As Survivor kicks off its 40th season, former contestant and full-time podcaster Rob Cesternino is hosting the ultimate viewing party for die-hard fans.
On Feb. 12, Cesternino — who placed 3rd in Survivor: Amazon (2003) and 14th in Survivor: All-Stars (2004) — is throwing a premiere party at Busby’s East in Los Angeles to watch the first episode of Survivor: Winners at War, which features 20 returning winners vying for the title of sole survivor once more (tickets available here).
The outing will also celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his podcast, aptly titled Rob Has a Podcast, which has helped transform the Survivor community into one of the most loyal fan bases in television today.
“It is crazy, because when we started doing it 10 years ago, it was just, ‘Okay, let me just do this as sort of a hobby in my spare time,’ ” Cesternino, 41, tells PEOPLE. “I had no job and I was just trying to do something to at least be creating something that I can show when I went on job interviews, that at least, ‘Hey, this guy is doing something.’ “
“And then people were listening and then it was really, really fun,” he adds. “I was teaching myself all the different things that I needed to do to get the podcast live and to do the social media and book the guests and everything that went into it. I wore a lot of different hats, and I still do.”
Along with many RHAP listeners, former contestants Stephen Fishbach (also Cesternino’s Survivor Know It Alls cohost), Phillip Sheppard, Abi-Maria Gomes, David Wright, Aras Baskauskas, Hannah Shapiro, Lauren Beck, Natalie Cole, Shane Powers and Terry Dietz will be at the Feb. 12 premiere party.
Although Cesternino began his podcast in 2010 with his wife Nicole, he made the gig his full-time career in 2014 and hasn’t slowed down since— even with two young sons in his household.
“They want to come in here and they want to touch all the controls and talk into the microphone,” Cesternino jokes of sons Dominic, 6, and Anthony, 4. “They’re very interested in what I do. And now they can open doorknobs and come upstairs.”
With thousands of podcast episodes under his belt, Cesternino says that his favorite time to talk reality TV came during Survivor: Cagayan in 2014, thanks to the antics of winner Tony Vlachos, who is among the cast of Winners at War.
“But really, just that season, all of the characters, it was such a wild season to cover and it was also so special for me, because that was also the first season that I was doing the podcast full time,” he says. “I’m very excited for the return of Tony, because I have so many fun memories about his first time out there and all the fun that we had on the podcast.”
And Vlachos isn’t the only champion Cesternino is excited to see back on his television screen. “Ethan [Zohn] returning is a really big thrill for me,” he says of the 46-year-old Survivor Africa winner and cancer survivor.
“I’ve known Ethan for a long time and I’ve known about just how serious and grave his cancer battle was, only six or seven years ago,” Cesternino says. “I know that everything that he’s been through, so that really just blew my mind, that he was going to be out there for this season, and just somebody that I never expected to see back out there.”‘
So would Cesternino ever play another season of the longtime CBS competition series?
“I think about it sometimes, but I really just love what I get to do on the podcasts so much,” he admits. “I get to have so much fun. I can’t get voted out. I get to talk about something that I love. I’m in my pajamas most of the day.”
“We have such a great community that we’ve built around the podcast, so as much as it is tempting to think about getting away from email and not having to do all of the different dad stuff that I have to do around the house, that’s the appealing part for me,” he adds. “But otherwise, I’m very happy to never play Survivor again and just keep doing what I’m doing and watch other people play Survivor for another 10 or 20 years.”
Survivor: Winners at War kicks off with a two-hour premiere Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
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