The Short Version
I’m Rob Cesternino and I have a website. I also have a podcast where I talk about strategic Reality TV Shows like Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race and Celebrity Apprentice. I am a former two-time Survivor contestant (Survivor: The Amazon and Survivor: All-Stars) and Jeff Probst once called me “the smartest player to never win Survivor.”
Since I launched it in 2010, Rob Has a Podcast has grown to be a fixture among the top podcasts in the TV & Film category in iTunes. RHAP has won 5 People’s Choice Podcast Awards including the People’s Choice Podcast of the Year in 2015.
I still can’t get over that I get to talk about all the reality shows that I love. I’m incredibly proud of the tremendous community of fans, guests and correspondents that we’ve built here around Rob Has a Podcast. If you’re visiting for the first time, I hope you check out some of the shows. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think!
How I Got Here
Ever since I was little, I was always in front of the television. I loved Sesame Street and Mister Rodgers Neighborhood, but I was especially obsessed with game shows. I learned to count from The Price is Right and played Card Sharks by myself with decks of playing cards. My mom likes to say that I’m the only kid who hated Saturdays because there were cartoons on instead of all of my game shows. I knew that when I grew up I wanted to be a game show host.
I grew up on Long Island in New York. Predictably, there weren’t many other kids at school who wanted to talk about the best way to win at Plinko. I never really minded because having a lot of friends would really cut into my TV time. When I was heading into 9th grade my parents moved and I started school at Wantagh High School. As the new kid starting high school, I struggled to make friends, so I ended up watching even more TV.
Eventually, I grew up and went away to to study broadcasting at Oswego State University in upstate New York . I did a sportscast on the student run WTOP TV station at the school. I even started to make some great friends. In August of 1999, I was about to head back up to school for my senior year of college and a show called Who Wants to be a Millionaire? premiered. It was a runaway hit, on every night of the week. I was loving this new golden age of primetime game shows. Millionaire would pave the way for another unscripted primetime show to come along the following summer. Survivor premiered in June 2000 and struck me as a cross between a game show and The Real World. I fell in love instantly and my life was changed forever.
I watched Survivor every week that summer, captivated by what I was seeing. I wanted to talk about the show all the time – so did everybody else in America. Survivor became the country’s water-cooler conversation and shattered TV ratings records during that premiere season. My friends and I would host viewing parties and occasionally held “tribal councils” at our college house to vote out our most annoying guests.
After the first season ended, I was able to put my knowledge of Survivor and Millionaire to good use. I wrote my Honor’s Program senior thesis on “The Impact of Reality Television: How Survivor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire Changed Broadcasting.” It was the hardest I ever worked on any project in my many years of schooling and I came away with an “A”.
Going on Survivor
After I graduated college, I didn’t really know what to do with my broadcasting degree. I had been working summers at an insurance general agency that was started by a family friend. I was offered a project coordinator position focused on IT and marketing. It paid well and my mom worked there too, so it was a comfortable and safe choice.
Though I was earning a salary for the first time in my life, I was growing restless. I wanted to escape from the “9 to 5” doldrums and be one of the people ON the reality shows I was watching – not just somebody talking about them.
While Survivor was always my first love, I also became a huge fan of Big Brother in its second season. While the first season was a dud, I truly loved the changes made to the game for Big Brother 2. I watched my favorite player from Big Brother 2, Dr. Will Kirby, play an amazing game, win the season and have so much fun while doing so. Having also just watched the brutal conditions on Survivor: Africa, I came to the conclusion that I was much more suited to be a guy sitting around a house for a summer – NOT a rugged adventurer braving the elements and eating bugs.
In the spring of 2002, I sent in my tape to apply for Big Brother 3. A few weeks later I got a phone call from a casting producer who said that they wanted to meet me and eventually I was brought out to L.A. for the final round of casting. The executives all laughed at my stories about living in my parents basement and not getting any girls – things were going well. I was convinced I was going to be cast on Big Brother, until I got the phone call in June of 2002 telling me that I wasn’t.
I was devastated because I was so close to getting on to reality TV. I figured that I would wait another year and try again to get cast on Big Brother 4. Then in September of 2002, I got another phone call from Los Angeles. This time it was a casting agent from Survivor, who wanted to know if I was interested in doing the show. I laughed and asked them if they were sure they wanted ME for Survivor. It turned out they wanted a guy who was similar to the person who was cast instead of me on Big Brother 3 (a guy named Josh Feinberg), and they remembered me from casting in June.
A few days later, I flew out to Los Angeles again. I went through a special casting that was only a couple of people, unlike the bigger casting I went through for Big Brother. I met with the executives again as well as Mark Burnett and Jeff Probst. I told Mark Burnett that I wrote my college paper about him and the executives made fun of me. Once again, things were going well.
