Rob Has a Shadow

Last week there were two events that brought me in proximity with this man.


A week ago, my episode of The Experts aired. Believe it or not, the day I taped the episode was the same day as this. It was a very busy day, full of exciting games around a Survivor theme.

Rob C. and I arrived at the studio at the same time. I was a bit bashful and star struck but introduced myself.

Those of you who don't know anything about the reality show Survivor and don't care need not read on. For the rest of you, more after the jump. Oh, I can't figure out how to do those in Squarespace. Well, more in the next paragraph.

When Survivor was only in its single digits (now it is embarking on its 27th season), I was in college and I wrote, directed, and starred in Survivor: The Musical. This is how my enthusiasm for the new smash competition strategy show manifested itself.

Rob - my age - was living in New York at the time and he applied to the show. He was, I would venture to say, the first Survivor superfan who got a chance to play. He made all us other Survivor fans proud. He won an immunity, had lots of funny sound bites and fine strategy moments, and made it to the final three, which put him in noble company with Rudy, Lex, and Kathy. He also got to play again in Season 8 All-Stars but his reputation as a clever player worked against him and he was eliminated very early on.

Since then, Rob has parlayed his Survivor notoriety into a media empire where he podcasts about all manner of pop culture, from Survivor and other reality shows to The Walking Dead and SNL. Rob has the gift of gab and legions of loyal fans and listeners who are always tuning in to find out what Rob has now.

Back to that parking lot. I found myself there because I'd emailed The Experts offering my services as a Survivor expert: I know a lot about the show. Alan and his team wrote back enthusiastically, saying they needed a Survivor expert to come compete against Rob, who would be competing in the category Seinfeld. I said yes immediately.

Rob and I chatted a little about Survivor and parenthood, and about the musical I'd written in college. We also gabbed with our fellow competitor, Alex, who had driven through horrendous traffic but had not re-watched the Star Wars prequels in preparation for the game. I know which one I would rather do.

My friend Jaclyn was there: I'd invited her to come along, and as it happens she knows Rob through friends of friends and they have played tennis together. She watched the episode that taped before ours, also hosted by Kurt, which she said was a bit bumpy. I have to say that Kurt's performance in our episode was also somewhat rocky but credit where credit's due, hosting a show full of names and references you don't know must be really hard and he gave it the old college try.

So this, in case you can't tell, is my post-game analysis. I'm taking a page from the book for the board gamers who won Only Connect and blogged about their episodes. I only have the 1, but here's what I remember from a game show I competed in last June.

The episode itself tapes in an office with a green screen. There were people doing work who were not part of the show, that I could tell anyhow. Alan and his team made things go really smoothly. There is a board the players can see with real-time standings. We sat on stools and all declined the proffered beers.

In the first round, the first three questions were no-brainers that even the most casual fan could probably answer. I'm paraphrasing:

1. Who was the first winner, jailed for tax evasion?

2. Who is the only two-time winner?

3. Whom did Johnny Fairplay untruthfully say had died?

4. What college sport does Coach coach?

5. What three players won in a shut-out?

This one was rather easy, but I had it quickly because I'd been taking Sporcle quizzes including a wonderful game presented as a logic grid based on the names of winners.

6. What was Ethan's luxury item?

7. What season featured the tribes Chapera, Mogo Mogo, and Saboga?

I spent more time drilling tribe names than any other single piece of preparation for this game, because there are so many of them and I knew it was my weakness, so I didn't want to get asked a tribe name question and get caught flatfooted. When it came, it was actually a bit easier than I was expecting because so few seasons have had 3 tribes but I suppose in hindsight they could have been asking about two pre-merge tribe names and the merge tribe name (they weren't). Rob C. got cheeky because he knew full well that he was the first boot off the very formidable Chapera tribe.

