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Now that her days on 'Survivor' are over, Brkich hopes the hoopla will bring fun and opportunites

Saturday, April 14, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Amber Brkich was on the phone yesterday morning talking with some embarrassment about how often she exclaimed "Oh my God!" and "Wow!" on CBS's "Survivor: The Australian Outback."

Amber Brkich says she refused to share the community toothbrush - she used toothpaste and a finger. (Monty Brinton, CBS(c)CBS Worldwide Inc.)

Then she stopped short. Even on the other end of the line, the source of the interruption was obvious due to a distinctive voice: Regis.

Brkich was calling from backstage at "Live with Regis and Kelly," where minutes later she would discuss her ouster from television's top-rated series. Host Regis Philbin, co-host Kelly Ripa and executive producer Michael Gelman introduced themselves to Amber during a commercial break as she conducted one in a flurry of interviews.

If there were any doubt Brkich's life has changed dramatically, an interruption-by-Regis erased it.

Brkich, who lives with her parents in Brighton, Beaver County, made the rounds of the morning shows yesterday, only 12 hours after watching herself be voted out of the Outback.

With her hair parted in the center (no braids!) and wearing a dress from Charlotte Russe (Ross Park Mall, Monroeville Mall), the 22-year-old told Bryant Gumbel on "The Early Show" she'd even consider posing nude for Playboy as part of her newfound celebrity.

"I'd sit down and have a talk with them," she said between "Early Show" and "Live" appearances. "It would take a lot of considering. There are a lot of things you've got to think about when you do something like that."

Her willingness to consider a Playboy pictorial didn't shock her mother, Cheryl Brkich.

"She told us that already," Cheryl Brkich said. "I said, 'Amber, you wouldn't!' I don't know if I could have her do that, but it's not up to me. I guess it's one of the nicer magazines. Hustler, forget it, and Penthouse, too."

Amber also told Gumbel she was surprised she got booted off "Survivor" at this point in the game. She thought 53-year-old Rodger Bingham would go before her.

An hour later, Amber told Regis and Kelly there was only one toothbrush among all the contestants. Amber didn't share the toothbrush; she used toothpaste and brushed with her finger instead.

Late Thursday afternoon, Amber left Pittsburgh on a flight bound for New York and the Friday media gauntlet. She wore a hat and sunglasses the duration of her flight while sitting in first class to avoid detection. She didn't want to spoil the surprise for anyone who might see her headed to New York and put the puzzle pieces together to realize she would be voted out on Thursday's episode.

"I didn't want to ruin it for everybody else," Amber said. "I had my head down the entire time, and no one came up to me. If they noticed me, they didn't tell me."

Even her mother didn't know that the end of Amber's stint was near.

"She was going to tell me yesterday, but I was out, and I guess I just missed her," Cheryl said. Amber had left a note saying she'd gone to the movies with her boyfriend, Westminster College senior Derek Baumgarten, but suspicions began to rise when her makeup turned up missing.

"We rooted through her closet looking for all the cute clothes she has, and they were all gone," Cheryl said. So was her hair dryer. And a suitcase. "We all got that sinking feeling, but we knew it was coming. When it finally did, it was hard to take."

Cheryl and Val Brkich have hosted viewing parties for their daughter's TV show every week it has aired, sometimes with up to 80 guests. Usually Amber was among them.

"I had played a trick on them where a couple weeks I wouldn't show up for the party and they'd think I was going," Amber said.

But often she was there, even when a camera crew from KDKA-TV was in the house.

"[KDKA reporter] David Highfield knows he would get in big trouble if he let anybody know she was there," Cheryl Brkich said. "CBS said you cannot film Amber, can't interview her or anything. They knew not to."

Amber, who said she's just been "hanging out and having fun" since returning from Australia in early December, may soon get to cash in on her "Survivor" celebrity. At Westminster College, she majored in public relations with a minor in speech communication. She hasn't received any offers for work yet because she was forbidden to enter into talks with producers until she was off the show. Now she's open to anything.

"I don't want to narrow it down," she said. "Acting would be great. Being a spokesperson would be great. I just want to have a lot of fun."

That fun may take her out of Pennsylvania.

"Whatever turns out to be the easiest thing," Amber said. "If I have to move, that's fine with me."

Perhaps one of the most trying aspects of the "Survivor" experience for contestants is having to live with the way the show is edited and how you are depicted.

"You have to really think about the fact you see one hour for every three days," Amber said. "They really focused on my friendship with Jerri, but I was friends with everybody else also. They chose that storyline, and it did great."

Though there's been some speculation online that Amber and Jerri had a falling-out, Amber deflected questions by saying she's still friends with everybody.

"Jerri and I e-mailed a couple of times here and there," Amber said. "I think she might have gone out to New York to visit Mitchell once or twice. I know we can't wait to get back together in L.A."

Other Amber revelations:

She tries to avoid Web sites and media coverage that disparaged her. "Why go out there and get myself all upset about it?" she said. "I've tried to stay away from much of what's on the Internet. I go to a couple of Web sites. The people at are really nice and always supportive."

Amber doesn't yet know how much she'll be paid for her "Survivor" experience. Contestants are paid on a sliding scale -- the longer they stay on, the more money they get.

The only interview Amber missed in New York was a visit to David Letterman, who hasn't been particularly "Survivor"-friendly. He's not taping any shows next week, a disappointment to Amber. "I was kind of looking forward to it," she said. "I was hoping if I got put in the corner, I'd worm my way over to a chair."

While in the Outback, Amber said contestants talked about having nontelevised reunions every year at the home of a cast member.

On Kel and the beef jerky controversy: "I don't know if he had beef jerky, but I do think he had something. I don't think he pulled bark off a tree to eat."

Amber made a point of expressing her thanks to all the people who came to her house to watch and those who greeted her on the street.

As for Amber's two favorite phrases on the show -- "Oh my God!" and "Wow!" -- she said she never realized how often she used them until participating in the series.

"I really think they played that up," Amber said. "Elisabeth said ["Oh my God"] last night, and as soon as she said it, I was like, 'See, I'm not the only one.' I've gotten a lot of grief about it. Every time I say it now, I catch myself."

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