“Boston Rob” Mariano sits in his Perdido Key, Fla., kitchen for our Zoom, a massive painting of the 2004 Red Sox World Series champion team behind him.
“This is the original,” says Mariano, Sox cap on, looking back at the wedding present from his wife and fellow “Survivor” contestant, Amber Mariano (nee Brkich).
With his boy-next-door grin and Bawston accent, “Boston Rob” introduced himself to TV viewers in 2002 on the CBS hit “Survivor.” He met Brkich on “Survivor: All Stars,” and proposed on the live finale. “Rob and Amber Get Married” was a two-hour CBS primetime special, with the couple landing on the cover of People. (“Our 17th wedding anniversary is actually coming up April 16. That was an alliance that lasted.”)
Would the one-time construction worker have ever guessed that some 20 years after trying out for “Survivor,” he’d land his own Anthony Bourdain-style Boston exploration show?
“Never in a million years,” says the Hyde Park native, longtime Canton resident, and now host of “Boston Rob Does Beantown” on the digital platform, Very Local, produced by WCVB’s parent, Hearst Television. The recently launched streaming app (downloadable for Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or Android TV) contains news content generated by Channel 5, episodes of “Chronicle,” “On the Record,” and “CityLine,” and the new show “Blind Kitchen Boston.”
Perhaps best described as a travel show for people who live here, “Boston Rob” premieres April 21.
Each episode — which will post weekly through June 9 — features a different Boston neighborhood, from Southie to the Seaport, as Mariano tries everything from candlepin bowling to bone-marrow luge shots.
He explains in the show’s intro: “Even if you’ve lived here your entire life, I promise, we’re going to discover something new.”
The first episode centers on Southie. First stop: I.V. League Hydration, which offers intravenous treatments “for those in need of some extra vitamins in their bloodstream. It’s also a great treatment to a hangover,” Mariano tells viewers.
He gets both an IV drip and booty “Emsculpt” — staff tells him it’s called “the Kardashian treatment.” The electro-magnetic stimulation is the equivalent of 20,000 squats, they tell him.
Mariano takes his pants off, lies down, and gets a paddle on each cheek. “I apologize to my mother, my father. I’m sorry, guys,” he says, laughing. In our Zoom, Mariano said viewers will “see me in some uncomfortable situations.”
Throughout the eight episodes, Mariano spotlights a mix of his favorite spots — The Greatest Bar, where he once tended bar, the North End’s Strega — along with new-to-Rob-spots, like a Cycleboat tour of Boston Harbor. (“That was actually the first time I’d seen the city from the water.”)
He was wowed by Newbury Street’s Jonquils Cafe & Bakery, where pastries “are artistic creations — you almost feel bad eating them.” He tried “the most amazing Somalian food” at Tawakal Halal Café. He says the lobster rolls at Pauli’s were “outstanding.” He discovered Reign Drink Lab, which serves “Vietnamese coffee out of a keg.” He tried yoga for the first time.
And he was shocked to see what the Seaport has become. “When I was a kid, I remember the Seaport being fishing wharves,” he said. “That place has just exploded.”
He also learned some “secret spots.”
“We went to Modern Pastry — I never knew, in the basement, there’s a secret bar. And that’s not the only secret spot,” he says, mentioning JM Curley’s “secret steakhouse,” Bogie’s Place. “I know places in New York have these bodegas where you go downstairs and it’s a Mexican restaurant. Here in our own backyard, we have them as well.”
In the pilot, Mariano’s left arm is in a cast. “A few weeks before we filmed, I was in San Diego [in] a poker tournament. I rented one of those scooters, and I crashed,” he says with a laugh. “And broke my hand. I had surgery literally a few days before we were set to film. [But] we made it work.”
For example, the hockey lover would’ve liked to have played harder at Warrior Arena. “I’m a huge Bruins fan, and that’s where they practice. I played hockey growing up. I went to school at Boston University, and coached the inline team there for a few years after I graduated. Hockey is a big part of my life.”
But ax-throwing was something new, “and surprisingly, I did pretty good,” he says — and one-handed at that.
BOSTON ROB DOES BEANTOWN
Premieres April 21 on Very Local. www.verylocal.com/cities/boston