04/08/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
Forget Trista and Ryan. Meredith and Ian? Yesterday. The hottest romance in reality TV, PEOPLE reports in its latest issue, is the one percolating in the Pearl Islands between Rob Mariano -- better known as Boston Rob -- and Amber Brkich on "Survivor: All-Stars."
What started out as a strategic alliance has turned into what host Jeff Probst calls "Survivor"'s first "full-on relationship."
After sharing a passionate kiss on the March 17 episode (the first onscreen clinch in series history), Mariano, 28, showed the depth of his feeling for Brkich, 25, by tearing up when she was reassigned to another tribe on April 1. He also flexed his political muscle to save her from elimination, the ultimate sign of devotion in the backstabbing world of "Survivor."
But has the romance cooled away from the steamy tropical setting? According to "Survivor: The Australian Outback" star Mitchell Olson, a close friend of both Mariano's and Brkich's, the duo have remained committed since returning from taping the show in December. "They're so much in love," says Olson. "They're perfect for each other."
Olson says Mariano flies to Brkich's home near Pittsburgh every few weekends, and she visits him in Canton, Mass., as much as she can.
Olson also says marriage talks have even come up -- and denies reports that sparks flew between Brkich (who previously been involved in a brief fling with another "Survivor" star, Ethan Zohn) and Mariano even before the show began.
"They knew each other, but there was never any interest," he says. "The funny thing is, I had a feeling they would come back as either complete enemies or as an item."