8. Who betrayed Yau-Man after being given a car?

9. Who is the only player to be voted out of the same season 3 times?

10. Whom did Jeff Probst describe as the "smartest player never to win the game"?

These questions weren't very difficult, but then again I know a lot about Survivor. The last question of the round is supposed to be very hard, but they made it a softball because the answer was sitting right next to me. In the last edit, they cut a remark where I criticize Kurt for glossing over my perfect score. It didn't help, because I still come off as very self-satisfied in these videos. The truth is, I'm having a great time talking about my favorite show on my favorite YouTube show.

In the second round, I got a freebie when Alex gave his first question to Rob. This was a strategic mis-step but it benefited me. I'd like to say it's because of a pre-show alliance I made with him but that would not be true.

I regret not getting the $5 question right. I know more answers to questions about votes, challenges, and strategy than I do about day-to-day camp life. On top of which, I did no review of Redemption Island in preparation for the show, other than tribe names. In the post-question discussion, Rob did his trademark BR impression, but they cut it from the final edit. After the show, Alan read me the $6 and $7 questions and I got those right. Boston Rob's GI issues kept me from getting a perfect game. Rats.

Some have said that I faced a very easy selection of questions. That's a matter of opinion. But I want credit for two things. I practiced my "I don't know face" before going on this show so I would have a good chance of successfully bluffing my opponents whether or not I knew the answer - the host even commented on it. I would like credit for the bluff.

You can't say that spelling S. La Grossa's first name was a terribly easy question.

This is the other thing I want credit for: Rob wagered aggressively, and I had to anticipate his wager - as well as answering both questions correctly - to beat him. I hope my brother was proud of me; he understands the proper wagering on Jeopardy!, although I haven't discussed this wager-to-tie guy everyone is talking about.

I'm a big Eliza Orlins fan so it was good to be able to give her a shout-out. She is very active in social media; so far I haven't seen her recognize this game. I'll be posting this to the #RHAP subreddit when I'm done, maybe that'll elicit a response.

I was so focused I didn't realize until I watched the episode later that I didn't need to answer the second question right to win, but if you compare our wagers you'll see that I wagered properly, assuming Rob would answer both of his questions right.

The second question was easy for me because I work in the challenge department, and balut has become the sine qua non of the gross food challenge.

Here's where I win all the moolah, I was anticipating a jury question in round 5 because the HQITW is always a list question, and juries are a great place to find lists. Remembering the Pagong tribe was the hardest, but once I clicked into Sean's "fat naked fag" remark, it all fell into place. And after this I took the producers out for a drink. I invited Rob and Alex along too but they couldn't make it. I'm sad The Experts has stopped airing the additional footage they shot; there's a post-game interview where Rob calls me the most "sponge-worthy" competitor on The Experts. My wife had to explain that one to me.

And that was my triumph! What a fun show. I can't wait to see the episodes they taped in Las Vegas.

Due to our having met on the episode, Rob was nice enough to invite me to attend the roast he threw in his honor at the Hollywood Improv. This was a fun night of amateur joke-tellers to celebrate Rob's recent victory at the Podcast Awards, also in Las Vegas.

After the roast, which you can hear in its entirety on Rob's site, everyone went to another bar where I had a chance to gab a bit with Tyson and also Sophie. I wish I had anything very interesting to report; Tyson and I talked about Provo UT where he is from and where my friends to comedy, and he tipped me off to some deep-bench LDS scripture references he worked into his on-camera time in Blood vs. Water. We also chatted about which competitors he was most worried about (Candace) and how it was probably good he didn't propose to Rachel at the reunion show, since that's not what every girl wants. I bought Sophie a beer but she was mostly being monopolized by a guy who had made it to the finals of casting but not on the show. It was interesting listening in on their conversation. Also I met Allie from Fans Vs. Favorites II, but did not recognize her and put my foot in my mouth when I asked if she'd tried out for the show. She works in casting now. She is very lovely in person but exactly the kind of face I cannot recognize, even though I am an expert at Survivor. And she had lipstick on her teeth.

Rob and I also gabbed a bit at the bar, about how good he is to his fans and a little bit about fatherhood.

So those are my 2 run-ins with Rob Cesternino, the smartest podcaster ever to play Survivor. I hope I will run into him again.