Now That's an Alliance!

05/13/2004 at 12:00 PM EDT

Now That's an Alliance!
Len Irish

ROB & AMBER

At last there were no more backs to stab, no more stale rice to choke down, no more fat naked guys to avoid spooning with at night. There was only a long bus ride to the airport in Panama after the last tribal council for Rob and Amber, the two finalists from Survivor: All-Stars. "They were asleep and they were wasted away; I mean there was nothing left of them," says host Jeff Probst, who rode with them. "But they were in each other's arms and they just looked so content. I was watching them thinking, 'This is a couple in love.' "

And so they were, pus-filled bug bites and subhuman hygiene be damned. When "Boston Rob" Mariano surprised 25 million fans and proposed to Amber Brkich (pronounced BER-kitch) at the start of the live May 9 Survivor finale – before an unsuspecting Amber won the $1 million prize – he set a new heart-tugging standard for reality TV romance. "And we're not even a dating show," marvels Probst. "Nobody expected this."

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Least of all Rob, 28, and Amber, 25, who knew each other from Survivor events before All-Stars but were somewhat less than smitten. "I couldn't stand her," says Rob, a construction worker. "I thought she was a snob. Beautiful, but a snob." Yet 15 minutes into All-Stars they formed an airtight alliance, methodically betraying castmates while conducting a cuddle-heavy and – they swear – sex-free courtship. "We only kissed twice on air," says Amber, a former health club employee from Beaver, Pa. "The first time when we got a toothbrush and the second time when there were candy mints." So how about off-camera? "There were a couple more kisses," admits Amber, who kept things PG-rated "because I wanted my mom and dad to be comfortable [watching the show]. I hope it came off as tasteful."

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