Last week (or, actually, three days ago by my watch), the triumvirate of Chase, Sash and Holly decided that it was finally time to turn on Jane, assuming (probably correctly) that there was no way a jury would award the million dollars to everyone else. Of course, Jane always assumed that she was in a four-person alliance with them, and when she found out their plan, she was PISSED, to say the least. At TC, she decried her former alliance at top volume, and despite Jeff’s insistence that she join Fabio and Dan against her former alliance, everyone unanimously voted to send Jane to the jury box. So the last questions are: can anyone stop these three from making it to the Finals? Fabio’s only chance is to win Immunity the two straight times, and Dan has been zero threat to win anything since this game started. Anyway, five remain, and it all ends tonight. And because it’s a two-hour finale, you may want to get a snack while you read this recap, there’s going to be a lot to read.

But before the festivities resume, there’s a three-minute recap of the season. Jeff narrates that Dan has been a champion of sucking this year, so it’s a miracle he’s still around. Which is true, if a little harsh. When you’re 63 and have bad knees, you’re not going to be Mr. Studly. Flying under the radar is about your only option, and, as Jeff points out, he’s the only one of the five who hasn’t ruffled anyone’s feathers at all. Holly, if you remember, almost called it quits after flipping out in the first week; she stole and then destroyed Dan’s pricey alligator shoes, and it took a pep talk from Jimmy J to get her through the rest of the game. She staged a coup against Brenda and has been allied with the right people since then. Chase, on the other hand, has been aligned with just about everyone at some point, and every single one of his allies ended up getting the ax at his hand. He’s made so many questionable decisions I don’t think he’s got any chance at winning. Sash, on the other hand, has been wily: he didn’t make himself a physical threat by winning many challenges, and has survived his entire alliance either being voted out or quitting by wangling an HII away from Marty right after the merge. Which leaves Fabio, who everyone dismissed at the beginning because of his laid-back, goofball persona (hence the name change). He became one of the main focal points for NaOnka’s incessant bitchery, but has saved his own bacon every time he had to. Let the endgame begin.

Day 37. Fabio starts his last-ditch effort to break up Chase’s alliance by alternatively talking to Holly and Sash. Holly seems to be receptive to an alternative strategy but only if Fabio sells her on it. Sash, on the other hand, is playing every angle he can, which I’ve come to expect. It seems clear, however, that if anyone can wrest Immunity away from Fabio, he’ll be the next to go.

Immunity Challenge. Anyone else glad they finally got rid of the stupid “car” Reward Challenges? It’s been a few seasons now, and I haven’t missed it. Just thought I’d mention that. But I digress… Today’s challenge is the obligatory trivia contest, where the castaways must correctly answer questions about Nicaragua and its history in order to obtain bags of puzzle pieces, which must then be arranged into a design that displays this season’s famous logo. Fabio answers one question wrong, and that puts a fair amount of time behind the others, but his puzzle-assembling skills prove to be superior to Sash and he wins Immunity again. Way to go, kid!

Safe and sound from the vote, Fabio attempts to convince Chase that Holly’s the bigger threat than Dan, explaining that Dan has done very little to contribute to the game. Chase retorts that Holly may have enemies on the jury, but Dan has none, and is therefore the bigger threat. So that just leaves trying to get Sash over to Fabio’s side. Dan makes a convincing argument that he’s less of a threat than everyone thinks, given that he’s already independently wealthy, whereas Holly is struggling financially and is the current sympathy vote now that Jane is gone. And Sash really seems to consider it, explaining in interview that Holly could conceivably get votes just because she’s the only woman left, and there are five women on the jury (even though Jane is PO’d at her right now). Holly is getting antsy, but has little option but to trust Chase and Sash to not flip on her.

Tribal Council. The jury comes in, and Jane is all prettied up but definitely not smiling. Jeff asks Fabio how big his Immunity win was, and obviously, it was huge. He adds that now is the time to consider who are the best people to take to the end, based on past relationships with jury members. Jeff asks Dan if his strategy has changed, that basically he’s the perfect person to take to the end because he’s well off. Dan agrees that that is still his position (a position, ironically, that didn’t save Jimmy J in the first ten days). Holly is perfectly aware that she’s a possible target, but downplays Dan’s assessment that she’s a huge threat because she’s poor. Fabio adds that Holly is well-thought-of by various jury members, and there’s no denying that.