This time, after the interviews were over, two of the casting assistants brought me to a room and told me that I was going to be cast on the next season of Survivor. The show started filming in four weeks. Before I could even process this news, my arms were prepped and then poked with about a dozen different needles for inoculations. In a vaccine-induced haze, I boarded a plane back to New York to tell my parents.
Survivor: The Amazon
Now we’re at the part of the story that many of you may already know. It was a dream come true to actually be on Survivor and it was the most fun that I had ever had in my life. I’ve never understood the “castaways” who are miserable on Survivor because for me it was such a thrill. The starvation and suffering never got to me – for me it was always more fun than being at my job!
When the filming ended, I came back to Long Island. In February of 2003, Survivor: The Amazon started to air on TV. My parents threw a huge party every week and invited just about everybody they knew. Every week was an event. My sister Lisa also invited her friends over to watch the show. After a few weeks, I started to really hit it off with one of these girls. Her name was Nicole.
When Survivor: The Amazon came to an end, I didn’t walk away with the million dollars or the title of “Sole Survivor,” but I really didn’t mind. I was a 24-year-old who played the game hard and I didn’t leave anything on the table. I got high praise from Jeff Probst, who called me the “smartest player never to win the game.” I got to meet all of the former Survivors at the reunion and I was as happy as a guy could be.
In the week following the Survivor: The Amazon finale, they announced that for the first time they were going to do an “All-Star” edition of Survivor, with all of the best players coming back to compete against each other. My season had been over for a total of 3 days and now I was already faced with the prospect of going back.
I officially got the call five months later in October of 2003 to go back and play Survivor a second time. This time I had time to prepare. I worked out. I read strategy and psychology books. I was ready to finally be the “smartest player to ever WIN the game.” Unfortunately, fate had something else in store for me. I lasted 12 days on Survivor: All-Stars before being unanimously voted out of my tribe. I learned that the problem with coming off really great in your first time shot at Survivor means none of the other players want to see your encore.
Life After Survivor
Before I went on Survivor: All-Stars, I thought I had everything figured out. I thought there would be a world of opportunities for a funny guy who had just had two memorable appearances on Survivor. Instead, I found that nobody particularly cared about a guy who finished in 15th place on Survivor: All-Stars.
The summer of 2004 was one of the hardest times I’ve ever been through. Things were going great with Nicole, but I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I had quit my job at the insurance agency and I knew that I didn’t want to go back. I had made some money playing Survivor, but I didn’t have any career prospects and I could see my winnings eventually running out.
I got a phone call from a producer out in Los Angeles named Scott Zakarin. Scott owned a production company that was doing projects with reality TV stars after they got off of their shows. He had started a website called “TheFishbowl.com,” was a fellow Long Islander and said I was one of his favorites on Survivor.
I flew out to L.A. in August of that year to meet with the other people who were working on “The Fishbowl.” I was excited to be working on something creative and with really great people. After a few months of working together while I lived in New York, Scott told me that he would give me a full-time job if I moved to L.A. I wanted nothing more than to go, but I didn’t want to leave Nicole.
Even though Nicole was upset (this is an understatement), I told Scott that I would accept his offer. I started making arrangements to leave Long Island and move into an apartment in Los Angeles. I wanted to make it work with Nicole over the long distance, but she had her doubts that it could work. I had more faith – I thought we could make it work while I was in Los Angeles and Nicole was in New York.
I officially got to L.A. on October 28, 2004. I moved into my one bedroom apartment on Hollywood Blvd. and started to work at The Fishbowl. The funny thing about moving to Los Angeles at that time was that, other than the people I worked with, the only other people I knew were people from reality shows – specifically, crazy, spotlight-seeking reality TV personalities.
We got to do some really cool stuff at the Fishbowl. They were doing “internet radio” shows interviewing reality stars and posting the audio on the website. I became the host of their Survivor radio show. I loved it. I started doing more “internet radio shows” about a number of other topics. Had it been a few years later, we might have thought to call these “internet radio shows” by the name “podcasts.”
In 2005, I was part of the team at “The Fishbowl” that sold a TV show to E! called Kill Reality. The show was a Project Greenlight-type documentary of the making of a horror movie starring all reality stars. The film was called The Scorned and I co-wrote it. It’s not what I’d call a good movie, but there are lots of reality stars getting killed in it – so there’s something to be said for that.
Apparently, making a movie starring all reality stars wasn’t the best idea because the company that ran The Fishbowl went out of business. I found myself in L.A. on my own and it seemed as though I had reached the end of my days working with reality TV.
Although The Fishbowl had failed, I never thought to go back to Long Island with my tail between my legs. In fact, Nicole moved to Los Angeles to live with me in February 2006. The long distance experiment had worked and she quickly learned to love Los Angeles as much as I did.
