NEW YORK — Not a bad night for “Survivor” contestant Amber Brkich: an engagement ring and a $1 million prize.
And all on national television. The conclusion to “Survivor All-Stars” felt more like “The Bachelor” when one of the two final contestants, “Boston Rob” Mariano, pulled out a ring and proposed to Brkich.
Since she wore a shirt proclaiming, “I (heart) Rob,” the answer wasn’t in much doubt.
Then she won bragging rights for the rest of their lives. When host Jeff Probst counted the votes before a live audience in Madison Square Garden, Brkich, of Beaver, Pa., beat Mariano by a 4-3 vote.
“We didn’t even care who was going to win,” Brkich said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We knew we both had each other for the rest of our lives.”
She revealed the two had talked about marriage in the months between the end of the game an Sunday’s live vote-counting.
“But I had no idea he was going to do it in front of millions of people,” she said.
It was a wild ending to the nation’s most popular reality TV game. “Survivor” has been a consistent Top Ten performer in the Nielsen Media Research ratings, and this spring’s edition brought back some of the memorable characters from past games.
Two other contestants, Rupert Boneham, of Indianapolis and Jenna Lewis, of New Hampshire, were voted off during Sunday’s two-hour season finale before Mariano and Brkich were left as the final two contestants.
Mariano, known for his swaggering demeanor and ever-present Boston Red Sox cap, largely controlled the game with his machinations. And he essentially won his fiancee the million dollars: in the second-to-last tribal council, he voted Lewis off and kept Brkich.
Would she have been wearing his ring if Mariano had voted the other way?
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“Probably we would have had a long talk,” she said.
Mariano’s take-no-prisoners style during the game earned him his share of enemies. The final tribal council brought one contestant to tears as she described how he betrayed her, and led another to pull away his hand after offering a shake.
“You sold out your values, you sold out your character, you sold out your friends for a stack of greenbacks,” one vanquished contestant, Lex van den Berghe, told Mariano. “I hope it was worth it.”
Another former contestant, Jerri Manthey, was booed by the Madison Square Garden audience on Sunday when she criticized “Survivor” for playing games with people’s emotional lives for the sake of entertainment.
Other former competitors said it was just a game.
Brkich said Mariano’s style got him all the way to the finals, but may have eventually done him in.
“I knew he was going to take all the bullets,” she said.
CBS also announced — in an “American Idol” twist — that it was calling on fans of the show to vote one of the losing 17 contestants of “Survivor All-Stars” a second million-dollar prize. That prize will be awarded on a live show Thursday.
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