Voting time, and once again, we don’t get any sneak previews. Jeff collects the urn, and out come the slips. Dan. Dan. Chase. (Huh?!) And… Dan. Sorry, old sport, you played a good game. Sorry your shoes won’t be making the return trip. Dan’s torch is snuffed, and off he goes. Four remain: three young men and an older lady. In his exit interview, Dan explains that he switched his vote to Chase just to show his dislike for him. He also relates his disapproval for Sash and Holly, and says he can’t wait to cast his vote. Hmm… what if Fabio doesn’t win immunity again? What will you do then?

Night 37. Not much to report, save that Fabio is convinced that he needs Immunity again, and Sash is clearly the most comfortable, given that all of the remaining players want him with them. The next morning, Holly and Chase confab that it may become necessary to turn on Sash if Fabio wins Immunity again.

Of course, before we get to that, we’ll have to sit through the traditional Day 38 ceremony of collecting and burning the torches of the sixteen players who didn’t make it to the end. So it goes. We get a few seconds of footage and narrative from each of them, in the order of their leaving: Goat rancher Wendy. Homophobe Shannon. Good old Jimmy J. Not-so-good old Jimmy T. Fire captain Tyrone. The awesome Kelly B. The inconsequential Yve. The conniving Jill. Alina, the… first member of the jury. Marty, king of the weasels. The overconfident Brenda. NaOnka and Kelly S, the quitters who shouldn’t even be there anymore. (In her voiceover, NaOnka laughably says she was “always smiling, always friendly”. I wish I could show her the many hours of video that proves conclusively just have horribly false that statement was.) Benry, snuffed before his time. Jane, the 56-year-old lady who kicked everyone’s butt. And Dan, who acted with class and dignity the whole time. Holly, Fabio, Chase and Sash collect the placards one by one, and, on a beautiful overlook, throw them on a pre-set fire. The music swells.

Final Immunity Challenge. Usually the final test is one of stamina, but this one’s not going to be one that tests strength, but rather poise. Each castaway is given a sward with a flattened knob on the hilt. They must put the sword’s point onto a shield laid on the ground, and one by one stack coins on the flat surface of the hilt, while keeping the stack balanced. The last one not to have their stack topple wins. The challenge is made even more difficult because the “coins” are not actual coins but irregularly shaped and rough-surfaced pieces of metal, which makes stacking them rather problematic. At about 20 coins, Holly is eliminated. Chase follows soon after. And at about 27 coins, Sash’s stack topples and Fabio wins again. Jeez, this kid. You gotta love him.

So now it’s time for the solidest alliance of the season to turn on each other. And Fabio gets to sit back and watch them squirm, and love every minute of it. Sash cozies up to Fabio, and blatantly lies that he would never have voted him off, and that Chase should go because he’s got supporters on the jury. Of course, Fabio then goes to Chase and tells him about Sash’s “strategy”, which riles Chase up something fierce. Chase then wins points by telling Fabio that he would have voted Fabio out, and Fabio appreciates the honesty. Holly tells Fabio the same thing. Fabio likes Holly because she’s never lied to him, unlike Chase and Sash. As they head off to TC, it’s clear Fabio hasn’t made up his mind.

Tribal Council. The first thing Jeff notices is that Fabio is grinning so hugely that he looks like he’s going to explode. He says that having the Immunity necklace made the last few days really fun, as he got a front-row seat to the implosion of the alliance around him. Jeff asks Sash what his conversation with Fabio was like, and he replies that his game was to make alliances with everyone (Kelly S awesomely mouths “no [expletive]”). Fabio asks him again if Sash would have taken him to the end regardless, and Sash says yes, which elicits a wide-eyed stare from Holly, to whom this is apparently big news. Holly says that she was also honest with Fabio, and that Sash is the biggest threat. Sash makes a final plea to Fabio to keep him around, and so do Holly and Chase. Fabio is just loving this. I would too.

