential contestants a better idea of what he and the rest of the show's casting folks will be looking for during their upcoming casting tour and home viewers a better idea of what they can expect to see when the show hits the airwaves next year. More information about this summer's nationwide Tontine casting tour is available at the show's jointhetontine.com website.
Reality TV World: Hi Rob, good to talk to you again, so where are you calling from today? Are you living back in Pensacola again?
Rob: I'm actually in Florida today. I was in Pittsburgh three days ago [and] Vegas last week. And I'll be in Dallas on Wednesday. (laughing) We're still kind of running around quite a bit... but I am actually in Florida [today].
Reality TV World: You've already pretty much been teasing this new show since the moment Amber and yourself were eliminated from The Amazing Race: All-Stars back in March, so why are you still being so mysterious about who is producing the show and what network it's going to air on?
Rob: The people that are producing it just asked me not to release it yet. As far as the network goes, I actually don't know why they asked me to, but I imagine it's because of... you know how it is with the competition with these shows these days -- one network will take another network's idea and if they can produce it in a shorter amount of time, next thing you know they have it on the air before the original network. What I can tell you is that the people that are producing are by far and away the best in the business as far as producers go. And the network is indeed a major network. It's not a cable network, it's one of the major networks. I'm just respecting their wishes. They asked to remain anonymous up until this point.
Reality TV World: Are you part of the show's producing team?
Rob: I am not one of the producers. I was [just] hired to be the host of the show.
Reality TV World: Are there signed deals in place or you still negotiating with the network and producers?
TRob: It's signed and done. It's a done deal. It will be on the air in April. It is indeed a signed deal. They're starting casting for it next week, June 30 [and] they're going to cast until the end of August. We're going to -- I believe -- eight cities. We're starting in Dallas, then going to Nashville; New York City; Boston; Minneapolis; St. Louis; Los Angeles; and San Diego. And then it will go to production the early part of September [with] post-production [to follow] after [that]. [The actual filming] will last 100 days, so September, October, November, [and] part of December. It will be on the air in the spring.
Reality TV World: When do you expect to announce the show's production team and broadcast network?
Rob: It's not really up to me... (laughing) you know what I mean? It's my job, I [just] work for them so whatever they want, that's what I'll do. I imagine they're probably doing this just to be secretive about the locations and everything because you know how all of these shows get spoiled these days. [But] that's just my imagination talking there.
Reality TV World: Ten Million dollars is a lot of money and far more than any other reality show has ever offered... how will it be paid to the winner -- is it a real $10 million lump sum or is it something like the lottery-like "over 40 years" annuity payment schedule that NBCâ€™s For Love or Money used for its prizes?
Rob: I don't know for sure, but I do know that one person is going to win the entire $10 million. There's not going to be any money for second place, it's winner take all. One person will win $10 million. It's not like one of these things where you have the opportunity, like "you can win $10 million" -- someone is going to win $10 million, there's no catch there. It really is the biggest prize ever offered in television history... the day of the $1 million prize is over after this thing comes up!
Reality TV World: So it's a legit $10 million? There are no catches, you don't have to wait 40 years to collect it? It's not like Fox's Unan1mous, which started with a $1.5 million prize but featured a constant prize countdown that ended up resulting in the winner eventually receiving less than $400,000?
Rob: Again, I'll tell you, it's a major network doing the show. It's a very [reputable] production company. Somebody's going to win $10 million.
Reality TV World: No catches?
Rob: No catches.
Reality TV World: Where and when did the concept for Tontine originate? Was it something you came up with and shopped around to producers or did some producer bring the concept to you?
Rob: This was definitely something I was approached about. This was not my original idea. I wish it was, it's a great idea.
Reality TV World: When were you first approached about it?
Rob: It was probably beginning of March or April... early spring. I happened to be in Los Angeles with my agent, and we took a meeting with these people, and I loved the idea right from the beginning. I've always wondered what am I going to do when this is all over. I imagined myself going back to construction and let me tell you the money in construction is nothing like it is in television. So it's been a lot of fun. And the opportunity has just been amazing, all the different opportunities I've gotten to do because of it. They came to me with the idea to host a show, and you know I thought it was a good transition and something I'd enjoy doing. But at the same time, I wondered if I could handle making that transition from "contestant" to "host" just because of my competitive nature and everything. The people involved assured me that I would have the ability to mess with the contestants a little bit... (laughing).
Reality TV World: Will you just be playing a Phil Keoghan-like role of just showing up at the end of each episode and announcing who is eliminated or will it be a lot more hands-on Jeff Probst-like role in which you'll be present at the challenges?
Rob: It's definitely hands-on. Like I said, I'm leaving to go to Dallas on Wednesday. I'm actually going to all of the casting calls all summer so I'm going to have a say in who we actually pick for the show. There's going to be 15 contestants chosen, and I'm actively going to be involved in that as well as, you know, I'm going on the road 100 days with the show [when it begins filming]. I'm going to all seven continents of the world -- everywhere they go, I go.
