Survivor' All-Star writes guide for girls
By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
Monday, January 30, 2006 10:19 AM EST
She won $1 million in 2003 outwitting, outplaying and outlasting “Survivor: All Stars” for 39 days in Panama jungles.
On the final episode she was engaged to “Boston Rob” before millions of viewers. Their wedding last April became a two-hour CBS special.
Even before they married, the network asked them to compete in its other hit reality show, “The Amazing Race,” where they raced 10 other teams around the world for 30 days.
Rob and Amber finished a close second while dashing through South America, Africa, India, Turkey, London and Jamaica.
Amber Mariano said in a telephone interview Friday from Pittsburgh the only splurging she did was buying an oceanfront home near Pensacola, Fla., she left two days before and won't return to for a month and a half while traveling to promote her book.
“Amber's Guide for Girls,” available Feb. 1 on the Web site www.ambersadvice.com
, offers her young fans ages 8 to 13 advice on fame, family and fashion, a glimpse into her own life and goals and advice on coping with peer pressure, school and relationships.
For more about her and Rob, see her Web site, www.amber-brkich.com
“I was inspired to write this book because over the past five years (since lasting 33 days in the Australian Outback in ‘Survivor's' second season) I've received hundreds of letters from young girls,” Mariano says.
She considers it a “huge compliment” to be their role model.
“The letters include not only questions about my experiences on ‘Survivor' and ‘The Amazing Race,' but also questions about my experiences growing up and how to handle what life deals you. I hope that girls everywhere find this book fun to read and are inspired to reach for their dreams and goals.”
“They look at me like this famous person,” she said, so she wants to encourage them through an awkward, painful time she'd just as soon not relive.
The high school cheerleader ran track, acted in school plays (she was an extra in the film “The Wonder Boys” filmed in her hometown in 2000) and earned mostly A's and B's, though she disliked school, hated writing papers and studied to pass tests rather than to learn to her regret today.
Math was her favorite subject. She loved scrapbooking and skiing in winter. Music is a major passion - Janet and MIchael Jackson, Bobby Brown and New Kids on the Block. She roller skated in her driveway to Lionel Richie's “Dancing on the Ceiling.” By high school she was listening to Sarah McLachlan, The Cranberries and The Indigo Girls. Today, her tastes run more to Dave Matthews Band, Britney Spears, Maroon Five and Tim McGraw. Her father has an extensive Motown collection. She likes concerts with their energy and theatrics. She likes singing karaoke, where she might belt out Etta James or Natalie Merchant.
Mariano said she has always been confident, so while she flew under the radar in Australia as the youngest player at 22, it's not because she was shy, which is one possible score on the “Crush Quiz” in her interactive 87-page book. Scores can also evaluate relationships as “not serious, having fun,” “hopeless romantic” or “too forward.”
Her fans let her affect many lives. “Almost overnight I was able to make a difference just by talking to someone or by sending them an autographed picture,” she writes, adding that she had to learn to use the constant attention to do good for others rather than just lament the loss of privacy or resent being judged by every move you make.
When she was a girl in Beaver, Pa., the youngest of Cheryl and Valentine's three Brkich (it's Croatian) children, with an older brother and sister she could confide in for advice, Amber wanted to be a dolphin trainer or a backup dancer for Janet Jackson.
Mariano started dance lessons at 2 and continued studying for 16 years.
Her favorite childhood memories are playing kitchen, climbing trees and swimming. She has wrestled alligators, is SCUBA-certified for snorkeling and threw out a first pitch at a Pirates game.
“Sometimes life takes us in a different path than we imagined,” she counsels after already winning a lottery of sorts just to land among 16 players from 60,000 who applied.
If those odds weren't stiff enough, she did it auditioning spontaneously at a “cattle call” rather than carefully preparing a video tape at home.
“I don't even remember what I said,” she said.
Jeff Probst appeared to her in a dream and “told me I would be the ultimate survivor, so I'm gonna trust the host.”
She picked up a “Survivor” application “on whim” at a video store. “I just don't want to be a working person yet,” she said at the time, so she was living with her parents in the three-bedroom house where she grew up and working as an office temp while figuring out her future.
She graduated from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., majoring in public relations and minoring in speech.
Amber encourages girls to dream, to challenge themselves and to be proud of what they have done, to learn from their mistakes and to never give up, like when she survived 33 days in the rugged Australian Outback before being voted out at the 11th tribal council just nine days shy of the payoff.
“Survivor” strategies and alliance-building were still in the formative stages compared to the refinements that evolve with each subsequent cast. The new edition debuts Thursday back in Panama with a four-tribe format and a new wrinkle “Exile Island.”
“It was new to me,” Mariano said. “I only watched half of the first season” before she was cast after that fortuitous lunch break when she tried out on the off chance of “maybe winning a million bucks.”
