Fabio’s win sort of redeems Survivor Nicaragua; quitters may no longer be on jury

At 21 years old, Fabio has become Survivor‘s youngest winner ever, winning $1 million, while the fan-favorite $100,000 went to Jane in “a blow out.” Once Fabio, aka Jud Birza, won his third immunity challenge in a row, he was nearly guaranteed a win, though the actual vote was closer: five votes for him, four votes for Chase Rice, and zero for Sash, aka Matthew Lenahan. Arguably, Holly Hoffman could have won, which is why the three men voted her out first, after dispensing with Dan.

It was a feel-good ending for an extremely uneven season, and hell, I thought Survivor Gabon was great. Fabio may not have been a master strategist, but he picked a smart path to the end, and won challenges when it mattered the most. While none of the members of the jury were not willing to forgive Sash’s conniving (or was it something else that impacted their votes?), Chase’s near-win suggests that his relationships were strong enough to overcome his back-stabbing.

If you need additional evidence about how bad this season was, just look at the finale, which really had to stretch to fill two hours, and the reunion, which went to filler almost immediately, with Chase playing guitar and Jeff Probst interviewing Terry Bradshaw about Jimmy Johnson for such a long period of time that I almost forgot what the hell I was watching. Probst tried to give Shannon a chance to redeem himself over his horrifying homophobia, but Shannon started by saying, “I was calling a duck a duck” and “that’s his business,” and right when he added, “I did meet his girlfriend last night,” Probst cut him off and said “sounds like you stand by it” (although it kinda sounded like Shannon was about to say something else), but Probst was having none of that.

Besides the announcement of next season’s not-very-secret big twist, the biggest news in the finale was Jeff Probst revealing that, as a result of the backlash over NaOnka Mixon’s position on the jury despite the fact that she quit (oh, and other Kelly too, she who’s challenged by identifying the end of the pen that writes in the voting confessional), he said that from now on, producers reserve the right to not include that person on the jury. He didn’t say it was a blanket rule, though, so I’d guess they’ll only kick people off the jury who are uninteresting to begin with, not characters like NaOnka.

While introducing the NaOnka clip package, Probst said “it wouldn’t be a great season of Survivor if we didn’t have a great villain,” which is so much of an overstatement it’s laughable. NaOnka has acted more human since the show. “I acted a fool,” she said during the reunion, but she offered no additional insight, nor did her mother. Snore.

This season’s actual winner, Fabio got a minute or two to tell us “I’ve been crazy for a while” and reveal that his great-grandparents invented the color wheel and folding card tables. But beyond that he didn’t or couldn’t say much. Meanwhile, Jeff called Jane popular, and she apparently is, but she did a good job of eroding her likability by remaining bitter during the final Tribal Council, calling Sash a “New York City river rat” yet failing to become anything like Sue Hawk because her ranting was incoherent. I wonder if she would have won fan-favorite after her fans saw that. During the reunion, she was slightly more charming, perhaps because her face was significantly less frightening than it was on location.

The rest of the jury wasn’t much better, but there were some surprises. While Marty was sweaty, he wasn’t bitter. And please, Alina, shut the hell up with your insipid comments about boys and men. Fabio made Brenda and Benry and other jury members cry by explaining that his “gasoline to get to the end” was thoughts of his family; he said, “I’ve never put that kind of focus into something” and talked about his “jealousy that these three had a plan to be here.” I thought that’d win him a unanimous or near-unanimous vote.

After being his usual shadow of a self throughout the episode–Dan stood by as Fabio strategized with Holly, saying “What about me?”; he was also “way behind” (surprise) in both challenges, and later asked, “How many votes do we need?” while trying to strategize himself–Dan developed a rather abrasive personality the second he got voted out, going off in his final confessional and then in his jury Q&A, when he yelled at Sash and told him to “get that eye fixed” because of his wink, and told Chase “beauty fades, dumb is forever.”

One of the weirdest parts of the final episode for me was after Fabio’s final immunity challenge win, everyone started talking to him like there would be a final two that he’d select. I suppose they were trying to avoid a tie by trying to get Fabio to vote their way, but everyone acted like he had insane power, including Jeff Probst. I like the way the game works when the final immunity challenge winner gets to decide who to take with them, but Fabio did not have that kind of power.

Sometime before the final three set fire to their camp–intentionally, this time–Sash tried to act like he was in the driver’s seat, calling Fabio and Chase his “wingmen”; in an interview Fabio told us, “I’ll let you take notes on how this is going to go.” Also of note: Holly reminded us during the jury Q&A why this cast was so Big Brotherish by asking about a “strategical move.”

Before Probst read the final votes, he said, “I think it says a lot that we have three young people” at the end. Yes, it says that the twist was ridiculously ill-conceived, a bad start to a season that never quite overcame its initial stumbles.

The Sing-Off loses its star

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.