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'Survivor's' Jeff says Amber is shrewd player

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It's the No. 1 question on the minds of local "Survivor" viewers: What was hometown contestant Amber Brkich doing befriending Jerri Manthey, her conniving tribemate? And more important, are they still friends?

In interviews, Jerri has said she's close to Mitchell and Alicia, but she never mentions Amber even though they were attached at the hip on the unscripted CBS series "Survivor: The Australian Outback."

So what's the deal? That's the first question kicked-off castaway Jeff Varner planned to ask Brkich when he met her at an undisclosed Western Pennsylvania location for dinner last night.

Varner was in town yesterday meeting and greeting fans at local Pontiac dealerships where auditions for the third "Survivor" were held. Varner, a member of the Kucha tribe, spent just 24 hours with Ogakors Manthey and Brkich when the tribes merged before he got voted out of the Outback, but in that time he got to know the pair well enough to form opinions.

When speaking of Manthey, Varner chose his words carefully.

"Jerri was playing the game very hard," he said. "I think it's a nasty game that brings out the negative in everybody."

He was far more ebullient when discussing Brighton Township's Brkich.

"I love Amber," Varner said. "She's very sweet, she's very nice, she's a silent threat. A lot of people have said they feel she's very bland and boring, and my take is that every shrewd competitor has their own style, and Amber's was to follow Jerri for a while, and who knows what's going to happen with her yet? Those silent people who sit back and take things in are dangerous."

Nice as she may be, Brkich did vote to expel Varner. He wasn't surprised.

"I didn't trust her because I thought she was too nice, and I didn't buy it," he said. "Anybody nice out there, I didn't buy it. And I'll get her back for that [vote] today. I'll come up with something somewhere en route."

Varner said he's spoken with Brkich several times, but he corresponds with other Kuchas mostly by e-mail.

"Ogakor is a little disjointed," he said. "I don't know if they speak to each other that much. Anyone who lived with Jerri 21 days. ... She sort of tore them apart. ... We were more unified, more of a cohesive unit."

At his first stop yesterday, #1 Cochran in Robinson, Varner said he sat on the back of a Pontiac Aztek (one of the show's sponsors) and signed autographs. He also joined several potential "Survivor III" contestants on their video-taped audition to say hello to the casting people he knows who work on the show.

Varner said the most frequent question he gets about "Survivor" is: Who wins?

"I don't know why people ask, because they know I can't answer," he said.

Whether Varner even knows the answer remains in question, too. He wouldn't say.

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