Even without writing a book, her 15 minutes of fame seem far from over with 77 million Americans watching reality shows last week.
Every opportunity seems to open a door to another.
In February she joins her husband on his CBS “Early Show” segments, “Rob to the Rescue,” which he began shooting last fall.
Relying on his skills as a former construction worker, Rob helped people, including a Michigan woman who needed a paddock for horses she rescued. He also did a piece remodeling his in-laws' bathroom.
Mariano said she will also be appearing on Martha Stewart's show.
Though she has been quoted as saying she “can't wait to have kids” - Rob is also from a family with three - Mariano said they are still enjoying being newlyweds and will happily start a family “whenever God gives them to us.”
She was “just as surprised as everyone else” when she fell for her famously conniving opponent, though it proved “definitely a great bonus.” He gave her a sewing machine for her birthday.
One of the All-Stars Mariano defeated was Richard Hatch, 44, who was taken from a Rhode Island courtroom in handcuffs Wednesday after being found guilty of failing to pay taxes on his winnings.
U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres called him a potential flight risk.
Hatch was also convicted of evading taxes on $327,000 he earned as co-host of a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent on property he owned. Hatch faces up to 13 years in prison and a $600,000 fine at sentencing April 28.
Amber also bested Tina Wesson of Tennessee, who won the $1 million in Australia, her former Ogakor teammates Jerri Manthey of California and Colby Donaldson of Texas, as well as the popular Rupert Boneham from Indianapolis.
She said she hired the best accountant she could find because while being handed a $1 million check is “exciting and fun” and a “huge, proud moment,” it's also “a little overwhelming” at 26.
“I'm very smart with my money,” she said. “I didn't go crazy.”
Friends marvel that she still shops for bargains. She said they ended up in Pensacola because Rob's sister was going to school down there.
“We were both kind of ready to get away to something new” and live by the ocean, Mariano said.
You might be forgiven if you didn't know of Amber's passion for fashion since viewers met her during months of bad hair days bound up in a buff.
One unfulfilled fantasy revolves around opening a boutique filled with items she creates - jeans or tees she decorates, picture frames she's made, flip flops she's adorned or lamps bearing her personality.
She admires Gwen Stefani's ability to look great by mixing modern and vintage elements.
Mariano also imagines herself opening a health club to help people get into shape.
Her goals once were to travel, to complete college and to marry her soulmate. Then she was going to learn Spanish and to play piano and to read a book a month, since revised to two as one of her New Year's resolutions along with exercising more. She is currently reading “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, a preposterous but enchanting story about a young Indian boy adrift in a lifeboat with his good friend she got from her brother.
College was so much fun it was kind of depressing trying to adjust to the workaday world and to run into the “Catch-22” of not having enough experience to land a job to acquire the necessary experience.
Mariano said before she tried out for “Survivor,” she thought about studying speech pathology or event planning.
In some ways, “Survivor's” second season was more of a phenomenon than the first. People magazine published a special collector's edition in the spring of 2001 with her and the other castaways on the cover during its Jan. 28-April 26 airing.
Elisabeth Filarski joined “The View.” Jeff Varner also continued in television. And Colby Donaldson made shaving commercials.
After returning from the Outback, Mariano posed in a bikini for the cover of Stuff magazine's July issue.
The former cheerleader graduated in 1996 from Beaver Area High School. That means her 10-year reunion will be coming up this year. She said her sister-in-law's on the committee. “If I can make it, sure I'd go,” but she doesn't really have anything new to tell her classmates that they haven't followed on TV.
She's happy when friends remark that she seems unspoiled by her fame and fortune because she feels like the same person inside, though her experiences undoubtedly made her stronger and more independent.
The Australia DVD often shows her crying, edited for maximum drama.
“I can't believe what I went through,” she said. “Starving. The toughest thing I've ever done,” and made worse because her family has always been her rock, but this time she couldn't rely on them for help.
Her luxury item was a journal, but that won't be a book because the “Survivor” brand is tightly controlled. She still has it somewhere in a big box along with the cap crusty chain-smoking cop Maralyn “Mad Dog” Hershey bequeathed to her on-camera.
Asked whether she derived any satisfaction at having the last laugh on All-Stars on Hatch, the “Colbster” or Wesson, she said no.
“I didn't regret anything, so I wasn't out for revenge,” Mariano said.
After “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” Mariano was hired to host a new adventure vacation offered by Island Quest Adventures, a travel company that gave couples a chance to vie for cash and prizes in a real-life vacation adventure. She has also starred in commercials, appeared in magazines such as Maxim, TV Guide and Us Weekly and done dozens of charity events and benefits throughout the United States and Canada.http://www.dowagiacnews.com/articles/2006/01/30/news/dnnews2.txt