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Late news: Amber joins 'Survivor' tribe

Friday, January 05, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

That sound you heard yesterday morning about 8 was the "Survivor" media machine wheezing and lumbering back to life. And part of its laser-like attention is being directed at a 22-year-old Beaver County woman who shortly will be known by one name: Amber.

The contestants for "Survivor: The Australian Outback": (front row, from left) Jeff Varner, Elisabeth Filarski, Debb Eaton, Alicia Calaway and Amber Brkich. Standing: Kimmi Kappenberg, Rodger Bingham, Colby Donaldson, Kel Gleason, Mitchell Olson, Michael Skupin, Keith Famie, Maralyn Hershey, Jerri Manthey, Nick Brown and Tina Wesson. (Monty Brinton)

As leaked on various "Survivor" Web sites last week, Amber Brkich of Brighton Township is indeed one of the 16 contestants on CBS's "Survivor: The Australian Outback." She is a recent graduate of Westminster College, where she majored in public relations and minored in speech communications. Both skills should come in handy in the next months as she finds herself serving as post-Super Bowl entertainment and water-cooler chat through the winter and early spring.

CBS says that "prior to departing for Australia, while Brkich searched for her 'career job,' she was an administrative assistant and lived with her parents." While in school, she worked as a waitress, librarian assistant, swimming instructor, lifeguard and baby sitter.

Brkich, a graduate of Beaver Area High School where she was a cheerleader, is a member of Alpha Gamma Delta Sorority, where she was vice president and new-member coordinator. Her official bio also notes that she belongs to an unnamed Catholic church and that her favorite sports team is -- but, of course -- the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Although many of the Web sites have made much of Brkich's background as a cheerleader, she did much more in high school. "She's a good kid, an outstanding person. We're thrilled for her," John Hansen, principal of Beaver Area High School, said yesterday afternoon.

Brkich was among 176 graduates in the Class of 1996 and, in addition to being a cheerleader, was a "very involved, outgoing" young woman who was part of the yearbook staff, track team, pep and ski clubs, worked as an office aide and appeared in the school plays for several years. "She was well-integrated," said the principal, who spent part of his day juggling calls from the media about one of his most famous alums.

A phone call to the Brkich residence was not returned yesterday. In the past, contestants have been prohibited from speaking to reporters until they were identified as being evicted from the island; even then, they were forbidden under penalty of lawsuit from revealing the ultimate winner.

One element of Brkich's survival wardrobe was revealed on CBS yesterday: In the Outback, the long-haired brunette wore a flattering two-piece swimsuit -- a halter top and boy-cut shorts in what appeared to be a turquoise and white design.

In an interview taped before the players went to Australia and aired on CBS's "The Early Show," Brkich acknowledged the devious but effective alliances of the first go-round. Her strategy: "Right now, I'm just going to try to have every person relate to me in a different way. ... At first, people think that I'm pretty charming, funny, kind of nice girl, easygoing, doesn't have a mean bone in her body," she said. "I can be mean, and I can be conniving, and I can be the kind of person who is going to have to kick you off."

In a short time, Amber Brkich went from Westminster College to Australia’s Wild West

And to outwit, outplay and outlast her fellow 15, Brkich will have to be those very things although she is a member of the "Ogakor" (translation: fresh water crocodile) tribe which doesn't seem as ruthless as the "Kucha" (or kangaroo) group. That's based on the snippets provided by CBS, but it's always been about the editing and what the producer and network want you to see.

One thing is clear, though. This next collection of players, divided into two tribes again, seems to be taking a Richard Hatchian approach in the quest to win the $1 million. If it takes lying, if it takes alliances, then that's what will have to be done, some of the contestants predicted.

CBS also aired bits of audition tapes, on which clever and creative were the order of the day. One man emerged from the water, knife in mouth and Sylvester Stallone-like, in his tryout. A woman pretended she was eating grilled kangaroo from the barbie, and the person who appears to be the toughest cookie in the bunch -- an ex-cop named Maralyn Hershey -- boasted about her arrest record being better than the men. She looks like she could take Dennis Franz and the other "NYPD Blue" regulars in a heartbeat.

Once again, CBS is using "Survivor" to lure viewers to its low-rated morning program hosted by Bryant Gumbel and Jane Clayson. Expect lots of stories on CBS and on its local affiliate, KDKA, which last time had no easy local connection.

"Survivor: The Australian Outback" will premiere after the Super Bowl on Jan. 28 and then will move to its regular 8 p.m. Thursday time period, starting Feb. 1.

In addition to Brkich, the other castaways: Rodger Bingham, 53, a teacher and farmer from Crittenden, Ky.; Nick Brown, 23, a Harvard University law school student originally from San Francisco; Alicia Calaway, 32, a personal trainer from New York City; Colby Donaldson, 26, an auto customizer from Christoval, Texas, now living in Dallas; Debb Eaton, 45, a corrections officer from Berlin, N.H.; Keith Famie, 40, a chef from West Bloomfield, Mich.; and Elisabeth Filarski, 23, a footwear designer originally from Providence, R.I., now living in Newton, Mass.

Also : Kel Gleason, 32, an Army intelligence officer from Murphysboro, Ill., now in Fort Hood, Texas; Maralyn Hershey, 51, a retired police officer from Wakefield, Va.; Kimmi Kappenberg, 28, a bartender and free-lance production assistant from Long Island; Jerri Manthey, 30, an aspiring actress and bartender based in Los Angeles; Mitchell Olson, 23, a singer-songwriter who hails from Vermillion, S.D., but now lives in Union City, N.J.; Michael Skupin, 38, a software publisher and distributor from White Lake, Mich.; Jeff Varner, 34, an Internet project manager from Greensboro, N.C., now residing in New York City; and Tina Wesson, 40, a mother and part-time personal nurse from Knoxville, Tenn.

The 16 Americans were stranded in the Outback, and the goal was the same as the first: to survive long enough to finish in the big money. The longer the players last, the more money they earn. And then, when there's one, that person wins $1 million.

The players have been back since early December, but viewers won't get their first look at their exotic new home till later this month. For more information, check out www.cbs.com/survivor.

If you click on favorites, you can find a long list of preferences for each contestant, from favorite candy bar (Twix and Butterfinger in Brkich's case) to favorite actors (Matthew McConaughey and Drew Barrymore).



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