Riding Coattails: Devious Duo

When I heard the announcement that Survivor: All-Stars winner Amber Brkich and her runner-up fiance Rob Mariano were going to be on the The Amazing Race 7, I was intrigued. It came as no surprise that these two, a very competitive couple, would relish the opportunity to participate in another reality show, particularly one that involves adventure. And until I watched this week’s episode of the show, it hadn’t occurred to me that they might be doing this for the money. I mean, Amber won her million and Rob got $250,000 for his second place finish on Survivor. Even after taxes, that leaves the love birds with a healthy chunk of change for a dream wedding, a house, more new cars (in case they both get tired of the ones that they won on All-Stars), and college educations for their future offspring.

No, I don’t think that Rob and Amber agreed to race around the world because they’re dissatisfied with their cash reserves. They simply love to compete. And I get the feeling they don’t mind the fame that comes from these little games they play, either. Last spring when Rob proposed to Amber on the finale of All-Stars, I declared that the two were total media whores. Over-the-top, showy marriage proposals have always struck me as a bit insincere and Rob’s televised declaration of love to Amber was highly predictable. But hey, if I see either one of them on the cover of a magazine, I buy it. I guess that makes me a media sucker. What a beautiful, symbiotic relationship I share with these two!

The same can’t be said for Rob and Amber’s racing rivals, who run the gamut from a charming retired couple (Gretchen and Meredith) to a kick-ass mother and son team (Susan and Patrick). It appears that several of the contestants are obsessed with Rob and Amber and deathly worried that they’re going to walk away with more of CBS’s prize money. I wouldn’t say that those fears are totally unfounded, but it’s just interesting to me to see the way that folks like Susan and Patrick, as well as lifelong friends Debbie and Bianca, have developed a severe case of Romber paranoia.

That’s not to say that they shouldn’t. Rob and Amber hopped on the mat first at the pit stop in Santiago, Chile, and they appeared to be light years ahead of the next team, Ron and Kelly (former POW and pageant queen, respectively). What is it about Rob and Amber that makes them persevere when they work together? Amber summed it up best when she admitted to relinquishing a lot of the control to the Robfather: “If he needs to make those important decisions, I just let him do it.” Some might view Amber as a doormat for that or feel that she’s playing the role of the stereotypically weak-willed girlfriend, but I think that’s a mistaken assumption. By letting Rob feel powerful (at the pit stop, she told host Phil Keoghan, “I would not be standing here right now without him.”) and talking him down from making rash decisions, Amber actually puts herself very much in the driver’s seat. What’s more, she lets Rob do the dirty work of lying and scamming (which he’s done on both shows) and avoids conflict. That’s a Don Corleone move if I ever saw one. Rob probably doesn’t even realizes she does this, but it’s the reason he respects her.

I feel a tad guilty for devoting so much of my column to two people who are undoubtedly causing resentment among their reality TV virgin opponents. But being a huge Survivor fan, I already feel as if I know Rob and Amber. And it can’t be denied that they’re entertaining. But so are the others. I’m always softie for gay boys, so I was delighted to see three of them gracing the cast of The Amazing Race. Patrick, who is racing with his mom Susan, is very cute and likeable. Lynn and Alex, the adorable couple from West Hollywood, were instantly charming, if not a bit typecast. I mean, when they had to do the shoe shining task in Arequipa, Peru, their knee-jerk reaction to the question, “Who loves shoes?” was a simultaneous, “I do!” And when they ended up on the second flight out to Santiago, Lynn exclaimed, “We’re good at pulling up the rear.”

The same could be said for Brian and Greg, the brother team who scooted into ninth place mere seconds before Megan and Heidi, who were eliminated from the race. In a beautiful Bruckheimer finish, the brothers wiped away tears as they bid the Barbie clones farewell. I’m sure they were hoping to get some action with the two babes and were distraught by the realization that they would have to wait until after the show wrapped. However, the brothers mentioned that they planned on developing a relationship with everyone in the race, so that still leaves some options open, such as Debbie and Bianca. And who knows? Maybe one of the married couples likes to swing. I hear that’s making a real comeback.

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