Amber Brkich may just be the biggest Survivor winner yet.
Sunday night on the live finale of Survivor: All-Stars, which pitted the show's greatest players from past editions against each other, Brkich not only won the $1 million grand prize and the title of "Ultimate Survivor" but also accepted a wedding proposal from Rob Mariano, the runner-up who became her boyfriend during filming of the show last year off the coast of Panama.
"That's the big deal to me," Brkich said in an interview Monday after appearing on CBS's The Early Show. "The million dollars is secondary."
While "reality" shows built around the idea of romance, such as ABC's The Bachelor, most often lead to short-lived or never-existent relationships, Brkich and Mariano appear to be the real deal.
Brkich, of Brighton in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, said she and Mariano had talked of marriage before he proposed Sunday night, so it was in the back of her head.
"I was thinking it would be pretty cool if it did happen tonight, but I didn't know if Rob had enough guts to get up in front of 30 million people and do it. He had so many pressures on his back to begin with. I did not expect it at all," she said. "When [host] Jeff [Probst] asked Rob a question and Rob started turning toward me, I knew right then and there [he would propose]."
By Monday morning, Brkich said she'd had only 10 minutes alone with her new fiance, so no wedding plans are set. She wasn't sure if any other Survivor cast members would be part of their wedding party, but she expects a few to attend, possibly even Probst and executive producer Mark Burnett.
"They pretty much had a lot to do with Rob and I ending up together," Brkich said. "We do owe a lot to Mark and Jeff."
The rules of Survivor say the winner can't share his or her winnings with another contestant. Brkich said she and Mariano will maintain separate bank accounts.
"He got $250,000 [as the runner-up] and I got the million. We can't share; it's against the rules," she said. "Maybe he'll win on the live show Thursday, but I do feel Rupert has somewhat of an advantage."
Yes, there's still more to come. At the end of Sunday's live Survivor reunion show, Probst announced that viewers get to pick one contestant from among the 18 "All-Stars" players as a favorite, and that person will win $1 million. Fan Favorite Rupert Boneham is expected to be a leading contender for the additional prize, which will be awarded during a live hourlong show at 8 tonight.
In Sunday's Survivor finale, watched by more than 24 million people, Brkich endured one of the most contentious final tribal councils ever, as some players let their emotions get the best of them. But Brkich said the barbs of fellow players did not affect her.
"I felt bad in a way that these people were taking it such to heart, not realizing it was a game. I came out there not to make friends, not for any other reason than the game," she said. "This is hardcore. We volunteered for broken hearts, we volunteered to be backstabbed. I just happened to be the one to go all the way."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor of the Post-Gazette.