Becoming an Online Content Creator
Scott Zakarin, some of the guys from “The Fishbowl,” and I started a new production company called Iron Sink Media. Our focus was in web video production. Once YouTube took off, we started creating original web series. For the first time in the previous 4 years, Survivor wasn’t a major part of my life. I wasn’t watching the show every week and I didn’t miss it. After starting as a fan, then becoming a contestant and ultimately broadcasting about the show over its first 13 seasons, I needed a break from Survivor.
In 2006, I co-wrote one of the first original series made just for YouTube called Soup of the Day. We followed that up with another daily web series called NoHoGirls. The premise was that the characters were posting and vlogging videos as if they were real people – even though they were actors.
As I was writing, producing and directing web series for Iron Sink, I was starting to learn all of the aspects of production. What we learned was that making the content isn’t the hard part, the challenge is getting people to watch it. We had no budget, we had no marketing team – so to create successful shows, we had to learn how to market content on the internet. I became an expert in learning how to build audiences on YouTube using early social media platforms like MySpace.
Our presence on MySpace got the attention of its executives, who hired us to create their first original web series for MySpace.TV called Roommates. The show aired for two seasons and had its own product placement deal with Ford. The success of “Roommates” led to funding for Iron Sink for a whole slate of new shows.
In 2008, with our company fully funded, we launched a number of new series on YouTube. We started the DownstairsGuys and UpstairsGirls which were interactive daily vlogs. We did another web series called ModelBall, in which a degenerate gambler bet he could win a beer league softball championship with a team of models. Another show was a video blog with William Shatner called The Shatner Project which won a Streamy Award in 2009.
In the fall of 2008, I was about to turn 30. I wanted to do something big for my 30th birthday so I took Nicole out for a weekend away and I proposed. After a five-year courtship, we were finally getting married.
However, when the economy crashed at the end of 2008, the funding that we had gotten for our company started to dry up. Without the money coming in to fund our production, there was no way to continue making the shows. By the spring of 2009, I was out of work and without an income.
I didn’t know which way to turn next because at this time nobody was hiring a web video producer. I also was getting married in a year and needed to pay for a wedding. I was trying to hone my skills as an internet marketer and a content creator and I needed a place to put my resume. I registered the URL RobHasAwebsite.com.
Rob Has a Podcast
During the summer of 2009, I started playing around with podcasting. I had started listening to podcasts a few years earlier and always thought it would be fun to make my own. I started recording podcasts of me talking to my friends from college about my beloved New York Mets and Star Wars. Hardly anybody was listening to these shows but the few people who did said they always liked it when I did them with Nicole.
Over the last few years I had watched a few seasons of Survivor. In the summer of 2009, CBS started really promoting how big of a character Russell Hantz was going to be. I was intrigued enough to start watching the show on a regular basis.
In January 2010, CBS held a “10-year Anniversary Party” for Survivor in anticipation of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. I had a great time seeing a bunch of familiar faces who I had lost touch with. After going to the party, I realized that I was really excited about tuning in to Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. I missed talking about Survivor.
Soon after this, my friend Ryan Pappolla really wanted to do a podcast with me about the upcoming final season of LOST. I decided that from now on “Rob Has a Podcast” was going to focus on me talking about what I was watching on television, especially LOST and Survivor.
Our first Survivor podcast was in February of 2010. The difference between these podcasts and the ones I did the summer before was that some people were actually interested in hearing them (not many, but hey, we weren’t complaining). A few weeks later, I thought I might as well call up somebody I knew to have them talk about Survivor with me. I called Jonny Fairplay (Survivor: Pearl Islands) and then Jenna Morasca (Survivor: The Amazon) the week after that. Suddenly, people expected a guest every week!
I still didn’t have a job at this time but working on the podcast and the website forced me to learn so much more about podcasting, internet marketing, social media and community management. While doing the podcast was taking up a lot of my time, it was quickly becoming a labor of love.
On August 1, 2010, Nicole and I got married back on Long Island. Everything about our wedding day was perfect. The temperature was unseasonably mild for August on Long Island, it didn’t rain and everybody had a blast. Shortly thereafter, Nicole and I headed off to our honeymoon in Antigua before heading back to L.A.
Back home as newlyweds, we got back behind the microphones and kept podcasting. During that summer we had started podcasting about Big Brother, which we’ve continued to do ever since. By September of 2010, the podcast was successful enough that we started getting to do exit interviews with the players kicked off of Survivor: Nicaragua. I was also asked to write the weekly Survivor blog on CBS.com.
From all of the knowledge I was learning about how to build a website and market the show, I started to get other types of work as well. I became the social media manager for a Moving Pictures Magazine in late 2010. All the while, I continued to create more and more podcasts.
In the fall of 2011, I decided to start doing video simulcasts of some of the shows. The early shows on video were very experimental but I found that there was a new level of interactivity that we had when our audience was listening to us live.
