Amber: Nathiel Welch/CBS
Josh Wolk
May 08, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Amber’s engaged! Oh… and she won

By winning ”Survivor: All-Stars,” Amber Brkich is now the Ultimate Survivor… in much the same way that Gerald Ford was the ultimate president: Both quietly stuck close to dastardly decision-makers who ultimately had to face the consequences of their actions, at which point these also-rans quietly took over the power seat. So, uh… congratulations?

The game’s goal is ”Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.” Which of those did Amber do, other than the last? It’s not ”Outflirt, Outhot, Outblendintothebackground.” Her boyfriend Rob ? sorry, fiancée, but more on that later ? did all three and lost, but that’s politics. You have to get the key voting blocs, and Amber got the most important one: the Delusional Player faction.

Lex started off the jury by using his bully pulpit to explain how ”Survivor” wasn’t a game, it was life, and Rob had pushed life’s mother down the stairs. And then, to prove his utter lack of self-awareness, he declared to Rob that there were ”no sour grapes, no bitterness,” but that ”you sold out your character, values, and family.” Well, by that paradoxical disclaimer, how about this: Lex, this is not meant as a putdown, but you are the most overdramatic ninny ever on this show.

And that’s saying a lot, considering the hypocritical bullying that others in the jury came through with: Alicia said they had no class, Tom gave Rob the ultimate insult: the faked handshake (Bravo for finding Rob’s one weakness! He is, in fact, too slow, Joe!); and Kathy gave Rob a maternal guilt trip worthy of a Philip Roth novel. It’s a staple of ”Survivor” that some jurors go into the last Tribal Council with an inflated sense of integrity, but this was ridiculous. This was Passion of the Lex.

You would at least hope that they could see through their own hurt feelings to do the right thing! Rob was the mastermind, why not reward him for it? Especially when he was sitting next to the person who did everything he did, just didn’t think any of it up. And it’s not like she denied it: following Rob was her whole sales pitch! When asked how she ended up in the finals, she said, ”Luck.” Luck? What about that answer makes you say, ”Well, she was randomly awarded a car last week, why not randomly give her a million bucks, too! And here’s hoping she finds a wallet full of cash on the street on the way home.”

I was annoyed that Rob and Amber ended up apologizing to this jury. Granted, it was clear that all Lex, Tom, Alicia, and Kathy would understand was penitence, but did the finalists have to cop to being so ashamed of their actions? Like Jenna said, ”Step up!” The only thing more pandering would have been if they announced that they would give some of the prize money to charity. Oh, wait, they said that too.

During the finale’s first two hours, amidst all the jury’s eye-rolling and self-satisfied questioning about integrity, I kept thinking, ”Boy, wait until the reunion show. After a few months back in the real world, I’ll bet they’ll all feel pretty silly and will apologize.” And yet they were just as smugly riled as they were when they cast their votes. The only difference was that Lex had grown out his Mohawk, so he now had more hair to yank out in righteous rage.

The reunion was both painful and fascinating to watch. It started with what was intended to be a high point: Rob’s proposal to Amber, the most romantic moment since Mike Boogie proposed to Krista on the ”Big Brother 2” finale. This was like a Jumbotron proposal… times one hundred! Who’s got no class NOW, huh, Alicia? Of course, this just took all the tension out of hearing who would win. Now that they were engaged, they’d share the money. We were just waiting to see who would get to endorse the check.

Hearing the victor cheer wasn’t the high point of the show; it was hearing the losers bitch. (And, conversely, the bitchers lose: poor Jerri, doing the show to get 15 more minutes of fame, only to get booed off the stage at minute 14.) Everyone was still so angry, the rare voice of reason being Richard Hatch. Lex said Rob’s betrayal was different from his screwing of Ethan, Colby, and Richard, because there was no official deal made with them… because everybody knows that the pinky swear is the official notarization process of the Canary Islands, which he did with Rob, while he had only high-fived the other men.

Oddly, watching everyone on the show complain about all the backstabbing and double-crossing in the show made ”Survivor: All-Stars” sound a lot more exciting than it really was. The season wasn’t all that complicated: Rob took control of the game from the first day, and everyone let him walk straight to the finals, directing who would go and when. And how did they reward him for this? By giving someone else the grand prize. Of course, he outsmarted them there, too, because he’s marrying the winner. But they won’t let him get away with it: when they buy them wedding presents, they’ll address the cards to Amber. That’ll show him.

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