By: Josh Wigler
Throughout its 21 seasons on the air, SURVIVOR has always promoted three key components as the ticket to success: outwit, outplay and outlast. But where does outcharm fall on that spectrum? Because while he certainly outlasted the competition and there were moments where he outplayed his rivals, newly minted SURVIVOR champion Jud “Fabio” Birza was never exactly the brightest bulb in the bunch — but sometimes, all you need is a smile to get you on your way.
Before elaborating on the latest SURVIVOR winner’s victory, let’s talk about the other players who were in contention for the top prize in last night’s season finale…
Dan: The New York real estate executive never stood a chance to win the title of sole survivor, and the man knew it himself from the very first day. Getting rid of Dan at the final five wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice — he and Fabio were correct in saying that Dan was the smallest threat of anyone remaining in the game at that stage — though it didn’t burn anyone too badly in the end, either. Despite the fact that Dan was one of the physically and mentally weakest contestants to ever grace the game, he was a relatively likable guy and certainly deserves a pat on the back for sticking around as long as he did, considering his shortcomings. Hopefully it was a fine adventure for the 63-year-old contestant.
Holly: Of all the players competing in SURVIVOR NICARAGUA, there’s no question that Holly was the season’s biggest surprise. I truly believed she would be sent home packing well in advance of the merge based solely on her performance in the first three episodes, but thanks to the sage advice of Jimmy Johnson, she held her guts together and champed through to the final four. Holly was the power player of her alliance, never afraid to speak her mind, sell somebody down the river or pull the trigger on her target. As the game progressed, Holly became a fearless warrior and an indisputable threat to take home the bacon. Had Fabio lost immunity and Holly made it to the end, there’s no question that she would have won out over Chase and Sash. Indeed, if there’s any one player who deserved to win the million, it was Holly.
Sash: For the past few episodes, Sash was playing the most interesting game of any contestant out there in Nicaragua: he was virtually guaranteeing himself a spot in the finals, but at the expense of his chances for victory. His only shot at the grand prize was to bring two truly undeserving candidates to the end, since he had burned so many bridges with the majority of the jury. Sash, like Russell Hantz in the two seasons previous, played an excellent game if you’re playing for second place; but in order to win, you need to either retain some small portion of likability or bring someone to the end that’s even less likable than you. Sash failed in this respect, and it proved his undoing. Otherwise, an excellent third place game.
Chase: I was genuinely surprised to see how many votes Chase received in the end; I truly thought it would be a blowout in Fabio’s favor. But it was a nail-biter in the end, and that’s a credit to Chase’s own likability. Even though he managed to rub nearly every juror in the wrong way due to his wishy-washy strategy, Chase made enough legitimate personal connections to warrant four votes on his behalf. And it’s not as though Chase was an undeserving contestant — he played the game hard, played fast and loose with a lot of people but still managed to keep a smile on his face the entire time. Chase was a solid competitor, just not winning material.
Fabio: Judging by his first episode appearance, who would have ever guessed that Fabio would win this whole thing? I’ll admit that I rarely regarded the shaggy-haired surfer as anything more than a source of entertainment, but to his credit, Fabio turned the gas on when he needed it the most. This isn’t a situation like SURVIVOR SAMOA where Natalie White beat Russell because of a ridiculously bad jury vote. Given the circumstances of this season’s final three, Fabio certainly earned his million dollars. And it’s not just because he swept those last three immunity challenges, though that obviously helped and he wouldn’t have lasted long enough to make it to the finals otherwise. Fabio had a ton of heart and it showed in his relationships with people: he kept things calm, kept things light-hearted, and avoided the ire of just about everybody (except NaOnka, who barely counts as a human being). In the end, that proved enough for a Fabio first place finish.
Next Time on SURVIVOR: We’re headed to REDEMPTION ISLAND when SURVIVOR returns on February 16, 2011. The new season comes with a dramatic new twist: instead of immediately leave the game, ousted contestants will have one last shot at survival by competing head-to-head against other voted out players in a place called Redemption Island. Whoever survives Redemption Island for a long enough period of time stands a chance of returning to the game. Smells a little fishy, like the Outcast twist from PEARL ISLANDS, but I’m willing to see how it plays out.
Josh is an entertainment reporter based out of New York City. He is commanded with ruthless efficiency by his office manager, Pardo the cat, and writes regularly for MTV News, Comic Book Resources, Spinoff Online and more. He’s a SURVIVOR fanatic and with the show off the air until February, he’s planning on taking a very long nap. Follow him on Twitter: @roundhoward.