Read profiles of all the "Survivor 2" contestants Sunday in the Post-Gazette's TV Week.
PASADENA, CALIF. -- Last fall while filming "Survivor: The Australian Outback," Beaver native Amber Brkich encountered rocks that were difficult to maneuver around and weather that varied in extremes. One day it was raining and everyone wore jackets. The next day it was 115 degrees.
"The suffering wasn't from the challenges," said Mark Burnett, creator/executive producer of "Survivor" (premieres following the Super Bowl Sunday, then airs Thursdays at 8 p.m.). "It was elemental ... The level of suffering this season, it would make you want to cry."
Burnett said this "Survivor," even more than the last one, wasn't for people simply interested in fame or a vacation.
"People who weren't into a quest for adventure, self-enlightenment and an outdoor experience wouldn't make it," he said. "These people are adventure seekers."
And what about Amber? Is she an adventure seeker? Burnett wouldn't reveal much about any of the contestants, preferring to allow their characters to emerge as the series progresses.
"I thought she had a real American apple-pie look," Burnett said. "She's very smart and she was on the dean's list in school and, as she explained, she may be a sweet thing, but she's got a very other side to her, and I like that."
On CBS's "The Early Show" earlier this month, Brkich described herself, saying, "At first, people think that I'm pretty charming, funny, kind of a nice girl, easy-going, doesn't have a mean bone in her body. 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."
"We just liked her," Burnett said. "She interviewed well. She showed she had two sides to her, sweet but she was driven and competitive."
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The post-game show
Amber's Hot List
Some highlights from Amber Brkich's official bio, from CBS TV:
Game: Cards and charades
Sports team: Pittsburgh Steelers
TV show: "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Friends," "Frasier"
Movie: "The Shawshank Redemption," "Indiana Jones," "My Best Friend's Wedding"
Actor: Matthew McConaughey
Actress: Drew Barrymore
Music type: Alternative, dance
Band: The Dave Matthews Band
Vegetable: Green beans, corn, mashed potatoes
Snack food: Snyder's BBQ chips, sour cream and Cheddar Ruffles
Candy bar: Twix, Butterfinger
Dessert: Hot Dutch apple pie
Alcoholic beverage: Yuengling beer, vodka and tonic
Non-alcoholic beverage: Iced tea
But how long does she last on the show? Burnett wouldn't say, of course.
Host Jeff Probst was hurried out of a "Survivor" press conference by a CBS publicist so he could catch a flight. When asked about Amber's "two sides," he replied, "I'm not even sure what she's talking about."
Hmmm. Did Amber not last long enough for both sides to emerge? Or was Probst just hustling to catching his plane? With "Survivor," there are always more questions than answers, not only for the public, but for the aspiring contestants too.
CBS president Leslie Moonves and CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem sat in on the final interviews with prospective contestants and worked with Burnett to assemble the cast.
"It was kind of like looking at the whole and all the various people, who would work with whom, kind of a mix-and-match thing," Tellem said. "It was more fun than casting a drama. It wasn't like having an actor come in and read a script, it was more like interviewing someone. By the point we had looked into their backgrounds, they had passed all the psychological and physical testing. There were a lot of obstacles to finally get to the final stage."
Tellem said Brkich made it into the cast because of her combination of traits.
"She has an innocence to her, she's fresh out of college, she's from a small town," Tellem said. "She's very competitive, though. You have a nice combination of innocence and competitiveness and that makes for a very interesting person."
Though CBS likes to help its own stations through corporate synergy, Tellem said the fact that Brkich comes from the viewing area of CBS-owned station KDKA was not a primary reason for her selection.
"You want to have as much diversity as possible, not only in personality, but also geographically," Tellem said. "First and foremost was the personality, secondarily was where they were from."
Whether they could handle where they were going was also a factor. Just getting there was a chore. The vast compound (25 miles across) where "Survivor 2" was filmed was a five-hour van ride from the nearest airport in Cairns. The two tribes -- Kucha and Ogakor -- were separated by a 20-minute drive so there was little likelihood of them running into one another while each group foraged for food.
Burnett said Australia's Outback presented more challenges than the first show's setting on Pulau Tiga.
"It was very, very dangerous," Burnett said. He knew firsthand from filming an "Eco-Challenge" there in 1997. "The way to deal with the situation is knowledge and make people understand it's not a game in that way. They are really serious snakes, really serious spiders. As you'll see in the series, we're shooting and we're panning from a person and there's a crocodile there watching them all the time."
Burnett said he has an obligation to insure the safety of the cast, but they don't want to be treated with kid gloves.
"The sole criticism that I get from the 16 in both seasons is if things are too easy," Burnett said. "That sounds amazing, but they wouldn't give two months of their lives and put their families on hold and mess up careers if it wasn't going to be real."
He's talking about the environment, of course. The TV show, well, Burnett acknowledges it's not so real. He's even gone so far in the past as to call it contrived. After all, there's a host, Probst, who knows he's latched onto a plum gig.
"I'm fully aware that this is my one shot, probably, in this business," Probst said. "I'm trying to make the most of it professionally, while also trying to remind myself that this is my life and I should enjoy this moment because it's really honestly fantastic."
Probst said he learned from the first "Survivor" and approached the new cast with a greater willingness to interact.
"I had my own learning curve last time," Probst said. "Mark and I took this approach in the beginning of the first show to be not only neutral, but a little right of neutral, maybe more of a hardcore, 'I'm not your friend' approach. Halfway through we realized that's not buying us anything. And it's no fun. So I was much friendlier with this group from the beginning. I connected with them faster."
While there's going to be inevitable comparisons to the cast of the first "Survivor," Burnett said Amber is not intended to be Colleen, nor are any of the others meant to fit the mold cast by the original contestants.
"For the first couple of weeks there's going to be, 'Well, I guess that could be Rudy' or 'That could be Colleen,' " Burnett acknowledged. "People are going to do that. And then it will pass away and people will get used to the characters and whether it's better or worse and it will settle in. We have gold dust again. It's great, absolutely great."
Even though the contestants in "Survivor 2" knew better how to play the game, Probst and Burnett both said they made the same mistakes as their predecessors.
"It was unbelievable to us that the same unbelievable things happened from the first minute," Burnett said. "It's a great lesson about humans, that even when we think we've got a great strategy and a great plan, we continually mess up."
Burnett wouldn't comment on how blocs formed this time out, but he said the mistakes had little to do with building alliances.
"The mistakes were how you behave in front of other people, what you say to them, forgetting that there's a vote coming," Burnett said. "You would think that you would be much more guarded about the way you relate to other people, like playing poker better. They didn't."
Nor was anyone able to take a page, figuratively or literally, from the Richard Hatch playbook.
"Richard's strategy only worked because other people were asleep at the wheel," Burnett said. "Now nobody is asleep at the wheel."
'SURVIVOR: THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK'
WHEN: Sunday following the Super Bowl, which begins at 6 p.m.