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Beaver Area grad among possible 'Survivor II' contestants

Thursday, December 28, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Make way for the next wave of "Survivor" contestants and this time, unlike last, it appears there's a castaway with a local connection. And she's about as different as you can get from the formerly fat, naked guy who won the $1 million in August.

Various sources, including a couple of Web sites devoted to the CBS show still a month from debut, are reporting that a Brighton Township woman named Amber Brkich is among the competitors for "Survivor: The Australian Outback." Her age has been listed as 22 and she has been described as a graduate of Beaver Area High School and Westminster College in New Wilmington.

A call to the Brkich residence in Beaver County was not returned yesterday. It's unlikely that the family could confirm her participation until CBS gives the go-ahead and yesterday, the network said it won't be releasing the names until early January.

The initial "Survivor" players were threatened with million-dollar lawsuits if they revealed the ultimate winner. And amazingly enough, the secret held until the night a corporate trainer from Newport, R.I., named Richard Hatch was shown as the winner.

"Survivor II," as the second round is informally known, will debut on CBS on Jan. 28, immediately after the Super Bowl. Regular episodes, with returning host Jeff Probst, will typically air Thursdays at 8 p.m., as CBS tries to challenge the supremacy of NBC's must-see lineup. That might explain why so many of the contestants sound as if they could double for the "Friends" cast -- especially once they start to lose weight.

Brkich apparently was among hundreds of Western Pennsylvania aspirants who submitted applications and three-minute videotapes or went to one of the Media Play stores in this area to film their own mini-audition. The Monroeville store was especially popular because viewer favorite and cast-off castaway Gretchen Cordy, a preschool teacher from Clarksville, Tenn., was signing autographs there that day in late July.

At least 49,000 people applied for the chance to outwit, outplay and outlast in Australia. The first "Survivor" generated fewer than 7,000 hopefuls. The chosen 16 went to Australia in October to begin production.

The network has been trying to keep the players' identities hush-hush for as long as possible. It anticipates, rightly, that the contestants and their families might be besieged by media attention.

Their names are already out from a couple of sources: investigative reporter Peter Lance, who wrote "The Sting Ray: Lethal Tactics of the Sole Survivor," Tim Gilman, creator of www.survivornews.net, and www.survivorsucks.com. The Aussie castaways skew much younger than their predecessors. Doesn't look like there's a ukulele-player, neurologist or workaholic like B.B. in the bunch.

In addition to Brkich, the names leaked but not verified: Rodger Bingham, a Kentucky industrial-arts teacher; Nick Brown, a single 25-year-old from the state of Washington; Alicia Calaway, a personal fitness instructor from New York; Colby Donaldson, a Texas twentysomething; Debb Eaton, a New Hampshire native who may work at a prison in Berlin, N.H.; and Keith Famie, a Michigan father and chef.

Also: Elisabeth Filarski, a twentysomething who has designed athletic shoes and once played on a Boston College softball team; Kel Gleason, a single guy whose parents live in Canada; Maralyn Hershey, a 51-year-old former police officer from Washington, D.C.; Kimmi Kappenberg, a 28-year-old single woman from Long Island who free-lances in TV commercial production; and Jerri Manthey, a 30-year-old divorced actress-bartender from Los Angeles.

Plus Mitchell Olson, a musician/writer who went to school in South Dakota; Michael Skupin, a thirtysomething father from Michigan; Jeff Varner, a New Yorker in his early 30s who works for an Internet firm; and Tina Wesson, a 40-year-old wife and mother of two from Knoxville.

The official CBS site, available through www.cbs.com describes the Australian location this way: "arid open land crisscrossed with deep rock canyons, thundering waterfalls and enormous eucalyptus forests. ... The only other inhabitants are kangaroos, emus, wild pigs and horses, crocodiles, large goannas (lizards) and exotic bird life."

One thing remains the same: The final prize of $1 million.

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