Four people vote. No previews. Jeff collects the urn, and out come the slips. Sash. Holly. Holly. And… Holly. Huh. Very good, Fabio. Probably your best decision yet. Go to the end with two liars and back-stabbers. Holly brings her torch up, and Jeff snuffs it. The original Espada tribe is now extinct, and the jury is set. I’m not sure if there has been an all-male Final Three since the show expanded to a three-person final; in fact, I’m pretty sure they haven’t. One day to go.

Night 38. The trio of young dudes returns to camp, and I hope Sash and Chase truly appreciate just how severely they underestimated Fabio. He made it to the final against all odds, winning three consecutive Immunity Challenges, and he succeeded in outing Sash as a conniving jerk in front of the jury. That, along with the fact that very few on the jury respect Chase any more, may have just got him the biggest payday of his young life.

Sash laments his situation, and says that he should win because he played the best strategic game. Ah, yes, the Gospel According to Evil Russell. I said it earlier in the season, and I’ll say it again: you need strategy, but that can’t be the end-all-be-all of your outlook on Survivor. Juries are made up of people. Emotional, flawed people. People to whom you can cite chapter and verse reasons why you are the best player in the game, and people who are just as likely not to give you the million dollars just to spite your scheming ass. Any currency you had with the jury just turned to ash in front of them. Thanks for playing.

Day 39 brings with it a king’s breakfast, and the boys celebrate their achievement with gusto. They enjoy sausages and pancakes while a light rain falls, but thankfully, it doesn’t last long. Sash and Fabio spend a last few minutes on the beach, looking out at a rainbow and some swooping pelicans in what is truly a magnificent sight. The trio then give their shelter the traditional Survivor sendoff by burning all the remnants of their camp in one humongous blaze. After a while, the trio take up their torches and head for TC.

Final Tribal Council. You should be familiar with how this works: first, there are opening statements from the finalists, and then each of the jury members gets to make whatever comments or ask whatever questions they want. Chase opens by saying that he is looking forward to answering the jury’s questions, despite how ticked at him they probably are. Fabio says that he just wanted to play the game by being himself, and brought his very best at the end, which is true. Sash spouts the show’s three word mantra and then softly spins that he hopes that the friendships he made will last beyond the show, and no hard feelings about everything he did on the show. Fat chance.

Brenda starts by going right at Sash, saying it’s pretty arrogant to back-stab people and then expect their vote. Sash politics that cutthroat play is part of the game, but he’s sorry if anyone was hurt in the process. Brenda then asks Chase why he joined the cadre that voted her out, and he claims that it was Holly that spearheaded that movement, and that there was nothing he could do when NaOnka and Fabio withdrew their support. Sash retorts that Chase could have done more, but Brenda spits that Sash could have given her the HII.

Marty’s up next, and he gives Chase the horribly stupid question of naming the dumbest player in the game, with the caveat that Chase can’t choose him. Chase calls the question BS, and replies that he could only give Marty that honor. Marty then tells Sash that he appreciates his strategic game, and congratulates Fabio on not only keeping himself in the game but growing as a person. Whatever, dude, you’re still a tool.

Holly asks Chase what his best strategic move was in the game, and Chase replies that it was allying himself at the very beginning with four people he trusted rather than five that he didn’t, and it started with voting Shannon out. She asks Fabio if winning Immunity three times in a row was “too little, too late”. Fabio correctly responds that no, it was perfect timing. She asks Sash if he ever lied to her, and Sash replies that he did, when he wrote her name down at the last TC after swearing that he never would.

Jane takes the floor, and she brought her verbal gutting knife. She tells Sash that he can “crawl back to the black hole in New York” that he came from. Guess he’s not getting her vote, or am I jumping to conclusions? She then tells Chase that she’s still mad at him, but appreciates the good times they had. She then asks Chase what he’d do with the money. Chase replies that he’d give 10% of it to a cancer charity and use the rest to take care of his mother. Fabio chimes in that he would do the same thing, minus the charity.