Reality TV World: So needless to say, this will be much more involved than your previous "Player Operator" hosting gig? [Rob served as the Charlie's Angels-like telephone host of UPN's The Player reality dating series in 2004]
Rob: (laughing) Yeah... I'll be involved in all the challenges. Obviously physical and mental challenges. There's a huge travel element involved. I mean, it's on all seven continents. It's a huge, huge time commitment. If you think about it, doing this show is probably one of the most ambitious reality shows anybody's ever undertaken. If you just think of the entire casting is going to last up to three months, the entire summer [and] then [after that,] the production of the show itself is [another] three months. Then there's [still] post-production and [getting] it on the air... it's a long, long project.
Reality TV World: You're a veteran of numerous reality shows at this point. Are there any specific aspects about Tontine's format that peaked your interest?
Rob: Well I don't know what the format is going to be because its the first time we've ever done it. The idea of hosting my own show and being the main host and the only host for a show on a major network is something that doesn't come along everyday. It's a great opportunity for me and I'm thrilled. Absolutely...
Reality TV World: So beyond what you've already said about the show's format, you don't really know much else about it or you can't say if you do?
Rob: The premise of the show is that we're simply going to choose 15 contestants at the beginning of the competition. It's a competition that lasts 100 days. At the beginning of the competition, each contestant is going to be given a key. Now the key is obviously [just] symbolic [but it] represents part of the $10 million fortune.
They're not going to be able to win just part of the $10 million fortune. [It's not going to be like CBS' Pirate Master where] each week, they get a part of the prize and split it up and stuff... [there won't be] none of that [on Tontine]. One person at the end is going to get it all, so the key basically represents [each contestant's] life in the game [and] they're going to compete in these different challenges for each other's keys. When you lose your key, you're out of the game. And the person at the end who possesses all 15 keys is going to win $10 million. It's going to be pretty intense if you think about it.
Reality TV World: So the contestants will be stockpiling each other's keys?
Rob: You're going to compete for each other's keys. I'm not exactly sure if you win somebody's keys and you have two keys, I don't know. Again, this is purely speculative and I think it's only because they want to keep it a secret, but I think maybe there might be a challenge where there might be two keys up for grabs... or three or more. As the game goes on, I imagine it will get a lot more intense.
Reality TV World: When you and Amber first began teasing this project, it sounded like it was something you'd both be involved with. Is Amber also involved with the show or is it just you?
Rob: No, Amber's not involved other than the fact that she's my wife [and] I'm going to be gone for 100 days [during the show's production] and all summer long [during] casting. This is something that they approached [just] me about...
Reality TV World: Given how long the actual production is going to last, is she planning to come along with you?
Rob: No, but I'm sure that when I go to places like Antarctica, she's going to want to see it. It's pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I'm sure she'll want to come down for it. A visit along the way... three months is a long time to be away.
Reality TV World: What type of people are you looking for in the casting process?
Rob: First of all, I want to say the main casting director for this show [is] Tad Frank, who is one of the biggest casting directors in all of Hollywood. He's cast Survivor, The Amazing Race and tons of other shows. But what we're looking for in contestants is obviously you have to have a Type A, outgoing personality -- people that have the ability to think outside the box [and] the competitive drive that they're going to do whatever it takes to win. [Applicants have to] understand that this is a game, and that people are competing, so just bring that competitive spirit. We're not looking for the faint of heart. Obviously we're looking for the best of the best.
I'll put it to you like this -- you know how competitive I was on all the shows? I'm looking for people that are more competitive than I was... if that's out there. I want guys and girls that are just basically gung-ho about the thing and they're going to do whatever it takes to win. You have to be... between [the ages of] 21 and 65 but other than that, we're looking for all different types of people. That's the general consensus of what we're looking for, but if you don't think you necessarily fit into that mold, then you better step it up if you plan on getting chosen.
Reality TV World: Does your involvement with Tontine mean that we won't be seeing a second season of your Fox reality show, Rob and Amber: Against All Odds?
Rob: At this time, that's still up to them. We're still negotiating on that. But [Tontine] is the main thing that I'm working on right now. But I was just down in Las Vegas a few weeks ago... last week actually. I played in one of the preliminary events of the [World Series of Poker]. I finished 82nd out of 2,998. So that's going well too.
Reality TV World: Are you working on some other additional projects beyond Tontine or is this it for now?
Rob: (laughing) This is a big one. This is it. It's taking up all of my time.
Reality TV World: Earlier this year, you told OK! Weekly you and Amber were planning to start a family "pretty soon." Is that on hold for a couple months now while you're away?
Rob: (laughing) For a couple months anyway... "soon" is a relative word.