This analysis of "Survivor: All Stars" is by columnist Greg Feltes of CBS station WBBM in Chicago, who offers weekly commentary on the popular reality TV show.
So it's over.
Amber Bkirch will cash the check that Rob Mariano essentially signed over to her and ride off into the sunset a winner.
But how did she get there? Here's a step-by-step look at the various decisions she made and bounces she received.
She came into the game with relatively few pieces of baggage.
Before the game began, she was simply known as Jerri's lackey from season two in the Outback. That's a relatively benign persona, compared with what other players had to deal with. From the beginning, it was clear that Tina, Jenna, Richard and Ethan had no chance. Others, like Colby, simply sensed that they didn't have a chance and folded it in relatively quickly. The remaining players were then caught in the trap of either having to play the same game that everyone had already seen or playing a completely different game that would quickly cause suspicion. Nearly everyone chose the latter.
For example, a very smart player like Rob Cesternino was forced to play dumb lest people think he was just waiting to backstab them. Instead of attempting to align with Alicia and Susan, he simply had to put his fate in the hands of Boston Rob. It was an uncharacteristically conservative move for one of the most aggressive and reactive players of all time. He truly was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.
Meanwhile, despite a sixth-place finish in season two, everyone underestimated Amber. No one ever mistook Amber for intelligent and that was a mistake. If they had looked closer, they would have seen someone who had learned from her past experience and had assets to utilize.
She also entered the game physically and mentally well. More importantly, she was able to maintain that health. Rudy, Jenna M. and Susan were not so lucky.
She got put into the right tribe.
If the luck of the draw has been different, Amber probably wouldn't be a winner. Amber has succeeded in this game by operating as part of a duo. In Australia, she teamed with Jerri to make it past the merge and here she rode Rob's coattails to victory.
If Amber had been in Mogo Mogo, instead of Shii Ann, she wouldn't have fared as well. One of Amber's strengths is her flirting ability. It is hard to believe that her charms would work on the very married Lex and the very gay Richard. It is also clear that Colby isn't a fan of the under-the-radar game strategy and Amber is the queen of that. Kathy was already spoken for since she had a relationship with Lex outside of the game. That leaves Jenna M, who would have been a plausible partner, but she was destined to leave the game from the very beginning.
Saboga was a loser tribe from the start. If Amber had been there instead of Jerri, she would have been forced to start all over again after the tribe was dissolved. The problem with Saboga is that it was poorly constructed. Tina and Rudy were too old to be of any use in physical challenges, and Jenna was just meek. That nearly guaranteed early immunity losses.
Chapera was the perfect situation for her. Both of the Robs were prone to manipulation by an attractive female who could have capitalized on their latent horniness. The other two women were harsh and filled with attitude. She looked even better by comparison.
She aligned with Rob early.
It's easy to jump onto someone's bandwagon after they become popular and critical to the tribe's success. It is much harder to sense where the power will lie and flock to it.
To make an alliance 15 minutes into the game is incredibly risky, but it can pay big dividends. Loyalty is never a given or a constant in this game, but the earlier an alliance is formed, the longer loyalty's shelf life will be. (Rob's betrayal of Big Tom notwithstanding.) There is much precedent for this. Richard/Rudy, Neleh/Paschal and Jenna/Heidi were all duos that were formed early and went far in the game.
By contrast, Rob C. and Alicia didn't attempt to make alliances with Boston Rob until the game was well under way and it obviously cost them. It was ridiculous that Alicia had been playing for 20 days until she was part of an alliance. How could she have honestly expected that Rob would honor it?
Chapera dominated the early challenges.
It would have gotten extremely dicey for Amber if her tribe had lost the first immunity challenge. Since they had no previous winners, it is likely that they would have adopted the usual rationale of voting out the weakest members early in an effort to remain competitive in immunity challenges. This could have spelled doom for Amber who clearly was her tribe's physical weak link.
However, that never happened since Chapera won the first two immunity challenges and Mogo Mogo forfeited the third. This gave Rob time to establish himself as the true leader of Chapera and put himself in a position where he could determine who would stay and who would go.
Her alliance took out its one legitimate threat as soon as it could.
Viewers were incredulous that no one stood up to Romber the whole game, but the one man who could have done something about it didn't live past his first tribal council. Rob Cesternino was exceptionally good at creating an urgency to get rid of someone and had the intelligence and interpersonal skills to organize an uprising at a moment's notice. Boston Rob knew this and took him out, which cemented his leadership position
Rob and she were willing to go outside of their tribe to make alliances.
They shrewdly saw the opportunity that the addition of Rupert and Jenna presented them with. At that point of the game, Rob and Amber knew they could rely on each other, but couldn't be certain of much else. Tom could have easily been biding his time until a reunion with Lex materialized and Alicia still hadn't bothered to make an alliance. On the other hand, Rupert and Jenna were desperate, relatively trustworthy candidates for a team up. This gave them a rock solid four, which is all you really need to be able to control the game.
She didn't give up after being thrown a curve.
Too often, players in this game just accept their fates and make only half-hearted attempts at surviving. When Amber was separated from the rest of Chapera, she could easily have accepted her fate and not put up a fight. She didn't. She identified the strongest potential alternate target (Jerri) and started lobbying immediately with appeals based on both personal relationships and mutual beneficial strategic rewards.
It helped that Rob had already laid the foundation with Lex, but it would have meant nothing if she hadn't been able to convince Lex and Kathy that Rob's offer was sincere and would have tangible benefits.
She became romantically entangled with Rob.
It wasn't a strategy, but it had the same effect as one. The emotional connection she shared with Rob greatly benefited her. It made him more loyal to her to the point where he was willing to put his game on the line for her at several points. That's a great ally to have.
Her hands stayed clean as Rob broke alliance after alliance.
The success of the Rob/Amber alliance had a lot to do with their ability to convince each player that they would be part of their endgame when this clearly wasn't possible. (I don't care how good you are at math; there is no way to fit six players into the final three.) The rub is that you eventually have to break some of the alliances you created to advance further and further.
This happened a disproportionate amount of times this season because of just how good Rob became at placating people and making them believe in him. He did such a good job that people ended up taking it personally and blaming him for their dismissal seemingly every week. This left Amber unscathed and allowed her to have a jury predisposed to voting for her right off the bat.
Written By GREG FELTES
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.