PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Beaver County native Amber Brkich Mariano returned to “Survivor” on Wednesday night, nearly 20 years after she first played the game and more than 15 years after she won the million dollars and married “Boston Rob”.
The 40th season of “Survivor”, which is now in its 20th year, debuted Wednesday night on KDKA with Amber and her husband, Rob Mariano, among the castaways.
And spoiler alert: Amber was voted off in the second tribal council, but it’s not over for her just yet.
She still has a chance to get back into the game.
Rob was not voted off in the first episode.
Amber first appeared in the second season of the show, “Survivor: The Australian Outback”, in 2001.
At that time, she was a 22-year-old recent college graduate.
“I was working a temp job, and I was miserable,” Amber said.
She was cast after a spur-of-the-moment audition at The Mall At Robinson.
“I heard that they were having these auditions literally right across the street from where I worked. So I hopped in my car during lunch break and went over there. I really was not prepared at all. I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Amber said.
She made it to day 33 and was the 10th person voted off, missing out on the million-dollar prize.
Three years later, Amber returned for “Survivor: All-Stars”, along with Bridgeville native and season six winner Jenna Morasca.
That time, Amber won the money and the heart of fellow competitor, “Boston Rob” Mariano.
He proposed to her during the live finale.
“I’m probably the one who got the best experience out of anybody out here. I won the show and fell in love, and I’m happily married 15 years later with four beautiful children,” Amber.
Amber and Rob live in Florida now. Their daughters are ages 9, 8, 7 and 5.
Amber’s parents were surprised when they found out she and Rob were both returning for season 40: “Winners at War”.
“I thought maybe Rob might come back, but I never thought she would because of the girls. But knowing Rob, I’m sure he convinced her to come back,” says Amber’s father Val Brkich.
But Amber says she and Rob decided to return for “Survivor 40”, in part, because of their daughters.
Amber says the girls have never seen their mom’s and dad’s early seasons.
WATCH: KDKA’s David Highfield Reports From The Studio
“Now they get to be a part of that and see us on TV each week and they don’t have to just hear about it anymore,” Amber said.
Just like Amber and Rob, every cast member this season is a former “Survivor” winner.
But host Jeff Probst says he thinks the game will be especially difficult for Amber and Rob because everyone knows they’re coming into the game as a couple.
“I think it makes it very complicated for Rob and Amber, and I think they know that,” says Probst.
Amber admits playing the game with her husband is a double-edged sword, but she’s hoping to use it to her advantage.
“Fortunately and unfortunately, I have my husband out here so our target is kind of doubled in size. However, if they’re teaming up with me, they’ll know no matter what, there’s someone else on their side because I have a true alliance, one that you can definitely trust,” Amber says.
And even though Probst thinks Amber and Rob might be in the bullseye as a couple, he thinks, Amber might be the one to beat.
“I think Amber is in the same spot she was when she played in ‘All-Stars.’ She can easily be overlooked. Amber came out here to close the deal again,” said Probst.
Whatever happens, the Brkich family is planning big watch parties for season 40 in Brighton Township, just like they had for Amber’s first two seasons.
Amber’s mom Cheryl Brkich said, “As soon as it was announced, people were already calling me or texting me saying, ‘Oh, we gotta have a seat.’ They can’t wait! They’re like going crazy for this show. It’s going to be fun.”
Amber recalls what those parties were like back then.
“My parents have a pretty small house. It’s a ranch house. And we packed probably 30 to 45 people inside the house and people were also outside watching through the windows every single week. I mean it was crazy. People were so excited and so supportive and it was so much fun. It was a party every single week,” Amber said.
Amber says she’s still amazed by all the support of her family, friends and fans here in Western Pennsylvania.
“The fact that I’m doing it again and they’re just as excited the third time around and I have their support, it’s awesome. I love that. I haven’t lived in Beaver for more than 15 years now, and they still consider me their hometown girl. So I think that’s very cool and I’m very thankful.”
As for Amber, she says she’s just happy to be a part of such an iconic piece of American TV history.
“However the game ends, I really hope that we can leave the game and appreciate each other knowing that we got this very unique experience together”, says Amber.
“Survivor 40: Winners at War” premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on KDKA.
WATCH: Watch Parts Of Amber’s First 2 Stints On “Survivor” With KDKA’s Coverage From 2001 And 2004.