Benry tells Chase that he has nothing to say to him, and congratulates Fabio on his accomplishment. He then asks Sash to explain to him what he did to warrant being targeted. Sash matter-of-factly tells Benry that he wasn’t convinced they would go to the end together, and that Benry’s biggest mistake was not rallying to get him out. Which is true: he spent most of his last week campaigning against Jane, Holly and Fabio, for all the good that did him.

Dan, like Jane, goes right after Sash, calling him a “liar and a phony”. He berates Chase for back-stabbing everyone, including Jane, who was his best friend in the game. He leaves Fabio alone, so it seems clear whose getting his vote.

Kelly S asks Sash to explain how he outlasted everyone. Sash replied that he probably should have been voted out at the merge, but when he wasn’t, he just made alliances with everyone else. Kelly S grins and says that Sash’s honesty is refreshing, to which I say, “Huh?” What’s worse, she has nothing else to say. Jeez, you’re useless, Kelly S. I’m betting Kelly B is shaking her head at having to share a name with such a ditz.

NaOnka admits to Fabio that she abused him a lot (a little late for contrition, ya lousy…). She then asks him whether seeing his mother is what caused him to go into overdrive. Fabio responds that he actually didn’t get to go on the Reward with his mother, and only got that brief time at the challenge with her. But yes, from that moment on he thought of nothing else but playing the game and what he would do for his mom if he won, and that’s what got him through. NaOnka congratulates him, and, for the first and probably only time, I’m not so pissed at her. Must be the Xmas spirit getting to me.

Last up is Alina, who tells Fabio that she would rather give the money “not to a boy, but to a man”, which is the biggest crock I’ve heard so far. She asks Sash to explain why she should vote for him, and he plays his “me strategic, they not” card again. Chase backs Sash up that Fabio made it to the end because of a lot of luck as well, because half the time he didn’t know what was going on. Then the three of them start to squabble, Alina smiles perkily, and she and her cleavage sit down. And there went my last bit of respect for her too.

So what did we learn? Alina and Kelly S will not be remembered ten minutes after the finale is over, Marty is a dick, Benry and Dan are pretty cool guys, Brenda is Brenda, NaOnka is not beyond redemption, and Jane is not someone to be trifled with, ever. But now it’s time to vote. Marty votes for Fabio. Kelly S votes for Chase. Dan, not surprisingly, votes for Fabio. Brenda dithers for a while and then votes for Chase. And that’s all we see. Of course, the votes aren’t read then and there. Jeff grabs the urn, bids the contestants adieu, and walks out of TC…

…And right onto the makeshift TC set up on a stage at CBC Television City in Hollywood. A lot of former contestants are in the audience, but first things first. Fabio (whose hair is a lot shorter now) is still grinning. Chase and Sash are looking quite different wearing ties and sweater-vests, and Sash looks more like an English professor than a real estate broker. But anyway. Jeff explains the rules again, and blah blah blah, let’s finish this damn recap already.

For the final time this season, out come the slips. Fabio. Chase. Fabio. Chase. (These are the votes we saw.) Next: Chase. Chase. Fabio. Fabio. Holy Christ, this is the closest vote I can remember. One vote left, and the winner of Survivor: Nicaragua is… FABIO!! He jumps down and hugs his family, and the satellite feed from St. Louis, Missouri (his hometown) whoops and hollers.

Write it down, folks: Jud “Fabio” Birza, a 21-year-old student/surfer dude/model from Venice, California, is now a millionaire. And in a season filled with a lot of down moments, where the worthiest people got kicked off early, the young doofus that I was sure I was going to hate but grew to like and respect more and more sent the season off on a high note.

So that’s it. I’ll spare you all the blow-by-blow of the tried-and-trite Reunion Show, save a couple of details: Jane won the at-home prize of $100,000 by a landslide, and, on February 16th, the 22nd season of Survivor will commence. Where they’re going is unknown, but it will be called Survivor: Redemption Island, and the twist is that eliminated players have a chance to remain in the game. Stay tuned for more details. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a great holiday season!

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