In December of 2011, my world was rocked when my father passed away very suddenly from a heart attack. It was a terrible shock to me and my entire family, but the support from the RHAP community was amazing and touching. A few days before my Dad passed away, I actually had the most amazing conversation with him over the phone. While my family and I always had worried about his weight, I had no reason to suspect that I would be talking to him for the last time. I am always incredibly thankful that I had the courage to call him that day and tell him how I felt, even though it would’ve FELT easier and more comfortable to put it off.
After being home for a few weeks to be with my family, Nicole and I came back to Los Angeles in January 2011. During the break between the end of Survivor: South Pacific and the start of Survivor: One World, we held the first ever “Miss Survivor” pageant. The fans of the show voted for Parvati Shallow to be the first “Miss Survivor” and an annual Rob Has a Podcast tradition was born.
Over the course of 2011, I expanded the use of live streaming on the podcast. Using the Spreecast platform, we streamed a live podcast once a week in the mornings. However, our live shows didn’t really take off until I started doing live recaps of Big Brother right after the episodes ended. I realized we were onto something by doing a live interactive show after the end of a TV show and recording the audio for a podcast.
In September 2012, I decided that Survivor would be the next show to get its own live post show recap. I approached my great friend, Stephen Fishbach (Survivor: Tocantins) to join me every week to recap Survivor after it airs. Since Stephen Fishbach is considered to be another intellectual Survivor player who didn’t win his season, I thought a great name for this recap would be Survivor Know-It-Alls – the show with the two guys who know everything about Survivor, except how to win the game.
In the fall of 2012, I started a new job. I became the VP of Production at a network of video websites. I was shooting a number of times a week which really complicated recording the podcasts. However, no matter how many hours I was working, I rearranged my schedule to always keep the podcast going.
During Survivor Philippines, the podcast continued to attract a wider following and also bring in bigger guests. In October 2012, I interviewed “Boston Rob” Mariano (Survivor: Marquesas, Survivor All-Stars, Survivor: Heroes vs Villains, winner of Survivor: Redemption Island) for the first time. A few weeks later, I got my first interview with the host of Survivor, Jeff Probst. That season, I even got to be that game show host I always wanted to be when we played Survivor Jeopardy!
In November of 2012, RHAP was nominated for the third time for the Best Entertainment Podcast of the year, but we had never won before. Becoming a little tired of never winning anything, I decided to incentivize voters with the prospect of me shaving my head if we won. I knew this would annoy Nicole, but I had no idea of the degree to which this would enrage Nicole. The more that Nicole said she would divorce me if I shaved my head, the more people kept voting for us. For weeks we fought about me shaving my head if I won and I just kept assuring her that there was NO way “Rob Has a Podcast” would win the award… or so I thought.
In January of 2013, Rob Has a Podcast won the Best Entertainment Podcast of the Year at the 8th annual People’s Choice Podcast Awards. Nicole was not happy… but I was thrilled!
After doing a lot of research, I decided it was time to use Google Hangouts for the RHAP live shows instead of Spreecast. The appeal for me was that I wanted the shows to be on YouTube. Having the archived shows on YouTube turned out to be another great way for people to find the podcasts and help the show continue to grow.
In March of 2013, we recorded our 500th episode of Rob Has a Podcast (on that episode I shared a lot of this story in much greater detail).
That spring, Nicole and I found out that we were expecting our first child. We broke the news to the RHAP world at the end of our recap of the Survivor: Caramoan finale (even if many thought we were just trying to come up with a cover story for going on Survivor: Blood vs. Water). On September 29, 2013, Nicole and I welcomed our son Dominic James Cesternino in to the world.
Podcasting with an infant in the house was a unique challenge on a few different levels. The baby doesn’t care if you have a podcast to do at 10:00 pm. He doesn’t understand needing to be quiet when you’re recording and doesn’t mind keeping you up all hours of the night, even if you have a busy workday in the morning. The first few weeks of having the baby in the house made it really tough, but we kept the podcast going all through the fall.
In December 2013, my entire department at my job was laid off. While disappointed, I decided that instead of pursuing another full-time gig, I was going to try and make podcasting my full-time profession. It might turn out to be an ill-advised idea but it’s the only thing I’ve ever found that consumes all of my focus and never feels like work.
On January 5, 2014 I returned to the 9th Annual People’s Choice Podcast Awards. This time we were recognized for the Best Video Podcast AND Best Produced Podcast awards of the year. You can see what I had to say when I accepted the awards in this video:
I have no idea where any of this is eventually going. If you read all of this, I really appreciate you taking the time to learn so much about me. It is my hope that you give these crazy podcasts a chance and get to know this really amazing community of people who enjoy smart, funny talk about very silly shows.
Hope to hear from you soon,